General Motors Used To Dominate The Bus Industry
For decades, General Motors had a foothold in different categories in the bus industry. In the 1960s, you could ride in a GM “Buffalo” bus on routes between cities, then board a GM New Look transit bus to get around those cities. As Curbside Classic notes, General Motors was such a powerhouse that it dominated the urban bus industry for decades. The New York Times reminds us that General Motors wasn’t just a heavy hitter with cars and buses, but the manufacturer was also a leading player in locomotives.This bus predates icons like the GM New Look and the Rapid Transit Series. However, like those buses, the Old Look was an icon in its own right. These buses delivered countless passengers to their destinations and each of those buses were ambassadors for their respective cities. As Ertel Publishing writes, the Old Look bus was introduced in 1940 by Yellow Coach. Back then, the bus wasn’t given a real model name, instead given a designation like Model TG-3201. The ‘Old Look’ name is unofficial and actually didn’t appear until far later after GM introduced the New Look bus in 1959. Old Look is a retronym applied to these older buses. Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company was opened in 1923 in Chicago by John D. Hertz. If that name sounds familiar, in 1923, Hertz bought out the Rent-A-Car rental company and changed its name to Hertz Drive-Ur-Self, which is today known simply as Hertz. That was hardly Hertz’s only business. In 1915, Hertz started the Yellow Cab Company in Chicago and also in 1923, Hertz started the Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company as a subsidiary of Yellow Cab. The coach arm of the business was responsible for the manufacture of buses. General Motors purchased a majority stake in the business just two years after its opening. At the time, most buses were built with a body-on-frame design. One of Yellow Coach’s innovations back then was a monocoque structure. It started in 1936 with the Model 719 highway bus, which featured a transversely-mounted diesel engine in the rear and an aluminum monocoque construction. In 1940, the bus that would become the Old Look would get the same technology. When the GMC Truck and Coach Division absorbed the rest of Yellow Coach in 1943, this basic design layout would continue to see use in the rest of GM’s bus legends. For example, my RTS bus was built out of five-foot sections of stainless steel unibody. Yellow’s developments made for durable coaches that were able to withstand the harsh abuses of transit services. That durability helped cement GM’s position as a leader as streetcars disappeared in favor of buses. The Old Look bus became so popular that when the New Look was replaced it in 1959, demand for the old buses was high enough to justify keeping them in production for another decade.
This 1948 GM TDH-3610 ‘Old Look’ Bus ConversionAs I said before, many buses live an unceremonious life of hauling people before they’re sent off to a farm upstate. Some get to enjoy a second career living a far easier life as a motorhome. The seller says that St. Petersburg, Florida used this bus until the early 1960s. Then it ended up in private hands, where someone, or perhaps a company, converted it into a motorhome. The bus has remained mostly original ever since, so it functions as a sort of time capsule. But, it’s better than that because it’s a time capsule that still works! Starting with the exterior, you can see where the original folding doors were up front. Those have been replaced with a wall and a sliding window. The entrance door for this bus sits at the rear. Of course, the windows were changed to fit the RV interior and the quality of the work seems phenomenal. Remember, this bus was converted into a motorhome back in the 1960s! Yet, if you didn’t know any better, this could pass as a purpose-built RV. Also worth noting here is the condition of the body. I’ve seen a number of these Old Looks and aside from fresh restorations sitting in museums, I’m not sure I’ve seen one in better shape than this. Before we move inside, you’re probably wondering what the heck “TDH-3610” even means. It’s not just an alphabet soup. In GM nomenclature, “T” translates to transit bus, “D” means it has a diesel engine, and “H” means it has an automatic transmission. As far as the numbers go, the “36” marks it as a 30-foot coach while “10” is the coach’s model number. In this case, power comes from a Detroit Diesel 4-71. It’s a 4.7-liter four-cylinder diesel making about 160 HP and 400 lb-ft torque. That’s backed by a Spicer angle-drive two-speed automatic. Stopping power is handled through air brakes and I hope your arms are pretty jacked because this bus has manual steering. I’ve watched a driver wrestle a vintage bus with manual steering before, there’s a ton of turning of the wheel and maybe a few audible grunts here and there. Moving inside, the bus is a wonderful representation of a 1960s motorhome. The seller says that everything in here is original to the 1960s conversion. That’s impressive because the interior appears to have held up well. Equipment includes an oven and stove, a refrigerator, two propane heaters, and an 8-Track player. All of these are said to work, so you could camp in this bus right now and relive the ’60s. Also notable is the fact that the bus does have a bathroom and when you’re parked at a campsite, it can feed from shore power just like a factory-built RV. It would appear that an Onan generator and a 100-gallon fresh water tank were added, but neither has been hooked up yet. In terms of sleeping, there are four bunks in the rear as well as a dinette that transforms into a bed, very similar to a modern rig. One additional person could sleep on the couch in the living room. Something else I love is the fact that there are seats at the front of the bus. Many conversions sort of forget the fact that you might be traveling with your significant other and you’ll want to sit next to them. If you’re as stoked as I am about this bus, the seller wants $28,000 for it. The bus is currently registered as an RV, so you should be able to drive it home. If you’re short on cash, apparently, the seller will take a skid steer with low hours. Overall, this bus looks rather fantastic and if I had the cash, I’d be on my way to East Greenville, Pennsylvania to pick it up. It’s not often you’re able to run into a piece of history like this that appears to be in such great condition. Props to the builders and whoever maintained this bus over about the past 60 or so years. It’s hard enough to keep a car looking good that long, let alone a converted bus. That alone is incredible. And while it’s not preserved as it was, a piece of transit history is still alive.
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