(first posted 4/30/2016) The GM Old Look Coach – a true classic in every sense. Most CC readers know that the Old Look was produced largely from 1940 until the introduction of GM’s New Look or “Fishbowl” model in 1959. But what is less known is that a smaller model of the Old Look would remain in production in tandem with the New Look for another 10 years.
The New Look was a significant improvement over the Old Look bus – and as the decade of the ’60’s began, quickly established itself as the dominant coach in the US transit bus market. Still, as with all new products, some prefer to “stay with what works” – and in the late ’50’s, a number of smaller transit operators wanted an updated “second generation” Old Look – in 30 ft or less length and with a price substantially lower than the New Look. Price was a significant factor as this was before passage of the Urban Mass Transit Act which would bring large-scale government grants for new capital purchases – many smaller operators were borderline profitable and had little money for new equipment.
Given the success of the Old Look, the tooling had been amortized many years earlier, and as the basic platform was well proven, GM saw little downside risk in continuing production, even at a much lower rate.
The first “second generation” Old Look was the TDH 3501 – for new readers to CC, this designation meant T (Transit) D (Diesel or G for Gas) H (Hydraulic auto transmission or M for manual) 35 (typical max passenger load) series 01.
There were a few updates from the previous Old Looks – most noticeable being the incorporation of quad headlights. Orders came in from small operators in both the US and Canada – approximately 1,200 of these 01 series coaches were produced over seven years.
In 1968 GM introduced the 3502 – 200 of these were built until production ended in Nov 1969, with introduction of the smaller wheelbase New Look model.
Almost all 01 and 02 series coaches used the GM Toroflow V6 diesel engine – only 180 of the over 1400 produced used gasoline power – the gas version of the Toroflow or in earlier models a GMC inline six. Transmissions were mostly Allison truck-based 6 speed automatics. Engine installation was in the “T” manner – straight in, versus the transverse/angle drive of the Old Look. These updated models also used a light duty chassis, which did not have the air-suspension of the previous models.
Though not built to the “heavy-duty” standard of the original Old Look, these buses served admirably in smaller markets – with many continuing to operate into the 1980s.
Interestingly, this same situation would repeat itself twenty years later in the late ‘70s as GM introduced the RTS II to replace the New Look – many operators preferred to stay with the updated New Look “Classic”.
Both the 3501 and 3502 were 30 feet long. Length did not increase for the 02 series as you have written! I’ve attached a picture of the sales brochure for the TDH-3501. These last Old Looks were replaced in 1969 by the 30 foot New Look, model TDH-3301.
Thanks Steve, several of the sources I looked at said the 01’s were 28 ft and 02’s 30 ft – I’ll take your word for it. Jim.
No problem Jim. If you want to email me, I can send you a PDF of a really interesting article about GM Old Looks. The 3501/02 series were kind of a throw back – GM introduced them to provide an economical small bus after the New Look came along. They did not even have air ride suspension!
Thanks Steve – would love to read it – don’t have the e-mail function added yet but will do that and e-mail you.
Hey Steve, I would love to see that PDF if you still have it and still around. We are interested in purchasing an old 3501 to convert into a Skoolie and trying to do as much research as possible.
I left you a comment further down at your other comment about these buses. You’d probably want to consider updating the drive train in a 3501, if the one you’re looking at is still original.
Outward visibility for the driver looks awful in these. How do you see what’s up close?
I grew up in the ’70s near DC and don’t recall seeing any Old Look buses except a few that were bought by churches, or some seemingly left rusting away near a barn. The local transit companies had a mix of GM New Look, the similar Flxible, and the very different looking AM General bus.
It was terrible. I started driving bus in New Look “fishbowls”, with incredible visibility; undoubtedly the best ever on a bus. It was a wall of glass.
But in the winter months, our transit system (Iowa City) leased a number of 40′ old look buses to increase the schedule due to very high demand (the buses were often packed), and the first time I was assigned to drive one, it was a bit scary. It felt like I was in a submarine! With a small window, whose upper edge was too low. I had to crane way down to look up at traffic lights.
I eventually got used to it, but that first drive in one was a bit unpleasant.
I’d be afraid of driving any bus really. Largest vehicle I ever drove was a medium-size truck and that was just across the street to move it between buildings, and *that* flipped me out a bit.
My time driving Crown Coach school buses was similar. Even with the (non-airride) seat in lowest position, I needed to point my chin down to fully see ahead…..that low seat position also made my left knee very sharply bent when operating the clutch. Not ideal. Ergonomics, as a science, clearly wasn’t very advanced when such buses were designed.
