Bus Stop Classics: GM New Look “Classic” Coach: Tried and True

Santa Monica Big Blue Bus MCI Classic 5182

(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.

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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.

1990 Coast Mt Bus Co-horzSanta Monica Big Blue Bus MCI Classic 4813-horz

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.