James Wang explains how the Dependable D changed bus travel

There once was a bus called the Dependable D. It’s actually called MCI DL3, but it definitely earned its nickname. 

Dependable D has a special place in my heart. In my opinion, it was truly a good mix of dependability, comfort and curb appeal. It’s the motorcoach I started my career in and where I spent a lot of time behind the wheel. I want to pay homage to the MCI D series. 

Between the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the landscape of the motorcoach industry was changing. Coach bus designs were starting to rapidly evolve around several factors.

One factor was size. Most commercial interstate coach buses were built 40 feet long. This was governed by U.S. interstate laws at the time, which prohibited buses longer than 40 feet. But on Dec. 18, 1991, all of that changed when the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) was signed into law, allowing highway commercial coach buses to increase in size to 45 feet. 

The second factor was an internal Motor Coach Industries (MCI) decision. At the time, all MCI coach models had two-stroke engines. That was about to change.

In 1987, Detroit Diesel introduced the New Detroit Series 60 four-stroke engine. Among many other benefits, the new engine ran cleaner and was more fuel efficient because fuel was consumed once every four strokes versus every two. On top of that, the four-stroke engine did not release burnt oil into the air as the two-strokes did, so it required less oil. 

Other benefits of the four-stroke engine were that it lasted much longer than two-stroke engines and the oil for the four-stroke was much cheaper. 

But Detroit’s Series 60 four-stroke engines were much larger than the twos, requiring a larger engine bay to house them, and that meant MCI had to come up with a new design. 

A third factor was the Canadian government. Around 1988, the Canadian government was looking for a wheelchair-accessible intercity bus. 

A renowned Canada-based motorcoach manufacturer, MCI already had a shining reputation for building extremely reliable buses. So, it was a no-brainer for the Canadian government to go to MCI for a new bus design.

Inception

In 1989, two years before buses were allowed to be 45 feet long, in partnership with the Canadian government, MCI started playing with design options to see how the 45-foot-long concept would work. In 1991, MCI created two 45-foot prototypes.

One of the first testbeds was stretching an existing MCI 102-C3 model. MCI added a 5-foot frame section to the 40-foot 102-C3 — at the time, MCI’s latest and greatest model —  to stretch it out to 45 feet (14 meters). 

Because MCI had put so much research and design work into the 45-foot coach concept, it didn’t take long for the company to create a sound and reliable 45-foot coach bus that was ready for production.

Less than three months later, during a United Bus Owners Association (now UMA) Bus Expo in February 1992, MCI introduced the 102-DL3 to the public. The first three numbers in the model name indicated the width of the coach (102 inches), the D is its model line, the L stood for long (45 feet), and the 3 at the end indicated that it had three axles. 

I love the DL3, but someone should have hired a marketing guy to give it a catchier name. I would have named it something like the MCI Defiant since it kind of defied the 40-foot limitation of motorcoaches back then.

By late 1992, the 102-DL3 — which came with options for a wheelchair lift and an accessible lavatory — entered full production and it was an instant hit.

40-footers still popular

A shorter version of the D series, the 102-D3, was introduced in January 1994 for those operators that still wanted to use 40-foot buses. There was still a lot of demand for the shorter frame because, at the time of the 102-DL3’s release, many bus companies had garages, stalls and bus lifts that could accommodate only a 40-foot coach.

Private motorcoach touring, as well as scheduled service companies like Greyhound, went nuts over the 102-DL3 and, once again, MCI proved itself as a solid coach manufacturer. 

During more than a decade of reliable service, the D models were cherished by their owners, drivers and mechanics alike. They were simple to drive, easy to work on, and very reliable and cheap to operate for fleet owners, earning them the nickname “the Dependable D.”

Then, the D model began to show its age. So, the D series coaches set the stage for the next generation of modern motorcoach design. 

By 2005, MCI had released its new E and J series coaches to compete with Prevost’s new H3-45s. 

Compared to the J model’s curvier lines and more modern-looking interior, the D model looked outdated. But, despite its looks, the D series was still going strong. 

Greyhound continued to purchase D models, which became the backbone and workhorse of its fleet. Transit agencies purchased them to bolster their longer-distance commuter routes. And luxury tour companies were still buying D models for charter trips.

So, MCI decided to give the D model a facelift.

New generations of D models

In 2005, MCI released a new generation of D models: the 45-foot MCI D4500CT and the 40-foot MCI D4000CT. (The CT denoted the model’s contemporary design.)

In 2010, MCI once again updated D series coaches to meet new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. This upgrade included a re-engineered cooling package, which included a single fan with a three-speed clutch and a shorter belt. 

In 2017, MCI rolled out the next generation of the D series: the D45 CRT. Primarily designed for commuter and city transit agencies, and with the ability to more efficiently board Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passengers, the D45 CRT offers a lower vestibule in the midship, sacrificing one of its rear luggage bays. 

Although MCI still classifies the D45 CRT as being part of the D series, the frame of the coach is based on the MCI J model frame. 

The J model and the D45 CRT share an identical wheelbase, overall length, and front and rear overhangs. The D45 CRT shares the same engine options as the J4500.

I mean, come on, MCI, let’s just call it a J model. 

Today, it’s rare to see the beloved original D models on the road. Greyhound is phasing them out, as are many other charter and tour operators. 

In mid-July 2022, Peoria Charter, the company I work for, sold off two of its three last remaining D4505s. In fact, I did the selling. We’ve still got one left if anyone is interested. 

Viewers’ thoughts

Here’s what some of you had to say about my take on the Prevost pronunciation debate: 

Volvotruck860: They are still being used in New York to connect people between the suburbs and the city. Slowly being replaced by Prevosts but they are still super common. A true testament to their reliability. And a true classic

Greg Hanson: We at Sundance Stage Lines still have six D3s (Five have over 1,000,000 miles each and the other one is at 965,000) and two DL3s, but those will leave next year when California smog laws force their retirement. We would have more 40 footers, due to the number of restricted roads in our area, but MCI messed up the D in the 2010 update by installing the DEF tank in the rear luggage bay instead of redesigning the fuel tank area and making other choices geared towards the commuter market.

Bob Bergey: One of your best and most interesting videos, James! I enjoyed it. I started my driving career in 2002 driving D models before moving on to the J’s.

Bus & Motorcoach News columnist James Wang is co-owner of Peoria Charter Coach Company and a bus geek who shares his passion for the motorcoach industry on his two YouTube channels, J Wang and Motorcoach World

Read more James Wang’s columns here.

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