The Flxible Company, not unlike many other companies, had a modest, but unique beginning. In 1912, Hugo H. Young, the operator of a motorcycle sales agency in Mansfield Ohio. had an idea for a new type of motorcycle sidecar; one which would permit the third wheel to tilt and stay on the ground when the motorcycle leaned while going around curves in either direction.
Young built a prototype sidecar for his own use. The sidecar was attached to the motorcycle with a "flexible" connection. This was a new and basic idea. It also allowed the sidecar wheel to rise over obstructions, or to drop below the road level without affecting the motorcycle's balance. The axle pivot of the sidecar wheel was slightly tilted which caused the sidecar wheel always to follow the direction of the motorcycle, whether rounding turns or on a straight course.
A traveling salesman friend saw the newly designed sidecar, and urged him to patent and manufacture the sidecar. Mr. Young founded and became the first president of the Flxible Company. Young's patent was also the fore-runner of the principle which is now known as knee-action in automobiles.
In 1913, Young founded the Flxible Side Car Company in Loudonville, Ohio to manufacture his patented vehicle. This original company was a partnership owned by Hugo Young and Carl F. Dudte. In 1914 they incorporated the Flexible Sidecar Co. for $25,000.
Young's sidecar went over in a big way. It was such an improvement over the other sidecars that it soon became a favorite. This was especially true for the riders in the dangerous sport of motorcycle sidecar racing. Soon all important sidecar racing records were held by race drivers whose cycles were equipped with Flexible Sidecars.
In 1916, the company built its own factory. In July of 1919 the directors decided to change the name from the Flexible Sidecar Co. to The Flxible Co., and increased capitalization to $500,000. It was then the name Flxible without the first E was copyrighted and that spelling has been exclusive to Flxible ever since. By 1919 the company had gained the distinction of being the worlds largest exclusive manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars.
During WW1, Flxible produced its unique sidecars for the Allied Armies. They were attached to an Excelsior motorcycle, carried a mounted machine gun and were used very effectively overseas.
In the early 1920s, the sidecar market suddenly disappeared when Henry Ford established the price for a Ford Roadster at $360.00 less than the cost of a motorcycle and sidecar! The Flxible Co. was forced to find seek new fields, thus the entry into the bus, funeral car and ambulance markets.
The first Flxible bus, a Studebaker 12 passenger sedan, (the first "stretch limo?") was delivered to E.L. Harter in 1924, who operated a line from Ashland to Mt. Vernon, Ohio. The first Flxible performed so well, that Harter decided to buy a second one in April, 1925. This second coach established an enviable record of long life and dependability. For three years it was used in regular service and accumulated a total of over 275,000 miles. It was traded in on another coach in 1928 and that same year set the new record for the trip from New York to Los Angeles in four days, nine hours and forty one minutes.
The story of funeral car manufacturing at Flxible followed much the same history common to the whole motor coach industry in the early years. The company first began funeral cars, or hearses. in 1925. The early bodies had all wood frames and were built with a great deal of painstaking labor. Production quantities were limited, but the finished product reflected Flxible's attention to details. The company experienced a steady healthy growth, helped by contracts from the US Navy, who became a regular customer.
The Flxible Company always maintained that quality should be the main objective in manufacturing. This objective often produced higher costs, but in the long run paid higher dividends. In the early days, funeral directors would buy their own chassis and then have Flxible build and mount the body. These early customers were very pleased and proud of their cars.
Flxible continued a steady growth, starting with 21 cars in 1926, with production growing to more than ten times that number in 1941. Funeral car and ambulance production was finally halted in 1964.
The body of Flxible's 15 passenger 1928 coach was all wood and had metal veneer paneling. The chassis was usually Buick built. During the early years, Flxible was called on to build many units of special design to meet the individual requirements of various customers. These included:
• A Flxible bus to carry a Goodyear balloon tire, 4' x 12' weighing 3,900 pounds;
• A Flxible Clipper bus with a portable mooring mast for Goodyear blimps;
• and buses that carried screens and equipment advertising movies.
In 1936, it was decided that Flxible would concentrate on inter city coaches, and all its resources were devoted to developing a coach that would be outstanding in this field. In 1939, Flxible introduced its famous 29 passenger Clipper powered by a modified straight-eight Buick engine. Nearly 5,000 of these coaches were in operation at one time serving over 1,000 bus owners. Flxible Airporters were used successfully in limousine fleets in New York & Chicago as well as many other air terminals. Glass-roofed sightseeing Flxible coaches operated in many National Parks including Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and others. Famous resorts such as Sun Valley and Catalina Island used Flxible buses exclusively and many manufacturing and sales concerns used Flxibles as display coaches. Movie studios also maintained a fleet of Flxibles.
In 1936, the Flxible Airway Coach made its appearance on many bus routes throughout the country. The bus was built on a Chevrolet truck chassis using special springs and had many features which made it attractive to both the public and the drivers. Its economical operation and low maintenance costs made it much desired by many operators.
In support of the war effort, the company ceased production of its standard products and devoted all resources to the production of war materials, contributing parts to the production of many famous and essential war machines. The first wartime subcontract was in July 1942, for the manufacture of gear guards for the steam winches on Liberty ships. Then in rapid order came contracts for parts for the M-4 tank along with parts and assemblies for the Navy's Corsair fighter planes.
