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…
For anyone interested in riding these again, the N.Y. Transit Museum puts some Old Look and New Look busses into regular service in Manhattan during the holiday season. Very confusing to the “unsuspecting” when they chug up to a stop to pick up passengers. They also had them on display on Governor’s Island a few weeks ago.
I loved pulling the bell cord (often repeatedly, “shave and a haircut” style) to request a stop. These were often broken or foreshortened due to vandalism and were eliminated when the push tape system started to be used in the newer busses that came in during the 80s. The tape seemed very futuristic and slick to me at the time…
With NYC having undergone a bit of a renaissance since those days, the bell cords have made a comeback though now they have been upgraded to ring only once. Am sure the drivers are grateful for that !
Huh, I don’t remember ever seeing a push tape on CTA buses. The pull cords, though, are electronic now and only ring once (thank goodness.)
As late as 5 or so years ago I still saw a New Look operated by CTA down the street from me. It wasn’t carrying passengers; it was used as a mobile tool shop/work area.
The Transit Museum also has a Bus Festival where they have a few buses on display. It is usually held in September during the Atlantic Antic street fair. It is usually held on a Sunday.
Old look – my favorite bus!
I knew nothing of the history of these busses when I drove an old look bus as a part time college job in the 70s. I didn’t know it at the time, but these busses would be retired shortly after I graduated.
Most of our busses were early models with steel springs. The ride wasn’t good, but I don’t remember it as terrible either. On snowy streets, few cars could beat a bus away from the stoplight. For 2 years of college, I drove a ’53 Buick Special, straight 8/Dynaflow. I always thought the bus was faster to about 50.
If only our busses had a decent heater! I think the limited glass area kept the busses a little warmer than they would have been with more glass. I don’t remember visibility problems, but obviously you depended on mirrors when pulling out from a bus stop.
I never drove a new look to compare, but most of us drivers could maneuver these through very tight traffic without problems. The trick was getting used to how sitting ahead of the front wheels changed your perspective on turning. I don’t think any bus – old or new look – would have been safe to back up without a ground guide. Good thing too as shifting from forward to reverse was a hit or miss proposition that could require shutting the engine down.
Finally, no comment on an old look would be complete without a salute to the patron saint of old look drivers. All hail Ralph Kramden!
And speaking of ‘Ralphie Boy’, there IS a NYC Transit Authority bus repair yard-depot on 5th Ave in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn. Naturally, it`s called the “Honeymooners’ depot, and the logo features the ‘full moon’ opening scene from the show.
I remember back in 1989 shortly after Adobe Illustrator (Illustrator 88) was introduced, and I felt comfortable enough mastering the ‘pen’ tool, I decided to try illustrating a GMC ‘New Look’. This is a screen cap of the actual EPS from 1989, and today I can laugh at how primitive much of the drawing appears. Especially reproducing the chrome, cladding and many details. But thanks to the sophistication of the exterior design of the ‘New Look’, it allowed me to polish my illustration technique as a beginner. Mastering the pen tool and manipulating anchor points being a such a brand new challenge at the time.
I can’t believe Adobe Illustrator is 30 years old.
that looks pretty good to me, especially from nearly 30 years ago.
I had the good fortune of having driven both GM old and new looks as well as the old and new of one of its closest competitors: the Twin and later Flxible. At 6′ 4″, the GM old look was a challenge to see out of, especially being in one for a few hours, whereas the Twins did not lack for visibility. Later, the “fishbowl eclipsed everything with visibility plus. And just a great looking bus to boot. Close on GM’s heals was the Twin-Flxible, a slow starter and behind GM in sales and performance, would later begin to close the gap, especially after gaining the use of the GM drive train. Both buses, in ny opinion, had advantages. The GM’s rocked at speed on freeways, and the bodies would make a “popping” sound, the Flxibles didn’t. The steering wheels of the GM’s were close to the windshields and you could rap your knuckles if you weren’t paying attention. And something about that curved windshield… Did you feel hotter as that sun reflected onto that curved window? Overall, the “Gimmies” win the performance race but newer Flxibles were right there too. And a terrible copy-cat called the AMGeneral came along. But that’s fodder for a later discussion.
I’m 6’4″ too, and the transition from new look to old look was a bit hairy. Not really a huge deal, but the initial loss of that superb visibility was disconcerting. I got used to it pretty quickly, but seeing traffic lights took a bit of craning.
The steering was heavier, and the whole bus felt heavier, and slower too. I’d be curious as to how much actual weight difference there was. Of course I mostly drove 35′ new looks, and the old looks were all 40′. The two new look 40 footers we had were V8s, so obviously the power to weight ratio was significantly different.
Yes, the GMs did rock at speed, but I don’t remember any popping sounds. And I never drove anything but GMs, so I can’t compare them to other makes.
Ahh yes, Paul. You brought up “having to lean down to see a traffic signal.” It reminded me of a particular incident where I was tired and didn’t lean down to see a particularly high traffic signal. I saw it turn red and stopped. I got distracted by someone asking me a question… When I finally did lean down to look, the traffic signal was just turning back to red!!
