Bus Stop Classics: CD Beck & Co. – Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery, Even If It Gets You Nowhere

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Does this look familiar? A GM Scenicruiser, right?

No; it’s a Beck DH 1040, actually. But it’s a remarkably faithful copy, by a company that made a modest living copying GM buses for over twenty years. They were never as good as the real thing, but they were cheaper. But bus operators clearly preferred the real thing. Here’s the somewhat odd story of CD Beck & Co, and their numerous GM clones.

If you are a fan of buses and motor coaches in North America, the period of the late 1940’s to mid ‘50’s is your era.  While GM clearly dominated, a variety of smaller manufacturers provided products to transport operators serving an increasingly more mobile populace.  Flxible, Aerocoach, ACF-Brill, White, Twin-Coach/Fageol, Fitzjohn, Marmon-Herrington, Mack, Ward, even Ford made a rear-engined transit bus.  Let’s take a closer look at one of these smaller players – Sydney Ohio-based CD Beck & Co.

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CD Beck & Co. emerged in 1934 from the Anderson Body Co. which made school, transit, and intercity coaches, and also extended wheelbase sedans used in the livery trade.  Clayton D. Beck, one of the most successful of the Anderson executives, was installed as President and CEO.  The company decided to exit the school and transit bus market and focus solely on intercity coaches. This 1938 Super Steeliner is representative of the new direction, although it never really made Beck successful.

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From the beginning, Beck’s apparent strategy was in imitating the market leader, GM. In this (first) case, it’s the 1936 Yellow Model 719 Super Coach (directly above), a truly groundbreaking design and the first modern coach, with its unitized alloy body and rear engine. The Beck Super Steeliner, although trying hard to look like the real thing, was not nearly as advanced, roomy and comfortable as the Yellow, which quickly became the Greyhound bus of choice.

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Mainliner Series I

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The company’s first major model was the “Mainliner” introduced in 1940.  It came in 33 or 37 passenger versions and was powered by an International gas engine.  With the beginning of WW II, the company produced a version of the Mainliner with transit style seats used to ferry workers at the many defense plants throughout the country.

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The company’s old, cramped and inefficient factory prevented it from receiving large, lucrative defense contracts during the war, but after VJ day, a new, larger  factory was built in Sydney – and assembled in that factory was a new model; the “Silverliner”, with both International gas and optional Cummins diesel power.

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Beck Silverliner

gm-coach-pd-4103GM Silversides (PD 4103)

As you can see, the Silverliner was also very similar to the GM 4102-4103 “Silversides” coach. But this wouldn’t be the last time Beck borrowed heavily from a GM design.

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The 1950’s brought some of Beck’s highest profile models – the first being the split-level DH 9600.  Look closely behind the rear axle – its easy to miss the tag axle enclosed by the bodywork.  I’m assuming Beck did this for aesthetic reasons, versus aerodynamics.  This bus also used International gas or Cummins diesel power.

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There’s little doubt that Greyhound’s GX-2 prototype, built by Greyhound using a GM 4104 bus shell, was the inspiration for the Beck DH 9600. In this first tribute to what would become the actual Scenicruiser, Beck had to make some compromises, right down to the very ’40s rear windows, which of course were also GM copies in their day.

But a more faithful copy of the production Scenicruiser was soon to come.
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Beck DH 1040

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GM PD 4501

In 1954, the same year as GM brought out the PD 4501 Scenicruiser, Beck introduced its DH 1030 and 1040 split-level coaches.  The dual-axle 40 ft 1040 looks like it could have come directly off the GM Pontiac Michigan assembly line, the dual headlights being the only real difference.  Rather than the 4501’s complex dual 4V71 engines, the 1040 had a large Cummins NHRBS 600 supercharged diesel.

One would think GM would have initiated some sort of legal action against Beck for this blatant copying, but my guess is that with the federal government aggressively pursuing anti-trust action against GM (and winning in 1958), perhaps the company believed it was better not to bring attention to itself, or look like it was being “heavy-handed” with a competitor; even a minor one (as Paul’s Scenicruiser article noted, only 12 DH 1040s were made). Beck’s strategy was clearly not a threat.

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Like the other smaller manufacturers mentioned earlier, Beck faced a very competitive North American market, and with the dominance of GM, looked south of the border for opportunities, finding some small success. Greyhound and Trailways were not buying cheap imitations (Becks were always less expensive than GM buses), and not many independent operators were either.

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Beck’s last coaches were its “Cruiser” series. This time, Beck decided to mix it up a little, instead of a pure GM clone.

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The single level Cruiser paid homage to GM’s (again) groundbreaking and dominant PD 4101, the first air-ride coach, although there were other influences too, especially in the front.

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That would be Flxible, with its distinctive smooth fluted front end and downward-sloping windshield of their split-level Vistaliner, whose configuration was well echoed in the split-level Beck Cruiser.

 

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Mack 92-G

In 1956, Mack came calling and purchased Beck, primarily for the fire apparatus portion of the company, but Mack was also looking to build buses for Greyhound which had become disillusioned with GM because of the drivetrain related problems with the Scenicrusier.

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Mack 97-D

Mack took the Cruiser and named it the Mack 92-G.  They then built an upgraded follow-on model; the 97-G – the rear-slanted side windows on the 97 are certainly distinctive. Nobody could claim it was imitating any other bus, except perhaps for a backwards-running GM. Mack was only able to sell around 25 97-D’s in the two years they were in production.

When Greyhound decided to purchase MCI, and with few other operators expressing interest in these coaches, Mack pulled the plug and shut down bus production at the Sydney plant in 1958.   Mack’s last bus was its MV-620-D demonstrator for Greyhound – the subject of a future post…

I was born in 1956 and was raised in central Ohio – and had an interest in buses from a young age, but I don’t remember ever seeing a Beck coach – lots of Flxibles from Loudonville, but no Becks. That’s not too surprising, since only some 3150 Becks were ever built, and many of those were in the 1940s.

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I’m not typically a fan of converting older coaches to motor homes – I’d prefer they be restored to their original condition.  But in this case, I’m thankful there are still a few devotees keeping these rare and unique coaches on the road.