Blimps and Airships
The war shortly reached the stage where enemy subs were becoming a major menace to the coastal areas of the United States. Top priority was given to the manufacturing of every known weapon to help overcome this threat to national security. One of the most effective weapons available for combating submarine warfare at the time was the Blimp. The Goodyear Aircraft Company was given quantity orders for the construction of several types. In order to expedite the manufacture of ten of their "L" type blimps, Flxible was given a subcontract by Goodyear to construct the control cars, fins, rudders and nose cones.
This new Goodyear contract not only utilized the bulk of Flxible's available floor space, but also gave its skilled workers and engineers an opportunity to use their talents to the best advantage. Additional contracts were entered into with Goodyear & Curtiss-Wright for the manufacture of wing flaps for the Corsair, the empennage for the Helldiver and the lower center section of the C-46.
With the war's ending in 1945, Flxible soon returned to coach production, developing a more streamlined version of the Clipper. Mid-' 46 saw the flat windshields replaced with a curved version. 1947 brought more improvements.
1950 ushered the VisiCoach into production. A heavier duty enlarged version of the famous Clipper, with new large passenger windows, and most importantly, extra space in the engine compartment for larger engines to replace the earlier Buick Straight 8, White, and Fageols. This particular "Clipper"was a stepping stone into the production of the larger heavy duty intercity buses.
In 1951 Flxible joined forces with the Fageol Twin Coach Co. in Kent Ohio, the two companies cooperating in the production of 1,590 "Convertibles" for a contract with the US Army. These coaches could be changed to stretcher carriers to carry wounded. After successful cooperation on the Convertible program, the two companies contracted to build 22 deluxe intercity buses for Viacao Cometa S/A, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Shortly after, Twin Coach chose to concentrate all production on trucks and aircraft parts, after which Flxible gained sole interest in the city bus product line. The company then developed important modifications leading to its first big city Transit Bus contract for 300 buses from the Chicago Transit Authority. Delivery of this order began to flow from Flxibles Loudonville plant in 1954.
Progress brought the expansion to Millersburg, where "VisiCoach" shells transported from the Loudonville plant were made into numerous specialty buses. These included "The Land Cruiser" (a home on wheels), and the X-Ray bus. This bus did not have the aisle way of the standard Clipper and so was 6" taller, as were the Post Office bus, the Bookmobile bus, and many of the other specialty coaches. Coin operated parcel lockers, and cigarette machines were also made at Millersburg. Flxibles resourcefulness in designing, engineering and manufacturing led to a variety of products.
The two level "VistaLiner", or VL-100, was first introduced in late 1954, with first delivery in 1955 to The "Blue & White Lines" in Altoona, PA (sn 10101). This vital departure from the Clipper line offered new comfort for passengers and reliability for operators. It was the "King Of The Highway" with torsilastic springs, independent front suspension, air conditioning, comfortable seating and individual loudspeakers for recorded music, this coach was designed to give operators the vehicle needed to maintain service which could compete successfully with other types of inter-city transportation.
In The following years, Flxible increased production, adding the assembly plant in Delaware. They also added several models of buses, among them the Starliner, the Hi-Level, the Flxette, and the FlxLiner. In 1961, the "New Look" transit coach was introduced. This edition was soon accepted as an industry standard, and continued to be so for the next 18 years. The coach featured a rear mounted Detroit Diesel engine, an enlarged reflection free windshield, double bay passenger windows, and fluorescent lighting. These coaches were later equipped with wheelchair lifts and special features to make them more accessible for handicapped and elderly patrons.
1964 brought to an end to production of funeral cars, and in 1967 the 29 passenger StarLiner coach was phased out. The Flxliner was discontinued in 1969, and in 1976 production of the Flxette ceased. The last "New Look" coach produced was delivered to the city of Akron Ohio in October 1978.
In 1970 the Flxible Company was acquired by Rohr Industries, who pioneered development of a new transit coach that evolved into the 870 Advanced Design Bus (ADB). The "870" was designed to meet Federal accessibility guidelines for handicapped individuals. In 1974 the corporate headquarters and final assembly were moved to Delaware, the Loudnville facility maintaining manufacture of sub-assemblys, and parts. In 1978 Flxible again changed ownership. Purchased by Grumman Allied, Flxible became known as Grumman Flxible Corporation, and in April 1978 the first 870 ABD rolled off the assembly line. The ABD 870 features aluminum extrusion sidewall construction, with no external fasteners, 40% fewer parts, lighter weight, lower floors, more window area and many other improvements over the previous model. Grumman Flxible quickly accumulated an order backlog of over 2,500 units from 28 transit systems including an order for 1,013 ABDs for New York City. In 1981 the company introduced the new Grumman Metro, which featured nearly 100 changes throughout the bus including a 6V-92TA engine and improved steering and suspension. The first order for 20 went to Spokane, Washington in early 1983 Flxibles 70th year, and in the same year Grumman Flxible was again sold to General Automotive Corporation who continued the line until closing operations entirely in late 1995.