No one honked their horn and passengers didn’t notice. Worse, I was downtown when it happened! I never told a soul because I would have been laughed at for a month!
I rode in many new look and old look busses as a kid, all the way through high school. Larry Haynes you mention the GM new look “rocking” at highway speed. I always liked to ride in the first row, right side, for the view, and I remember they were pretty terrifying on a few downhill freeway curves that drivers would take flat-out. By that time most old looks were relegated to in town use, so speeds were lower, but they seemed to ride stiffer, at least less front-rear pitching, than the new looks.
I had long thought that the “New Look” moniker was just an informal name given to it by customers and passengers; I didn’t realize that GM itself called them that from the start.
GM followed up the smash hit that was the Old Look with another smash hit. Then came the RTS II and GM went from dominant coach builder to out of the business completely. Is the RTS II an official Deadly Sin?
Why such wide aisles in the Old Look? There’s clearly room for four-abreast seating, which it seems to have only towards the back.
Don’t forget the GMC Classic. The true successor to the ‘New Look’. And a successful model in its own right.
Santa Monica Municipal Transit was the only West coast property to ever buy “Classics”. They actually came in two batches. I never heard much about them from a performance standpoint except one operator who seemed not to like them and called them “junk”!
At one point, I was brought in as a consultant with LA MTA in an effort to possibly bring trackless trolleys back to Los Angeles. All of the people in the group agreed that the Classic “body” would be a perfect platform for a trackless trolley. In the end, MTA’s administration succumbed to the rants of the lobbyists that “the overhead wires would be insightly” and opted to buy 300 methanol-powered RTS buses. These buses were huge failures and saw three different fuel usages before finally being retired as diesels, a situation in which the MTA had to literally beg the PUC to allow since it had promised never again to purchase diesel-powered buses!
If the aforementioned plan had occurred, we could possibly have seen the use of the Classic as trackless trolley.
This pic was from an Old Look with single seating on one side – most came with double seating and had a smaller aisles.
As to the RTS being a Deadly Sin, I was somewhat conflicted at first, but you can read my opinion here….
When I grew up, AC Transit had both New Look and “old look” buses. As a kid, I much preferred the newer bus for many reasons. Obviously, the New Look was easier to see out of, but it also rode smoother, the rear doors were easier to push open to exit the bus, the seats were more comfortable, the transmission “shift” (actually the torque converter locking up) was smoother and quicker, and even the stop request was a chime instead of a buzzer. And of course, they looked so modern. We have clean, late model buses where I live, but I wish I could ride a New Look. At least there’s a video on You Tube of AC coach 942 to help recall the experience.
We’re probably about the same age. I liked the New Looks also, but the Old Look #7 bus going up Euclid Ave in Berkeley was always fun when it was loaded with kids going home from school, and the driver made us get off if he couldn’t make it up the hill, then get back on across the Cedar intersection. I suspect that grade (@ Cedar) was one of the steepest in the Bay Area on a non-trolley or cable car route, and the traffic light didn’t help. Used to hear lots of revving engines/slipping clutches/spinning tires there when the light turned green.
I wish I could say I have fond memories as kid of riding in ‘New Looks’. Unfortunately I recall them being painfully slow and noisy. With a symphony of rattling windows, that typically leaked badly in heavy rain. My city never bought them with air conditioning, so they were not a pleasant place to spend time on hot, humid days. As the sliding windows were notorious for being near impossible to open when they weren’t maintained. I did enjoy being able to watch the driver, as there were no dividers or curtains used back then to separate driver and passengers. And the drivers seat was a simple vinyl low back design.
Unlike today, where transit is an excellent investment for communities, in the 1970s it seemed like a necessary evil for many cities to maintain an inviting, user friendly transit system. The ‘New Looks’ remind me of that era when transit quality was not of today’s standards.
Ah, well put on the rattling side windows! Almost forgot about those.
Re: “Necessary Evil”: Was born and have been living in Queens, NYC for most of my 48 years. Around here “necessary” would be the operant term and “evil” is a given.
Riding the “New Look” busses was a noisy, smelly, rattly experience. And especially hot if one sat in the last row, near the engine, to be amongst and tormented by, the cool kids.
At least the windows slid open fairly wide and people actually did it ! Unlike nowadays when the air condioning fails and the thought doesn’t occur to anyone…
I used to catch my bus at the base of a long grade back then. As the ‘New Look’ took so long to climb the grade, I got in the habit of walking to the top of the hill to catch the bus there. Mostly to avoid the noise.
I deliberately omitted perhaps my greatest dislike of the ‘New Looks’ as a child. As you recall, passenger heating was supplied along the base of the side windows. This long crevice was the perfect place for riders to deposit their used chewing gum. And transit maintenance was slow to remove this gum, and other rider debris. Wasn’t a pleasant memory in winter knowing you were breathing air filtered through fresh and petrified gum.
One big advantage the ‘New Look’ had over modern buses, was seating capacity. Having the high floor avoided wheel well intrusion. Plus, they did have generous leg room.
