Gillig Transit Coach School Bus

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Gillig Transit Coach
1977 Gillig 97-passenger Transit Coach Model DT-16, one of the largest school buses ever produced.
Manufacturer Gillig Brothers (1940–1969)
Gillig Corporation (1969–1982)
Production 1940–1982
Assembly Hayward, California
Body and chassis
Class Type D (transit-style)
Body style School Bus


  • rear-engine 4x2
  • rear-engine 6x4
  • mid-engine 4x2
  • mid-engine 6x4
Platform Gillig



  • 636 cu in (10.4 L) Caterpillar 1160/3208 V8
  • 672 cu in (11.0 L) Cummins NHH inline-6
  • 743 cu in (12.2 L) Cummins NHH inline-6
  • 855 cu in (14.0 L) Cummins NHHTC inline-6
  • 555 cu in (9.1 L) Cummins VTF555 V8
  • 318 cu in (5.2 L) Detroit Diesel 6V53 V6
  • 426 cu in (7.0 L) Detroit Diesel 6N71 inline-6
Capacity 60-97 passengers
  • Spicer 6252 5-speed manual
  • Fuller T905 5-speed manual
  • Fuller RT610 10-speed manual
  • Allison MT643 4-speed automatic
  • Allison MT644 4-speed automatic
  • Allison HT740 4-speed automatic
Length 28–40 feet (8.5–12.2 m)
Width 96 inches (2.4 m)
Successor Gillig Phantom School Bus

The Gillig Transit Coach School Bus was a long-running series of transit-style (rear-engined and mid-engined) school buses produced by the Gillig Corporation in Hayward, California. Introduced in 1940, the Transit Coach was produced until 1982. In 1986, Gillig resumed school bus production with a variant of the Gillig Phantom adapted for school bus usage; the last Gillig school bus was produced in 1993.

Along with its chief competitor, the Crown Supercoach, the Transit Coach was marketed primarily to operators on or near the West Coast in California, Oregon, or Washington State. It was also one of the first school buses powered by a diesel engine.

Design history[edit]


In 1937, Gillig Brothers moved from San Francisco to Hayward, California. During this time, transit-style school buses were starting to be developed by a number of manufacturers. As opposed to a conventional-style body mounted on a truck frame, a transit-style bus allowed for greater seating capacity within the same bus length. Additionally, the engine could be mounted in a variety of locations. In 1940, after several years of experimenting, Gillig introduced a production transit-style bus. The bus showcased a design feature unusual for the time: a mid-mounted engine. The Hall-Scott gasoline engine was mounted under the floor on a Fabco chassis bodied by Gillig.[4] During World War II, Gillig bus production was put on hold.

In the post-war years, Gillig resumed production of Transit Coaches alongside conventional-body school buses. A rear-engined version was introduced in 1948, but was not as successful as the mid-engine version.[4] In either configuration, most Gilligs were powered by Hall-Scott engines. Through most of the 1950s, the Transit Coach design had only minor changes.


In 1957, Gillig Brothers purchased the product rights of the Pacific bus product line from Kenworth. The purchase would lead to major design changes for the Transit Coach that would be retained for many years. Alongside Gillig adapting some of Kenworth's body designs, the following changes were made in 1958–1959:[4]

1966 Gillig C-180D (repowered to 636D-12) privately owned and undergoing restoration
1966 Model C-180D (retired)
  • Driver's windshield enlarged from 78"x30" to 86"x30" (the largest in the industry)
  • On rear-engine models, the Kenworth's left-side roof-mounted high volume air intake was added.

The primary reason the Kenworth roof air intake was added was because Gillig was adding a new engine to the rear-engine Transit Coach. In 1959, the Model C-180 was introduced, named for its Cummins C-180 diesel engine.[4] The C-180 was the first rear-engine diesel-powered school bus; at the time, the few diesel-powered transit school buses were either mid-engined or front-engined. Although Gillig also introduced a mid-engined diesel in 1959 (the Model 743, with the Cummins NHH), the rear-engine models proved more popular, as they were not offered by chief competitor Crown Coach. In addition, manufacturers of rear-engine transits from the Eastern United States did not offer diesel power until the 1970s.

