School buses, with their bright yellow paintwork, are a common sight on the streets of American towns and cities; although the phenomenon of fleets of buses which are specifically used to take students to and from school is limited to the USA and Canada. In other countries, pupils are expected to make their own way to school, or transport is provided on ordinary buses.
The history of the school bus actually dates from the 19th century, when Wayne Works made horse-drawn carriages to transport pupils to schools across Indiana, before developing motorized carriages in 1914. School buses are now America’s largest mass transportation fleet, making 480,000 journeys every day, and transporting an average of 26 million elementary and high school students daily in 2010.
And their eye-catching yellow color is far from simply an aesthetic choice. School buses are painted yellow because this color is the one which we notice first – giving drivers a valuable extra few nanoseconds to react in the event of an impending collision!
Like all vehicles, school buses will eventually become surplus to requirements or too costly to maintain, and will find themselves sold on to new owners, some of whom have given these hard-working buses a new lease of life. Many of the buses on this list actually look even better than they did when they were in service!
20 School Of Hard Knocks
This beauty is a renovated, refurbished and modified school bus which originally dates from the 1940s, and which has now been updated for the 21st century – complete with its tongue-in-cheek “School of Hard Knocks” decal on the side panels!
This 1941 Chevrolet – yes, they made school buses as well as family cars – has been given a new lease of life, and now looks far too good to be used to transport rowdy kids to and from school.
The changes aren’t all on the surface either, as the original engine has been replaced by a modern Cummins engine – the same type used in modern school buses today.
19 Good As New
This modified school bus may be a few years older than the previous Chevrolet, but it has nevertheless undergone a pretty radical transformation. This Ford Short Bus, dating from 1951, is smaller than your average school bus, a design that was more common previously, and which is still in use in some of the more remote locations throughout North America. This particular model doesn’t just have a new coat of paint but was also fitted with a new steering wheel, new custom rims, and wheels, as well as fully reupholstered seats, to keep modern-day passengers just as comfortable as the kids were back in the day.
18 Clown School
When old school buses reach the end of their career, not all of them are restored to their former glory. Some are given a new life, and even a new purpose, when their new owner takes delivery of the old bus.
In fact, some of these old school buses undergo such extreme modifications, that they are barely recognizable as school buses any longer!
This particular school bus has been given a fresh and modern circus-themed paint job, complete with a clown’s red nose – or a flashing red light on the front grille. School buses offer a huge canvas for new owners with a colorful imagination.
17 Converted Camper
Given the increasing popularity of outdoor vacations, it is hardly surprising that someone has seen fit to take one of those old school buses and transform it into a modern campervan, allowing its new owners to enjoy comfortable family vacations. The camper above is barely recognizable as an old school bus; the stylish wood finish, canvas awning, and the comfortable and surprisingly spacious interior offer more luxury than any of its previous passengers would have enjoyed on their journeys to and from school. Given the number of school buses which are taken out of circulation every year, it is great to see someone finding such an original use for old vehicles.
16 Cool Bus
Old school buses don’t just make for good holiday homes either. Some people have taken advantage of the fact that you can pick up old school buses pretty cheaply to start a new business. And given the fact that most kids would see those yellow school buses as something negative – unless they were lucky enough to enjoy their time at school! – what better way to make use of an old school bus than by starting a new business that kids are going to love, such as the ice cream van in the image above. And of course, the business just names itself: The Cool Bus.
15 Old School
Buyers of school buses which have seen better days often want to restore them to their former glory, while others want to drag their acquisition into the 21st century while retaining some of the original features and original charms.
While restoring the bodywork to its 1957 color, the owner who modified this GMC school bus has also fitted it with rally tires and lowered the suspension to give it a much more modern look and feel – almost like a school bus from the Fast and the Furious movies. Any modern-day kid would be more than impressed if this vehicle turned up to collect them on a morning.
14 Hawaii Hotel
And if an old school bus can be converted into a campervan, then why not a hotel? That is what has happened to this old-school transportation vehicle in Hawaii, where it formed part of a sustainable community on the Big Island.
Visitors could stay in this gorgeously decorated vehicle – which still retains all the charms of the original school bus – named the Aloha Bus, or in cozy huts built from reclaimed wood.
Nothing goes to waste here, including old school buses, and it would certainly make for an unusual destination if you were planning on visiting the Aloha State.
13 Home On Wheels
It’s one thing to create your own holiday home or eco-hotel from the shell of an old school bus, but some new owners have taken things a step further, and have created a new permanent home for themselves.
The vehicle above is barely recognizable as an old school bus – apart from the hood which is just poking out from underneath all the additions – but once upon a time, this unusual creation was used to ferry kids to and from school.
It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly makes for an unusual mobile home, and a surprisingly spacious one too.
12 Take A Drag
Drag racing is a hugely popular sport in the USA, with over 650,000 people attending National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) events every year – let alone all those who attend locally organized amateur races! It won’t come as much of a surprise then to learn that even owners of old school buses have been getting in on the action, modifying the vehicle inside and out to enable it to take part in drag races and demonstration events. They may not be able to match specially-built vehicles for speed, but they certainly look pretty cool.