Probably my most lasting memory of the ‘New Looks’, was the distinct strong smell of old vinyl seating, much stronger than car vinyl seating. It was an integral part of the bus riding experience lost with today’s attention to removing such smells.
Road them in brooklyn ny as I remember the windows would also slap the side of the bus on turns also the rear exit steps smelled like pee because the drivers would pee there later ln they got newer new looks with a c and top mounted exhaust known as the ” blue buses” because they went from green livery to blue
It’s true the New Looks could become rattle-prone as they aged. But I think that’s true of any bus. I’ve driven 10-year old Gilligs that I used to shift into neutral at stop lights to try to mute the roar from the loose plastic interior panels at idle in gear.
Good job Jim, as always.
In the second half of the fifties the Werkspoor company developed a public transport bus with a patented convex shaped windshield. It was to protect the driver against reflections caused by the interior lighting. See below, photo courtesy of Wikipedia/Pimvantend.
I wonder if this was also the case with the New Look bus, or was it merely to give the driver a better view to the world outside?
Thank you Johannes. I think you’re correct – both the New Look and its equivalents, such as the Flxible New Look below, had forward-expanding windshields to help prevent glare. It also had the other positive effect of enhancing visibility. This 6 piece windshield was a well-known Flx trademark.
As your picture highlights, our European friends were able to do the same thing much more elegantly. Jim.
Well Jim, from the late sixties onwards our public transport buses got less elegant too…Both in the cities (example below) and on the more rural routes.
Thanks for sharing the pic Johannes – I forgot DAF made buses – when I think DAF I always associate it with the Volvo 343…
DAF built the rolling chassis, hence the name DAF on the front and a registration as a DAF.
But one of the many domestic and independent coachbuilders we once had built the complete bus body. Like Hainje (the city-bus above), Den Oudsten, Bova, Smit Joure, Smit Appingedam, Berkhof and many others.
Those I remember from Israel although on Leyland Royal Tiger Chassis…
That looks more like a “standard regional bus”, introduced here in the late sixties. Always bright yellow, throughout the country. Below a fine example, a Den Oudsten with DAF underpinnings.
In the post-war decades Leyland was also a big name here in public transport.
Not just the new look, but the old look too. The very first old look buses had vertical windshields, but they were soon canted to reduce glare.
In Israel the first operator using a split windshield to avoid the glare was Hamekasher co-op in Jerusalem in the late 50s early 60s. Body was locally made on a Leyland Royal Tiger which by that time was – for Israel – what the GM was for the US.
Thank you for this article ~ it brings back many memories of riding, any where by bus .
“Old Look” is a perfect example of a William Safire “retronym” – a distinction created in retrospect. That is, no one called Old Look busses Old Look until the New Look came around. Safire’s favorite example was “Day Baseball”.
“Old Look” is on the Wikipedia list of common retronyms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_retronyms
I remember riding in GM new look buses and seeing a plaque under the dash that read “GM Truck and Coach Division.” I remember thinking, “Who else even has a Truck and Coach Division?” That was some of the majesty of GM at their peak.
There’s nothing quite like a great old transit bus with a screaming Detroit Diesel pusher. Ah, and the aroma of its diesel exhaust is a sheer delight to my alfactory senses!
I rode in Santa Monica (CA) Municipal #5180, the last New Look ever built, on a few occasions when it was in service. As a kid I had ridden on many earlier New Looks and it was amazing how similar the sensation was between a mid-60’s TDH-5303 and a 1986 Canadian-built T8H-5307. The only difference was the slightly different sound of the late version’s 6V-92TA vs. the early 6V-71 or 8V-71.
BTW- interesting trivia: When the 6V-92TA replaced the 8V-71 in the T8H-5307, GM didn’t change the nomenclature back to T6H-5307.
That is interesting trivia Bob – didn’t know that – thanks. Jim.
Really? People really like these? From a nostalgia point, maybe yes. But I (ever the curmudgeon?) never much liked either ‘old-‘ or ‘new-‘ look models when I was forced to ride them from the outer Philadelphia neighborhoods of Germantown and Mount Airy to downtown Philadelphia commuting to and from school. Slow, exhaust-laden, and equipped with broken-only air-conditioning (if even so-equipped), seeing the last of them when they were replaced with v8 Flxible models in the mid 1970s was such a joy.
I agree with those who said the old looks were slow (every day on the Schuykil Expressway in the ‘A’ line, back when it wasn’t perpetually jammed), humid in the rain, cold in the winter, unless they were boiling due to the heat being on in the summer. At least the vertical motion of the windows let the air in at each seat. And, they were modeled on the old PCC Trolleys, which I also rode daily and always enjoyed (even if decrepit back then).
The new look windows DID rattle, the tiny slot the windows opened never let in enough air, and TOO BAD if you were in a seat between the little tiny openings. They didn’t seem any faster than the old looks on the highway, and a certain vintage in Phila, with no a/c units and the fiberglass seats, were especially prone to exhaust leaks into the cabin.
Real bus service began with the arrival of the Flxible new-look-styles in the mid-70sm, and then the follow-up GM ‘Advanced Transit’ busses really served the customer well. But where have they all gone?