Manufacture to 2001
Our bus started its life in 1985, when it was manufactured by Neoplan (aka the Gotlob Auwaerter Company) in Pilsting, Germany. The bus was built to US DOT standards for export to the US through Neoplan USA, a wholly independent licensee of the Neoplan name and technology.
Neoplan USA had come into being in 1978, and, soon afterwards, began manufacturing several models in the US. The Spaceliner (our model) was slated to be among those manufactured by the US company, however, US production (what little there ever was) did not start until sometime after 1987. To jump-start sales, Neoplan USA filled early Spaceliner orders by contracting production to the German operation. As a side note, Neoplan USA pulled out of the touring coach market completely in 2002, as you will see later in this history.
As far as we have been able to determine, this coach was built as a conversion "shell," meaning it left the Pilsting plant with no seats, and, most likely, with steel panels in place of four of what would normally be the passenger windows. Due to US regulations, four of the remaining windows were fitted with emergency egress apparatus, a set of parts (including glazing) unique to the US market. The coach was issued a US-series VIN showing a 1985 model year.
The shell arrived in the US via ship, presumably a RO-RO, at the port of Houston. From there, it was delivered to a motor coach converter whose name we have been unable to unearth in all our research. We believe that this was part of an order of several Spaceliners, all slightly different, delivered to this converter.
Whether this shell was being converted speculatively or for a specific customer is unknown. What we do know is that the unknown converter went out of business before the conversion was ever completed. The unfinished conversion was then acquired by another converter, "Pegasus." We believe that Pegasus may have acquired all the assets of this company, including other Spaceliners in various stages of conversion. Pegasus, which, as near as we can determine, was based somewhere in Texas, is also long since out of business.
According to sources familiar with the conversion of this particular coach, Pegasus essentially started the conversion process over again from scratch. It is unknown how far along the previous converter had been.
Some time during the conversion process, Pegasus brought the coach to the Neoplan USA facility in Lamar, Colorado to be repowered. We assume that the coach had either a Mercedes or a Deutz engine when it was manufactured in Pilsting, most likely mated to a 6-speed manual ZF transmission. These were the powertrains commonly used in Spaceliners of this era. Presumably, the original powertrain had very little mileage at the time of the changeout, as the coach was only driven between the port of entry, the original converter, Pegasus, and Lamar (and perhaps a handful of smaller trips incidental to the conversion process).
In any case, the original powertrain was removed in Lamar sometime in '89 or '90 and replaced with a brand new Detroit Diesel 8V92TA (DDEC) rated at 475 horsepower, coupled to an Allison ATEC HTB748 four-speed automatic transmission with output retarder. The powerplant changeout was a major project, involving a good deal of rework at the rear of the coach to accommodate the physically larger Detroit and its larger radiator and fans. Additional airflow grilles were added in several places to accommodate the cooling.
Apparently, the new powertrain experienced some overheating problems after delivery to the first owner, and it is our understanding that it went back to Lamar at least once and maybe several times to have these problems corrected. From some of the weird structural and sheet metal work in the area of the radiator, we are guessing that even larger radiators and fans were added to the coach during one of these visits.
We have also been told that some of the conversion work had to be redone after the repower due to the amount of cutting and welding that had to be done in the bedroom, although it is unclear how much of the bedroom had been completed by this time.
In any event, Pegasus ultimately completed the conversion sometime in 1991, and issued a "completed vehicle" title for it bearing that year. We understand the original purchaser of the coach to be one Daryl Byerly (sp?) of Las Vegas, NV. As the story does, Mr. Byerly purchased this coach for his father, who planned to use it to travel the country in his retirement.
The story continues with the senior Mr. Byerly taking the coach on exactly one trip, and returning with it to his son to complain that it was too large, too hard to handle, and/or too complex to operate for him to be comfortable in it. At this point, we are told, the Byerlys brought the coach to a luxury motorhome dealer by the name of Sunset Motors, where they traded it (possibly "straight across" as they say in the used car business -- we've been unable to find out) for a top-of-the-line Bluebird motorhome.
Sunset Motors had possession of the coach for at least another year. It clearly accumulated some mileage there, as we have talked to at least three people who drove the coach while it was at Sunset (one of whom got it stuck, high-centered, at an intersection). Eventually, a buyer came along who fell in love with the coach, and Sunset sold it.
This buyer was one George McCall of southern California. George was apparently a collector of rolling toys, having so many cars that he actually registered as a car "dealer" just to avoid having to register them all. (Dealers in California are issued one or more sets of "dealer" license plates which they may move from vehicle to vehicle and can use, for any purpose, on any vehicle in their possession.) You can see one of George's dealer plates in some of the "before" photos of Odyssey.
George and his family used the coach only occasionally and very sporadically from about 1993 when he bought it until about 1996 when he became seriously ill. We've been told that, in this period, they made one cross-country trip and several local jaunts, mostly to auto races and the Rose Bowl. George passed away from his illness in 1997, and the coach sat essentially unused from this point until 2001, when his widow Barbara could finally bring herself to begin liquidating George's extensive toy collection.
During this last period, the coach was minimally cared for by one of George's sons and a hired shop. Barbara had no interest in the coach herself and refused to put any money into its upkeep other than what could not be avoided. As a result, when she did decide to sell the coach, many items needed to be addressed from age and neglect.
Barbara, it turns out, is a very successful real estate salesperson. As such, virtually all of the money she spent on readying the coach for sale was spent in appearance items. For example, she had a coat of paint (crudely) applied on top of the existing paint job, which was showing its age. She had the outer six tires replaced (but not the inner duals, which are very hard to see). A small handful of woodwork that had been water-damaged was in the process of being replaced when we went to look at it for the first time. By this point in time, the coach had only accumulated a total of less than 27,000 miles (since the repower, at least), and Barbara could just not understand how anything could need to be replaced at such a low number.
Barbara placed ads for the coach in a number of venues, and we spotted it in the FMCA house organ "Family Motor Coaching." After already having looked at two different Spaceliners (one of which we were already in negotiations on), we jumped on a plane to head down for an inspection. And that brings us up to the next chapter in the history.