My elementary school was on a steep hill in Daly City, CA (just south of SF). I will never forget the sight, and sounds, of privately operated TGM3501s ever so slowly inching up the grade outside my first grade window–certainly in low gear. Unmistakably inline sixes. A cloud of bluish smoke was also frequently following those well used machines…..I haven’t seen one since about 1975.
Iowa City’s privately owned bus system in the early 60s had a fleet of these smaller GM buses too, and the sound of their inline sixes and the rapid-fire shifts of the 6 speed Allison automatic are very deeply seared in my memory.
Very different than the sound of a DD “Jimmy” wailing away against the torque converter of the one-two speed transmission in the diesel models.
Screaming jimmies are the definition of “racket”.
That sound is “unique in all the world” to steal a phrase!
those were V-6’s, not inline sixes, btw.
No; the older versions used GMC’s inline gas six. The GMC V6 didn’t arrive until 1959 or so; there were lightweight old look coaches built during the 50s too, with the gas inline six. they had twin front headlights; not quads, but were otherwise essentially the same as these. That’s what we were referring to.
So were the buses mainly used for city transportation? Were these buses used for long trips, cross country? We are considering purchasing one to convert into a Skoolie so doing as much research as possible.
Yes, these were urban transit buses. Top speed was probably 45-50 or so; maybe 55. Unless you change the drive train, you’re likely to be constrained speed-wise, in terms of modern traffic.
Please note that these are not the typical “old look” GMC transit buses, which were generally bigger, and had diesel engines. The buses in this article are the lighter duty versions, mostly with gas engines. The diesel ones used the Toro flow V6, which does not have a good reputation.
The genuine heavy duty GMC old look buses used a different drive train, the 2-stroke GMC/Detroit Diesel engine. The transit versions of those could probably do about 50 or so mph; there was a suburban version with different gearing that could probbaly do 60 or so.
But in any case, none of these were designed for long distance work. For that you need to be looking at a GMC PD-4104 or a 4106. Here’s an article on the 4104: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/bus-stop-classic/bus-stop-classics-gm-pd-4104-the-best-bus-ever-built/
For some reason this site won’t let me log in but… I do remember these from back home in Newport News, VA. But, the bus company who was known as CRT back then used Mack buses, which had a similar look. I rode on them as a kid and the school system leased some to transport high school kids rather than yellow buses.
THANK YOU PAUL !!! .
These old Bus articles bring the memories flooding back .
Thank Jim Brophy; he’s the new busmaster at CC.
I’d semi-forgotten about these continuation buses, and that they went all the way to 1969..They looked mighty out of date by then.
The paint job on that 1968 model makes it look about 50 years newer than it is though, doesn’t it?
We had a few of those post-1959 “old looks” but most of my time was spent in the 40′ 5105’s. And yes, seeing out of them was a chore. Like looking out of a pillbox. I once sat through a green light because I didn’t lean down to see if the traffic signal had changed. At 6 feet 4 in., it wasn’t my favorite bus to drive. One thing I will venture and that is, they were reliable. They didn’t break down very often.
This is like the Mack buses I rode on that ranged from 1949 to 1957. They too had the slanted windshields with the front destination overhang but nothing like the GM’s. I rode on the Macks for many years as a kid.
I volunteer at an operating railroad museum, and we have a TDH 3501. It was built in 1967 for Modesto (CA.) and we use it on special occasions for tours of the grounds and demonstration rides for museum visitors. Ours is powered by a DH478 Toroflow diesel, and while these engines earned a less than stellar reputation in truck service they did perform well in bus service with automatic transmissions. Visibility is indeed nothing like a New Look, but the 3501 is otherwise a very easy bus to drive.
I was in that Brandon City Bus last year at a Down Town Car Show – Restored to Original Condition. Brandon City took over Transit System in 1957 and use Short Old Buses for 1st 10 years. Later, Canada Made Flyer Buses took over.
Loved seeing that PAT #1899 in Downtown Pittsburgh (complete with the livery that “yinzers” called the “RAT” logo!) PAT was created in 1964 by condemning around 40 independent bus lines and the Pittsburgh Railways system, (streetcar tracks visible in photo). This bus may have been bought by PAT since it’s supposed to be a ’65. (and “Old Looks” did ‘match’ the PCC cars styling – sorta) PAT also inherited “Old Looks” from the former bus lines (dual headlights VS quads is how I reckoned them!) These were in service well into the 70s as well. PAT was a big user of the “New Looks” as well. Somewhere I have a General Motors factory photo of a “New Look” in PAT livery, But I’m not not near my PC at the moment.
Forgot to add, For Ford fans, Bob Smith Ford was in the Pittsburgh suburb of Castle Shannon. (South Hills shout out!)
