Bus Stop Outtake: Another Look At the New and the Old (Look, That Is)

Paul has written informative articles on both of these coaches here at CC, but as I was doing some research for an upcoming post I came across this great old photo – and, as a single photo can sometimes do, it just brought forth a whole slew of recollections and memories. Please indulge an old “bus fan” as I offer a few of these below…

1. GM at its peak. We’ve mentioned on more than one occasion how dominant GM was in the post-war intercity bus market. There are some conspiracy theories that still persist that claim to explain this dominance – I fall on the side that it was due to a superior product. As Paul’s post superbly outlines, the GM Old Look was the bus that maximized the two key variables of any successful transportation entity; passenger riding experience and the company’s operating cost balance sheet – a win-win. This model held 84% of the market in the mid-1950’s. Even more than its car and truck divisions, this was GM at its peak.

2. The passing of the baton. How many times have we seen a manufacturer hit a “home-run” with a product and then flub the follow-up. Yes, even GM  had their fair share of these follow-up “deadly sins” – but not in this case. With its New Look coach, the company kept all the advantages of the Old Look; economical operation with the two-stroke diesel engine, light weight stressed skin monocoque construction, and superb build quality – and addressed those few that needed fixing – a smoother shifting VH hydraulic automatic transmission, upgraded HVAC with factory air-conditioning as an option, and much larger windows (which we’ll discuss more about below). It didn’t quite reach the Old Look’s market share, primarily because the government won an anti-trust suit against GM in the late 1950’s and the company had to share its powertrain and other proprietary items with its competitors. But even with this handicap, the New Look still had over 70% of the urban bus market in the 1960’s and 70’s. Two clear “back-to-back” home-runs.

Old Look                                                                    New Look

3. Let the sunshine in. Paul has driven both these models during his younger bus driving days and has mentioned it several times. I haven’t driven these models but have sat in the driver’s seat of both. The Old Look, and really all buses of this vintage, were very difficult to see out of – the small front windshield limited both front and peripheral vision. When you’re wheeling 35-40 foot of bus, the more “situational awareness” you have, the better.  As the top photo perfectly captures, the New Look really “opened the aperture.” Sitting in them back-to-back, the effect is quite striking – you’re able to see much more of what’s going on around you, and in turn, operate the coach in a much safer manner. The “Fishbowl” nickname certainly fits. Additionally, for passengers, Old Look-vintage buses all were somewhat dark and dreary inside. The small side windows coupled with a black rubber floor and dark colored seats (mostly brown or green) made for a “dark-hole” riding experience. I can still remember my first ride in a New Look bus circa 1962 and how bright it was inside – larger side windows let in much more sunlight and the lower interior panels in white (with light green “shooting star” pattern) really brightened things up.

4. Our good friends in Europe set the standard in buses these days, but as this photo made me vividly remember, there was a time when no bus could come close to a GM…its products set the standard and were so far out in front of their competitors, that there were no competitors…