(first posted 5/7/2016) In a previous post, we looked at the GM RTS II bus – introduced in the late 1970s. The RTS II was a significant upgrade to (and major departure from) the GM “New Look” or “Fishbowl”, which dominated the North American transit coach market from its introduction in 1959. Given how well-regarded the New Look was, many operators expressed more than a little skepticism at the RTS II with its modular construction, acrylic exterior panels, and new HVAC systems. They wanted something new, but not “too new.” Most of these operators were “up north” in our good neighbor Canada. The Canadians have long understood that “newer” doesn’t always equal “better” – and in this instance they were once again proven correct.
Quality and design problems with early models of the RTS II were discussed previously – but basically the new HVAC system was not powerful enough to cool the buses in the summer, causing the system to fail and also overheating the engines. Issues with the doors and premature transmission failure were also noted. These, and other problems, were so prevalent that many operators quickly looked for other alternatives.
While the GM Truck and Coach factory in Pontiac MI would switch over to production of the RTS II in 1977, GM’s Canadian subsidiary, GM Diesel Division (GMDD) located in Saint-Eustache (Montreal), Quebec, would continue New Look production through the mid-‘80s. GMDD introduced an updated New Look in 1983, with new windows above the beltline. a new front cap, and a “squared-up” rear – and called this model the New Look “Classic.”
The Classic quickly won orders from large transport operators in Canada and quite a few in the US who had grown frustrated with their RTS II’s constant problems, and were wary of the Flxible 870 given its “A Frame” issues.
The Classic’s new larger side windows made for a much brighter interior.
Classic RTS 06
The rear of the bus bore a passing resemblance to the RTS II series 04/06 coach.
Naming convention was simple, above is a TC40-102 N; T (Transit) C (Coach or A Articulated) 40 (feet in length) 102 (inches wide) N (no A/C, A with A/C)
GM 6V 92 Engine
Engines were typical GM – 6/8V71 and later 6V92 diesels, though a few had Cummins power and fewer still the GM 50 series 4 cylinder. Allison, Voith, and ZF were transmission options.
In 1992, 16 articulated versions were built for Halifax, Nova Scotia and Quebec City, Quebec. Max seating on these was 55 passengers.
Along with the RTS II, the Classic and its tooling went to Motor Coach Industries (MCI) in 1987 when GM sold its coach operations. Production continued at the Quebec plant, and in 1993, the model again changed hands as MCI sold the design to Novabus.
Novabus kept the Classic in production until 1997 – by then customer preference had mostly shifted to newer low-floor models.
Classics couldn’t be considered particularly good-looking, however, their operators always seemed to dress them in an attractive livery.
Interesting fact: In 1986, Detroit Metro grew so frustrated with its RTS II buses, that it purchased 100 new Classic models with its own money – as the Canadian-built models did not qualify for government Urban Mass Transit Assistance Act grants under Congressional “Buy American” restrictions.
Former Detroit #1960 (left) became Cornwall Ontario coach #8761 (right)
These coaches lived up to their New Look “tough” reputation and provided sterling service to Detroit for over 18 years. In 2002, quite a few were sold to various Canadian cities and refurbished – several of these remain in service today.
If you consider the Classic a variation of the basic New Look model, then it had a production run of thirty-eight years; 1959 – 1997…quite an achievement.
I drove many hours in a Classic, although they were the MCI versions with a 6V92 engine. Great buses, but the New Look (fishbowl) will always remain my favourite. Here is an ad for the GMDD Classic from early 1983.
I didn’t realize GM officially called these the New Look; thought that was just a widely used nickname
Very interesting article – I don’t recall seeing one of these but then I was barely cognizant of the change to New Look when I was a little kid. I do remember clamoring to ride a New Look bus with my grandmother when she lived in the city.
Like nearly everything GM, the RTS II should have been rolled out for a 1-2 year limited availability road test before being available to the fleet market.
INMHO, the GMDD/MCI/Novabus Classic’s worthwhile competitor would be the Grumman-Flxible 870/Flxible Metro Transit Bus because both had a similar design plus the maximum passenger capacities of 53 seated passengers for both makes in which both buses can carried on the maximum carried six additional seated passengers compared to the GMC/TMC/Novabus/Millennium RTS 03/04/06 Transit Buses. In addition, both the Classic and the Flxible were generally only available with Front Door Wheelchair Lifts unlike the RTS 01/03/04/06 models which were strictly only Rear Door Wheelchair Lifts even though the later versions of the RTS which began with the 08 series can be equipped with the standard Front Door Wheelchair Lift.
As shown here, the remarkable comparisons between the GM TDH 5300 Series and Rohr-Flxible New Looks their predecessors along with the GMDD/MCI/Novabus Classic and Grumman-Flxible 870/Flxible Metro successors. The analogy here is more noticeably fitting here than the RTS being compared to the 870 or the New Looks.
