Lifestyle

It’s an amazingly Flxible home

By David Chapman

THE OWNER

Glenn Nisbet’s career as a school teacher largely conceals his previous life working on cars.

‘‘I’m a mechanic by trade before retraining as an industrial arts teacher and have always been involved around cars,’’ Glenn said.

His first car was a 1964 Mini 850 in a powdered light blue when he was just 16.

‘‘I then went through a series of Mini Coopers and MGBs. I just loved Leyland vehicles,’’ Glenn said.

‘‘I’ve got four Mini Mokes at the moment.’’

He taught in Wagga Wagga, NSW, for many years and was on the lookout for a motorhome, however, he didn’t want to buy one until he had retired.

THE BUS

Glenn’s 1956 Ansair-Flxible Clipper bus certainly stands out wherever it goes.

They made them in the United States.

Flxible (pronounced ‘flexible’ but spelt without the ‘e’) was originally a motorcycle sidecar company based in Ohio and made sidecar couplings.

The company eventually expanded into producing service vehicles such as funeral cars, ambulances and buses.

According to Glenn, the Flxible Clipper is a ‘‘classic coach of the 1950s’’.

It is powered by a 471 GM two-stroke supercharged diesel engine which is the original motor for the bus.

‘‘People love the sound of the GM engine,’’ Glenn said.

‘‘I haven’t touched the motor. It’s one of the classics (elements) of it. For being over 40 years old, it’s an amazing motor.

‘‘I don’t want to replace it. It’s part of the bus itself.

‘‘I have no trouble starting it.’’

One item Glenn did replace was the transmission.

‘‘I put in a five-speed Spicer gearbox,’’ he said.

‘‘It did have what was known as a crashbox transmission where you had to double clutch, but I took that out to make driving it easier.’’

Glenn has had the bus for six years and said it was ‘‘extremely rough’’ when he bought it.

‘‘It was badly rusted and in poor condition,’’ he said.

‘‘It had been a motorhome for 20 years or more and had been well used.’’

In the time the bus has been under Glenn’s care, he has gradually worked on its restoration.

‘‘I’ve redone the interior entirely and put in new windows, a paint job, rust repair and a new windscreen,’’ he said.

‘‘From the windows up I’ve replaced all the panels. Below that is all the original body panels and style with the rivets.

‘‘The colour is Pioneer Blue, but the original colour was a bit bluer than that.

‘‘It has new alloy wheels instead of the old two-piece rims.

‘‘It has original headlights but the tail lights are from an XP Ford Falcon. They just look like they belonged on it.

‘‘I updated parts of the bus, put in modern braking and steering, but it’s pretty much a 1950s vehicle the way it operates.

‘‘While it is expensive to maintain, it’s just like a 1950s cars. Pretty straight forward, just think big and heavy but simple.’’

Glenn is a member of the Flxible Clipper Club of Australia which helps when it comes to sourcing parts.

‘‘Club members are still making parts for it. There’s sheet metal workers who can manufacture parts and O’Brien Windscreens can still fit the windscreen for you.

‘‘It’s a slow restoration.’’

One item Glenn will never replace on the bus is the quaint semaphore hand signals to indicate which way the bus is turning.

‘‘I think other drivers on the road give way out of shock,’’ he said.

‘‘It has a top speed of 95km/h it’s not a speed horse, but it has a good powerful climbing motor, which was good for when it took people up the Snowy Mountains from Cooma.

‘‘When it was made, the top speed on Australian roads was 50mph and buses weren’t even doing that.

‘‘It’s a bit slow by today’s standards, but drivers are tolerant of it.’’

Now a motorhome, in its day the bus was licensed to carry 29 passengers on tours and 33 on express runs.

‘‘There were Clippers extended four feet at the back to carry 37 passengers and they were known as Stretch Clippers,’’ Glenn said.

‘‘It’s now set up comfortably for two. I went with a nautical theme to match the timber.

‘‘I tried to keep the front of the bus as original as possible.’’

Luggage storage is in the rear. Prior to the Clipper, all bus engines were located in the front of the bus.

‘‘This was designed for a rear engine to get the fumes and the noise away from the passengers,’’ Glenn said.

He said the Clipper’s arrival in Australia made touring and express runs a realistic option for people.

‘‘Suddenly you could take an overnight coach from Melbourne to Sydney whereas previously it used to take three days,’’ Glenn said.

WHERE DID YOUR

BUS COME FROM?

The Ansair-Flxible Clipper was American designed but built in Australia under licence.

The story goes that in the late 1940s Reg Ansett, the founder of Ansett airlines, sent engineers to the United States to look at buses which were suited to Australian conditions.

‘‘Back then it was mainly trucks that had been converted to buses that were being used for coach services,’’ Glenn said.

‘‘It wasn’t legal to import buses into Australia at the time so Reg bought a second hand bus in America and brought it over in parts for the patents and then got a licence to build it here.’’

While there were 5000 of the Clippers in the United States in the 1940s and ’50s, only 131 were built in Australia.

‘‘They were built by Ansett and made for other bus companies for proper coach tours and express services from Melbourne to Sydney and then Adelaide and Perth,’’ Glenn said.

‘‘They were the first true coach rather than just a bus and had aircraft-type reclining seats.

‘‘This one did the Adelaide to Alice Springs run and then went to Cooma for trips to the Snowy Mountains in the early 1960s and to the hydro scheme.’’

Eventually the bus was sold off to North West Buslines in Western Australia where a member of the Flxible Clipper Club of Australia picked it up and converted it into a motorhome.

Glenn was a member of the club before he even owned a Clipper and learnt through the club network that a fellow member was selling it.

‘‘I bought it in WA, flew over and then took five days to drive it back home,’’ he said.

‘‘It just chugs along nicely.

‘‘It’s an extremely comfortable motorhome.

‘‘I have a kerosene heater on the bus which fits in with the era but diesel heating is coming.

‘‘These buses did have diesel heaters and ducted air.’’

Of the 131 Ansair-Flxible Clippers built in Australia, only 30 are still on the road.

‘‘Of those, 25 are actually running so there are a few in restoration,’’ Glenn said.

WHAT DO YOU

LIKE MOST

ABOUT THE BUS?

‘‘If you want a motorhome, why not this,’’ Glenn said.

‘‘It’s such a classic vehicle. I love the retro styling, the curve line, the classic shape.

‘‘A number of young people are interested in it because of the style. It’s never gone out of style.

‘‘It’s a beautiful vehicle to drive. It has a low centre of gravity which makes it very easy to drive.

‘‘It makes for an interesting motorhome.

‘‘It’s a classically designed vehicle which attracts a lot of interest when it’s stopped. It can go anywhere.’’

SO WHAT’S YOUR

PERFECT CAR?

‘‘An RT Charger,’’ Glenn said, continuing his love of style.

‘‘Once again, it’s a classic design and a really amazing vehicle.

‘‘It was made in Australia but there’s an American design element to it.

‘‘It’s just a little bit different, although it wasn’t as popular as the GTHOs and Monaros of the same era.’’

AND WHAT’S NEXT?

Glenn and his wife Judy spent a week in the Clipper making their way down from their home in northern NSW to the Historic Winton weekend.

The plan was to spend a week meandering their way back but there is a bigger trip planned for next year.

They hope to take the Clipper on a three-month trek through Adelaide, Perth and Darwin before heading down to Alice Springs in time for the National Road Transport Hall of Fame celebrations in July.