Once upon a time there was a bus called the Dependable D. It’s actually called MCI DL3, but it definitely earned its nickname.
Reliable D has a special place in my heart. In my opinion, it was a really good mix of reliability, comfort and appeal. This is the coach in which I started my career and where I spent a lot of time driving. I want to pay tribute to the MCI D series.
Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, the landscape of the coach industry changed. Coach design was beginning to evolve rapidly around several factors.
One factor was size. Most commercial interstate coaches were built 40 feet long. This was governed by US interstate laws at the time, which prohibited buses longer than 40 feet. But on December 18, 1991, that all changed when the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) was signed into law, allowing commercial highway coaches to increase in size to 45 feet.
The second factor was an internal decision by Motor Coach Industries (MCI). At the time, all MCI coach models were equipped with two-stroke engines. That was about to change.
In 1987, Detroit Diesel introduced the New Detroit Series 60 four-stroke engine. Among many other benefits, the new engine ran cleaner and was more fuel efficient because fuel was consumed once every four strokes instead of every both. On top of that, the four-stroke didn’t release burnt oil into the air like two-strokes did, so it needed less oil.
Other advantages of the four-stroke engine were that it lasted much longer than two-stroke engines and the oil for the four-stroke was much cheaper.
But Detroit’s Series 60 four-stroke engines were much larger than both, requiring a larger engine bay to house them, which meant MCI had to come up with a new design.
A third factor was the Canadian government. Around 1988, the Canadian government was looking for a wheelchair accessible intercity bus.
Renowned coach manufacturer based in Canada, MCI already had a stellar reputation for building extremely reliable buses. So, it was obvious for the Canadian government to go to MCI for a new bus design.
In 1989, two years before buses were allowed to be 45 feet long, in partnership with the Canadian government, MCI began playing around with design options to see how the 45-foot-long concept would work. In 1991, MCI created two 45-foot prototypes.
One of the first testbeds extended an existing MCI 102-C3 model. MCI added a 5-foot frame section to the 40-foot 102-C3—at the time, MCI’s latest and largest model—to extend it to 45 feet (14 meters).
Since MCI had put so much research and design work into the 45ft coach concept, it didn’t take long for the company to create a strong and reliable 45ft coach ready for production.
Less than three months later, at a United Bus Owners Association (now UMA) bus show in February 1992, MCI introduced the 102-DL3 to the public. The first three digits of the model name indicated the trainer’s width (102 inches), the D is its model line, the L stood for long (45 feet), and the 3 at the end indicated that it had three axles.
I love the DL3, but someone should have hired a marketing guy to give it a catchier name. I would have named it something like the MCI Defiant because it kind of challenged the 40 foot limit of coaches at the time.
In late 1992 the 102-DL3 – which came with options for a wheelchair lift and accessible lavatory – went into full production and it was an instant hit.
The ever-popular 40-footers
A shorter version of the D-series, the 102-D3, was introduced in January 1994 for operators who still wished to use 40ft buses. There was still a lot of demand for the shorter chassis because, at the time of the 102-DL3’s release, many bus companies had garages, cabs and bus lifts that could only accommodate a 40-car coach. feet.
Private tour coaches, as well as scheduled service companies like Greyhound, went crazy for the 102-DL3 and once again MCI proved itself as a solid coach manufacturer.
For more than a decade of reliable service, Model Ds have been cherished by their owners, drivers and mechanics. They were simple to drive, easy to use, and very reliable and inexpensive for fleet owners to operate, earning them the nickname “the Dependable D”.
Then Model D started to show its age. Thus, the D-Series coaches paved the way for the next generation of modern coach design.
In 2005, MCI launched its new E and J series coaches to compete with Prevost’s new H3-45s.
Compared to the more curvaceous lines and more modern interior of the Model J, the Model D looked dated. But, despite how it looked, the D-series was still going strong.
Greyhound continued to purchase Model Ds, which became the backbone and workhorse of its fleet. Transit agencies bought them to bolster their long-distance commuter routes. And luxury tour operators were still buying Model Ds for charter travel.
Thus, MCI decided to give a facelift to the D model.
New generations of D-models
In 2005, MCI launched a new generation of D models: the 45ft MCI D4500CT and the 40ft MCI D4000CT. (The CT denoted the contemporary design of the model.)
In 2010, MCI again updated the D-Series coaches to meet new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. This upgrade included a redesigned cooling package, which included a single fan with a three-speed clutch and a shorter belt.
In 2017, MCI rolled out the next generation of the D-Series: the D45 CRT. Designed primarily for transit and commuter agencies, and with the ability to more efficiently board Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passengers, the D45 CRT offers a lower vestibule amidships, sacrificing the one of its rear luggage bays.
Although MCI still classifies the D45 CRT as D-series, the coach chassis is based on the MCI J model chassis.
The Model J and the D45 CRT share an identical wheelbase, overall length and front and rear overhangs. The D45 CRT shares the same engine options as the J4500.
I mean, come on, MCI, let’s call it a Model J.
Today, it is rare to see the beloved original D models on the road. Greyhound is phasing them out, as are many other travel and tour operators.
In mid-July 2022, Peoria Charter, the company I work for, sold two of its last three remaining D4505s. In fact, I made the sale. We still have one left if anyone is interested.
The opinion of viewers
Here’s what some of you had to say about my take on the Prevost pronunciation debate:
Volvotruck860: They are still used in New York to connect people between the suburbs and the city. Slowly replaced by provosts, but still very common. A true testament to their reliability. And a true classic
Greg Hanson: At Sundance Stage Lines we still have six D3s (Five have over 1,000,000 miles each and the other is at 965,000) and two DL3s, but these will be leaving next year when California smog laws force their retreat. We would have over 40ft, due to the number of restricted roads in our area, but MCI messed up the D in the 2010 update by installing the DEF tank in the rear baggage compartment instead of redesigning the tank area of fuel and other choices tailored to the commuter market.
Bob Bergey: One of your best and most interesting videos, James! I liked that. I started my racing career in 2002 driving D models before switching to J’s.
Bus & Motorcoach News columnist James Wang is co-owner of Peoria Charter Coach Company and a bus enthusiast who shares his passion for the motorcoach industry on his two YouTube channels, J Wang and coach world.
Read more James Wang’s chronicles here.
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