Feb 202014
MCI Classic Calgary Transit

The transit buses that are the subject of this report are known as “Classics”. The ones seen here were built in the early 1990s and are the oldest such vehicles currently on the Calgary Transit roster. These old warriors will likely continue to serve for some time however, even in spite of new bus deliveries. It’s interesting to know that over the years this model was produced by three separate companies, all at the same factory.

Designed by GMC Canada in the early 1980s, the Classic was to be the successor to the hugely popular New Look (aka Fishbowl) model. Production of that earlier design started in the late 1950s (US) and the early 1960s (Canada) and while always a good seller, it was long overdue for replacement. Interestingly however the Classic was initially not well received by many transit agencies, many of which constituted to order Fishbowls instead, probably much to the chagrin of GMC.

Classic and later Fishbowl production ran concurrently from the time the former was introduced in 1982 until the production of the latter finally ended in 1986 (some reports say early 1987). These two models, while they look different, have a lot in common and one can think of the Classic as an updated and re-skinned Fishbowl.

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All GMC branded Classics were produced at a factory in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, a new facility opened in the early 1980s. Prior to that, and staring in the early 1960s, GM’s Canadian bus production took place at the General Motors Diesel Division (GMDD) locomotive plant in London Ontario. That factory never made the Classic model, only Fishbowls, while the new factory made both up until the time the older model was retired.

The Classic, by the way, was only made in Canada, although many were sold to US operators. That was in spite of the fact that GM had it’s own bus factory in Michigan. They made a model called the RTS which outside of a few sales here and there, never really caught on in this country. In fact, even in the US many transit companies rejected it and as a result GM Canada did a good business selling Classics and amazingly enough even some Fishbowls (by then a 20+ year old deign) to US transit agencies.

The Classic is quite interesting in a many of ways. For one, it was the final model bus designed by GMC, the last of a long line from a company that once dominated the transit bus industry.

It’s was also one of the last all new “high floor” style transit buses designed in North America. Soon “low floor” models would come on the scene and would go on to dominate the market. Advantages of this design include no steps, allowing those of limited mobility ease at which to enter and exit. Many low floor buses also kneel and some have ramps that extend out to the sidewalk as well (good for baby carriages). High floor buses always have steps, but some late model examples were made with ramps and kneeling features. The 1990s were a transition period and by the end of that decade the high floor transit bus was for the most part dead and the low floor bus, king.

These are, by the way, the last high floor buses on the Calgary Transit roster. Unless of course some GMC Fishbowls continue to run. Some were spotted by this author in service in late 2013 and it’s possible, although unlikely, that CTS is not done with them yet. None however, save for one parked beside a building, was seen on our visit. Also, I heard that one or two New Flyer D40 high floor buses were seen out on the road late last year. They may be gone too.

In 1987 GM sold the Quebec plant and the Classic design to Motor Coach Industries (MCI). That company is a well known producer of highway buses (Greyhound is a big user) and this design allowed them to break into what was for them, a new market. Production continued as before with few changes. During the MCI era Calgary Transit placed its only two orders for Classics, both in the early 1990s, for fifty five and fifty buses respectively.

A couple years after Calgary Transit’s last order, MCI sold the factory and design to a new company call Nova Bus. They continue to build buses to this day and Calgary has placed several orders with that company the last few years (LFS low floor series). Classic production ended in 1997, but by then few were being sold anyway. By the 1990s the Classic would have been seen as somewhat of an anachronism when compared with the then current design low floor models being made by Nova.

Rules of exploration: show respect, don’t trespass and take only pictures.

In the mid 2000s, CTS purchased a small group of Classics from a US operator in Connecticut. These differ slightly from the rest of the fleet and most notably lack a back window. We saw none from this small series on our visit.

According to reports, it was only recently (2012) that the first CTS Classic was retired. It’s not known however how many since may have gone to the great beyond, so the exact number in service on any given day can only be guessed at. We do know they are used mostly for peak hour service, for charters and school runs. Given that many of them were recently refurbished, it’s safe to assume that they will continue to run for some time. None of these buses wear the new red with white colour scheme. I wonder if any will get repainted?

In addition to Calgary, a number of other transit authorities in both Canada and the US still roster Classics. Numbers are thinning however so catch them while you can.

Seen on our visit were #5036, #5042, #5056 from the 1991 order and #5081, #5091, #5095, #5100, #5101, #5104 and #5107 from the second 1991/92 order. Also seen was a parked Classic, #5076 (second order), which based on its appearance may have been waiting for some repairs. All buses seen were heading out for the afternoon rush. Not every one mentioned was photographed.

These buses are based at the Spring Gardens garage, the largest such facility Calgary Transit operates.

Update: November 2014. The Classics, ahead of schedule, appear to be no more…
The last Classic.

To see some CTS GMC New Look (Fishbowl) buses seen in service recently, go here…
They live! Calgary Transit GMC Fishbowls in 2013.

To see some transit then and now articles we think you might like, follow these links…
Edmonton Transit then and now – Northlands Coliseum – Rexall Place.
Calgary Transit then and now – 95th St.
Calgary Transit then and now – trolleys buses and Devenish Apartments.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: January, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.

MCI Classic bus

A Calgary Transit MCI Classic leaves the bus barns.

MCI Classic transit bus

Built in the early 1990s these are the last high floor bus model on the CTS roster.

MCI Classic

Over the years the Classic was produced by GMC, MCI and Nova Bus.

Calgary Transit MCI Classic

It appears they are mostly used for peak hour service.

MCI Classic Calgary Transit

There were originally over a hundred of this model on the roster.

MCI Classic bus Calgary Transit

It’s not known exactly how many are in service on any given day.


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4 Comments on "MCI Classic"

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Ray F
Ray F

The last high floor buses in the fleet?


These were and are quite popular with Quebec operators, no doubt because they were made there.