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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.