The Thomas Vista was a school bus built by Thomas Built Buses from 1989 until 1997, on GMC, Chevrolet, and Navistar International chassis. It was unique in that it combined aspects of both conventional and transit style school buses. The Vista was used heavily in many school districts in the United States in the mid to late 1990s.
One of the more distinctive aspects of the Thomas Vista was its body. The body design placed the engine half inside the bus and half outside, shortening the hood (quite literally, in the International-chassis versions), and allowing the driver's seat to be moved further forward. This gave the driver more visibility around the front of the bus, gave the bus a tighter turning radius, and allowed for greater seating capacity than a conventional style school bus (maximum of 84 instead of 78), all while still being more affordable than a transit style school bus.
From 1989 to 1993, Vistas had a 2-piece windshield and a 2-piece window next to the entry door. After 1994, the Vista's exterior was redesigned to have a 4-piece windshield similar in construction to the Saf-T-Liner's (but far more sloped) and a 1-piece window next to the entry door was added due to changes to the side mirror bracketing.
Vistas made before 1992 were built on a General Motors (typically badged Chevrolet) chassis, equipped with a Detroit Diesel 8.2 liter engine. After 1991, GM stopped supplying chassis for large buses to Thomas, so the chassis supplier was changed to Navistar International, who designed the 3600 chassis specifically for the Vista body.
Since school districts in the US did not start adopting these buses in large quantities until the mid-1990s, General Motors chassis versions of the Vista are rare. From 1992 to 1994, the engine lineup consisted of International DT360 and 7.3L engines. After 1994, the lineup consisted of the International T444E and DT466E engines. The Vista was available only with an automatic transmission.
After the 1998 model year, International ended production of the Vista's chassis, as Thomas Built Buses had been purchased by competitor Freightliner. The Vista's 3600 chassis had been developed specifically for Thomas; neither AmTran nor Blue Bird produced a competing product that had a need for it.
Detroit Diesel Engines
The 8.2L engine was only available with GM-chassis Vistas.
Despite its acceptance in school districts nationwide, the Vista was heavily criticized. The part of the engine that was inside the bus was shielded by a thin metal casing. Because this casing offered little insulation between the engine and passenger compartment, engine heat and noise would end up inside of the bus. Vistas were also plagued by suspension problems. A good portion of the engine was behind the front wheels, the effectiveness of the bus's front suspension was reduced, making for a bumpy ride. As a result of these flaws, and as a result of Thomas Built Buses, Inc. being bought by Freightliner Trucks in 1997, the Vista was discontinued after the 1998 model year.