The slow delivery offered by some manufacturers encouraged the Department to seek alternative suppliers of buses. Germany’s standard municipal VOV bus was thought to be an attractive solution to Canberra’s problem and when tenders were called in late 1974 for forty-seven buses, MAN of Munich successfully tendered for ten complete SL200 city buses fitted with the ‘SU’ intercity front end. Volvo successfully bid for the supply of thirty-seven B58-56 chassis to the same specification as earlier units.
The first MAN was imported to Australia in a framed state and Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Melbourne was appointed to complete the bodywork using a high proportion of imported components.
Number 410, was delivered in July 1975 — the first bus in Australia built to the basic German city bus design. In the same month, Perth took delivery of its first Mercedes Benz O.305 city bus — the Mercedes competitor to the MAN SL200. However, Perth decided to fit its standard Western Australian body to the Mercedes chassis.
From December 1974 to June 1979, a further 141 MAN SL200 buses were ordered, the biggest single batch being 86 ordered in April 1975. All but 16 were completed by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, the last 16 being built by Smithfield and Custom Coaches. Although not without their problems, such as an engine air filter which could not cope with Canberra conditions, the SL200 has been a remarkably successful bus and has certainly had less major problems than any other recent bus delivered to Canberra. It would appear that Canberra’s roads are more dusty than those experienced by MANs in their native Germany. The more recent MANs were successfully modified prior to delivery. Although there are a total of 151 SL200 buses in the fleet, all looking basically similar, there are significant differences ‘under the skin’, and many modifications have been made to the design over a period of five years. Another initiative saw the delivery in January 1978 of bus 518, the first in the fleet with a fully automatic transmission with integral retarder — a Renk Doromat unit — the only bus then in Australia so equipped. Integral retarders which vastly improve braking performance, and hence safety, are now almost a standard feature on Australian city vehicles.
Number in class: 151
Chassis: MAN SL200
Engine: MAN M series D2556 MUH (410-449, 451-509, 511-531) MAN M series D2566 MUH (553-567, 569-584)
Gearbox: Renk Doromat 873 (three speed with integral hydraulic retarder) (489, 516-531, 553-567, 569-584) ZF 2HP 45004 (two speed) (410-449, 451-488, 490-509, 511-515)
Wheelbase: 5,600 mm
Body: Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd, Port Melbourne Vic (410-449, 451-509, 511-531, 553-567), Smithfield Bus and Coach Works Pty Ltd, Smithfield NSW (569-579), Custom Coaches (Sales) Pty Ltd, Smithfield NSW (580-584 – see notes)
Seating: B42D (all except 500-501, 520), DP38D (500-501), B40D (520)
Length: 11 280 mm
There are four sub-classes within the ‘410’ class:
‘410’ sub-class comprising 104 buses;
‘516’ sub-class comprising 16 buses;
‘553’ sub-class comprising 15 buses; and
‘569’ sub-class comprising 16 buses.
Buses in the ‘410’ and ‘516’ sub-classes were imported from MAN Munich in framed condition. Skin, floor and internal fixtures were fitted by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd, Port Melbourne. Seats were supplied by MAN Munich. Buses 500, 501 and 512 were imported with single skin stretched side panels.
Buses in the ‘553’ sub-class were imported from MAN Munich with frame completed to waistrail height. The rest of the frame, skin, floor and internal fixtures were fitted by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation.
The chassis for buses in the ‘569’ sub-class were imported from MAN Munich with the frame constructed by the body builder (Smithfield or Custom Coaches) as well as the skin, floor and internal fixtures.
All buses have the MAN SU240 front end.
Construction of 580-582 was commenced by Smithfield Bus and Coach and completed by Custom Coaches following the latter company’s acquisition of Smithfield’s plant on 1 May 1981.