As we speak, pretty soon Iconic Replicas will be offering the 1:87 Scale version of the MCI Classic and this one with MTA Bus trim. IR will be offering both the transit and suburban versions in MTA Bus and other liveries including the “fallen flags” version like New York Bus Service and Liberty Lines Express but mostly Canadian Bus Operators.
The “Classic” body style was a model that I whole heartedly supported. I was a member of a group that was working on bringing trackless trolleys back to Los Angeles and I suggested the Classic body because of the familiarity that body mechanics would have with its’ structure and the adequate space in the front door, which would allow for installation of the reliable “Lift U” wheelchair lift. Although Ed VanDeVenter, the lead engineer, was successful in returning rail to LA, we lost out on the trackless trolleys. Besides a healthy dose of anti trolley sentiment from lobbyists, there were fears that overhead wires would be unsightly. RTD decided instead to continue buying RTS buses, this time, powered by methanol. Largely untried, the buses were later converted to ethanol, which was worse. Some 300+ buses sat out of service until the local PUC gave in to MTA’s requests and converted the buses to diesel, a fuel they had tried to avoid using in the first place. Untold amounts of money was spent on those RTS buses and the agency probably got 50% of its use out of them. They’ve been retired for some time. The trackless trolleys might still have been running to this day…
Electric buses are the new “trolley” and have proven quite reliable in trials for Edmonton and the nearby city of St. Albert.
St. Albert transit has ordered at least three such units which I believe are going to be built by a Chinese company whose name I do not know.
As for the “Classic” Edmonton Transit System to my knowledge did not purchase any. Not sure if other cities in Alberta did. Handsome looking rigs I must say.
Chinese-built buses were tried out in California and after a lot of hoopla and banners, nothing much has been said about them. One was used extensively in the Antelope Valley (California) Transit System and I would often see it running in regular service. The company is actually located in the Palmdale/Lancaster area, approximately 60 miles north of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, New Flyer has contracted with Los Angeles MTA to deliver 4, 60 foot, articulated, fully electric buses for its’ BRT line. New Flyer would have the upper hand on the Chinese buses because of commonality/familiarity of body parts and other advantages. Not to mention that there is a steady push to diminish everything being built by the Chinese while domestic jobs and profits go lacking.
I appreciate the insight you’ve provided on the Chinese buses from where you live. Flyer would have been a good choice as the factory is on our side of the border. I don’t know all the reasons the Chinese electrics were chosen, but price was an important factor here.
Time will tell if the decision was a wise one. Last winter was very mild with little snow. One good dump with a few minus 30C days next winter will show how durable the electric buses are.
Yes Gary, I’m sure price and the lure of a vehicle that would provide an alternative to internal combustion would be a good reason to at least try out the vehicle. Historically of course, price alone is never a solid reason for choosing a product, in this case, a transit bus. We saw that years ago when AMGeneral produced a transit bus that consistently underbid GM and Flxible, putting what many considered to be an inferior bus on American streets. In addition to events that I read, some properties gave up their AMGenerals in as little as five years. But unlike many critics, I drove AMGenerals for two systems, both of which had 200 or more vehicles in their fleets. They did not compare to any of the other, older vehicles on those rosters. Lastly, I’ve wondered whether the ease of “dumping” in the U.S.. because of its’ trade agreements has not been a temptation to field vehicles not typically suited to the demands of American transit systems. Having driven buses constructed from as early 1940 (Seattle’s trackless trolleys, that lasted until 1978) to the newest vehicles that show extreme fatigue in less than 12 years, I wonder if many foreign-built buses can tolerate the rigors of crush loads hour after hour, day after day… My experiences in developed foreign countries reveal that buses generally handled only seated loads, not standees even in the stairwells. Time will tell whether the Chinese buses will stand up. My hunch is they won’t.
Thanks I really enjoy the series on buses and am learning a lot. I hope that our bus experts will get around to trolleybus or trackless trolleys soon as I think these are the solution to lots of transit problems.
The Classic was a common sight around Los Angeles, as Santa Monica Municipal had a lot of them. Santa Monica had the distinction of owning the last ‘New Look’ built, their #5180, and their first Classic was #5181. They owned both MCI and Novabus Classics, I believe the Novabus versions had Detroit 50 Series diesels with a ‘T’ drivetrain.
Seeing the Classic in London Transit livery brought back memories of going to Fanshawe College in the late ’80’s. The Oxford East (#4) bus was a welcome sight at the end of the day, and was a nice change from the old Fishbowls.