Rt 51 @ Rt88 as I recall! Wasn’t Eat & Park quite nearby?
I wonder if this was one of the old look buses they bought used in ’74 to deal with a ridership surge from the oil crisis. I remember a lot of single-light old-look buses with the cool new 70s PAT paint scheme, but not one of these.
What a cool article – it’s the Chevy (fleet) Impala of buses!
Perhaps, PAT did increase their fleet and service in the years between the 73 and 79 gas crunches. In those years PAT had a varied fleet,yet it was at that time their service was the best! I mainly remember seeing these OL quad light shorties on some short but frequent routes like the Church Loop/Hill Loop, Braddock Hills/Swissvale (65E?) and “U” (University) routes at that time. YMMV!
Me too!! The “burgh” in those days was still a living place!
It might be worth noting that the engine/transmission arrangement on these was a “T” drive, or straight-in configuration, and not the angle drive, transverse engine mount in the larger Detroit Diesel (6-71) powered coaches.
Also they abandoned the air ride suspension pioneered on “Old Looks” in 1953 and kept spring ride on these smaller units.
Absolutely correct Bob – I should have included that in the post – in fact I should have mentioned that these weren’t true continuations of the Old Look in that while they kept the styling, they were really built off a light duty platform, rather than the heavy duty Old Look chassis. Paul mentioned that also. Thanks. Jim.
Yes, in addition to the ‘T’ drive setup there are C-channel subframes front and rear, unlike the full monocoque construction of a traditional Old Look. Another interesting difference is the 3501/3502 retained the 40’s era sash type side windows and never adopted the ‘paired’ side windows of 50’s era Old Looks.
I take the bus to and from work every day, and while newer buses are way more comfortable to ride in than the ones of my youth, none of them have the good looks of the GM old or new look buses.
OERM’s TDH3501 is still in stock condition with a full set of seats. Anyone know how many 3501’s are still in stock condition, not modified to RV use?
An old photo from the TTC website
Yay for me. I own a 1967 TDH 3501 which I renovated into a wonderful RV. It has been to Florida, the West Coast and for fun outings. It has given me 10x the love back. Blessed by “the Pony Express”. I think that it is the last 30′ running. Please prove me wrong as I am looking for brethren.
I have one of these baby’s.
The Torowflow (GM’s in-house diesel) is a remarkably reliable engine. It is a common and reliable power plant for commercial field irrigation. The fault was in the water pump and those who know better put in a larger one and Bob’s your Uncle.
Quiet, efficient consumption and will carry on like a donkey through the Smokey Mountains (it gets down to 39 mph on 29 degree but keeps chugging and doesn’t settle less with heavy trailer in tow). While the Prevosts pass it up the hills, it sneaks by them at the rest stops.
Here is a picture after starting up with its blue hue (which disappears after 180 degree temp).
25 cents per mile is better than my old skool weekend car plus it has better options at Lookout Point to boot!
I love classics and those who use them!
Aluminum painted with Emron aircraft paint.
Looks nicer inside than most of the motor home conversions I see .
I logged many miles in old buses during the 1960’s and have mostly pleasant memories .
You’re needs wider white walls =8-) .
My Brother spent a long time trying to get me to buy an old bus conversion thinking I’d be willing to keep it running as we wheezed and rattled across America in it like I do for his various jalopies and old truck .
That white bus with the orange swath down the side under the sign “Mission” (Commission really), is a Mississauga (Ontario) bus. That one must have been doing a pickup at a Toronto Transit Commission stop, and its destination sign says, “Long Branch.” I had no idea Mississauga buses went back far enough to have these Old Looks. Mississauga was only incorporated in 1974.
The orange swath was supposed to be an “M” for Mississauga Transit. It became known as Mississauga Chance-It for it’s spontaneous schedules. Approximations of when the bus would arrive? Who knew? They are much better today, here in my home town.
The 2nd photo of green/white bus is in my town Brandon, Manitoba, Canada in late 1960s. I took the Larkhill Bus from School to downtown business section everyday. Parked at 8th Street and Rosser Ave in a Bus Hub. I worked 100 feet to left at a Drug Store. This bus was small and filled to Standing room including step wells, so we had to tell driver if anything was coming from right. Suspension was right down flat. 6 cylinder gas with auto. City of Brandon started bus service in 1957 with this GM model. One of theses buses in New Shape still in city and brought to car shows
No matter how often GMC busses are featured (or re-featured) here at CC, some new memories or thoughts come into my head. Tonight, it occurred to me that I probably spent more time in New and Old Look GMC busses than any other domestic vehicle until I bought my Chevy Vega at the age of 20. My own parents and my best friends’ parents in elementary school all the way through high school, all drove what were than known as imports.