MOUN­TAIN MUNCHER

In Aus­tralia’s alpine re­gions there are more than a few steep hills and slip­pery gra­di­ents, and you need good power to over­come them in a coach. MAN’s 500hp+ three-axle chas­sis doesn’t just climb them, it flat­tens them.

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS / IM­AGES PAUL ALDRIDGE

It’s in­deed a very spe­cial set of wheels. The 1,000th bus body from Queens­land’s Coach De­sign rides on a 500hp+ Euro 6c MAN three-axle coach pow­er­house. Yep, time to take it for a spin. Paul Aldridge re­ports.

As put so sim­ply by Cooma Coaches op­er­a­tor and part owner Trevor Heise, “There ain’t no hills any­more.” And hav­ing driven some good ones while trans­port­ing hun­dreds of avid ski-lov­ing folk around NSW’s south­ern alpine re­gion each sea­son, he should know what he’s talk­ing about when it comes to ef­fort­lessly driv­ing on, over, and across them.

Let’s be up­front about it: the MAN RR4 CO 26.500 is one big puppy! On our visit to Cooma Coaches we were lucky enough to test drive this im­pres­sive new coach that is spe­cial for many rea­sons.

The MAN RR4 CO 26.500 three-axle chas­sis is the very first re­lease to the Aus­tralian mar­ket of a 500hp+ (373kW) Euro 6c en­gine and the coach’s de­liv­ery also marks the 1,000th ve­hi­cle built by Aus­tralian bus body builder Coach De­sign, which fea­tured in ABC mag­a­zine Is­sue 372.

With such a long of­fi­cial name, we asked Heise what he calls the coach for short. He replied, “I call it the 26 500, that means 26-tonne chas­sis and 500hp, that’s the sim­plest way. When I walk around the yard I go by the horse­power and I’ve got them from 220hp [164kW]”.

We thus asked him about the power of the 26.500 and what it felt like. He ex­plained it as, “It’s just there. Put sim­ply, there ain’t no hills any­more.”

So how is this one dif­fer­ent to his other MANs?

“This is our first Euro 6 AdBlue model. This big puppy has 2,500Nm

torque. Ini­tially I wasn’t keen to go to AdBlue, but like all tech­nol­ogy you have to start some­time.”

Mod­i­fi­ca­tions he’s made to this coach were to the diff ra­tio, as they had to be 3.42. Stan­dard is 3.19, which is too high a gear for this area.

“Power to weight is the trick. You don’t have to use it, but if it’s there you can use it! We’ve found hav­ing lots of horse­power isn’t re­lated to fuel con­sump­tion; it ac­tu­ally helps re­duce fuel if driven cor­rectly. You don’t need to drive hard,” Heise said.

This 12.4-litre gives you 2,500Nm from as low down as 930rpm and [email protected],800rpm.

THE TEST DRIVE

This coach has torque! When you’ve got torque and horse­power com­bined then driv­ing’s ef­fort­less. You can just feel it: good easy driv­ing.

This 12.4-litre gives you 2,500Nm from as low down as 930rpm and [email protected],800rpm. Torque wins races on hills and she’s cer­tainly got it. Driv­ing her, you can feel straight away how easy it is as there’s just that power – it’s not in any par­tic­u­lar part of the rev range, it’s con­stant.

This coach has all the safety fea­tures you’d ex­pect of it th­ese days. Coaches are of­ten adapted to suit the harsh Aus­tralian driv­ing con­di­tions, but we can’t think of too many ar­eas that would face the ex­tremes that Cooma Coaches would. This MAN chas­sis has got all the bells and whis­tles of safety fea­tures. We rarely have driven in snow or ex­treme icy con­di­tions, but with hill de­scent, adap­tive cruise con­trol, elec­tronic brak­ing sys­tem (EBS), elec­tronic sta­bil­ity pro­gram (ESP), tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, and lane guard depar­ture warn­ing, this ve­hi­cle is pretty sorted.

