Do You Want To Buy A Bus?

Back in 1959, General Motors introduced the GMC “New Look” model, and it was the mainstay of transit systems for years.

Here’s what the advertising for it looked like in 1963.




46 thoughts on “Do You Want To Buy A Bus?

  1. Notice that the bottom picture shows a unit with A/C. I guess the TTC conveniently overlooked that model.

    Steve: Due to the lack of global warming, summer was not yet known in Toronto.


  2. At Vic: Only low floor, and better looking.

    Yes, I too like these buses and always ride them when visiting Bay Street.


  3. The then new buses had windows that were very hard to open or close. The windows rattled too much.

    Our new buses don’t have rear windows. Can’t find out if an express bus is following or not.

    Steve: The absence of openable rear windows is to keep you from getting your head chopped off by a passing hydro pole.


  4. It’s funny- These buses have more design credibility to them than the folks at Orion could ever hope for. Spend more than a year hyping the redesigned VII only to produce what could only be described as worse yet than the bread-box. At least that had a simplistic, utilitarian charm. The new look, on the other hand, was beautiful- the windshield, the windswept window shape, and the angles that keep it from becoming a box- What happened to transportation design?

    Steve: Dare I say how the PCC, all curves and streamlining, was replaced by the CLRV?


  5. Every time I ride on these I’m amazed at my preference for them over the new Orions.

    Accessibility for all, though necessary, sure makes buses feel tiny. Those High floor GM’s just feel so roomy. But what can you do? Those wheels have to go someplace.


  6. I betcha the new-look in that one scene of the original Planet of the Apes is still in operating condition (not unlike the VW in Woody Allen’s Sleeper).


  7. Funny how when the Europeans went to Pininfarina for help (the big boys of car design) we wound up with a piece of languid, 70s retro-kitsch.


  8. I remember getting on one of these buses back in 1998 on the #131 Nugget bus route and not only was the seating different but also there was only one back door (like in the last photo)


  9. Having grown up in a GM town (St. Catharines) I remember riding in these (and similar) GMC buses there and having some hometown pride that some of the parts made in that factory down the street went into the vehicles we rode in. Of course, at the time I also naively assumed that that was really the only way things would ever be.

    Despite their rattles, difficult-to-open windows (with that weird triangular-ish slider knob thing), and high floors, these buses still feel a little like home to me. It’s a shame they stopped making them – I wonder what financial state the company would be in now if they’d stayed diversified in their vehicle revenues.


  10. I HATE HATE HATE these buses.

    They were not accessible. They can’t go up a hill many times (they had issues going over the 401 at Don Mills northbound, and I read somewhere – maybe here from one of your commentors about the 95 York Mills bus driver asking people to walk up the hill and that he would meet them there).

    These buses were the ones that you could pull the stop string 100 times and it would ring 100 times, do you know how annoying it was to pass through highschool territory in one of those buses?

    I am glad the modern buses don’t have easy way to open windows.

    Open windows = bus driver turning the heat or a/c off because it would be a waste when windows are open.


  11. I actually never really cared much for the look of the GMs. Some of the Flyers (D/E800 and D40x) seemed nicer to me – too bad they were shoddy otherwise. Generally I’m not much of a bus fan when comes to aesthetics. I suspect we wouldn’t be discussing New Looks much any more if everything else that followed hadn’t fallen apart so quickly. For one thing they would have all been retired long ago.

    On the other hand I didn’t care much for the PCC either. To me it looks like a loaf of bread on wheels. I appreciate them more for their different sound and their relative technical simplicity. I really think people don’t give the CLRV the credit it deserves in the looks department versus anything else from the ’70s-forward in North America until perhaps the Portland Streetcar (not the ‘gaping-mouth’ MAX LRVs).


  12. Sherman wrote: I remember getting on one of these buses back in 1998 on the #131 Nugget bus route and not only was the seating different but also there was only one back door (like in the last photo)

    Those were 1981 ex-Utah (Salt Lake City) GM buses that were leased in Jan-Apr of 1998 to help deal with the bus shortage that was happening at that time. There were 35 of those buses in total.


  13. Re: Sherman and the single door bus on #131 in 1998. That was a leased bus from Utah, do to the fact that the TTC had a very severe bus shortage at the time.

    And Miroslav: one of the main reasons the buses had problems with hills is the TTC in its infinite wisdom preferred a vehicle with weaker transmission and a v6 instead of a v8 engine. As for the notorious York Mills hill just east of Yonge, when it comes to a raging snow or ice storm ANYBODY foolish enough to drive that hill deserves what they get.