1966 Gillig Model 743D formerly operated by Peninsula School District in Washington State.
1966 Model 743D

In the mid-to-late 1960s, school districts on the West Coast (along with the rest of the country) were faced with rising student populations as the bulk of the Baby Boom generation had reached school age. School buses were forced to grow in size to accommodate the extra students. In 1967, Gillig responded to the situation by introducing the largest school bus ever mass-produced. The Model 743DT-16 was introduced with a seating capacity of 97 student passengers.[4] Like similar models from Crown, the DT-16 featured tandem rear axles; unlike motorcoaches, both rear axles were live. Another change made that year was the standardization of the high-headroom roof option; instead of 72" (6'0") being standard, 79" (6'7") headroom was now standard inside all Gilligs. In 1974, the design of the dashboard was changed. To improve driver ergonomics, all switches were centralized onto a control panel to the left of the driver; many school buses use this layout today. 1974 was also the last year a gasoline-powered Transit Coach was produced.[4]


1979 Gillig 636D restored for private use.
late 1979 Model 636D-12

In April 1977, new federal safety standards went into effect that changed how school buses are constructed. Bodies had to be designed stronger to better survive crashes and rollovers, seats had to be redesigned, and other changes were made as well. Gillig's largest bus was now 90-passenger capacity, as the high back padded seats took up the extra space needed for the 16th row of seats. In states outside of California where Gilligs were sold, states began requiring amber warning lights along with the red lights seen since the 1940s.

During the 1979 model year, Gillig began to make the first visible changes to the exterior of the Transit Coach since the 1957 Kenworth purchase. Most noticeable was the change from drop-sash to split-sash windows used on school buses from the East Coast. To make room for the larger windows, the four thin guardrails below the window line, in place since the 1940s, disappeared in place of a single guard rail.


For the school bus industry as a whole, the early 1980s was a period of struggle. At the same time Gillig had facelifted the Transit Coach, two East Coast manufacturers (Superior and Ward) had closed their doors; several others were also struggling financially. A key factor was that the Baby Boom generation that had fueled school bus sales 15 years earlier was now past school age. Gillig Corporation, as a fairly small-market manufacturer, saw its school bus sales drop off significantly. In the late 1970s, the company had diversified into the more profitable mass-transit market; in 1982, the Gillig Phantom was launched. Gillig Corporation made the decision to concentrate on mass-transit production, so the last Transit Coach and the last conventional-body school bus (whose production had dropped off much further) were produced in 1982. After a four-year hiatus, Gillig developed a successor to the Transit Coach school bus; the Gillig Phantom school bus was launched in 1986. The Phantom school bus struggled, as it proved to be far more expensive than alternatives from manufacturers from the East Coast. The last school bus version of the Phantom was produced in 1993.

Gillig Transit Coaches were frequently found in school bus fleets throughout the western United States, and some still remain in use today.


1979 Gillig Model VTF555D school bus

Gillig used the following numbering system to designate school bus models[5]

Body configuration[edit]

C-Type C (conventional) D-Type D (Transit Coach) T-Tandem rear axle

"#"-Number of rows of seats (maximum 16 before 4/1/1977, 15 after 4/1/1977)

Example: 426DT15= A Transit Coach with 15 rows of seats, tandem rear axles, and a 6N71 Detroit Diesel engine.

Depending on engine type, Transit Coaches were sold in 28'(only with gasoline engines), 30', 35', 37', and 40' body lengths. The two longest body lengths only were sold with a diesel engine (the 37' could not be ordered as a 318D, a C-Series, or a VTF555-D).



  • 636 – Caterpillar 1160/3208 V8 diesel
  • C-160/170/180/190 – Cummins C-160/170/180/190 inline-six diesel
  • VTF-555 – Cummins VTF555 V8 diesel
  • 743 – Cummins NHH220/262 inline-six diesel
  • 855 – Cummins NHH250/270/290/335 inline-six diesel
  • 318 – Detroit Diesel 6V53 V6 diesel
  • 426 – Detroit Diesel 6N71 inline-six diesel


  • 534 – Ford Super Duty V8 (gasoline)
  • 590 – Hall-Scott 590 cubic-inch 6-cylinder (gasoline)
  • 501 – International RD-501 inline six (gasoline)
Timeline of Gillig Transit Coach Production (1950–1985)
Bus Type 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s
'50 '51 '52 '53 '54 '55 '56 '57 '58 '59 '60 '61 '62 '63 '64 '65 '66 '67 '68 '69 '70 '71 '72 '73 '74 '75 '76 '77 '78 '79 '80 '81 '82
Gasoline Engine 501
Caterpillar Diesel Engine 636D
Cummins Diesel Engines C-160D
743D/DT 855D/DT
Detroit Diesel Engines 318D

Comparable products[edit]

1973 Model 318D-12
1971 Model C-190D-12 (retired)


Crown Coach Corporation
  • Crown Supercoach
  • Kenworth-Pacific T-126


Blue Bird Body Company/Blue Bird Corporation
Carpenter Body Works
  • Carpenter Corsair
Perley A. Thomas Car Works/Thomas Built Buses, Inc.
Superior Coach
  • Superior SuperCruiser
Ward Body Works
  • Ward President
Wayne Corporation
  • Wayne Rear Engine

See also[edit]

  • Crown Coach Corporation – former competing school bus manufacturer
  • Kenworth – former competing school bus manufacturer (Kenworth sold the school bus division to Gillig, and began focusing solely on semi trucks)



External links[edit]