The best thing? Th­ese fea­tures are stan­dard MAN, which says this is a max­i­mum safety coach and, with all th­ese fea­tures, the driver’s job will be a lot eas­ier.

Driv­ing along the high­way just out­side Cooma we got to give the adap­tive cruise con­trol a go.

We love this fea­ture. It picks up the ve­hi­cle in front of you up to 130 me­tres away and mon­i­tors the dis­tance; if they slow down you slow down. For long dis­tance drives this fea­ture would have to be one that will re­ally give driv­ers peace of mind and cer­tainly in­crease pas­sen­ger safety.

An­other fea­ture we loved driv­ing with is hill de­scent. If you’re in a hilly or moun­tain area, you hit the brake for two sec­onds and it will hold that gear and keep it at a con­stant with the re­tarder sys­tem. It just holds it and elim­i­nates you be­ing con­stantly on the brakes. We re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate fea­tures that make the job eas­ier and safer for the driver and this coach is packed with fea­tures that will make sure driv­ing is just that.

Now, many of us are all fa­mil­iar

with lane depar­ture sys­tems, but MAN has a sys­tem called Lane Guard. If you get close to the lane lines it sends you a beep – again, peace of mind for the driver and op­er­a­tor.

One fea­ture that Cooma had fit­ted was LED bin door lights. It was the mid­dle of the day and you could still see how pow­er­ful they are. Heise says they light up a re­ally good dis­tance out for night-time lug­gage load­ing. It’s the small de­tails like this that make a coach com­fort­able for driv­ers and pas­sen­gers.

Over­all, this drive was a plea­sure. We had heard so much about this coach and it cer­tainly did meet ex­pec­ta­tions. Yes, we are in a snow re­gion where safety is para­mount, but so many of our Aus­tralian re­gions give our bus and coach driv­ers harsh con­di­tions un­like any other.

Neg­a­tives? I looked hard but found none re­ally. Driver com­fort and vi­sion are good, con­trols well placed and easy to use and through­out there’s pas­sen­ger com­fort and space as you would ex­pect from a 2018 new build.

The RR4 CO 26.500 would give any op­er­a­tor peace of mind with the ad­di­tional safety fea­tures, but more than that it’s an easy and com­fort­able drive for us driv­ers. And she’d be one su­per com­fort­able trip for pas­sen­gers com­ing to the ski fields.

GOOD GEAR

Heise be­ing Heise, it doesn’t take long with him to re­alise he’s old school in the nicest pos­si­ble way and would like to thank peo­ple that have helped him with his MAN jour­ney. “There are two peo­ple I would re­ally like to thank. The num­ber one is John Den­naj from Mel­bourne. He’s not re­ally a NSW sales­man, but he and I have had a mate-to-mate re­la­tion­ship for years. He came off the fac­tory floor and he spent 50 years with MAN. We as­sist each other with any prob­lems that we find, we are al­ways look­ing at what can and can’t be done – he’s the fore­most per­son I owe thanks to, he’s a real gen­tle­man.”

He con­tin­ued, “Also Clint Sto­er­mer, the bus sales and ser­vice man­ager for MAN Aus­tralia-wide, dis­trib­u­tor Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles. With­out his as­sis­tance th­ese ve­hi­cles would not have been pos­si­ble in Aus­tralia be­cause I pestered and pur­sued them. We had to get the PBS [per­for­mance based stan­dards] done with the na­tional bod­ies to al­low them on the Aus­tralian roads. Hon­estly, I can to­tally rec­om­mend MAN to any­one who wants or needs a three-axle. That chas­sis is ca­pa­ble of a dou­ble-decker, that’s how strong it is”.

When asked if he wanted a dou­ble-decker, Heise laughed: “I’d like one? I’d love one. She’s just a good bit of gear.”

