The opening match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is less than a week away. While the anticipatory event is currently facing its own issues of discontent and disdain, there’s something else that’s fell short of expectations as of late: eye-catching team buses.
Former FIFA buses, like the Mercedes O 302 coach pictured above, were typically loud displays celebrating participating teams in the tournament. When West Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1974, Mercedes-Benz supplied a fleet of 16 O 302 coach buses for it.
The exterior of each O 302 was uniquely painted and decorated for each national team. The buses were painted a pale yellow with broad stripes in the country’s colors. The country’s name in German was branded on all sides of the bus in bold black block lettering. As an added touched flair, the national flags of the team were mounted on the roof.
The venerable Bauhaus-styled bus was fitted with a naturally-aspirated inline-six-cylinder diesel engine. The most powerful version of the diesel engine produced 240 horsepower. Mercedes built over 32,000 O 302 buses during its production run from 1965 until 1976.
Mercedes-Benz states that the buses’ interior amenities were considered luxurious in the 1970s, despite featuring fabric seat covers. The German automaker claims the O 302 was the first commercial bus that featured an air conditioning system with its roof-mounted Thermo King unit. Each O 302 also featured an onboard toilet, an ashtray at every seat and a beer tap. I can’t think of anything that would be a more luxurious passenger experience on the roads of 1970s West Germany.
The 1974 Cup was a memorable one for West Germans. The formidable side drew into the same first-round group as their fraternal and ideological rivals East Germany. East Germany defeated West Germany 1-0 to win the group, but both Germanys finished high enough in the group to advance to the next round.
Their group stage match was the only time that West Germany played communist East Germany in international competition. East Germany was supplied with a near-identical bus as West Germany. Though, the East German bus was branded DDR, for the German Democratic Republic, instead of BR Deutschland.
West Germany reached the World Cup final at the Olympiastadion in Munich, where the team faced off against its most-hated rival, the Netherlands. By the 25th minute, the match was level at one goal apiece after a pair of penalty goals. Bayern Munich’s Gerd Müller scored the deciding goal in the 43rd minute in front of the home crowd to secure Germany’s second of four FIFA World Cup titles.
The original O 302 buses supplied for the ‘74 World Cup were eventually repurposed for general use, sans special liveries after the tournament. Over time, the World Cup buses were just lost. To see one in person, you’ll have to check out the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. Unfortunately, the bus featured there is a meticulously detailed replica of the West German national team’s bus.