The Original Hot Rod Bus
It started with a five year old transfixed by his neighbor’s ragged green ’57 Chevrolet. His neighbor had received it as a gift from his grandfather and decided to restore it. With time and work the rusty green machine was transformed into a fire engine red racer – a classic story of rust to hot rod. The next neighbor brought the first ’67 Camaro the little boy had ever seen, along with a Sunbeam Alpine. In his own words, Dave Roland has “been a car junkie ever since.”
Fast forward to 1974, and the teenage car junkie had saved up enough money from his first job ($450 to be exact) to buy his very own springtime yellow ’67 mustang fastback.
No longer a five year old or a starry-eyed teenager with his first car, Dave is now in his fifties – but he’s still a car junkie, and he’s got a dynamic collection of vintage automobiles, trucks, school buses, and tankers.
More specifically, he’s a car junkie with a penchant for restoring the old and creating something unique; simultaneously nostalgic and new – it’s only natural that he’s the owner of the Hot Rod Bus.
There’s something about this motley mobile of metal, wood, and neon cruising down the highway that makes your head turn.
Dave first saw the old school bus while browsing eBay; even in its unaltered state it was prone to catch one’s attention and was something Roland himself describes as, “unusual, original, one-of-a-kind, very ‘molested’…with shot gun holes and windows missing and needing everything.”
Needless to say, it caught his attention enough that he brought the 1933 Chevrolet bus in from Montana, where it was last registered in 1961 as a hunting bus – complete with original electric insulators for power and a chimney for a wood stove.
Coming off the hauler in January of 2013, it was apparent that this rusty, cranky old bus was going to need some TLC. The original 6-cylinder Chevy 216 with hand crank and all could not be persuaded to come back to life. The interior was in shambles with rotten, roughed up wood. All of it was sitting atop some old off-road tires.
Roland addressed the surrounding onlookers, “Guys – I just want to get it fixed up enough to take it on and off the trailer and do a lap at Pigeon Forge.”
So the renovations began.
The first task was to get it on something solid to hold all of it and it was decided that the rolling chassis from a ’41 Studebaker pickup was a good choice. The front and rear ends from the Studey were stubbed to the original Chevy frame.
The next task was to get it running, and a later model 6-cylinder was purchased. A little rummaging later uncovered a Chevy 350 in a friend’s service truck and still a little more digging unearthed a turbo 400 transmission. The 6-cylinder was scrapped in lieu of the 350 for obvious reasons.
While all of the mechanical work was going on, friend and talented artist Ron Eddy began doing reconstructive plastic surgery, removing compromised wood and replicating the bus as closely to the original as possible with fresh material. After building the wood frame the original metal was replaced with care.
The guys worked tirelessly and the bus took its maiden voyage just nine weeks later. When it got back it was time to update the interior – wooden benches with under-seat storage and cup holders topped with custom cushions upholstered with vintage feed sacks. The ceiling and floor were kept original and a tailgate was added. Old license plates found in the bottom of a bin at a local license plate restoration shop finish the interior of the door and firewall.
Off to the 2013 Hot Rod Power Tour this bus went, from Dallas, TX to Chattanooga, TN, breaking down eight times but completing the run nevertheless with the help of co-driver and ace mechanic Scott Davison. The next year, a new Crown Vic front end and HD ¾ ton Chevy rear end for the chassis and a new 700 R4 transmission and then off to 2014 Power Tour this tough bus went: from its hometown of Cookeville to Charlotte, where the transmission gave up. A trailer was sent to shuttle Hot Rod Bus home and the passengers finished the tour in a bright yellow ’68 Austin Mini (right hand drive from New Zealand), affectionately dubbed the “Mini Bus.”
The best part about riding this bus? The smiles and waves and excitement from people of all ages. Talking to people, sharing the story, making plans to meet up at the next cruise-in or car show. It’s always the people that make it great.
So this has been the next chapter of the life of this bus. It’s worked hard carrying kids, livestock, freight and hunters and Dave and his team have brought it back to life. In certain ways it’s a rolling museum, chock full of stories and memories. Yet the bus is far from extinct; in its golden years cruising, relaxing, and making people happy there will be many more stories and memories created.
What’s next? Adventure after adventure. After all, school’s out forever…
Engine: Chevy 350
Transmission: 400 Turbo
Intake: Stock 350 Chevy
Exhaust: Custom funny car zoomies with glass pack mufflers and cutouts
Suspension: Crown Vic front, ¾ ton Chevy disc brake rear – attached to original Chevy/Studebaker frame
Wheels: Stock Ford & Chevy wheels, still looking for the right customs!
Paint: original + Mother Nature, coated with linseed oil
Body mods: reconstructed wood frame for entire vehicle, tailgate, front door rebuilt from scrap, old police siren, custom neon signs compliments of A-1 Signs in Dickson, TN
Interior: Floor & ceiling original, custom benches with vintage feed sack cushions and cupholders, license plate accents, vintage memorabilia
Future Mods: A/C, Super Single tires/wheels, possibly Cummins diesel power