Home » This Glorious Diesel Transit Bus Used To Carry People To A Nuke Site, Now It’s An Extremely Affordable Camper

This Glorious Diesel Transit Bus Used To Carry People To A Nuke Site, Now It’s An Extremely Affordable Camper

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Transit buses and their drivers serve a critical, yet thankless role in getting countless people to work every day. When those buses are done with their service lives, they’re often scrapped, but some escape to live the easy life. This 1964 Flxible New Look used to carry 53 people to and from a nuclear plant. Nowadays, it lives an easy life as a simple camper dressed up like a log cabin. Oh, and this diesel coach is affordable; almost cheap enough to buy for the giggles.

The General Motors New Look transit bus is an American icon. Look at vintage pictures of American cities and it won’t take you long to find one of GM’s greatest vehicles in the background. Tens of thousands of these buses delivered countless Americans to work safely each day in style. General Motors was such a dominator in the bus market that “New Look” became a generic term to describe the era’s buses, not unlike how “Kleenex” is a generic term for facial tissue regardless of actual brand name.

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The bus on your screen today is not a GM New Look. Yes, it looks like one, or at least the video game clone of one. It, too, even carries the name New Look. However, this is not a GM product. Instead, it came from one of GM’s competitors of the day, Flxible.

A New Generation Of Buses

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Adam E. Moreira

While Flxible was best-known for its buses, it actually got its start by innovating motorcycle sidecars. In 1912, Hugo H. Young ran a Harley-Davidson dealership in Mansfield, Ohio. His calling to the motorcycle world would be to revolutionize the sidecar by removing the hard mount to the motorcycle and replacing it with a flexible connection. This allowed the motorcycle to have a sidecar while retaining the ability to lean. In 1913, Young launched the Flexible Side Car Company to market his idea and the company would be incorporated for $25,000 a year later.

This caught the attention of a figure who frequently shows up in old car history: Charles F. Kettering. Yep, the same guy behind the infamous Copper-Cooled Chevrolet engine and GM’s diesel development program also had his hands in flexible motorcycle sidecars. Kettering would serve as Flxible’s president of its board of directors from 1915 to 1940 and as chairman from 1940 until his death in 1958. Kettering also sat on a stack of cash from selling Delco to GM and he injected it straight into Flxible.

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CRF Museum / Mohican Historical Society, Loudonville, Ohio.

By 1919, the Flexible Side Car Company became large enough that it wanted to change its name and apply for a trademark. As Flxible Owners International notes, the company found out that it couldn’t trademark “Flexible.” The solution was simple. “Flexible” is a word, but “Flxible” is not, and that was the ticket. The Flxible Company was born. Yep, removing vowels from company names predated the modern day’s silicon valley nonsense.

The sidecar business wasn’t one that would last long-term. Flxible’s sidecars were expensive, but Ford Model Ts were not, and Flxible began losing ground to the automobile. Eventually, Flxible jumped ship and began constructing service vehicles. Flxible’s first bus was a 12-passenger Studebaker sedan built in 1924. The company quickly diversified its portfolio, adding ambulances and hearses to its sales, too. Yet, by the end of the 1920s, buses made for half of Flxible’s vehicle production.

FDNY

Skipping ahead to 1951, Flxible joined forces with Fageol Twin Coach to build transit buses. Flxible would absorb Fageol’s bus manufacturing business only a few years later. This was a win for Flxible as it gave the company a set of proper transit bus to sell to fleets all over North America. Chicago in particular loved the Flxible Twin Coach FT series and had a few hundred in its fleet. The Chicago Transit Authority says some of these buses were fueled by propane!

Unfortunately, these successes would be short-lived as GM hit the market with a whole new bus in 1959. The GM New Look brought bus design into the modern day with large windows, a sleek look, and the performance craved by fleets. Suddenly, Flxible had to catch up.

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Flxible Twin Coach – Chicago Transit Authority

Its response launched in 1961 as the Flxible New Look. Now, to be clear, this bus does have a real name, but an example of a Flxible New Look model name is “FD6V401-7.” Instead, the common name for these buses is New Look, just like the GM offering.

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The Flxible New Look is similar to the GM New Look in more than visuals. It rides on an air suspension and features aluminum fluted siding. The New Look also had a fishbowl-style windshield, doors that slide open, and parallelogram side windows. The Flxible model also had diesel power just like the GM coach. Yet, despite having a similar bus, Flxible didn’t sell nearly as many units. GM made over 44,000 of its New Look to just 13,121 Flxible New Look buses.

