Reasonably price alternative to the O 404
Successor O 350 with classy chassis
Tourismo best-selling touring coach in Europe
It almost went incognito at its premiere at the 1992 Hanover International Motor Show: among the many buses with the three-pointed star, spearheaded by the still new top-of-the-line touring coach O 404, two high deckers demonstrated the international presence of the buses from Mercedes-Benz. One was the O 371, of Brazilian origin; the other was the O 340 from Turkey. While the Brazilian with its width of 2.6 meters (and for many other reasons) could not be transplanted to Europe, it was an entirely different story with the O 340: with this vehicle Mercedes-Benz prepared the public for a reasonably priced touring coach which was to be a companion to the elegant O 404, which played in a different league with its super technology, not least of all financially. In Europe, buses from Turkey were something new at that time. But Turkey had amassed considerable experience in bus manufacture: the history of the factory there dates back to 1967 when it began producing the O 302 that had been launched a few years earlier.
The O 340 was very different from its cultivated colleague, the O 404. The plain and unpretentious body concealed very familiar technology: the chassis of the O 303 with rigid axles and drum brakes, well-tried, robust and indestructible. Mercedes-Benz dispensed with ornaments like facets, pressed sheet metal parts, an integral air conditioning system, anti-corrosion protection by cataphoretic dip priming, and an expensively designed driver’s position – all constituent parts of the O 404. The body was smooth-surfaced, the face a little on the nondescript side. Only the big star attested to the brand. On the other hand, the bus had indisputable merits. In the rear of the bus, the 280 kW (381 hp) V8 engine from the current range did its work, the interior was warmed by a hot water heater with convectors – and the price was extremely reasonable.
Low-cost production in Turkey
The idea behind the concept: dispense with the top-notch technology and top-notch appointments of the O 404, produce at low cost in Turkey. It was planned that the bus not only would ply the major Turkish long-distance bus routes, but also open up new markets which Mercedes-Benz no longer could reach with its expensive production in Germany. A broad range wasn’t necessary for that purpose: a standard high decker, twelve meters long, 3.5 meters high, two axles, was entirely satisfactory.
The planning game quickly became reality: forthwith the O 340 supplemented the sophisticated O 404. But just two years after the first show appearance it became clear that the O 340 was merely a herald of things to come. At the 1994 Hanover show its successor, the O 350, already took the stage. This was a very different bus: out went the engineering of the O 303, in came the foundation of the classy O 404, including disk brakes on all wheels, the splendid independent wheel suspension of the front axle, and the instrument panel.
Tapered C-pillar and striking design
However, the bus made an almost exalted impression. The design was very emotional, much different from that of the plain predecessor or the elegant O 404. Particularly the tapered C-pillar made it unmistakable. A wide lateral swage line running the length of the sides structured the side walls; expensive pressed sheet metal parts were nowhere to be found; the air conditioning unit crowned the rear end. The interior appeared plain and functional, with no frills at all. But the bus was comprehensively equipped. The usual long lists of extras were not the thing of the O 350. And it was only available in one twelve meter long variant with a V8 engine developing 280 kW (381 hp).
Four years after its premiere the O 350, up to then only available as an RHD high decker, got a sister: the O 350 SHD augmented the offer. This super high decker had grown in height by just under 30 centimeters; this meant eleven square meters of luggage space instead of 9.5 as in the RHD. And it was nicknamed Tourismo. Otherwise it, too, featured a gratifyingly complete range of equipment.
To the new name a thoroughly revised coach was added one year later. The Tourismo began the second half of its life. The letter and number designation O 350 disappeared. The distinctive arrow was now optically extended with a molding into the front door. The new face with the striking panel in its center and round headlamps shone more powerfully; the driver now looked into larger exterior mirrors. The interior was completely redesigned: Almond-shaped, dimmable multifunction lights in the ceiling, instead of the previous light strips, gave the Tourismo a look all its own. New service sets and seats of the most recent generation graced the bus. As before, the Tourismo was only available from Turkish production, as completely equipped RHD and SSHD models.
Five years down the road, the Tourismo celebrated its tenth anniversary – and a very rare jubilee for a touring coach: 10,000 units now rolled on the highways; it had long since become Europe’s best-selling touring coach. Mercedes-Benz commemorated the success of the Tourismo with a special “Edition 10,000” series – 70 Tourismo RHD coaches with very lavish appointments.
Engineering optimized, weight reduced
Parallel to this the Tourismo was technically enhanced. A new manual six-speed transmission made its arrival, plus a rear axle from the Travego, the successor to the
O 404 (still providing the platform for the Tourismo). In the passenger compartment the carry-on luggage racks were freed of the components of the air conditioning system. Anti-corrosion treatment in a newly installed cataphoretic dip bath promised a long service life.
Equally important, at least, was weight reduction. Though the Tourismo never had been a heavyweight, the engineers cut its weight for the 2005 model year by fully half a ton. Aluminum found use as material for the air vessel and tank, and also for the floor of the luggage compartment, in the form of a sandwich construction in place of plywood. Glazing and wheels were made lighter; the bunk for the driver was prepared for installation, but not already fully installed.
The outside armrests and the litter bin per seat row were dropped; even the folding tables were made lighter. The result is that coach operators can order three-star seats for 49 passengers with a clear conscience – many owners of other twelve meter long high decker touring coaches on two axles must fear having their buses weighed. With these assets, the Tourismo qualifies itself as a genuine long-running success and a practical touring coach. Although it does not have the inexhaustible variety of the O 303 range, it does remind one a great deal of that classic.