Superior Coach Company

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Superior Coach Company
Body manufacturer (defunct)
Fate Liquidated
Predecessor Garford Motor Truck Company
Successor Accubuilt, Inc. (professional cars subsidiary, 2000−present)
Mid Bus (school bus manufacturer, 1981-2008)
Founded Elyria, Ohio 1909 (1909)
Defunct 1980 (1980)
Headquarters Lima, Ohio, United States
Area served
North America
Products Professional cars
School buses
Owner Sheller-Globe Corporation (1969−1980)
Website http://www.superiorcoaches.com/ (for existing company)

Superior Coach is a former body manufacturer of the American automotive industry. Founded in 1909 as the Garford Motor Truck Company, Superior is best known for constructing bodies for professional cars (hearses) and yellow school buses. Following major downturns in both segments in the late 1970s, Superior was liquidated by its parent company in 1980. From 1925 to 1980, the company was based in Lima, Ohio.

After its 1980 closure, the Superior name would live on through several other companies. The manufacturing of school buses would play a part of the formation of Mid Bus (acquired by Collins Industries in 2008) and the professional car operations would remain in Lima as part of Accubuilt, Inc.

History[edit]

Garford Motor Truck Company - logo 1912
Russian WWI Garford-Putilov armored car based on a Garford truck

Garford Motor Truck Company[edit]

In 1909, the Garford Motor Truck Company was established in Elyria, Ohio, a small town 30 miles outside Cleveland.

By June 1912, the company was awarded a lucrative contract with the United States Post Office. The first order called for 11 trucks, the following for 20 trucks, for a total of 31 trucks. "This is very significant of the practical efficiency of this most advanced commercial car." The post office had experimented for two years "with practically every truck made." They tried not only all the leading American trucks, but the foreign trucks, as well. The test resulted in the Garford being awarded first honors. The Garford proved to be the most practical truck under all conditions.[1]

Truck of the Garford Motor Truck Company
Garford Motor Truck Company 1912

Superior Body Company[edit]

In 1925, the company changed its name to the Superior Body Company and moved its operations to Lima, Ohio, where it occupied a new plant housing a large manufacturing facility and administrative offices. The company diversified, introducing a line of hearse and ambulance bodies (known as professional cars and becoming a major producer of school bus bodies for the U.S. and Canada, as well as export markets.

For its professional-car platforms, Superior signed an agreement with Studebaker, thus gaining instant access to some 3000 dealers and Studebaker's chassis engineering. The company had continuing success for several years, and on the strength of this arrangement, rose to a prominent position in the professional-car business. By 1930, Superior and Studebaker had the only complete line of professional cars in the North American market.

In 1938, having achieved success and having established a dealer network of its own, Superior left the partnership with Studebaker and began building bodies on General Motors platforms.

Superior Coach Company[edit]

In 1940 the company changed its name again, to Superior Coach Company. In the years that followed, hearses were styled on Cadillac, LaSalle, and Pontiac chassis.

By 1949, the company had added Chrysler, DeSoto, and Dodge chassis to its funeral coach line, offering customers a smaller investment and lower overhead.

School bus bodies were built primarily on Chevrolet/GM, Dodge, Ford, and International Harvester truck chassis. In 1951, the Lima facility was expanded and a new facility in Kosciusko, Mississippi was opened.

Sheller-Globe Corporation[edit]

In 1969, Superior Coach Company was acquired by the Sheller-Globe Corporation, an industrial conglomerate and auto parts maker based in Toledo, Ohio.

The 1977 model year saw a major downsizing in the Cadillac automobile chassis used for the professional car business. In addition to being smaller, Cadillac's commercial chassis was significantly more expensive and Superior, as well as other ambulance and funeral car manufacturers, had to design new bodies and retool their factories, resulting in much higher consumer costs. The ambulance sector switched to larger vehicles based upon van, cutaway van chassis, and truck chassis. The watershed year of 1977 also brought new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses built after April 1, which increased both costs and engineering challenges. [2] In addition to higher costs, at the same time, a downturn in North American school bus purchase volumes began as the children of the Baby Boom generation completed their elementary and secondary educations.

