|Founded||Garford Motor Truck Company, Elyria, Ohio, 1909|
|Headquarters||Lima, Ohio, United States|
|Area served||North America|
Superior Coach was once a school bus body and professional car manufacturer, but today it focuses on building hearses and is located in Lima in Allen County, Ohio.
In 1909, the Garford Motor Truck Company was established in Elyria, Ohio, a small town 30 miles outside Cleveland, Ohio. In 1925, the company changed its name to the Superior Body Company and moved its operations to Lima, Ohio, where it occupied a new plant housing a large manufacturing facility and administrative offices. The company diversified, introducing a line of hearse and ambulance bodies (known as professional cars and becoming a major producer of school bus bodies for the U.S. and Canada as well as export markets.
The company changed its name to Superior Coach Company in 1940. And the years that followed saw hearses styled on Cadillac, LaSalle and Pontiac chassis. By 1949, the company had added Chrysler, DeSoto and Dodge chassis to its funeral coach line, offering customers a smaller investment and lower overhead. School bus bodies were built primarily on Chevrolet/GM, Dodge, Ford, and International Harvester truck chassis. In 1951 the Lima facility was expanded and a new facility in Kosciusko, Mississippi was dedicated.
In 1969, Superior Coach Company was acquired by an industrial conglomerate and auto parts maker, the Toledo, Ohio-based Sheller-Globe Corporation. The 1977 model year saw a major downsizing in the automobile chassis used for the professional car business. The ambulance sector switched to larger vehicles based upon van, cutaway van chassis, and truck chassis. The watershed year of 1977 also brought new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards-(FMVSS) for school buses built after April 1, which increased both costs and engineering challenges. In addition to higher costs, at the same time, a downturn in North American school bus purchase volumes began as the children of the Baby Boom completed their elementary and secondary educations.
By 1980, Superior was one of the big six school bus body manufacturing companies in the United States, competing with Blue Bird Body Company, Carpenter Body Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., Ward Body Company, and Wayne Corporation, as well as Gillig Bros. and Crown Coach Corporation (manufacturers which traded primarily on the West Coast). Bidding competition for reduced volumes became devastating to profits and even liquidity. In 1979, Ward declared bankruptcy, reorganizing as AmTran the following year.
Faced with these challenges, industry over-capacity among school bus manufacturers, and the loss of ambulance business in the professional car sector, Sheller-Globe Corporation liquidated its Superior-related investments in late 1980, and portions of its assets were sold.
Carrollton Bus Disaster
Many years after Sheller-Globe exited the school bus manufacturing business, a disastrous accident occurred with one of Superior bus bodies it had built. As of January 2007, the Carrollton bus disaster remained the worst school bus accident in U.S. history.
On May 14, 1988, shortly before 11:00 PM, a 1977 model school bus with a Ford B-700 chassis and a 66 passenger Superior body in use as a church bus was involved a collision and fire near Carrollton, Kentucky. 27 persons died, and many more were injured, after their bus was involved in a head-on collision with a drunk driver traveling the wrong way on Interstate 71. Although none of the bus occupants suffered mortal injuries in the impact, the victims were unable to evacuate quickly immediately after the impact as the gasoline tank of the bus ruptured and a fire broke out.
The bus had been built only 9 days before the 1977 FMVSS standards would have required additional collision protection of the fuel tank. Although no legal determination of product liability was ever made, Sheller-Globe and Ford Motor Company each contributed substantially to the settlement funds for those injured and the families of those who were killed.
The accident and the legal battle afterward were recounted in a 1994 book by James S. Kuen. Reckless Disregard: Corporate Greed, Government Indifference, and the Kentucky School Bus Crash was published by Simon & Schuster of New York City. (ISBN 0-671-70533-4)
Small businesses emerge from Superior after Sheller-Globe
After Sheller-Globe announced the closure of its Lima bus and professional car manufacturing operations in 1980, several small businesses purchased portions of the assets, and carried on successfully with several product lines.
Mid Bus: Small school buses
- Main article: Mid Bus
Although large school bus manufacturing was discontinued with the 1980 model year, Mid Bus, a new small business based in Lima organized by 3 former employees, resumed production of the smallest Superior school buses, beginning with a workforce of 16 persons. The small business of Mid Bus grew successfully, and after a move to a much larger facility at Bluffton, Ohio, was acquired by Collins Industries in 1998.
Accubuilt: Professional cars
- Main article: Accubiilt
In 1981, the funeral car business of Superior was sold to Tom Earnhart. Later that year, it was merged with the largest competitor, The S&S Coach Company. This formed a new company, S&S/Superior of Ohio, to oversee the further development of the two businesses. Manufacturing operations were consolidated at Superior's plant in Lima, which had been expanded 30 years earlier.
As of 2007, Earnhart's venture continues to operate as a portion of Accubuilt, Inc., using the Superior Coach trade name for its line of funeral cars and specialty vehicles. Accubuilt's 200,000 sqft flagship facility is also the exclusive production plant for the W.P. Chrysler Executive Series 300, a longer wheelbase version of the Chrysler 300.
Accubuilt's Limousine Division also operates a facility in Springfield, Missouri that manufactures limousines with wheelbase extensions of up to 130 in.
- Type B (Pacemaker)
- Chevrolet P30 chassis
- Type C (Pioneer)
- Chevrolet/GMC B-Series chassis
- Ford B700 chassis
- International Harvester Loadstar chassis (1962-1978)
- International Harvester S-Series chassis (1979-1985)
- Type D (SuperCruiser)
- International Harvester chassis
- front and rear-engine models
- Accubuilt History, undated, retrieved on 18 February 2009.
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