I cannot be 100% certain, but the windshield looks suspiciously the same item as on the German VöV standards (see below, this being a Mercedes used by Israel’s Egged Co-Op).
Looks pretty close!
Another issue with the Chinese battery powered buses was not an issue with the bus itself but rather accusations of under paying its’ employees. Those problems were headlining in the LA Times a few months ago.
I am also enjoying this series tremendously. Having been a teenager in the early to mid-80’s I’m looking forward to hopefully reading about the new Neoplan AN440’s that took over in the LA area under the RTD umbrella. I remember many a hot afternoon waiting for a bus and hoping it was not a GM RTS. If a new Neoplan showed up instead it was a big deal!
Your question carries merit. I drove both vehicles while employed by Los Angeles RTD and later, LACMTA. I preferred the Neoplans over the RTS buses. But in those days, the Neoplans were outnumbered 2 to 1 and not every division had them. The Neoplans were generally assigned to the better areas of the city while the RTS buses were based in the heavily patronized, poorer sections of the city. The Neoplans had only one fault, rear doors that often would not close. But operators lived with that rather than the cramped, hard riding 1982-built RTS of which there was 930. The first batch of Neoplans numbered about 435. Later compressed gas-powered Neoplans were a great improvement and were favorites of many from operators to mechanics and supervisors, of which I was one.
Thanks for the info Larry, we were in the west valley, around Canoga Park / Woodland Hills so that jives with your location description.
Hi Jim, Canoga Pk. typically fielded Neoplans and over 90% of them were based in San Fernando Valley, Div. 8, on Nordhoff and Canoga and Div. 15, on the Eastside on Branford and Glen Oaks Blvd. near Hansen Dam. Later, when the Neoplan CNG’s arrived, the same pattern was followed.
It was written that the Classic was not good looking, but I can not agree. I thought they were very good looking. Santa Monica Big Blue Bus had a fleet of these, and at first I thought these were built by MCI.
Up until 1995 they were powered by 6v92’s, but I remember one night after school ( I went to Wechester High School ) I was waiting for the MTA 115, a SMBBB Classic pulled off, and it had a deeper base sound, but not as base as a L10, later I found out the 1995’s were powered by Series 50’s.
I was living on the east coast when these were being phased out of SMBBB fleet. I tried to get one more ride on one, but I kept missing them. Sadly they where gone by the time I moved back to So Cal.
Solid buses, with no serious issues. Proven, but old school. I rode many of these as a student in the 80s. More refined than the New Looks, but these remained very slow and ponderous, compared to modern buses. Nothing to make them standout, other than their reliability, as sound 80s updates on the New Looks. They did appear to have superior rust resistance. Their nose cap was used on the unique early 80s GM articulated buses that were based upon the New Look. I remember riding this particular bus to school around 1984.
From the back seats, the best feature of these was the windows that didn’t rattle…endlessly…
They also had wider entrances and rear exits, compared to the New Look buses. Making carrying items at your side easier, for much greater convenience, when boarding/exiting.
In fairness, I recall riding some New Look buses bought in ’81 and ’82, that did have wider rear exits, and automatic double doors. Something earlier versions typically lacked.
Did all Classics have wider rear doors, or was that an option? I know the fishbowl New Looks operated by Calgary Transit always had narrow rear doors, pushed open by the disembarking passenger, but I can’t remember how the CT Classics were configured.
As a kid I was surprised seeing New Looks in other cities (I think Edmonton had these) with wider folding rear doors operated by foot pressure on the steps.
I was in Ottawa, and they all had the same setup as Edmonton, as you described. From the earliest buses, around 1983. Double wide doors, with ample width. That opened, as you stepped down. In Jim’s photos above, the sixth and tenth pics have traditional narrow openings. So, there appears to have been choices.
Pre-1981 New Looks in Ottawa had the narrow rear door openings.
The 1981 and 1982 buses they bought new, had double doors, and side-by-side exits. So two people could exit at once. As with the OC Transpo articulated bus above.
A little Classic trivia. Most Classics with air conditioning mounted the condensor above the engine at the rear of the coach like the RTS. The disadvantage to this location was that it did away with the rear window, which the New Look accommodated with its roof mounted condensor. Some operators like Santa Monica wanted the rear window in their A/C equipped coaches so they opted for roof mounted systems, visible in the above ‘Big Blue Bus’ pictures. The Classic was announced in 1981 but it would seem that deliveries actually began in late ’82 or early ’83. From that time until 1986 Classics were available concurrently with New Looks. Supposedly one of the rerasons why New Look production ended in ’86 was because GM was having difficulty sourcing the parallelogram side window sash. A feature of the Classic design was that it could better accommodate a front door wheelchair lift, though late New Looks could be so equipped as well. It also turned out to be quite a bit lighter than the ponderous RTS.