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Famous Hungarian Bus: Ikarus

Ikarus is a Hungarian bus manufacturer that enjoys a well-earned reputation abroad as a timeless product of Hungarian industry. When in Budapest (and after you joined our Budapest Pub Crawl), you will often meet our good ol’ Ikarus buses roaming through the city. But let’s go back in time and see how it began.

The beginnings

A long, long time ago our great-great-grandfathers were travelling by horse-drawn carriage on the streets of the capital city. They called it omnibus––meaning “(carriage) for all”. At the 1900 World’s Fair, the inventor and engineer Rudolph Diesel unveiled his latest invention: the diesel engine. Shortly after its introduction into the public transportation of Paris and Berlin, buses appear on the streets of Budapest, too. It was the April of 1915 when the first fleet of 11 buses began their service of carrying passengers from one side of the city to the other.


The first Hungarian-made motor-bus models appeared after the end of World War I. This marks the beginning of a new era with regard to bus manufacturing in Hungary. In 1949 the Csepel Automobile Factory was established near Budapest. The manufacturing of new, high-performance diesel engines began, and the engineers retooled the factory for mass production since both demand and supply have increased.


These were the preliminaries of the idea that Ikarus bus was built on and made the further expansion possible in the next decades. Later on Ikarus started constructing trolleybuses, because they performed well in an urban environment: these electric buses were preferred for being less noisy but equally good in performance.



The legendaries

The blue-coloured Ikarus buses called the TR-5 appeared on the streets of Budapest in the second half of the 1940s. Their powerful engine and strong chassis successfully proved its worth in heavy use and increased traffic. In the next few years Ikarus’ engineers came up with newer and better models.


Everyone above 40 in Hungary knows the Ikarus 55 and 66 rear engine models. These were the first series-produced buses of Ikarus and the first types built on the so called “monocoque platform” where the body of the bus is integral with the chassis. Monocoque technology reduced the vehicles’ curb weight, which contributed to lower fuel consumption and less pollution. Being lighter also meant that the buses could take tight corners and steep slopes easily, especially on hilly routes on the Buda side of the city. Type 55 was designed for interurban routes, while type 66 was built for city and suburban routes. Ikarus export to the Soviet Union started in 1958. A few years later Ikarus 55/66 arrived in East Germany, Iraq, Kuwait, and last but not least, Poland.


Engineers at Ikarus recognised that the previous models no longer meet the ever-evolving public transportation. In the 1960s they started the mass production of Ikarus 200 series. The idea behind this bus family was the fact that it would have been too expensive to design separate models for each function. The Ikarus 200 family had suburban, interurban, trolleybus, articulated, and even double articulated models. I am sure you have met at least one of these types in today’s Budapest.


Lets see one of the modern types of Ikarus design. Ikarus 417 is a low-floor articulated city bus from 1994. This was the first series-built bus in the world that introduced low-floor design in the entire length of the bus. This feature significantly improved the accessibility of the bus for the public. Although it seemed a great and innovative model finally it was not a big breakthrough. Ikarus 417 buses exported to Germany and Poland were not successful, only 30 of Ikarus 417 were ever produced.


The ambassadors

Ikarus buses have been the ambassadors of Hungarian bus manufacturing since the very beginning. Ikarus exported buses to all former Soviet Block and western countries throughout the world. The big order of buses to China was one of the largest exports of Hungary’s bus industry: the Ikarus 30 successfully merged into the clamorous streets of Canton. Probably they are still out there somewhere and preserve the fame of the Hungarian bus after its golden age has ended.

Fun fact

Nowadays in several Hungarian cities, including Budapest, smoking is prohibited not only in a bus but around bus stops as well. Before the first restrictions upon smoking in enclosed public places and public transport (we are talking about the late ‘70s), smoking in a bus was allowed. Just think about it for a minute. Another reason to get off the bus one stop early was to get “aired.”