This 1964 Flxible New Look Motorhome

Busstuff

That makes the bus you see here a rare sight. I mean, GM New Looks are already rare today and these are only rarer.

According to the seller, this bus was delivered new to the United States Atomic Energy Commission in 1964. They go on to claim that the coach was used as a 53-seat transit bus to get VIPs to the Hanford Site in Washington. This was no normal nuclear facility, from the Department of Energy:

The Hanford site, a 580-square-mile section of semi-arid desert in southeast Washington, was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project to produce plutonium for national defense. Hanford produced nearly two-thirds of the plutonium used in the US nuclear weapons stockpile, including materials for the Trinity Test and atomic bombs used to help end World War II. Cleanup of the Hanford site is managed by two DOE offices, the Richland Operations Office and the Office of River Protection. Watch the video below to learn more about the Hanford site.

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If the seller’s story is true, this isn’t just any transit bus. Eventually, the government let this bus go and in 1984, the coach was repowered and had a new braking system fitted. Then, the bus underwent a motorhome conversion.

The conversion on the bus wasn’t an extensive one. The exterior was left largely alone, which I like. Some transit bus builds look a little goofy as builders blank out windows and make other changes. This bus looks clean and like the piece of history that it is. Your only clue that it’s a motorhome are the two RV air-conditioners on the coach’s roof.

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What we’re looking at here is a Flxible FD6V401-7. That mishmash of letters and steering do mean something. The “F” indicates that the bus was made by Flxible while “D” indicates a diesel engine. Meanwhile, “6V” means a Detroit Diesel 6V-71 engine while “40” means a 40-foot model and “1” indicates a transit bus rather than a suburban model.

This bus did not have an air-conditioner when new and the coach has been repowered with a Detroit Diesel 6V-71T. That engine is a 7.0-liter turbodiesel V6 making around 262 HP and 725 lb-ft of torque. It also has a new transmission. Sadly, the seller doesn’t tell us what the top speed is.

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What I can tell you is that the bus was given a clearly DIY, but still nice motorhome conversion. The seller says:

Large Center Kitchen: Cook up your favorite meals in the fully equipped kitchen, featuring an RV refrigerator, propane oven/stove, and a 110v 5-gallon water heater for instant hot water. The kitchen also includes a Fan-Tastic fan that is thermostatically controlled and closes automatically when it rains, ensuring a comfortable cooking environment.

Ample Water Storage: Enjoy extended stays off-grid with a 50-gallon water storage tank.
Septic System: Includes both black and gray water tanks with RV dumping capabilities for easy waste management.
Advanced Power System: Stay powered up with a battery system and a 3000W inverter. The power switches automatically from campground plugs to running from the batteries. The batteries recharge when plugged in or when the bus is running, providing reliable power wherever you are.
Cooling Comfort: Stay cool with two roof-mounted Coleman air-conditioning units, ensuring comfort throughout the bus.

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Rmvstuffa

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Sleeping Arrangements: Comfortably sleep up to 9 people with a variety of sleeping options:
Rear cabin with a private door and 3 beds.
Center bunks offering 2 beds.
Front cabin with 2 couches that convert into double beds.
Bathroom: Convenient bathroom with a sink and potty, ensuring all the comforts of home while on the road.

The seller notes a few caveats. While the air suspension is fine, they note a leak in one of the air lines, leading to the bus airing down overnight. The engine is said to be reliable, but has an oil leak that you’ll want to check on from time to time. Finally, the tires are said to be in good condition, but they’re also 13 years old, which isn’t great. So, you have some work to do.

Do Some Bus Stuff

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Still, none of that work has to be building out the interior if you don’t want it to. This bus has working plumbing, shore power, and air-conditioners. In my eye, you just need to figure out a shower and this thing would be great. I already want to take it on a road trip.

Now, I’ll be clear when I say I don’t think this is a beautiful conversion. This is not a conversion that looks like it rolled out of the Flxible factory that way. With that said, the seller, out of Columbia City, Indiana, is asking just $12,000. That’s not a ton of money for a whole 40-foot bus with most of the hard work done for you. There isn’t a new camper for sale right now that could beat the price.

If that isn’t enough, this bus is a piece of American transit history. You’ll almost certainly get people turning their heads and asking you questions wherever you go. If not, you’ll still have me begging you to let me take it for a spin.

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(Images: Facebook Seller, unless otherwise noted.)

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Leo T.
Leo T.
9 days ago

The front windows on these were always weird to me. I’ve actually ridden on the 7340, the one that belongs to the NYC Transit museum fleet. Nice bus and that 6v71 sings.

