The time when Yugoslavia made US school buses
One of many Yugoslavian 'What ifs'
In a similar manner over the next few weeks, I'll try to get you into some of the more rare stories behind the Yugoslavian (very thin and transparent) curtain when it comes to vehicles manufactured back then. It's not all about Yugo, it wasn't all that crappy (yes it was), but at least it was very interesting, specially from this time distance to see.
First of all, Yugoslavia wasn't exactly the schoolbook example of a communist country - we broke up with the USSR in 1948 and the country was openly peeking behind the curtain very happily cooperating with the West. Let's say, we had zero problems with US green stuff or blue (mostly) Deutschmarks. Investments were becoming more and more welcome as we drifted away from the once destroyed country of the WW2.
TAM or Tovarna Avtomobilov Maribor (Maribor Car Factory) was established in the New Year's Eve of 1946, to become one of the leading truck and buses factories in the country. By the year 1985, TAM had produced almost 200,000 trucks and buses for domestic and export markets. A lot of those still roll today as cheap and robust ways of transporting goods in rural areas of the ex-YU.
You all know the Yugo and the Uncle Sam story, but that wasn't the only project to be done with the Americans. A US company called 'Combustion Engineering' was looking back in 1989 a way to get into the Yugoslavian market of building dams for hydroelectric powerplants being built across the country. Negotiating that deal, some communist witchcraft happened and the deal was done - in order to get into the market, the above mentioned company needed to invest into Yugoslavia some 2.5 million of USD (probably USD, I can't get a proper source for the currency).
The solution was to invest in TAM Maribor, in order for them to make a first non-US made school bus for the US market. Basically, TAM didn't had the proper know-how to do it on its own, so they utilised a consulting company from the US ('Transportation Alternatives') and formed a joint-venture company TAM-USA, which did a full market research in The States - of the scale that hadn't been seen yet - the research included a feedback from different service providers, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Safety Council, National Association for Pupil Transportation and similar.
TAM used its experience in truck manufacturing to make a very (accordingly) stiff and rigid body-on-frame, with a body used from a tourist bus in Yugoslavia, therefore profiting from very large window areas. Compared to contemporary buses in the US service, it used a fuel tank, double the size - 200 gallons. Also, the detailed research resulted in the TAM 252 A 121 being equipped with some 'firsts' in the school bus segment in the US - air-con, adjustable seats or extended set of warning ligthts in the rear.
TAM Avtomontaža Maribor made the body and sent it to Van Nuys, CA to be fitted with suspension and Cummins C8.3 powerplant with 250 bhp. In 1990, two of the TAMs were built and sent into service to be tested thoroughly. Unfortunately, in the meantime, in 1991 all hell broke lose over here and the whole project came to a halt. Those two examples, allegedly, were sold to a company that kept them in service all the way up to 2010 when they were scrapped.
Thanks for reading.