  14. I hope you noticed the standee windows in those pictures. The TTC was the first to order those Newlooks with double rear doors and without the standee windows. I think that the 125 buses order for the Bloor-Danforth subway opening in 1966 were the first without the Standee window. The TTC thought that they weakened the bus. The transmissions were only two speed so there was no in between gear that would allow the bus to go up the hills at a speed over about 10 mph. They ordered the V6’s because they did not have air conditioning. The air conditioned GM highway buses they bought had V8’s and air, and a better transmission.

    My favourite bus was the series right before the Newlooks, the TTC 2100’s. Back then the widest bus that was allowed on provincial highways was 96 inches. Most of the Newlooks were 40 foot long and 102 inches wide and were not allowed outside of the city. The TTC had 15 narrow buses, 3185 to 3199 and 15 narrow 35 footers, 2985 to 2999 that were allowed on routes outside of Metro, like Richmond Hill, Malton and Port Credit. In the late 60’s the Canadian provinces allowed the maximum width to go to 102 inches, a couple of years before the US did. One benefit of this was that Greyhound Lines bought a bunch of wide buses and could only run them in Canada.

    GM made a number of major design errors with these buses including having beams that would trap water and road salt and using two or three different metals in contact with each other and this salt mixture. This set up a galvanic cell which caused premature failure of the frames. If I remember correctly the first bus to break in half because of this problem was in Kansas City. The TTC sued GM over this and GM paid the TTC to set up a bus rebuilding line at Wychwood. After they rebuilt the GM’s they used the facilities to perform major mid life rebuilds on the All Electric PCC’s. It was nice of GM to keep the PCC’s in such good shape.


  15. Miroslav Glavic wrote, “These buses were the ones that you could pull the stop string 100 times and it would ring 100 times, do you know how annoying it was to pass through highschool territory in one of those buses?”

    That was a feature that saved me an extra walk with two small children about fifteen years ago when I was on a bus with a driver who’s mind was elsewhere. After him missing two other stops with sheep, err I mean passengers, who just quietly got off at the next stop, there was no way I was letting him miss my stop. Despite waiting at the front where it would be easier to exit with a stroller, as soon as it was clear he was not making any attempt to brake for my stop, I reached for the cord and started ringing it like a railway crossing bell until he came to a full stop, albeit just past the side street where I wanted off.

    Maybe the “stop request” light on the dash of a bus that only allows the bell to be rung once might have reminded him to stop, but I’m happy it was a New Look that I could make my point with the bell!


  16. “Open windows = bus driver turning the heat or a/c off because it would be a waste when windows are open”

    Personally, I think open windows = passengers getting to control the temperature of their surrondongs. I particular dislike getting ibn a bus with heating on full blast when the temperature is 15C out, or being unable to have a cooling breeze when it’s hot. (Moving warm air will cool you quicker than still cold air).

    Steve: When the CLRVs were originally delivered without windows that opened at the bottom, then Chief General Manager Michael Warren claimed that the impression that air blowing across you cooled you off was actually an illusion. Recently he was among a group advising Metrolinx. The best and the brightest.

    As we all know, the CLRVs now have windows that open, although they don’t always seal very well and can be drafty in the winter.


  17. Hi Steve:-

    One thing I remember one of Toronto’s foremost transit authorities telling me about the arrogance of GM when it came to bus building, was their insistence that it was impossible to build a free wheeling transit vehicle with double front doors. I guess, with heads stuck in the sand, they couldn’t possibly have known or seen the hundreds of ‘BIG Brills’ on Montreal’s streets or the ex Ottawa TCs we had on North Yonge.

    Yes, the design has filled a place in history as the iconic vehicle pictured in one’s mind when it comes to a diesel bus, but as to those windows and their practicality when applied to the end user, the passenger, bleech! When the PCC had its post war redesign, an open able window was situated at most of the cross seat locations. This was a practical response to the more pleasing outward design of the pre-war car with one window per seat and a half. (In my humble opinion, the earliest PCCs had the most pleasing design outside, with the giant Chicago cars the best, but the original centre door and window locations proved impractical). Here’s where good old GM went and ignored transit designs for the aesthetic versus the practical. They even ignored their own PCC bus and years of industry study for beauty?

    With all of that negative criticism aside, the fact that the “New Looks” were a low technology, as far as their power plants and other mechanical functions were concerned, was a saving grace and their economies in this area are to be applauded.

    A bus is just a bus, but a streetcar, well that’s a transit vehicle!



  18. I miss those fish tanks buses. I’m seein less and less of them nowadays.

    Steve: The TTC plans to have retired all of them by 2012, possibly sooner.


  19. Robert Wightman said: “My favourite bus was the series right before the Newlooks, the TTC 2100’s”

    I second, third, and fourth that statment. I loved the old-looks, but I was more inclined to the 35-foot models in the 1500 and 1900 series (I’m too young to remember the 900 and 1100 series), but I also like the single-exit 40ft buses in the 1540 series. OC Transpo has one in their historic fleet.


