Thomas Saf-T-Liner

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Thomas Saf-T-Liner
Thomas School Bus Bus.jpg
Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX
Manufacturer Thomas Built Buses (body and chassis)
AssemblyHigh Point, North Carolina
Body and chassis
Class Type D (transit-style)
Layout front-engine 4x2
rear-engine 4x2
rear-engine 6x2
Body style(s) school bus
Engine(s) Diesel: Cummins, Detroit, & Mercedes-Benz
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG): Cummins
Transmission(s) Automatic
Wheelbase 181–277 inches (4.6–7.0 m) (HDX)
Width96 inches (2.4 m)
Curb weight GVWR Up to 36,200 pounds (16,400 kg) (HDX)

The Thomas Saf-T-Liner is the name of the transit-style (Type D) school bus product line produced by Thomas Built Buses. Introduced in 1978, the Saf-T-Liner marked the transition to in-house chassis production by Thomas. In addition to school bus applications, variations of the Saf-T-Liner have been produced as activity buses, specialty vehicles, and commercial/transit buses. It can also be used to describe the Saf-T-Liner C2 or Saf-T-Liner FS-65, but they are not considered part of the Saf-T-Liner family.

School bus Type of bus

A school bus is a type of bus owned, leased, contracted to, or operated by a school or school district. It is regularly used to transport students to and from school or school-related activities, but not including a charter bus or transit bus. Various configurations of school buses are used worldwide; the most iconic examples are the yellow school buses of the United States and Canada.

Thomas Built Buses

Thomas Built Buses, Inc. is an American bus manufacturer. Headquartered in High Point, North Carolina, the company is a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America. While best known for its yellow school buses, Thomas also produces activity buses/MFSAB, commercial buses, and bus bodies for aftermarket conversion.


Currently, all versions of the Saf-T-Liner model line are produced in High Point, North Carolina.

High Point, North Carolina City in North Carolina, United States

High Point is a city located in the Piedmont Triad region of the U.S. state of North Carolina. Most of the city is located in Guilford County, with portions spilling into neighboring Randolph, Davidson, and Forsyth counties. High Point is North Carolina's only city that extends into four counties. As of the 2010 census the city had a total population of 104,371, with an estimated population of 108,629 in 2014. High Point is currently the ninth-largest municipality in North Carolina, and the 259th largest city in America.

Design history

Prior to its reorganization as Thomas Built Buses in 1972, Thomas Car Works produced both front and rear-engined transit-style school buses to compete with other manufacturers. As was the common practice during the era, production of the chassis was outsourced to another manufacturer. Thomas offered its transit-style buses on a wide variety of chassis in comparison to other manufacturers (changing between Dodge, Ford, GMC, International Harvester, and Volvo). In contrast, Blue Bird, then the largest school bus manufacturer in the United States, manufactured its own chassis (as did West Coast manufacturer Gillig).

Perley A. Thomas Car Works, Inc. manufactured streetcars, transitioning to buses. The family-owned company was founded in 1916 by Perley A. Thomas, forming his own firm following the closure of his employer, Southern Car Works. Based in High Point, North Carolina, Thomas Car Works manufactured complete streetcars while renovating and repairing existing vehicles.

Dodge is an American brand of automobile manufactured by FCA US LLC, based in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Dodge vehicles currently include performance cars, though for much of its existence Dodge was Chrysler's mid-priced brand above Plymouth.

General Motors Company (GMC), formally the GMC Division of General Motors LLC, is a division of the American automobile manufacturer General Motors (GM) that primarily focuses on trucks and utility vehicles. GMC sells pickup and commercial trucks, buses, vans, military vehicles, and sport utility vehicles marketed worldwide by General Motors. In North America, GMC dealerships are almost always also Buick dealerships, allowing the same dealer to market both upmarket cars and upmarket trucks.

In 1978, coinciding with an updated body design necessitated by federal school bus safety regulations, Thomas became a chassis manufacturer with the launch of the Saf-T-Liner EF and ER (EF=Engine Front, ER=Engine Rear). For the first time, the Saf-T-Liner was produced on a Thomas-designed chassis.

Current models

Saf-T-Liner HDX

Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX (CNG) Portland bus 69.JPG
Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX (CNG)

In 2001, Thomas introduced its current generation of rear-engine bus with the debut of the Thomas Saf-T-Liner HD (HD=Heavy Duty); for 2004, the HD was re-branded as the HDX.

Serving as the replacement for the Saf-T-Liner ER and WestCoastER, the HD/HDX would use much of the same body, with the exception of the drivers' compartment forward. On the outside, the front roofcap was completely redesigned, fairing in the front warning lights; the "School Bus" lettering was changed to a reflective decal. In a move to increase visibility, the windshield was enlarged and reconfigured to a 2-piece curved configuration. A distinguishing feature of the redesign would be the design of the sideview mirrors. To improve forward sightlines, all three sets of sideview mirrors (flat, convex, and blind-spot crossview) were integrated into single roof-mounted units, eliminating a number of brackets.