The flxible ambulance is so pretty

John Patson
John Patson
16 days ago

Leaking air pipes on air suspension = big bills. Nice shiny wagons been scrapped for less.
Add to that oil leak, and you are looking at even bigger bills.
Are they air brakes too — the “cha” sound on them is always cool?
The only other thing is I bet the manual transmission of that era, needs a double declutch, which is a pain for at least half a day.
Still if you are going for a panzer camper, at least this one has style.

Tbird
Tbird
17 days ago

I actually like the overall rugged simplicity of the build. It’s not to precious to actually use. It is more basic and not luxury.

Greensoul
Greensoul
17 days ago

This would make an awesome tiny home or guest quarters. Park it in the back yard, put a roof over on it, hook it up to water and sewer, and be done. All for 20 k with improvements added. Wonder what my sisters HOA would say about this in the back yard of her house (she would be thrilled, BTW to have my dying ass that close). Oh, never mind, couldn’t happen, there is a reason why old bitches running the HOA’s are called ‘Karens”. Was a nice thought for a fleeting moment. Her HOA would through a fit (Fuck you Karen)

Kevin B Rhodes
Kevin B Rhodes
17 days ago

About transit bus speeds – back in the dark ages, I actually had a work-study job driving buses for my university in graduate school. I mostly drove the sports teams around in a motley collection of coaches, but the school also had a good-sized transit bus fleet roaming around campus and the town. They were all GM Fishbowls though. Assuming the Flxible version uses the same basic Z-drive drivetrain, they came in “no speed”, two-speed, and three-speed automatics, and four speed manuals. The no-speeds were literally that – just a torque converter with lockup, and forward and reverse. Wind the piss out of that Jimmy until the torque converter locked, and you might get the thing up to about 40mph. The two-speeds were good for about 50, and the 3spds for 55 or 60 depending on rear end and how the governor was set. The four speed sticks were good for 65 – those are the “suburban” buses that weren’t really meant for stop and go transit usage. I really hated driving the no speed and 2-speed buses – no power steering and they were glacially slow. The no speeds were REALLY old and on their last legs. That this one is a 5spd manual makes me wonder if Flixble didn’t use the Z-drive as there were very few transmission options for that. I don’t think that was ever an option for the GM buses. Wish there was a picture of the engine bay.

Added trivia – for Detroits, the first number is the number of cylinders, the second is the displacement per cylinder. And they ALL have Roots superchargers, but the supercharger is not there to increase power (and it doesn’t) but to blow the exhaust out of the cylinders through the exhaust valves. 2-stroke, pressurized crankcase feeding the cylinders through slots in the walls, direct fuel injection into the cylinders, but with exhaust valves. For more power, you add a turbocharger and different intake port timing And they are positively British – if they aren’t leaking, they are out of whatever fluid isn’t leaking!

The FUN bus in the fleet was a relatively new MCI coach with an 8V92T and a five speed stick. That thing would wind the 85mph speedometer right off the end of the dial on a long flat highway. So I am told, nobody saw it, you can’t prove anything! Also, bus donuts and drifting in the snow are fun… Yeah, college kids(even in grad school) really should not be given the keys to these things.

And as I am sure Mercedes knows, since she’s owned a couple of buses, the price of entry here is merely the downpayment. NOTHING is cheap for a bus, and I bet this thing needs the purchase price or more spent in maintenance to get it safe and truly roadworthy. I would LOVE to have a vintage bus, but they are literally a BIG commitment.

Leo T.
Leo T.
9 days ago
Reply to  Kevin B Rhodes

Nothing beats the sound of a Detroit two stroke wound up

VS 57
VS 57
17 days ago

Sick Transit, Gloria.

CRM114
CRM114
17 days ago

There can’t be too many busses out there with a Dakota Digital cluster.

VS 57
VS 57
17 days ago
Reply to  CRM114

Great screen name!

JDS
JDS
17 days ago

I noticed the construction of the two benches up front. Looking at the photos in the listing, they look like the seat can slide out into the aisle. It’s a clever bit of DIY, and tells me the builder put some real thought into them.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
17 days ago

I’d be worried about top speed. I bet it’s like 55mph or something ridiculous.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
18 days ago

Due to the bus’s past use in the Plutonium based weapons industry, you don’t need lighting as the entire bus has a soothing green glow.

AlterId
AlterId
18 days ago

Tempting, but I’d have to change the destination sign to “Чорнобиль – Припʼять”.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
18 days ago

How the hell do you shift this thing? If you lean forward you hit the steering wheel…usually the shifter is right there on your right when sitting. Interesting history…yeah, not the best build but at least it has a lot of room, capacity and features. It’s definitely cheap enough! I’d buy it
Oh yeah, Mercedes: I was just wondering if it’s train season yet and if you were planning on doing some articles on trains? Thank you!