  20. Also re: GM and “Bus arrogance”.

    It is interesting that GM tried to sue Flyer and Flixible for patent infringements. The Flyer D/E 700 models (the TTC had 23 diesel and 152 trolley bodies) were seen as a rip-off of the GM design, even though GM had no real case. The Flixible lawsuit was even more complicated. Long story short: GM was waging a losing battle because of the 1956 Anti-Trust laws. For better, or for worse, the GM new look is the iconic bus-design, even though Flixible built over 13,000 similar vehicles in a 17 year period.


  21. Flxible built those similar vehicles after GM was mandated to provide its components for sale royalty-free following that anti-trust suit.


  22. I do miss the rear window (not the rear side windows) on the older buses. I don’t know if the new buses use cameras to see in the rear because of the engine and/or air conditioning, but at least the passengers could actually have a visible view out the back.


  23. We need to remember that GM was capable of making something that turned out to have great longevity and popularity with the operators and the people that fixed buses for a living. When you also remember that GM at the time was making diesel locomotives that also were a big hit we should reflect on how well we did things back then … without the benefit of computers and the information superhighway, etc, etc, etc.

    The design may be 50 years old but it’s not that out of place even today. They built Old Look for another ten years or so after the first New Looks appeared. The difference in appearance between the two of them must have been a shock back in the day.

    And from a strictly qualitative perspective, those New Look buses seem to fare much better on that big hill on York Mills than the Orions do on a snowy day.


  24. “And from a strictly qualitative perspective, those New Look buses seem to fare much better on that big hill on York Mills than the Orions do on a snowy day”

    Yup. GM’s were often called snow-plows for a reason.

    But if you REALLY wanted to see slow, you should have seen OC Transpo’s Flyer Artics when they still had 4-cylinder engines. I’ve seen snails move faster.

    I also thought it was interesting that GM came out with the Classic about the same time Coke rebranded their “old formula” as Classic. It did seem like a popular ’80’s word.


  25. Rob M says:

    We need to remember that GM was capable of making something that turned out to have great longevity and popularity with the operators and the people that fixed buses for a living. When you also remember that GM at the time was making diesel locomotives that also were a big hit we should reflect on how well we did things back then … without the benefit of computers and the information superhighway, etc, etc, etc.

    TTC Passenger replies:

    I am the last person to advocate solving problems by adding computers to things but I think the line about the computers is totally specious. The build quality of heavy equipment is independent of the presence of computers. Remember those crappy Flyer buses from the 1990s that rusted out almost overnight? Wrong steel. Poor build quality. Poor design. No computers though!

    It’s interesting that Rob M brings up the point of New Looks being “popular…with people that fixed buses for a living” because one of the selling points of the Orion 7 buses was that they’d need one midlife rebuild and that’s it for the life of the vehicle.

    The TTC’s been moving away from cyclical overhauls of vehicles to keep them in good condition and other preventative maintenance to performing only running repairs on equipment. You can see the effect this had on the streetcar fleet. The TTC never looked after the CLRV fleet very well. You can go back and look at slides from when they were delivered and move forward over the years and see the factory paint jobs go, allowing the car bodies underneath to begin deteriorating, for a long time before repainting and it’s been a long time between repaints since then. They’ve never done any meaningful preventative maintenance on the electronics so, of course there’s problems but railfans don’t want to learn about issues when the blame can easily and conveniently dumped on something they don’t understand well. After 30 years of neglect with minimal running maintenance and body work, of course the streetcar fleet’s in bad shape. That’s why TTC’s only now giving the CLRV fleet a ‘too little, too late’ overhaul with a rather limited scope for the work being done on them.

    I think declining maintenance practices has just as much to do with the condition of present day vehicles as much as declining build quality, if not more because no matter what the initial quality of any transit vehicle is, it only slides downhill if it isn’t looked after. The TTC needs to prove that once they get all these new buses and new subway cars and new streetcars that they are claiming are the magic, 100% cure-all to aging and unreliable fleets, they’ll look after all these expensive new vehicles because if they don’t, the same problems will happen all over again.


  26. I’m no fan of Orion or Flyer boxes either. Most of the low-floors here in Waterloo Region are Nova LFS; a much sleeker design, a rear window, and made in Canada! What else do you want?


  27. If Metrolinx are going to own the TC vehicles, will they get to dictate the maintenance of their assets? Might be interesting to see the serviceability rates of the two fleets!

    Steve: Considering that nobody at Metrolinx has ever maintained anything (I am thinking of the policy side of the shop, not the recent marriage to GO), I wouldn’t be to sure about that. How are they going to specify what work should be done, or what standards they seek?