Several parts of the redesign reflected the acquisition of Thomas by Freightliner. While the chassis remained a Thomas-produced unit, parts of the body were sourced from Freightliner, including the headlights (from the Century Class) and instrument panel (from the Business Class M2 and Sterling trucks). In a further move to improve visibility, the instrument panel was centrally-mounted. Other changes were intended for the HD/HDX to accommodate a wide variety of bus drivers. The HD/HDX includes a fully adjustable driver's seat, a tilt/telescoping steering column, and an optional adjustable pedal cluster. [1]

Freightliner Century Class

The Freightliner Century Class is an aerodynamic sloped-hood conventional Class 8 truck that was produced by American truck manufacturer Freightliner.

Freightliner Business Class M2

The Freightliner Business Class M2 is a model range of medium-duty trucks produced by Freightliner. In production since June 2002, the M2 was the successor to the FL-Series introduced in the 1990s. In terms of size, the M2 is produced in Class 5 through Class 8 GVWR ratings, competing primarily against the International Durastar and the Ford F-650/F-750 Super Duty.

Sterling Trucks US truck manufacturer

Sterling Trucks Corporation is a former American truck manufacturer of Class 5-8 trucks. Taking on its name from a defunct American truck manufacturer, Sterling was formed in 1997 as Freightliner acquired the rights to the heavy-truck product lines of Ford Motor Company. Sterling-brand trucks were sold in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand.

Saf-T-Liner EFX

Thomas Saf-T-Liner EFX Metropolitan Nashville Public School bus in front of Country Music Hall of Fame.JPG
Thomas Saf-T-Liner EFX

In the fall of 2011, the Thomas Saf-T-Liner EF was given its most extensive redesign since 1991. As part of the redesign, it was re-branded the EFX, bringing its naming in line with the rear-engine HDX model. The EFX and the HDX also share the same roof cap design; a large 2-piece curved windshield replaced the 4-pane flat glass unit used previously. Aside from the front grille, the EFX is also distinguished by its use of separate crossview mirrors instead of the integrated units seen on the HDX. Inside, the interior is sourced from the 2010 update of the EF; the gauge cluster (sourced from Freightliner) is now offset towards the center of the bus.

Discontinued models

Saf-T-Liner EF

Thomas Saf-T-Liner EF (2008-2011 model) ThomasEF.jpg
Thomas Saf-T-Liner EF (2008-2011 model)

Introduced in 1978, this model underwent minor redesigns during the 1980s that reduced its chrome trim. In 1984, it received rectangular headlights. However, as lower-cost front-engine transits came onto the market in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this model was gradually replaced by the All Star EF and the Saf-T-Liner MVP EF. Today, the Saf-T-Liner EF name lives on as the MVP-series EF lost its prefix in 2007.

Saf-T-Liner MVP

Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP EF 90s Thomas EF Florida.jpg
Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP EF

Standing for Maneuverability, Visibility, and Protection, the MVP series of the Saf-T-Liner represented their first substantial update. Introduced as new series for 1991, the MVP represented Thomas's entry into lower-cost Type D school buses, a segment created by the Blue Bird TC/2000 and Wayne Lifestar. From the outside, the MVP EF and ER had much larger windshields, and updated drivers compartments. To distinguish them from the Saf-T-Liner ER, the MVP series had dual headlights instead of quad headlights. In 2004, the MVP ER was discontinued as Thomas replaced it and the Saf-T-Liner HD with the HDX. The MVP EF, with minor updates in 2007 and 2010, was produced until it was replaced by the EFX in 2011.

Blue Bird TC/2000

The Blue Bird TC/2000 is a product line of buses that was produced by the American manufacturer Blue Bird Corporation from 1988 to 2003. Introduced as a second transit-style product range alongside the Blue Bird All American, the TC/2000 was produced in front-engine and rear-engine layouts. While produced primarily as a yellow school bus, Blue Bird offered the TC/2000 in commercial configurations and numerous custom-built variants. For commercial use, Blue Bird badged the model line as the TC/2000 or the APC 2000.

The Wayne Lifestar is a product line of buses that was manufactured and marketed by Wayne Corporation and its successor company Wayne Wheeled Vehicles from 1986 to 1995. Produced nearly exclusively in a school bus configuration, the Wayne Lifestar used a transit-style body configuration with a front-engine chassis. Marking the return to transit-style production, the Lifestar adopted the single-piece body stampings of the Wayne Lifeguard in its construction.