COOMA COACHES

One thing we com­monly see when we get the op­por­tu­nity to visit long-run­ning fam­ily bus and coach busi­nesses is a large dose of old-fash­ioned val­ues com­bined with a tonne of hard work and ded­i­ca­tion. Th­ese char­ac­ter­is­tics have en­sured such com­pa­nies have achieved the suc­cess they have.

One of those com­pa­nies is Cooma Coaches and one of those peo­ple is Trevor Heise, one of the Cooma Coaches own­ers. When ABC mag­a­zine headed to Cooma re­cently to test drive a very spe­cial ve­hi­cle and have a chat with the clan there, Heise gave a great day of fam­ily bus sto­ries

and shared his re­la­tion­ship with a bus and coach man­u­fac­turer that shows a his­tory of trust and re­spect rarely seen.

“Be­ing a fam­ily-run busi­ness, you put your heart and soul right into the busi­ness. You go the ex­tra mile to make things hap­pen, es­pe­cially in a small com­mu­nity,” Heise said, adamantly.

His story with the Cooma re­gion be­gan in the 1970s when he was just a boy.

“My par­ents bought Cooma Coaches in De­cem­ber 1978, when we moved here from Pic­ton, NSW. My grand­mother owned Pic­ton Coaches and, be­fore that, my great-grand­fa­ther owned a bus up in New­cas­tle, so that makes me fourth gen­er­a­tion in buses – not too many of us out there that could make that claim!”

“We started that first Christ­mas with four buses. Rub and Beryl Ar­mitage kept a cou­ple of coaches and they con­tin­ued to op­er­ate them for an­other four years. Af­ter that my par­ents had enough money to buy the last coaches from them. Our com­pany colours back then where red, white and blue.

“When I fin­ished school, dad sent me out to work, but ‘you’re not com­ing straight to work here for me’, he told me. I needed to go out and work for other peo­ple and learn what work’s about.

“Be­fore I came back here in ’84 I had three jobs. I started here when I was 20 years old. I worked in a saw mill and I loved the work, I worked at a trout farm and loved that too – ’cause I love fish­ing – and I also worked at Kennedys Dis­count Tyres, which still op­er­ates here as Monaro Dis­count Tyres,” Heise ex­plained.

“When I came to work for dad he taught me how to drive and I was put on the Thredbo school bus run that goes out north from Cooma – and did that run con­stantly for al­most four years be­fore he would let me go any­where else. My very first coach job I did was from Cooma up to the Thredbo Vil­lage in the sum­mer time. I was al­ways coach num­ber two and, as time got on, I was al­lowed to go out here, there and ev­ery­where,” he con­tin­ued.

It’s tes­ti­mony to the re­la­tion­ship that Heise had with his fa­ther that his dad’s coach still sits in the yard. He died in 1993 and Heise says it will stay here “as long as he does”.

It’s ob­vi­ous from how he speaks of him that his dad made him pay his dues and he had no easy ride, but that was all part of the fam­ily com­mit­ment, he says.

“About five years af­ter I started I

Power to weight is the trick. You don’t have to use it, but if it’s there you can use it!

got to take out the se­nior ci­ti­zens and they took a lik­ing to me and I have con­tin­ued to take them all over the place: Queens­land, Western Aus­tralia, Tas­ma­nia – and I even chap­er­oned them over to New Zealand.”

We asked Heise about the com­pany’s dis­tinc­tive paint­work that makes it easy from a dis­tance to recog­nise as a Cooma Coach. He said, “I had a Mercedes-Benz 1621 that was painted ma­roon with gold sign writ­ing, I used to drive it ev­ery­where. It was a 1990 model and it was the first of the new colour schemes and that coach is still here to­day. I de­signed the brand­ing in 1990 and I am so glad it hasn’t dated and still looks good to­day.

