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Hot Rod School Bus Gives Us an Education

Hot Rod School Bus Gives Us an Education
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When we saw Jim Bassett's crusty-looking hot rod school bus at the SEMA Show, we figured he bought it cheap and was saving his money to fix it up someday.  That was before Bassett told us he had over $30,000 invested in the chassis and drive train and used  the bus to tow a brand new "wide body" Audi from California to Vegas at 70-75 mph.

Needless to say, Bassett's 1954 Chevy C4500 Wayne-bodied school bus gave us a little EDUCATION.  According to the Bassett - the owner of a shop called Bones Fab (www.bonesfab.com) - the bus once used by the Elgin Special School District gave up its original six-cylinder "Stovebolt" engine for a 1996 or 1997 Cummins Compound Turbo Diesel engine that makes 500-600 hp and 1000-1200 lbs.-ft of torque.

Bassett said that the rest of the drive train was also updated and the chassis is totally custom.  The front five feet of the bus frame was replaced with the frame from an '85 Chevy "Big Dooley" truck, but then it was narrowed two inches to get the tires to tuck in.

The center 10 feet of the frame is stock school bus, but the rear 10 feet is all custom made using ¼-inch steel plate.  A big four-link suspension was fabricated along with big air bags that Bones Fab made.  There's also a Panhard bar.  For an axle, Bassett narrowed a 1970 dualie rear end four inches per side.

We considered the bus a short wheelbase model, but Bassett said that Chevrolet's school bus vendors offered both smaller and larger versions.  "In my opinion, a bus this size is just perfect," he said.  "Last summer we took this bus on the Hot Rod Power Tour and did 5,700 miles in two weeks with no issues.  We had two Lazy Boy recliners in it, a couple of Honda Trail 70s, my dad, my dog, and me.  We went out and road tripped it for two weeks and basically we had a blast."

Bassett said that Bones Fab builds and modifies all kinds of vehicles.  The shop does about two complete builds each year and a lot of engine swaps and upgrade projects at the same time.  For those who like shiny, Bassett had a red Hemi 'Cuda convertible inside the Las Vegas Convention Center with an 1100-hp Hemi in it.  He says that he saved money by not doing body and paint work on the bus, but spent what had to be spent on everything else.

The crusty look doesn't hurt, though.  In fact, Bassett gets the opposite reaction when he takes the bus to car shows.  "People are blown away by the ooh and ah factor," he said.  "We can park it way out in the corner of the parking lot and when we go back there will be a big crowd of people around it."