Saf-T-Liner ER

1991-2000 Thomas Saf-T-Liner ER (WestCoastER) operated by Los Angeles Unified School District LAUSDSchoolBus.jpg
1991-2000 Thomas Saf-T-Liner ER (WestCoastER) operated by Los Angeles Unified School District

Introduced in 1978, the ER was produced through the 1980s with relatively few detail changes. In 1984, the headlights and front turn signals were switched from round to rectangular units. In 1991, the driver's compartment was redesigned, with a much larger windshield. During the late 1990s, this model was distinguished from MVP-series ERs by its optional black plastic headlight trim.


WestCoastER nameplate Westcoast-er Thomas Built Buses.jpg
WestCoastER nameplate

Shortly after the introduction of the Saf-T-Liner ER, this variant was introduced by Thomas for West Coast markets (primarily California and Washington State). To better compete with the Crown Supercoaches and Gillig Transit Coaches that had long dominated West Coast school bus sales, Thomas upgraded the Saf-T-Liner ER with heavier-duty components; this upgrade was not made to the EF. Additionally, on 90-passenger models, a second rear axle was an option. As it was a regionally focused model, the WestCoastER did not sell in large numbers. However, as Crown Coach and Gillig both exited the school bus industry in the early 1990s, Thomas gained significant ground on the West Coast.

Current model specifications

Both current models of the Saf-T-Liner are available with diesel engines (or optional natural gas engine in the HDX), and have a maximum seating capacity of 90 passengers.

Model NameSaf-T-Liner EFX [2] Saf-T-Liner HDX [3]
Seating Capacityto 90 [2] to 90 [3]
Overall Length (inches)
Body Width (exterior)96 inches (2.4 m)
Wheelbase136–231 inches (3.5–5.9 m) [2] 189–273 inches (4.8–6.9 m) [3]
Interior Headroom78 inches (2.0 m) [2] [3]
GVWRUp to 36,200 pounds (16,400 kg) [2] [3]
Fuel Type(s)Diesel
  • Diesel
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
EngineCummins ISB
(200–260 hp or 150–190 kW) [2]
  • Cummins ISB
    (220–300 hp or 160–220 kW) [3]
  • Cummins B6.7 [4]
    (220–300 hp or 160–220 kW)
  • Cummins ISC (discontinued)
    (260–300 hp or 190–220 kW) [3]
  • Cummins ISL-G CNG
    (250–280 hp or 190–210 kW) [3]
  • Cummins L9 [4] (diesel/CNG)
    (260–300 hp or 190–220 kW)
  • Detroit Diesel DD8 (2018-present) [4]
    (260–300 hp or 190–220 kW)
  • Mercedes-Benz MBE926 [5] [6] (discontinued 2010)
    (250 hp or 190 kW)

Commercial use

Thomas Transit Liner HDX Elevated Transit Thomas HDX bus at Centerfield Chevron 1.JPG
Thomas Transit Liner HDX
Thomas Transit Liner EFX Carnegie Mellon University Thomas Saf-T-Liner 3.jpg
Thomas Transit Liner EFX
Thomas TL960 HDPT 55 at Varner House.jpg
Thomas TL960

Alongside the Saf-T-Liner C2, the EFX and HDX are also produced for commercial applications; Thomas uses the Transit Liner name for its commercial model lines. The replacements for the TL960 and Transit Liner MVP, the Transit Liner EFX/HDX share much of their bodies with the Saf-T-Liner, differing in their windows and seating.

See also

Blue Bird All American

The Blue Bird All American is a series of buses produced by American bus manufacturer Blue Bird Corporation. Originally developed as a school bus, since its 1948 introduction, Blue Bird has produced versions of the All American for a variety of applications, ranging from the Blue Bird Wanderlodge luxury motorhome to buses for law enforcement use.

International 3000

The International 3000 Series is a Type D bus chassis manufactured by Navistar International, used for school bus and commercial bus applications. In production since 1990, it has been produced in both front and rear-engine configurations.

Related Research Articles

Thomas Vista

The Thomas Vista is a model line of buses that was manufactured by Thomas Built Buses from 1989 to 1998. Produced nearly exclusively as a school bus, the model line was also sold in commercial-use configurations. To improve forward sightlines for drivers, the chassis of design of the Vista combines elements of conventional buses and transit-style school buses.

The Chevrolet and GMC B series is a series of cowled chassis that were produced by General Motors, primarily fitted with school bus bodies throughout its production. Based on the medium-duty trucks produced by the Chevrolet and GMC divisions of General Motors, the B series was produced in three separate generations; GMC initially produced its own version separate from Chevrolet. Introduced in 1966, the B series was redesigned in 1984 and 1992 as a 1993 model.