11 Monster School
And here is another example of a former school bus which has been modified almost beyond recognition. The vehicle has been given a huge suspension lift, which with the addition of those massive tires makes it look like something more suited to a monster truck rally than safely getting pupils to and from school. In fact, the chances are that this vehicle would be banned from the road in many States – many of which have strict rules about how much a vehicle’s suspension can be lifted by – and is probably only wheeled out for demonstrations and special events. Not a bad way to spend your retirement.
10 Pass With Flying Colors
When school buses reach the end of their useful life and head off to the school bus graveyard, some end up as canvases for graffiti artists, while others are bought by new owners.
What all of these retired buses seem to have in common is the addition of new bold and brassy colors – as if that bright yellow wasn’t colorful enough!
This particular school bus may have seen better days, but thanks to its jazzy paint job, you can barely notice the signs of aging, and it seems to have found a new purpose in life thanks to its new owners.
9 Panama Paint Job
Many of these old school buses end up in Central and South America, where they are given a new lease of life running regular bus services for the local population.
Of course, that boring yellow isn’t nearly colorful enough, and many of the retired buses get amazing new paint jobs, like the slightly scary and psychedelic example from Panama above.
Not sure what the final destination is for this particular bus, but it would certainly be an adventure you would never forget if you turned up at the bus station to find that this was your transportation for the day…
8 School Of The Future
Not all of the school buses which are too cool for school are old vehicles, however. The current trend for developing self-driving cars hasn’t passed by the mass transportation industry, and companies are busy developing their versions of self-driving buses, including school buses.
This particular model is the SEDRIC from Volkswagen, but there are many other vehicles either in development or even in testing.
They make look super cool and futuristic, but how many parents will be happy to send their darling kiddies off to school in a self-driving bus on a morning, given the bad press self-driving cars have already experienced?
7 Select Schooling
Modern school buses are designed to carry as many pupils as possible, but once upon a time some city and town governments would simply use regular cars, painted that eye-catching bright yellow of course, in order to transport small numbers of pupils living in rural areas.
After all, why bother buying a big school bus if you could just convert a gorgeous 1950s Chevy and use that to meet your pupil transportation needs?
It would certainly be a stylish way to travel to and from school and a lot more comfortable than the modern school buses which make up today’s fleets.
6 Campervan Cool
And a 1950s Chevy isn’t even the coolest alternative school bus in history. Some lucky kids got to travel to school in an iconic VW Campervan, like the one above with a very stylish yellow and black paint job. Once converted from Campervan into a school bus, the classic VW vehicle actually makes a pretty practical school bus, especially in rural areas where the normal size school buses would end up half empty every morning and afternoon. Add a couple of fancy touches, like the yellow rims, and the VW Campervan school bus actually looks like a vehicle that anyone would want to drive.
5 Stretched Bus
Not all of the old school buses which are available to buy after their years of service are the compact, short buses we have seen so far on this list. Some buyers in the market for an old school bus are looking to go big, buying one of the larger articulated vehicles which served the busier school districts. There is certainly more space inside for those who want to convert their bus into a traveling home, as this couple has done, as well as giving the vehicle a fresh new look with a coat of white paint to help it stand out from the crowd.
This may look like a school bus from the Mad Max movies, with its deliberately shabby chic paint job and lights and even loudspeakers on the roof, but what is more interesting about this modification is what the new owner has done under the hood to improve the vehicle’s performance.
The original bus was built in 1954 by Chevrolet, but the engine is very much a creation of the 21st century.
Under the hood is an impressive 5.9-liter Cummins 12-valve diesel with a hefty BorgWarner turbocharger sitting right on top – more than enough power even for Mad Max and his cronies.
3 Playing Chicken
While the old buses which find themselves in Panama get some crazy and quite frankly terrifying new paint jobs throughout the rest of Central America the emphasis is very much on fun, bright colors. Buses like the one above even have their very own name – chicken buses – and provide cheap but not always very comfortable transport for locals and visitors alike around countries such as Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, but most especially in Guatemala. The name originated from the fact that many passengers used to transport live animals on these buses, although visitors will be disappointed if they want to see some chickens on these buses today.
2 Smart Bus
So far, most of the too cool for school buses on this list have been pretty sizeable. Even the self-driving bus and the 1950s Chevy car could at least hold four passengers along with the driver. However, converting a Smart car into a school bus can only mean that there is one child somewhere who lives out in the sticks, and who essentially gets their own private taxi to school every morning. Arriving at the door of your school in this vehicle isn’t going to do much for a student’s street cred, however, and the chances are they worked hard to pass Driver’s Ed first time around…
1 The Topsy Turvy Bus
If you have two old school buses and too much time on your hands, then you could also create this unusual and unique upside-down bus. It may look weird, but all the mechanics have done is fuse two chassis’ together – one on top of the other – leaving the bottom bus ready to drive as normal. The Topsy Turvy Bus, as it is officially known, was conceived by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry fame, although there have been several copies made since. One of these copies took six months to make, and while it looks good, it has a top speed of only 30mph.
Sources: Colormatters.com, atlasobscura.com, winniepegfreepress.com,musclecarszone.com, greenglobaltravel.com