“I did 73,000 kilo­me­tres in that one be­fore any­one else ever drove it. I drove it ev­ery­where. I’ve al­ways said if there’s a road I’ll take it, if there ain’t one I’ll nearly make it,” to which ev­ery­one in the of­fice laughs, and, as you can clearly tell, it’s been a long re­la­tion­ship with in­her­ent re­spect of the bus in­dus­try that makes this com­pany what it is.

“I’ve al­ways said ‘if there’s a road’

is how we op­er­ate. It means we’ll go, we’ll try.”

MAN RE­LA­TION­SHIP

Heise shows us a his­tory of the pur­chases the com­pany has made in the early 1990s, in­clud­ing a bus that his dad never got to see fin­ished be­ing built.

“In 1996 my un­cle Robert Gan­der that worked for Pic­ton Coaches had an MAN down there; it was a Cus­tom Coach 49-seater. We bought it se­cond hand. They sold it firstly to Sim­mons Coaches at Na­rooma and we bought it from

them. That first pur­chase was when I fell in love with MANs; I think I have 20 of them.”

It seems like sen­ti­men­tal­ism runs high in this fam­ily. Heise also still has his first MAN and said, “I’ve kept that first ’87 model and I am go­ing to con­vert it into a mo­tor home. I love tim­ber and I am do­ing the in­te­rior with tim­ber I have cut my­self from the bush, stored it and dried it, ma­chined it etc. I have some pretty unique tim­bers to use in it. It will be a while yet, but it’s a work in progress.”

He con­tin­ued: “Around 2010 we built the de­pot at Jind­abyne; it took three years to com­plete. Up there we have seven MANs, so the fleet is split, with the ma­jor­ity of the newer mod­els go­ing there. The older ones stay here be­cause it’s here that the me­chan­i­cal work­shop is lo­cated. The boys do runs up ev­ery morn­ing and they just come back when they need a ser­vice and they come for a monthly safety check.

“In 1978 we started with four school buses, then four years later two coaches; by 1994 we had grown to four coaches. For the year 2000 with the Olympics we had six coaches and by 2010 we had an­other coach.

“Once upon a time I knew ev­ery rego num­ber off the top of my head, un­til they changed all the rego num­bers … then I lost track,” he joked. “Cur­rently, we are up to 29. We are ac­cred­ited for 30, so can’t go past that fig­ure. Of the 30, we have 18 MANs,” Heise said about the com­pany’s growth over the years.

In 2015 his mum re­tired from the com­pany and sold her shares to Chris Fogg from Port Stephens Coaches. His busi­ness is pre­dom­i­nantly Volvo, but he has owned MANs in the past and is happy for Cooma Coaches to re­main MAN. Port Stephens Coaches has been go­ing for over 60 years and we un­der­stand is a good fit with the same strong, his­tor­i­cal fam­ily back­ground.

Speak­ing with Heise you re­alise that Cooma Coaches, like a lot of coun­try com­pa­nies, have a pretty broad work­load that cov­ers a lot of dif­fer­ent ap­pli­ca­tions and needs of a whole lot more than just the lo­cal com­mu­nity work.

“We have 16 reg­is­tered school runs, we do char­ter work here and in the ACT. I am ac­cred­ited there and have worked there since the ’90s. We have a con­tract with Sport and Re­cre­ation for sport­ing groups; they can come from all over the state for ski­ing and sum­mer moun­tain sports. We also have con­tracts for rail work. This week­end we have six on rail for Can­berra to Syd­ney where you need two driv­ers per bus – it all keeps us very busy,” he ex­plained, cheek­ily.

...there’s pas­sen­ger com­fort and space as you would ex­pect from a 2018 Coach De­sign new build.

Above: The Coach De­sign body looks a treat in Cooma Coaches’ liv­ery. Right: The seat of power, MAN style.

Above: Dis­tic­tive from all an­gles. Op­po­site, Top: Retro cool­ness in spades.

Above: Bin bays with LED light­ing work great and at night – and day­time, too. Be­low: In ‘the sta­ble,’ 500-plus MAN horses.

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