Gillig Phantom Series of buses produced by Gillig Corporation, United States from 1980 to 2008

The Gillig Phantom is a series of buses that was produced by American manufacturer Gillig Corporation in Hayward, California. The successor to the long-running Gillig Transit Coach model line, the Phantom marked the transition of Gillig from a producer of yellow school buses to that of transit buses. The first transit bus assembled entirely by Gillig, the Phantom was produced exclusively as a high-floor bus.

Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 Cowled-chassis bus manufactured by bus body manufacturer Thomas Built Buses

The Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 is a cowled-chassis bus manufactured by bus body manufacturer Thomas Built Buses. Introduced in 2004, the C2 marked the first usage of the Freightliner C2 chassis. While produced largely for school bus use, the C2 is also produced for multiple applications, including specialty and commercial configurations. The C2 is unique in that it is available in capacities up to 81 passengers, the largest of any type C conventional school bus in current production.

Gillig Transit Coach School Bus

The Gillig Transit Coach School Bus is a series of buses that were produced by the American bus manufacturer Gillig. Introduced in 1940, the Transit Coach was produced until 1982. Alongside the similar Crown Supercoach, the Gillig Transit Coach was designed as a transit-style bus. In place of a cowled conventional chassis used from a truck manufacturer, the Transit Coach was bodied using a bare frame; rear-engine or mid-engine configurations were produced.

Blue Bird Vision

The Blue Bird Vision is a bus that is manufactured and marketed by Blue Bird Corporation in North America and exported worldwide. In production since 2003, the Vision became the first cowled-chassis bus built on a proprietary chassis designed and manufactured by the same company. While it is sold primarily in a school bus configuration, the Blue Bird Vision is also offered with various commercial and specialty seating and design configurations.

Ford L series

The Ford L series is a range of heavy-duty trucks that were assembled and marketed by Ford between 1970 and 1998. The first dedicated Class 8 truck produced by the company, the L-series range replaced the N-series short conventional. Produced as both straight trucks and semitractors, the Ford L series encompassed a wide range of models through the Class 7-8 GVWR ratings in medium-duty, severe-service, and vocational applications. The line would become one of the most popular series of trucks Ford ever produced.

The bus chassis variant of the International S series is a cowled bus chassis that was produced by International Harvester from 1979 to 2004. Produced primarily for school bus applications, the chassis was also produced for other applications, including commercial-use buses and cutaway-cab buses. In addition, the cowled chassis formed the basis for front-engine and rear-engine stripped chassis produced for bus applications.

Freightliner C2 Type of school bus

The Freightliner C2 is a Type C conventional bus chassis manufactured by Daimler Trucks North America, used for school bus applications. It was introduced in 2004 as the replacement for the FS-65. The C2 uses the hood, firewall, steering column, and dashboard of the Freightliner Business Class M2 medium-duty conventional.

Thomas Minotour

The ThomasMinotour is a bus body manufactured by Thomas Built Buses since 1980. The smallest vehicle sold by the company, the Minotour is a bus body designed for cutaway van chassis. Primarily sold for school bus usage, the Minotour is also produced as a MFSAB or in specialized configurations specified by the customer.

Gillig Low Floor

The Gillig Low Floor is a transit bus manufactured by the Gillig Corporation. The second low-floor bus introduced in the United States, the Low Floor has been produced since 1997. Originally produced alongside the Gillig Phantom as an expansion of the transit product range, the Low Floor has become the successor to the Phantom and the sole Gillig bus platform since 2008.

Crown Supercoach

The Crown Supercoach is a bus that was constructed and marketed by Crown Coach Corporation from 1948 to 1991. While most examples were sold as yellow school buses, the Supercoach formed the basis for motorcoaches and other specialty vehicles using the same body and chassis. While technically available outside of the West Coast, nearly all Crown school buses were sold in California, Washington State, and Oregon.

Ford B series type of bus

The Ford B-series is a bus chassis that was manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Produced across six generations from 1948 to 1998, the B-series was a variant of the medium-duty Ford F-Series. As a cowled-chassis design, the B-series was a bare chassis aft of the firewall, intended for bodywork from a second-stage manufacturer. While primarily used for school bus applications in the United States and Canada, the chassis was exported worldwide to manufacturers to construct bus bodies for various uses.

Freightliner FS-65

The Freightliner FS-65 is a cowled bus chassis that was manufactured by Freightliner from 1997 to 2007. Derived from the Freightliner FL-Series medium-duty trucks, the FS-65 was produced primarily for school bus applications, though commercial-use buses and cutaway-cab buses were also built using the FS-65 chassis.


  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Thomas Saf-T-Liner EFX Product Literature" (PDF). Thomas Built Buses, Inc. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX Product Literature" (PDF). Thomas Built Buses, Inc. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  4. 1 2 3 "Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX Brochure (2018)" (PDF). Thomas Built Buses.
  6. "2008 Thomas HDX Brochure" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-01-28.