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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Matchbox GMC School Bus



Once in a while there'll be a time where a certain casting that we don't initially like at first we end up collecting variations on it for no reason later on.  For me a few of them include the Go Kart, Mad Propz, and this Matchbox GMC School Bus

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Two times for the same model

The Chevy Express/GMC Savanna vans replaced the previous, and long-in-the-tooth Chevy Van and GMC Vandura in 1996.   The new design was smoother and follows the current GM full-size trucks and SUV's.  The interior featured a revised dashboard that allows for more cubby holes, air vents, central radio and HVAC controls, and dual airbags.  The taillights move to the top, like the Lumina APV minivan, to allow the doors to have a smooth, hingeless look to allow the doors to swing to the side for better access to the cargo area.  Short and Long wheelbases, van or passenger, cutaway vans with dual rear tires, and either halogen square headlights or flush dual lamp unit.  The powertrains range from a 4.3L V6 to the range of small-block V8's, with the most common being the 5.7L V8 and 4-speed automatic.  A turbodiesel was also offered.  For passenger bus conversions the passenger door is replaced by a filler panel to allow for the larger double door access.



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In 2003 the GM vans got a refresh with a longer front-end for better crash protection that also uses the new sharper look that first started on the Chevy Avalanche.  The flush headlights or square halogen units were still offered.  The van stayed the same elsewhere, but new left-side swing-open or sliding doors are now offered, as is the optional lift-up window panels on the panel vans for easier access to inside shelves.  The dashboard is revised to better match the current GM truck lines, and the GM vans were first to add all-wheel drive to the full-size van category.  Also new was the line of LS1 engines from the 1999 GM full-size trucks replacing the older engines (and the diesel) with a new 4.8, 5.3, and 6.0L V8's and a new 6.6L Duramax Turbodiesel V8.  The transmission was the 4-speed automatic, but starting in 2010 the 6-speed automatic takes over.


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The Chevy Transport Bus

But before I get to the GMC School Bus, the first version of this GM chassis bus was the Chevy Transport Bus introduced in 1999.  Starts off with a green color and National logo's to resemble the buses used to transport customers to and from the airport to the rental car lots.  This early casting has the metal body and plastic chrome chassis with front grille featuring the halogen lamp units.  The body of the bus is nicely done with the correct window sizes and rear emergency exit door.  Note the driver's side has a running board.  The interior feature the correct seats in the rear and a compartment behind the driver to store customer's luggage.  The front dashboard has the correct details even right down to the 4-spoke steering wheel.  The 5-spoke wheels, though looks out-of-place, strangely look good here, and are mated to a suspension system that gives a little bit of play to the vehicle.  Sadly, this casting did not enjoy much success in other variations after the National version, and sometime around the end of last decade the casting was retooled with a plastic body!


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The Short Bus

Let's start with the fact that trying to get a long school bus into a small 1:64 default package is difficult; both Hot Wheels and Matchbox has tried and literally made their buses rather small.  So either you have to create a new package to fit the proper size of a bus or resort to the short bus profile.  Not many companies are willing to do the latter, until Matchbox stepped along with one in 2009 based on the new GMC Savanna cutaway van.  The body of the cab is metal with a black plastic bumper with halogen headlights that give the front an aggressive look.  Then things change at the school bus end with a plastic body: this is normally a negative view for collectors when its plastic, but getting the arched roof to confine to a small diecast body is rather difficult, so the plastic does a good job of outlining the look with the correct lines, front and rear flashers, Stop Sign on the left, and trim details.  Of course, it can't be a school bus if it's not in yellow with the proper black trim and letters on the sides and the Stop sign painted in red.  The windows feature the proper split design, while the rest of the body features the correct dual emergency exit doors (the right-rear one is for handicapped purposes).

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To offset the loss of weight is a metal base underneath that is rather slim and tabs at the rear lower emergency exit window.  The interior features the rear jump seats for the kids with nifty details like books and a catcher's mitt on the seats.  The front dashboard lacks the added details of the Transport Bus, including the steering wheel that does not have the spoke outline.  On the other hand the arm to open the double door access is mated with the dashboard.  The first version was in yellow with the correct school bus details, which followed again in 2010 with the same deco but with more details and Fort Summer School District on the sides.

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The bus did appear in two five packs: one in green and the other in white with Child Care Learning Center on the sides.  I found the latter at the flea market loose, though someone tried to use a ballpoint pen to fill the slots on the roof.  Otherwise its in good condition.  In 2011 a crazier version appeared in blue with a clear school bus body.  The reason?  In Hollywood, California they use tour buses that are open at the rear to show off the celebrity homes.  Matchbox wanted to pay homage to those vehicles, but they couldn't remove the school bus body completely because it was part of the base attachment at the rear.  It's a cool look and breaks up the same common look of a school bus.

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In 2012 the bus features a desert tour look in tan with some humorous changes to the school bus body like the stop sign replaced by a wagon wheel.  Then in 2013 the school bus deco reappears in a darker shade and a base that's now light gray.  The wheels eliminate the chrome ring around the outer part of the wheel for the first time.  Since this is a large casting in its package and thanks to its cool details it comes in limited quantity and sells out quickly.  This 2013 version was a good example as I didn't see many of these offered on the pegs.

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