The Thomas Vista is a school bus that was manufactured by Thomas Built Buses from 1989 to 1998. While considered a conventional-style school bus similar to the Saf-T-Liner Conventional, the Vista combined design elements of conventional buses and transit-style school buses, as well as those from smaller school buses.
Following the acquisition of Thomas Built Buses by Freightliner in 1998, the Vista was discontinued. While not considered a direct replacement, the Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 that was introduced in 2004 would feature design elements utilized in the Vista.
During the early 1980s, the industry of school bus manufacturing in the United States was under a period of relative turmoil. Following a sharp decline in student populations with the exit of the baby-boom generation from the public education system and innovation was now key to survival. At the end of the l970s, the federal government had significantly toughened standards for crash protection in school buses; while safety always played a role in school bus marketing, school bus designers were deciding to take a proactive stance by preventing accidents in the first place.
In 1985, AmTran/Ward introduced the Patriot, an all-new full-size bus using a modified version of the Chevrolet/GMC B-Series chassis. By shortening the chassis and moving the engine rearward, the Patriot was given a sloped engine hood similar to a delivery van, out of the driver's blind spot. On the inside, the Patriot was configured similar to a front-engine transit bus, with part of the engine cowl next to the driver.
In 1989, Thomas Built Buses introduced the Vista as its own semi forward control bus. Using the same shortened Chevrolet/GMC chassis as the Ward Patriot, the Vista introduced several unique design aspects. To increase the visibility in the loading area, Thomas configured the glass in front of the door similar to its Type A Minotour bus, with glass below windshield level. The Vista also had a Thomas-styled fiberglass hood, designed to further improve forward visibility.
After 1991, General Motors entered into a supply agreement for the B-Series with body manufacturer Blue Bird, effectively ending the production of the GM-chassis Thomas Vista.
Detroit Diesel 8.2L V8
Available in turbocharged or non-turbo ("Fuel Pincher") configuration
Following the end of General Motors chassis production, Thomas was able to secure a supply of chassis from Navistar International. As before, the Vista would be based on a shortened conventional bus chassis. This time, Naviastar designed Thomas a chassis specifically for the Vista: the International 3600. Based on the International 3800, Thomas highlighted the design by including the Navistar hood, which was cut nearly in half to fit the Vista.
As the new chassis was designed to use both inline-6 and V8 diesel engines, the inside half of the engine enclosure was lengthened, similar to that of a traditional front-engine bus. To better increase the forward visibility, in 1994, the Vista was given a redesign of its forward body, with a sloped 4-piece windshield and a 1-piece side window ahead of the entry door.
Following the acquisition of Thomas in 1998, the Vista was discontinued, as it was produced solely on a Navistar chassis. As the 3600 chassis was produced solely for the Vista and not for any other manufacturer, its production was not continued.