  28. Considering the position GM was in this past year, and the surge of new urbanism and bus rapid transit, I thought it would be a good move for them to make buses again. It would create jobs, help to reestablish themselves as a quality brand (their buses have lasted 30+ years in city traffic! let’s see Chrysler (Orion) do that!), and give something back to the taxpayers who helped them during this difficult time.


  29. How can I see the rest of the 1963 GM New Look Bus advertisement. Do you have the rest on another page?

    Steve: I didn’t scan the other side of the sheet (it’s a big foldout) as it is all technical info on the mechanical info about the buses.


  30. To Ben…There are still 25-30 year Orion buses in service daily if you know where to look! And face it, we’ve lowered the ceiling for bus life, with all the technology advancements going on 18 years is all you can expect out of ANY new bus these days.


  31. Isn’t it kind of ironic if the life span of buses has dropped so much, while cars of today last twice as long as they used to?


  32. The thing to remember is that in the US bus life is only 10 years because federal grants cover capital costs, bus replacement, instead of operating costs which bus maintenance and mid-life rebuild usually falls under.

    Steve: This policy, in effect, has encouraged more frequent vehicle replacement and poor maintenance. At its most ludicrous (and I have actually seen this in Boston), the result is a “boneyard” of buses that are being pillaged for spare parts even though they might have been easily repaired.


  33. TTC claim to be buying buses with a view to a life-extension to 20+ years in all – isn’t that their most recent excuse as to why the current articulated offerings in the market won’t do?


  34. No, it’s as simple as this: TTC has the following major requirements on bus purchases:

    -Stainless Steel Frame
    -Minimum 18 year design life
    -Low Floor
    -20 year frame warranty
    -10 year warranty on other components of the vehicle
    -Performance bond (ranging anywhere from 10 to 50 million I have seen)

    In the past, New Flyer has balked at one or more of these requirements (Stainless Steel, Warranties, Performance bond – why supposedly NA’s largest bus manufacturer refuses to back up their product is beyond me…) Nova, who just recently is rolling out their artic design, has also balked at that performance bond as well as warranties in the past.

    Orion is the only one that are willing to meet all these requirements and warranties. It’s simple: you want the contract, you pony up.


  35. Thanks Steve about the update on the 1963 GM New Look Bus Advertisement. I was trying to find out what were the 40-improvements were? I think on the photo page, they mention the lighter weight of the engine compartment door, the redesign of the standee windows, the modification of the enginer air intake vent, just to name a few. It would be nice to know what the other ones were. Do you think that they would mention those on the other side of that advertisement sheet where the technical specifications are located? I can probably think of a few such as the master control knobs being chrome instead of the plastic coating, the driver’s visor is moveable and made of a cushioned material, instead of a stationary hard plastic. The push-type exit door is “air assisted”. Dome lamp power supply is over the driver instead of near the front door. Just curious of the rest.

    Steve: Yes, there is more detail on the other pages. I will have to scan them and add them to the post. Wait a few days, and it should be online.


  36. Allow me to give a Montrealer’s view of the door issues and some background information on the saloon gate busses in service in Toronto.

    Those (now TTC) GMC Fishbowls (T6H series) with the saloon doors were purchased from the STCUM/MUCTC (Montreal) when the GMC/MCI/Nova Classic (T8H series) and the Nova LFS-1 / LFS-2 displaced them from the active roster in Montreal.

    According to other fleet roster web sites the vehicles the TTC purchased were numbered in the range 24-xxx and 25-xxx , which, I believe indicates that they entered STCUM service in 1983 and 1984 respectively.

    The “Mackay Gate” was a feature on busses operated by many Canadian transit systems, including Montreal and Winnipeg – starting in the 1950’s until the 1980’s.

    Montreal purchases of busses from Brill (Canadian Car and Foundry), Mack, Fageol-Twin, GMC TDH series, “Old Look” and “New Look”, and Western Flyer, excepting the 50 Canadair built Flixible in Montreal service were, almost entirely, fitted with this feature.

    Gates last appeared on the first three years of Montreal purchases of the Classic series in the late 80’s. Subsequent purchases of the Classic were equiped with treadle mats.

    I Trust this information will be useful.


  37. Here’s a question my brother and I have been wondering about for some time. On the first generation GM Newlook Fishbowls, the rear exit door had two metallic-looking fabric pieces that were mounted on the top, inside of door panels and connected to the coach body. (4-inches by 6-inches). The only thing I can think of is that it was to keep hands away from the hinges to prevent injury but, these fabric materials were not used after the first generation coaches changed to 2nd generation.


  38. I sure like the GMC New Look bus. Sure better than the ones they have on the streets. They were simply designed and so reliable. I wish this was still in production,


Comments are closed.