There are quite a few posts in the CC truck archive on the REO Motor Company, a mid-tier manufacturer of mostly trucks in the early to middle twentieth century but with ventures into both the car and bus markets also. I’m sure CC readers are aware that “REO” are the initials of Ransom E. Olds, who started this company after he left Oldsmobile in 1905 in a boardroom dispute. REO cars were well known in the brass era and built quite a reputation as an elite luxury model through the 1930’s. Unfortunately, the car division was one of the many casualties of the Great Depression. The truck and bus divisions, however, soldiered through with many wartime contracts during the 1940’s. Let’s take a look at several of these REO buses of the post-war period.
REO marketed mostly conventional “bonnet” buses, built on their 1 and 1/2 and 2 ton truck chassis. They were quite easy to identify with their prominent “prow” with a grille on each side; kidney shaped on early models and rectangular on later ones. The company made fairly good inroads into the school bus market.
Less well known was their attempt to crack the urban transit market with their 96-HTD model, called the “Flying Cloud”, a small 29-40 passenger coach with a rear mounted engine. Like their conventional counterparts, they were easy to identify, with their large grilles surrounding the upper front route sign.
Unfortunately REO found few takers – Washington DC, Dallas, and Toronto purchased a few, and others were bought by Charter operators…but the big sales the company had hoped for didn’t materialize.
In 1948, REO updated the model with a new body and chassis – now with an underfloor engine. That engine in most cases was a REO “Gold Comet” 371 cu in gas OHV inline six cylinder with an available Spicer hydraulic 2-speed automatic transmission.
Even with this update, sales were few. REO then tried what many other smaller US bus manufacturers attempted -marketing their coaches in South America.
Competition was brutal in the post-war market and like many others, REO just couldn’t compete with GM. From 1945 to early 1952, only 101 96-HTD’s were built – and the company moved on to only school buses and trucks. In 1957, White Motors purchased the company, and in 1967 formally merged REO with Diamond T, creating Diamond REO. That company was liquidated in 1975.
REO may be a familiar name to our Australian and New Zealand readers – the company had several licensee/joint ventures in both countries – and many REO chassis with “Gold Comet” engines were mated to local coachbuilder bodies.