By 1980, Superior was one of the "Big Six" school bus body manufacturing companies in the United States, competing with Blue Bird Body Company, Carpenter Body Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., Ward Body Company, and Wayne Corporation, as well as Gillig Corporation and Crown Coach Corporation (manufacturers which traded primarily on the West Coast). Bidding competition for reduced volumes became devastating to profits and even liquidity. In 1979, Ward declared bankruptcy, reorganizing as AmTran the following year, which later became IC Bus.

Faced with these challenges, industry over-capacity among school bus manufacturers, the loss of ambulance business in the professional car sector and decreased sales of funeral coaches due to higher production and sales costs, Sheller-Globe Corporation liquidated its Superior Coach Company-related investments in late 1980, and portions of its assets were sold.

Carrollton bus disaster[edit]

In 1988, nearly a decade after Sheller-Globe exited the school bus manufacturing business, a disastrous accident occurred with one of the Superior bus bodies it had built. As of 2010, the Carrollton bus disaster remained one of the two worst bus accidents in U.S. history. The bus had been built only 9 days before the 1977 FMVSS standards would have required additional collision protection of the fuel tank. Although no legal determination of product liability was ever made, Sheller-Globe and Ford Motor Company each contributed substantially to the settlement funds for those injured and the families of those who were killed.

The accident and the legal battle afterward were recounted in a 1994 book by James S. Kuen. Reckless Disregard: Corporate Greed, Government Indifference, and the Kentucky School Bus Crash was published by Simon & Schuster of New York City. (ISBN 0-671-70533-4)

Post-liquidation new small businesses[edit]

After Sheller-Globe announced the closure of its Lima bus and professional car manufacturing operations in 1980, several small businesses purchased portions of the assets, and carried on successfully with several product lines.

School buses[edit]

Main article: Mid Bus

Although large school bus manufacturing was discontinued with the 1980 model year, Mid Bus, a new small business based in Lima organized by three former employees, resumed production of the smallest Superior school buses, beginning with a workforce of seven persons. The small business of Mid Bus grew successfully, and after a move to a much larger facility at Bluffton, Ohio, was acquired by Collins Industries in 1998.

Professional cars[edit]

In 1981, the hearse business of Superior was sold to Tom Earnhart. Later that year, it was merged with the largest competitor, the S&S Coach Company.[3] This formed a new company, S&S/Superior of Ohio, to oversee the further development of the two businesses. Manufacturing operations were consolidated at Superior's plant in Lima, which had been expanded 30 years earlier.

As of 2007, S&S/Superior now operates as a division of Accubuilt, Inc., using the Superior Coach trade name for its line of funeral cars and specialty vehicles. Accubuilt's 200,000-square-foot (19,000 m2) flagship facility was also the exclusive production plant for the W.P. Chrysler Executive Series 300, a longer-wheelbase version of the Chrysler 300.[3]

Accubuilt's Limousine Division also operates a facility in Springfield, Missouri, that manufactures limousines with wheelbase extensions up to 130 inches (330 cm).[3]

Bus products[edit]

Van based;
  • Ford Econoline
  • Chevrolet/GMC G30
  • Dodge
Type A (Partner);
  • Ford Econoline chassis

The partner only lasted for one year.

Type B (Pacemaker);
Type C (Pioneer);
Type D (SuperCruiser)

See also[edit]

Media related to Garford vehicles at Wikimedia Commons

References[edit]

  1. ^ Power Wagon, Issues 92-97. The Power Wagon, Chicago, Illinois - June, 1912. Retrieved September 10, 2010. 
  2. ^ Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
  3. ^ a b c Accubuilt History, undated, retrieved on 18 February 2009.

External links[edit]