Last edited 18 days ago by Freelivin2713
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
18 days ago

the coach has been repowered with a Detroit Diesel 6V-71T. That engine is a 7.0-liter turbodiesel V6 making around 262 HP and 725 lb-ft of torque.

What, no Mr. Fusion?

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
18 days ago

It’s a robust chassis/suspension (proven via billions of miles on America’s potholed urban roads) and a pretty good powertrain too (Detroit 6V71 / Allison V730). Detroit 71s are usually oil leakers like this one is, but run a long time.
There seems to be some concern about repair parts for the unique rear axle used with the V drive package. Not sure about that part.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
17 days ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

“If there is no oil under it, there’s no oil in it” – there is a reason they are called Driptroit or Leaktroit diesels.

Also, that doesn’t look like an automatic transmission – it’s probably a four speed.

Gene1969
Gene1969
18 days ago

Not bad but a nuclear powered bus is better.

The Big Bus – Trailer (youtube.com)

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
17 days ago
Reply to  Gene1969

I’ve seen that clip of the big bus leaving the hangar before, but I had no idea that movie was a comedy.

You eat one lousy foot and they call you a cannibal.

Gene1969
Gene1969
17 days ago

I was it as a little kid and didn’t know it was a comedy either! That’s how bad movies were back then.

The Mark
The Mark
18 days ago

I like it! My partner and I will take the back room, my friends can sleep up front. We’ll grill and shower outside. If the A/C is cold, and the thing moves under its own power, that’s a steal for 12K.

My 0.02 Cents
My 0.02 Cents
17 days ago
Reply to  The Mark

The A/C needs external power, I’m guessing that means running cords, I wonder how hard / expensive it would be to power them or at least one of them from the bus power.

I suspect a bit of insulation would go along way to keeping the bus cooler.

The Mark
The Mark
17 days ago
Reply to  My 0.02 Cents

I tend to only camp where there is shore power and pool/shower facilities. So, I guess it’s not really camping. But it shouldn’t be too hard to install a generator somewhere if it’s not equipped.

My 0.02 Cents
My 0.02 Cents
17 days ago
Reply to  The Mark

Good call I didn’t think about a generator, I don’t camp so this is way of out my wheelhouse, although I think these older buses are great.

I would guess the expense to add solar PV and more batteries would be cost prohibitive.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
18 days ago

I definitely would want to run a Geiger counter around and through this camper bus before making a buy decision.

TimoFett
TimoFett
18 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

That shouldn’t be necessary. If this bus had been contaminated by ionizing radiation it would’ve been taken care of years ago.

Sivad Nayrb
Sivad Nayrb
18 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Nah – if it’s hot on Geiger count readings, it just reduces any additional human reproduction…

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
17 days ago
Reply to  Sivad Nayrb

think of the money you’ll save not buying condoms!

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
18 days ago

It would definitely be cheaper to buy and remodel that thing, than to do a conversion from scratch. Very cool bus!

Piston Slap Yo Mama
Piston Slap Yo Mama
18 days ago

Anybody heaping criticism on this bus / RV conversion is obviously unaware of how money works: this is the first time I’ve seen a city bus repurposed while keeping all of its old-school charms, and I like it.

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
18 days ago

Agreed. Plumbing is a big deal in conversions like this. As long as it’s highway geared and it passes a mechanical inspection I’d be in.

Chronometric
Chronometric
18 days ago

They should change the front sign to BONKHOUSE.

Bleeder
Bleeder
18 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

That would be funny, but I’d change it to FUNKHOUSE.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
18 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Or BRICKHOUSE…
“She’s a BRICK…HOUSE!”

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
18 days ago

I’d never given any thought to these vehicles until I started reading these articles. Interior layout is king, isn’t it? I would like a more open feel, but that would be at the expense of storage space/plumbing/privacy/etc. I’d enjoy an article about the pros & cons of different floor plans.

Jj
Jj
18 days ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

There’s a big difference between layouts that look good as #vanlife backdrops and layouts that are good to live with.

Unless you’re someone who puts every article of clothing you’re not wearing directly into a drawer or the laundry, the inside of a bus can look like fifty feet of a stoner’s dorm room. The ability to confine some clutter outside of the main living space is useful.

Last edited 18 days ago by Jj
Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
17 days ago
Reply to  Jj

Yup. Have lived on buses, can confirm.

Max Finkel
Max Finkel
18 days ago

I’m always psyched when there’s a mercedes bus article on here

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