Bus Stop Classics: White Motor Corporation Urban Transit Buses – Better Known for Trucks, They Made Buses Too

There were several large-vehicle manufacturers in the early to mid-twentieth century that that were well known for their heavy-duty trucks, but less well-known for their buses – we looked at one several weeks ago; Mack, and in a future post we’ll review another; Kenworth.  Today, we’ll examine several bus models from the White Motor Corporation. 

No discussion of White can begin without mentioning its most well-known model – the 3000-series COE medium-duty truck and tractor.  From its introduction in 1949 until the last one came down the line in 1967, it was a routine sight across roads throughout the US and Canada.  As a guy of a “certain age”, it’s an indelible part of my childhood memories.  It deserves its own separate post, but I mention it as it appears to influence one of the bus models we’ll review below.

Much like Mack, buses were a key part of White’s product line in the first part of the twentieth century.  They made a variety of conventional, front engine buses throughout the 1920’s and 30’s.

Perhaps White’s most famous coach during this period was the 706, a bus built for transporting tourists at national parks in the Western US – most famously at Yellowstone and Glacial.  They had bodies designed by noted industrial stylist Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, and came with pull-back canvas tops so passengers could stand and see the sights.  Refurbished models are still in use at both parks.

In 1937, the company introduced an urban transit model, the 700 series.  It was 96 in wide and came in 30 and 35 ft lengths.  As with Mack, it wasn’t broadly sold but it did have certain loyal customers – Cleveland, Washington DC, and Boston all had White’s in their fleets.

What was most unique about this model was its power train – it had a White 464 cu in, 165 hp horizontally opposed “pancake” 12 cylinder gas engine mounted amidships underfloor.  It made for a bus with (relatively) snappy acceleration.

You can see and hear a little of this 12 cylinder in this video of a beautifully restored 748 model that’s part of San Francisco Muni’s historical fleet.

The longer 35 ft 798 model continued in production until 1948, when it was revised as the 1100 series.   An updated front and option of a Cummins diesel (in 1951) to replace the thirsty gas flat 12 were the major changes.

Later, White added a small grill to the front – somewhat similar in appearance to the 3000 truck.  But as we’ve seen with so many other bus manufacturers in the post war period, GM with its superior Old Look coach and large production capacity was able to completely dominate the urban transit bus market – and the last model, the 1150, came down the line in 1953.

White would go on to proposer in the large truck market of the 1960’s and early 70’s, with its Freightliner and Western Star model lines.  But by the mid to late-70’s, the company was in dire financial trouble, and after several attempts at consolidating with other US and European partners, it was purchased by Volvo Trucks in 1980.