I’ve often said that if the recreational vehicles getting churned out of Indiana aren’t for you, try looking at something vintage. If that still doesn’t fit your fancy, there’s always the wild world of custom conversions. A properly ridiculous example of do-it-yourself creativity has popped up on Craigslist and it doesn’t seem all that bad. This 1970 GMC 5500 Wayne school bus has been converted into a mobile roadgoing pirate ship complete with a mast and removable parts so you can fit it under bridges.
Our Discord server, which you totally should join, has been chock-full of weird motorhomes lately. As many of you already know, we’re looking for something to call the official Autopian mobile command center! Our requirements are somewhat simple: The vehicle needs to be able to sleep three, it should have a manual transmission, and it should be weird. Oh, and the “sleep three” requirement doesn’t mean sleeping in comfort. We’re somewhat savages, here. There has been a constant flow of suggestions in Discord, including that wild DayStar coach. Here’s another RV and it came from Mike Harrell in our comments, and it’s just plain silly, in a good way.
The seller for this $29,500 wonder says the build has been their labor of love for years. However, the adventure is coming to an end as the seller no longer lives in Oregon and it’s time for the unit to move on. Amazingly, despite appearances, the bus still runs and drives. The seller even says that the engine was replaced in 2014!
158 Years Of Transit
Hiding under the pirate ship attachments is a GMC 5500 conventional school bus chassis. When this chassis was new, GMC boasted a bus that would stretch a school district’s budget thanks to its “advanced design and manufacturing excellence.” GMC said in its brochures that you could save money with a GMC school bus chassis because bus bodies may be mounted with minimal effort and expense. The manufacturer further states that the chassis front-end design was compatible with the bodies of all major builders, saving even more dough.
GMC’s buses during this era were based on a heavy truck platform and a brochure notes these buses had recirculating-ball steering, optional power steering, two-speed axles, hydraulic brakes for shorter units, and air brakes for longer buses. Deeper in the advertising, GMC showed even smaller school bus options including a Suburban-based bus and a Handi-Van bus.
This GMC chassis has a school bus body by Wayne Works. As the Morrisson-Reeves Library writes, Wayne started in 1837 as a foundry in Dublin, Indiana. John Whippo, with brothers Caleb and James Witt, started Wayne as a manufacturer of stoves. Over time, Wayne began building farm implements and by 1868, the company finally incorporated as Wayne Agricultural Works, taking its name from Wayne County, Indiana.
Wayne would later move to Richmond, Indiana and by the 1890s it was already building an early form of school bus. The firm had begun building horse-drawn vehicles and in 1892, a school district commissioned a student transport vehicle from Wayne. The “School Car,” which would also be known as a”School Hack” or “Kid Hack,” was a horse-drawn wagon with seating for students. Going into the early 1900s, Wayne pivoted to building automotive bodies as well as its own car, called the Richmond.
In 1914 and using the Ford Model T as a base, Wayne created a new School Car, its first motorized school bus. From there, Wayne began leaning in on transportation as its future. In the 1920s, Wayne even built early bus-based motorhomes called the Touring Home and by 1927, it was giving buses metal body panels mounted to wood framing.
Wayne Works was a trailblazer in school bus design and has often been cited as building the first all-metal school bus in 1930. Though, a number of other manufacturers, including Blue Bird, were experimenting with all-metal buses during the era. Wayne was one of the first builders to incorporate safety glass into school buses in 1933. Wayne was also an early adopter of the heavy-duty side impact rails that are still seen on buses today.
Fast-forward to the 1970s and Wayne became the Wayne Corporation after changing hands a couple of times. In the early 1970s, Wayne was among the first manufacturers to start turning cutaway vans into small, agile school buses. Sadly, the story of Wayne came to an end in 1995.
This Pirate Ship Bus
That leaves us with the bus you see here today. This wasn’t a cutaway chassis but a conventional, higher-capacity bus. Sadly, so much of the body has been changed I’m unsure of the exact model of Wayne body it wears. And yes, this bus is now a double-decker!
What I can tell you is that the bus used to have a GMC 351M V6, which produced 254 HP. In 2014, the seller replaced it with a 305 cubic inch V6 and transferred over parts from the old 351. A 1970 305C V6 in this bus application was good for 170 HP gross. The “M” parts of a 351 include a two-barrel carburetor, an open port intake, enlarged ports, larger valves, and larger exhaust manifolds.
It’s unclear what kind of power this Frankenstein monster 305 is making. But the important part is that this bus does run and drive. There are 72,000 miles on the odometer, but the seller also notes that said odometer has also rolled over.
The pirate ship bits that are said to be too high are removable. I’ll just let Mike, the seller (who isn’t the same Mike who found this bus), explain what you’re looking at here:
The wood stove pops out and lifts off. The top of the middle loft room, which we use as a closet, comes off and is built to be lightweight. It stows on the deck for transport. The mast is hinged and folds down easily. It isn’t just for looks, that’s a projector screen and there is a projector stand as well. Movies on the deck are a ton of fun.
Mike has me sold on this idea of sitting on the bow of this beauty and watching a movie projected on the mast. Wait, is that a chandelier hanging in front of the hood of this thing?
In terms of amenities, the listing states you get a 240V, 50 amp electrical system. Each room has its own breaker and there’s an outdoor outlet as well. The electrical system has three dedicated heater circuits, an electric water heater, and a gas on-demand water heater. Apparently, the shower is hooked up to the on-demand heater while the kitchen sink feeds from the electric tank heater. In terms of holding tanks, you get 60 gallons for the gray tank and another 30 gallons for waste. There’s also a macerator pump onboard.
Now, before you get too excited, it does seem like this build isn’t entirely finished. The shower empties into a sizable tub. Maybe it’s my eyes, but it looks like it’s not finished? Maybe it needs refreshing? Flip through the pictures and you’ll see exposed wiring, uncovered insulation, and other bits that aren’t the quality that you’d see in some other builds. But you know what? Those campers don’t look like pirate ships! Still, temper your expectations.
I see this as a fun project to continue. Or, if you don’t care, just run it as is. Surely, the pirate jokes will never end. Our Mark Tucker already made a joke, saying to back it up, you’ll put it in “arrr,” oy vey. If you feel like traveling while dressed up as a pirate, this camper is $29,500 in Cheshire, Oregon. Should you be the one to buy this masterpiece, we’d love to interview you, then drive the pirate ship, too, of course.
(Photos: Mike via Craigslist, unless otherwise noted.)
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.
- Readers Aren’t Having Georgia’s Bullshit Reason For Banning Kei Trucks: COTD
- Fiat Panda Six-Wheeler, Volkswagen Golf Country, Indian Sport Scout: Mercedes’ Marketplace Madness
- The Second-Generation Saturn Vue Lived, Then Died, Then Lived Again: GM Hit Or Miss
- Can You Guess The Three Cars The Autopian Has Tried To Buy This Week?