Curbside Classic: GM PD-4104 – My Dream Bus Comes To Visit, With A Formula Ford Racing Car In Its Belly

 The GM PD-4101 is my all-time favorite bus, and has been since I first laid eyes as a kid. It set the template for the modern highway coach back in 1953, the year of my birth, and it’s been the object of endless admiration, desire and mental masturbation. I’ve been “building” my dream 4101 for many decades, starting in the 1970s when I drove its sister 35′ transit bus in Iowa City. How I longed to just hit the open road in one, instead of driving around in endless circles.

In more recent years, I gave serious thought to pulling the trigger on one, but the reality of how we explore and camp in remote forest roads and deserts in our van just doesn’t suit a big highway bus like this. But that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to build my dream bus in my imagination. And then the other day, that very bus magically appeared across the street from my house. It’s almost exactly like the one in my head; maybe even better. And it’s even got a racing car stashed away in its belly, something I’d never have imagined possible.

I was getting materials for a roof repair job at one of my rentals when I first saw this bus in traffic about a half mile from my house. What a superb 4104!

I was intending to drive to my rentals when for some reason I drove home instead, for no good reason. As I crossed Friendly Street, I saw the same bus parked across the street, in front of our neighbor’s house. Wonderful! I’ll get out and take some pictures.

Almost invariably, old bus conversions ruin too much of the original character and details in the process, with modern paint jobs, blacked-out windows and big air conditioners sticking up on the roof.  Not this one: it’s essentially original, except for the rear panel with those larger tail lights from a PD-4106, but all the changes have been made with a careful eye. It’s just perfect, on the outside, anyway. I wondered what the interior was like.

My love for the 4101 is based on a few key elements: It’s not too big at 35′, compared to the more common bigger coaches. Its GM Design Center styling is superb and timeless. It spawned endless imitations, and set the template for the genre, but none could better it. Its Detroit Diesel 6-71 engine and four speed manual transmission are of course key ingredients, and they still provide adequate cruising speed (65+ mph) with excellent fuel economy (up to 12 mpg). And it’s built superbly well, with high quality components and is relatively light.

I could go on, but let’s just say it was blessed with that right combination of qualities and ingredients that have made it essentially timeless. Folks  still pay good money for a solid 4101; more now than some years ago.

As I approached it, I saw what appeared to be a mag wheel and tire in the compartment that once housed the air conditioning system. Hmm…

And then I heard voices from within, saying “Paul, come on in…”

As I walked around the front of the bus to the door, I noticed the remnants of the GREYHOUND sign on the front fascia.

Shall I abandon all hope of my own 4104?

I stepped and sitting in the main cabin were my two neighbors and Chris Schoap, who’s bus this obviously was. Whoa; I had no idea! I knew Chris back from my house moving days as well as through other connections. Chris owned the main house/structure moving company in the area for decades, although he didn’t move my houses. But I discussed several possible project with him, and just liked to drop by and watch when they were moving some big old house or such.

I knew Chris had retired some years back, but had no idea what he had done since. This is it, well that and the Formula Ford racing car tightly wedged into the luggage area. It just fits with maybe an inch or two to spare, and then only when it’s wearing these smaller spare “doughnut” tires. The whole base of the racing car slides out, like a giant tray that Chris designed and built himself. This shows only one of the three large luggage doors open; the space down there is continuous and allows the whole car to fit.

Chris has been racing Formula Ford for some twelve years, and at some point found this bus, a tired older conversion, stripped it, and set to fitting it out in his way. Which is very much my way too.

I started appreciating what Chris did here right with the driver’s compartment. It’s been updated, but very tastefully. The long gearshift told me right away that it hadn’t been converted to an automatic, as some folks are challenged by the double clutching it takes to make the Spicer four speed shift smoothly.

Chris had an appointment, so my time was limited. I would have liked to ask him about so many details, like how much of the wiring was redone or was still original.

The instruments are newer, as are the plain aluminum backing plates. But the big steering wheel is very much original. And it looks very familiar to me, as it’s the same one as in the GM “Old Look” buses I also drove.

Invariably, coach conversions are way too fussy, over-stuffed, and crammed with too much extraneous…crap, and the design taste is far from mine. Not this; the simple plywood ceiling panels and straight-forward furniture make the main cabin feel very open and airy.

I’ve used black and white vinyl tiles in a number of my rentals.

There’s two big forward-facing passenger seats, and then a dinette.

The kitchen sink and microwave are past that.

And the galley is on the other side. All very tasteful and purposeful.

Next up is the bathroom, with a full-sized shower stall.

And the biffy next to it.

The bathroom sink is across the aisle.

And in the far back is a roomy and airy bedroom. The window tint on these buses was either blue or green; this one has some of both.

The original emergency escape door has been kept. Subsequent generations of buses used windows that could be popped out in case of emergency.

And there’s a closet.

The view looking forward. I’m in love…This is such a nice space, and such a perfect bus. I would have loved to drive off in it.

But that was not to be, and will not be in this lifetime. I’ve long learned that there’s a key difference between loving and desiring something and actually acquiring it. A bus this size simply doesn’t fit into my life; but it’s perfect for Chris who drives up and down the West Coast in it to various vintage and other races. It fits much better on a parking lot than on a rugged, remote forest road or even our property in Port Orford.

Seeing this bus was therapeutic for me, as now I can stop building my dream 4101 since someone has already built it, and I can simply just appreciate that; the fact that it exists, like so many old cars and other things that also don’t fit into my life, but can be loved and written about and appreciated at some distance. That largely what CC is all about.

My appreciation for it is greater than ever, but my realization that this is not for me is now finalized, and as such, I can let it go. It’s someone else’s bus and life, who has chosen to live it differently. I’m both a bit jealous, and yet not at all. We can only live our own lives. And appreciate others’.

It was time for Chris to leave. The 6-71 started instantly with that distinctive throaty growl. Not surprisingly—knowing Chris—it started up without any visible smoke. No, old diesels do not have to be smoky.

I should have turned my video camera on earlier, to prove that at the start up. But I did turn it on a few seconds later, and as can be seen, not a whiff of smoke to be seen. I’d have liked to say, there goes my dream up in smoke, but it was not to be.


Related reading:
Bus Stop Classic: GM PD-4104 – The Most Dominant and Influential Bus Ever

Auto-Biography: Bus We Must – My Short Career With Iowa City Transit

Bus Stop Classic: GMC PD-4501 Greyhound Scenicruiser – Everybody’s Favorite Bus Except For Greyhound And GM