The time when Yugoslavia made US school buses

One of many Yugoslavian 'What ifs'

2w ago

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.

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Comments (19)

  • It was sort of a miracle to get to Yugoslavia in the 80’s for us, the greyest of grey east block Czechoslovak citizens. And yet it happened. It was not only the fabulous Makarska riviera, the olympic big-and-free-world-city of Sarajevo (for my 10-years old eyes at least), but the presence of MkI Golfs, being assembled there, driven by local Milicija policemen. Again, a miracle for me at the day.. what had happened then, I never believed 😢

      13 days ago
    • Yeah. You couldn't have put it better.

      I was a kid back then as well, I'm not that old but I remember some of it.

      Too complex to function. I guess that is the closest to an answer one can get, without going political. And I don't want that...

      Read more
        13 days ago
    • Yeah, I’d like to drink Boza again one day..

      All the best to you as well👍

        13 days ago
  • I lived in that Yugoslavia, but I didn't know about this ... Beautiful article. Thank you

      15 days ago
  • I only knew Maribor for having caves and wine making fields. Now I know that they also built buses! They should add that fact on one of those brown signs on the highway! And also, great article! Very interesting and well made! Have a nice day and take care now!

      15 days ago
    • Thank you for the support. I'll try to keep up.

      Yes, Maribor is a wine heaven and one of my favorite towns in the ex country.

        15 days ago
    • You don't need to keep up! Perfection takes time.

        15 days ago
  • There is still something left from TAM in Maribor and also some are still driving around.

    There were many other manufacturers from Yugoslavia, which aren't known as good as Yugo. If you are interested in the Yugoslavian automotive industrie check out samos, avtomontaža, fab, imv, torpedo, tomo vinković, tas volkswagen, opel kikinda, revoz, cimos, imt, tomos, zastava, štore. Most were licence made products.

      10 days ago
  • Well, I do know it’s a heresy in certain former Yugoslavian countries to mention it or talk positive about the former state, but according to the older population from that “very Central European country” ( not really an Eastern Europe if you closely observe the map and not even Balkan as the balkans border crosses somewhere in Bulgaria ( according to my history professor)) industry and economy was booming back there especially during Tito’s sovereign. He evidently managed to balance between the East ( USSR ) and the West ( USA ) and in the process get plenty of money and resources from both. I remember clearly one university professor stating that;”Yugoslavia had one of the most diverse industries and that only thing that wasn’t made there was the supersonic reconnaissance fighter jet, hence the MIG 21 and 29 that were resourced from Russia. And even that project was in the cards right before the war in 1991. I am glad someone’s doing articles about this and looking forward for more to come. Thanks man 👍🏻

      13 days ago