Story of the Week

Posted: 08.19.2014
A Glimpse of Motor Coach History
By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher.
Images: Courtesy of The National Automotive History Collection.

When you look back at the early days of General Motors coach transportation systems, much of its initial history began with the General Motors Truck & Coach manufacturing plant located in Pontiac Michigan. This was a division of the Yellow Truck & Coach manufacturing. During the 1930's, a full operation was available to assemble motor coach transportation for American citizens who needed and were dependent upon public transportation.

From horse and buggy days to trolley operations, this served as progress for many Americans. Another city that was also very involved with the early days of transportation was the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Grand Rapids Motor Coach Company was responsible for the local transportation which kept its pace with the growth of the city. From the early days of 1864 when people rode in horse-drawn buggies, through the days of cable cars beginning around 1887, electric vehicles in 1900 , and all the way to the start of motor coaches in 1923 the progress of public transportation had evolved.

The Grand Rapids Motor Coach company had moved steadily forward with its progress as well. In September 1935, the entire system was equipped with buses, which made Grand Rapids the second largest city in the United States to join the “all bus ranks”.

During the early days, both diesel and gasoline coaches were operating with a seating capacity between 23-36 passengers. The first coach type of vehicles were designed like a loaf bread. The design , however, would change in the mid 1930's when streamlined designs were introduced to the public .This particular style would then take the place as a primary form of consumer basic transportation.

In 1939, General Motors introduced the “Silversides” bus design that was made exclusively for Greyhound. The designs were introduced at the 1939 New York World's Fair which many in attendance thoroughly enjoyed to see and had became very popular as a result. In 1936 -1938, GM introduced the double-decker transit bus that was called the “Queen Mary”. Later, in 1954-1956, General Motors would go onto introduce the Greyhound Scenicruiser which offered a Vista Dome design inspired by the ‘train of tomorrow’.

During the 1950's and throughout the 1960's, General Motors continued to create great streamlined design buses which offered the passengers more heat and better circulated air conditioning in addition to increased visibility for a safer operations, better sightseeing and a great feeling of spaciousness for its passengers. Their Motor Coaches became very popular during the times of travel. The buses offered more improvements that included safety features such as a heavier, chrome-plated bumper which was 50% thicker and more extensive to keep the passengers safe. Dual headlights which provided better visibility at night became an added feature for the driver and the passengers benefit.

Charter /Tour buses are still popular today just as they were very popular in the past. Clubs, churches, schools and other groups were solving their travel problems, relieving themselves of risk and responsibility by having a professional carrier do the job. By chartering coach travel, there were no parking problems, no splitting up the group, and no one could get lost. For overnight charters and long distance tours, there was plenty of room for your baggage located in the under-floor compartment that gave much added space for restful and enjoyment. Passengers also received some great benefits from the big windshield allowing them to view scenery and watching for their destinations.

In 1978, General Motors introduced their new GMC RTS “Rapid Transit Series” of bus line designs to the public. Today, General Motors still leads the way in public transportation. Motor coach heritage will remain a part of our American History and will be remembered for many generations to come.


A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Szudaeek G. Robert. “How Detroit Became The Automotive Capital. 1996. General Motors Truck & Coach Pontiac Michigan. Division of Yellow Truck & Coach Manufacturing Company 1937. GMC Truck & Coach Division General Motors Corporation 1945.)


For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. For further information contact Robert Tate at btate@motorcities.org
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