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.
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
That 4106 tailgate fits like a glove, and it’s larger, more up to date lighting is a big improvement safety-wise.
Functional artistry all around.
Yes, I forgot to mention that.
VERY NICE, elkhart rv makers could learn……..! 🙂 DFO
Sweet! As a kid I had to wait at the bus stop for my papers to arrive as a delivery boy. That was a Grey Goose Bus Line and that driver reved the engine just like that at take off which was always the signal to me to get to work. I had forgotten that feeling so thanks Paul for sharing this lovely bus with us. There would be millions of people where whose sense of reflection could be awakened by this sound.
I’m looking at that race car pic and can’t figure out what’s where and how it gets in and out of the bus. Doesn’t look like the whole car is there, but then I don’t follow open-wheel racing at all so maybe the cars are shorter than I thought.
This was pretty much how transit and coach buses looked for most of my life, It really is a timeless style, certainly doesn’t make me think “’50s bus” when i see it, the way any GM car from that time would.
I like the camper conversion too. The furniture, the floor, and the shower look more like residential pieces than RV fittings. The fridge and stove are an exception, and a good one. I’ve done several home kitchen renovations in small one- or two-bedroom apartments, thus requiring small 20″ or 24″ wide stoves, yet nearly every one tries to squeeze four burners into that small space. How often do the two people likely to live anyplace that can only fit a 20″w stove need to cook four things at once? The stove in this bus is how it should be done – just three burners arranged triangularly, ideally with the one that’s centered (either in front or on one side) a bit larger than the other two. That allows for a large pan plus two smaller pots, without them getting in each other’s way as on a small four-burner stovetop.
Only thing I would change right away is the malaise-era 85mph speedometer with 55 highlighted. Not sure why that bothers me since this bus will never go faster than 85mph; it’s just everything else looks either like it came with the bus in 1953 or was recently upfitted, and the double-nickel national speed limit was repealed ages ago.
I wish I had had more time for me to have seen the whole race car loading/unloading. These buses have a continuous luggage area on the passenger side, with thee big doors. Chris only opened one of those. With all three open, there would be plenty of room to slide the whole car in and out on its tray.
This is the only image I could find, of a 40′ high roof GM, but it’s essentially the same. The dividers are there to keep luggage room sliding forward and backwards, and he undoubtedly removed them.
We obviously share similar tastes, as I find that interior just perfect. Functional, well designed and not overdone makes for a spacious and uncrowded area. I’ve seen a number of bus conversions, but most seem aimed towards maximum cushioned luxury versus quality minimalism. I’m a big fan!
Utterly amazing. I rode in these buses often, and when I looked down the aisle I didn’t even notice anything unusual. The counters and couches and doors and drawers are exactly Greyhound style. This would have been the Greyhound private charter bus.
I’ve looked at a million RV interiors, just for fun as I’m still about 4 to 8 Presidents away from retirement, but I’ve never stopped to admire just what a difference it makes to take away all the overhead cabinets and leave the ceiling smooth. For 2 people, this is one of the nicest homebuilds I’ve seen.
And that’s before they show off their party trick!
As a kid, I would get bored of Duncan, British Columbia, and hanker for the big city lights of Victoria. I rode Island Coach Lines and they were using the 4101. What I remember most was going up the Malahat on the Island Highway. Third gear was too tall and second too short. I thought two speed rear end would have helped a lot.
Yes, the gearing on these with only four cogs was not exactly mountain-friendly. And with some 225 hp, that could be a bit challenging. These were not exactly rockets, but then they were from another era in terms of expectations.
Its successor, the PD-4106, had the new 8C-71, and was considered a real rocket in its day, given that it was still a fairly light 35′ bus.
You had me at the video. Well the audio really. But that interior is very well done.
It certainly has no place in my life, but it is absolutely cool!
Beautiful bus! These looked modern well into the 70s. My first exposure/knowledge of the GM PD-4104, came when I was still in primary school. After one of the worst bus accidents in Canadian history on August 5, 1978. It was the worst bus accident in Canadian history at the time. A PD-4104 lost its brakes descending a steep hill near Eastman, Quebec, and 41 people perished. As the bus plunged into Lac d’Argent (Silver Lake). It made global news, and broke the hearts of many Canadians. It at least forced the Province of Quebec to improve its then lax inspection standards for charter buses.
Canucknucklehead, Moparlee and others would remember this event.
Some of the Ottawa Citizen reporting on the tragedy, in the following days:
Very nicely done on the conversion! And like most people here, I absolutely no place to park it.
Neat old coach!!! Love how he left the patina on it and didnt polish the crap out of the alumium, looks how it would’ve back in the day when Greyhound was running it. Also that interior is nice, clean and not overdone. Some of those million dollar Prevost coaches look like a damn pachinko parlor inside.
Does this coach have power steering? I know old trucks/buses had those huge steering wheels for a reason, you needed them for leverage with the manual steering
No power steering.
That came surprisingly late to buses, even transit buses. The 40′ New Look buses I drove were built in 1973 or 1974, and did not have PS.
What a beauty. I hope Chris makes a few trips back so maybe you can get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. I hear double-clutching is like riding a bike – it all comes back to you…:-)
I too love not only the basic classic bus but the simple and airy interior, so much better than all the other conversions I’ve seen .
The video with sound is the cherry on top =8-) .