San Francisco's Vintage Buses

No. 3287

General Motors “New Look” Diesel Coach

Built 1970 • Operational

As a rule, American transit buses looked pedestrian until the late 1950s. Most resembled rolling loaves of bread, functional but not attractive.

There were a few exceptions, such as Faegol’s Twin Coach design, which Muni began operating in the late 1940s in both motor coach and trolley coach configurations; and for intercity buses GM’s iconic Greyhound Scenicruisers. But General Motors changed the paradigm for the appearance of mass-produced transit buses in 1959, when it delivered the first “New Look” buses to O. Roy Chalk’s DC Transit.

General Motors
GM “New Look” Diesel Coach 3187 growls up the Castro Street hill on the 24-Divisadero line before the line was converted to operate with electric trolley coaches. Sean Ault collection

Overall, GM made more than 44,000 of these “New Look” coaches, often nicknamed “Fishbowls” because of the front-end window arrangement. The East Bay’s AC Transit was an early adopter of the Fishbowls; Muni was the last major city to get them, replacing its fleet of Mack coaches. Unusually for a major US transit system, Muni had never purchased a GM bus before the Fishbowls started arriving in June 1969, though it did inherit some motor coaches from GM’s Yellow Coach subsidiary when it took over Market Street Railway in 1944.

Muni’s order of New Looks from GM totaled 391 buses. Unlike earlier orders of New Looks for other cities, which featured V6 diesel engines, Muni’s came equipped with powerful V8’s, required for the hills. They were delivered with the first front-end water bumpers on a Muni passenger vehicles, to reduce damage in collisions. The fleet also came equipped with a Jacobs engine brake, which immediately raised the ire of residents along routes with hills. The “Jake Brake” provided additional braking power on downgrades, accompanied by a loud hammering sound regarding a machine gun. This made the “Jimmys”, as they were widely called within Muni, less than welcome in some parts of town, leading to pressure to buy smaller, quieter buses.

However noisy, Muni’s Jimmys were true workhorses, running on virtually every line, regardless of the grades involved. They were delivered in a maroon and yellow livery derived from the California Street cable cars (complete with a new “ribbon” logo also inspired by those cable cars, reading “Muni-SF”). After about a dozen years of service, 240 of the Jimmys were retired, while 151 were rebuilt and repainted in the striking livery created by famed industrial designer Walter Landor of San Francisco, featuring bright white, and colors knows as “Sunset Glow” (red-orange) and “Poppy Gold” (yellow-orange).

General Motors
“Jimmy” 3276, now in Landor livery, operates the 24-Divisadero over Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights after the overhead for trolley coach operation had been strung, passing Marmon-Herrington Trolley Coach 776, on a fan trip.

Coach 3287 was part of the second half of the order, arriving right at the turn of the year into 1970. It retains its original livery and features. It triggers memories among generations of San Franciscans whenever it appears on special occasions.

General Motors
Coach 3287 in 2018 at Muni Heritage Weekend, signed as a motor coach substitute for the never-implemented 62-California-Hyde cable car line.