The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is auctioning off a bunch of items from its collection. The famous track is selling off everything from track-used racing flags and milk glasses to brake marker signs. This auction’s highlight-items are two vehicles I’d say are even cooler than any replica of an official pace car. Up for grabs are two ElDorado National MST buses riding on Freightliner chassis. Both have a unique Indy 500 livery and some track history. Even better, these pieces of IMS history would make awesome private coaches.
As racing news site Motorsport writes, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl Fisher had an idea to move away from beginning a race with a standing start. His idea was to lead the pack to a safer rolling start using a pace car. From that point, the pace car was born, and the Indy 500 has had a pace car for every race since. Pace cars have varied from the Stoddard-Dayton used in the first race to a Ford Crestline Sunliner in 1953, a Dodge Viper in 1991, and all sorts of General Motors products, including a Chevrolet SSR in 2003. Sometimes, automakers will sell off a limited number of pace car replicas. I featured a 1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Pace Car Edition on a recent Mercedes’ Marketplace Madness.
I think I found two vehicles that are both rarer and maybe cooler than a pace car replica. Check out this wonderful bus:
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is auctioning off this 1996 ElDorado National MST tour bus and a 2007 ElDorado National MST II tour bus. Both have about two days left in their auctions hosted by Earl’s Auction Company. Both of these buses are a part of track history after having shuttled fans around the actual track for years. Forget a Corvette pace car replica to take to car shows, how about the ultimate Indy 500 camper?
Miles Of Driving Tourists Around The Track
This isn’t the first time the track’s museum has auctioned off items like these. Back in 2020, the track used Earl’s to auction off a bunch of professional kitchen equipment, some license plates, and at least one of the tour buses. Apparently, I’m not even the first person to think of these buses as a perfect platform for a camper. In 2022, Cummins published a press release telling the story of Donny Klotz, an Indy 500 superfan who bought a former Indy 500 tour bus and converted it into a motorhome. Based on Klotz’s story, you will probably find his bus camping out at Indy this year!
Here’s what the IMS Museum has to say about what these buses were used for:
Become part of the Indianapolis 500 tradition! Since 1996, race-winning drivers have celebrated their victory by kissing the world-famous Yard of Bricks. Now, you can experience this hallowed ground for yourself on our Kiss the Bricks Tour.
Guests will depart from the Museum on a 30-minute bus tour narrated by legendary racing broadcaster Bob Jenkins. The tour will take you on a lap around the famous 2.5-mile oval with a stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway finish line, where you can kiss the historic bricks!
The Earl’s auction pages don’t give us much information about what these buses are aside from the fact that they ride on a Freightliner chassis, but I immediately knew what they were based solely from their body designs. Transit buses built by ElDorado National-California (today known as ENC) always looked just a little different than the typical bus. The buses for sale here a good example of that, but also just take a look at an ElDorado Axess. Just a little different, right?
What’s An ElDorado Bus?
ElDorado Bus says it started in Minneapolis, Kansas during the 1950s. Back then, the company was called Honorbuilt Manufacturing and it was founded by Bob Stewart to construct campers under license from a company on the west coast. Honorbuilt’s camper was called the “El Dorado Coach” and it was reportedly a popular truck camper. Ward Manufacturing from Ohio purchased Honorbuilt in 1965 and Honorbuilt became a division of Ward. Stewart’s company would continue to expand and in the early 1970s, the company got into building motorhomes. In 1978, Stewart bought out the partners in his company and rebranded the operation as El Dorado RV. Soon after, El Dorado expanded further by getting into the transit bus market.
Things get a bit weird in 1988. El Dorado, which had been renamed again to the ElDorado Motor Corporation, bled $5 million after RV sales slowed down. That year, the company went bankrupt and its savior was Thor Industries. Thor took ElDorado’s RV and commercial bus division, the latter of which would be combined with National Coach when Thor bought that company in 1991. The business was split up into two divisions. One was called ElDorado National–California and the other ElDorado National–Kansas. The California division would build larger commercial buses while the Kansas side built buses out of van cutaways.
To further confuse things, in 2013, Thor sold all of Eldorado National to Allied Specialty Vehicles, which later became REV Group. The Kansas cutaway division was sold to Forest River in 2020 and it rebranded to just ElDorado Bus. Today, the California commercial bus division of ElDorado is still held by REV group and is known as ENC. So yeah, it’s basically one company existing as two and owned by RV manufacturer conglomerates.
These ElDorado Buses
These buses were built when Thor Industries called the shots and were constructed by the ElDorado National-California division. I couldn’t find much about the development history of these buses. Not even the bus nerds at the Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board can give you production years or a development history. What I can tell you is that the body of the 1996 ElDorado National MST for sale here was available in lengths from 24 feet long to 32 feet long. They also rode on Freightliner’s MB-55 chassis.
Freightliner says its MB is a front-engine straight rail commercial bus chassis designed for light to medium-duty applications like shuttle buses.
IMS does not state what engine is under the front floor of this bus, but Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board notes that ElDorado MSTs from this era did have the option for 5.9-liter inline six Cummins ISB power. These engines ranged from 185 HP to 260 HP in output. The older bus (below) has 171,635 miles, but presents in overall good shape.
There are some scrapes here and there and the right-side mirror is sort of dangling, but those aren’t terrible issues to overcome. If there is a Cummins ISB up front, it should have plenty of life left and it should be backed by an Allison automatic.
The newer 2007 ElDorado National MST II up for grabs here hasn’t seen as much action. It’s taken people on 74,909 miles worth of track tours and it’s in similarly decent condition. The body on this bus looks better than the older one, but the driver seat has tears covered up with duct tape.
A plate states that this bus rides on Freightliner’s MC chassis. The ElDorado MST II, as the name suggests, is an update to the older MST design. Apparently, those updates include a totally flat floor, better corrosion resistance, a vehicle location system, modular vehicle logic units, and more. The Freightliner MC chassis is a front-engine, straight-rail chassis meant for RVs. Power comes from a Cummins B6.7 inline-six diesel making 340 HP and 700 lb-ft torque backed by an Allison automatic transmission.
Of the two, I’d say the newer bus is probably the better pick if your goal is a bus to drive down the highway with. I’d also say that these buses would make a better platform for a camper than an old school bus. You won’t have to deal with having to paint a yellow body a different color and these buses were designed with highway speeds in mind. Plus, these buses have huge windows and should be more comfortable going down the road than a school bus is. It’s also subjective, but I’d think these look closer to a motorhome than a school bus does, too. One huge benefit is that I spot air-conditioners in these, which is something you won’t have to worry about.
Or, maybe you would just use these buses as the ultimate tailgate rig like I see some football fans do with old buses. The possibilities are practically endless. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway says that both buses run and drive, but both are currently having problems with their wheelchair lifts. That’s not surprising, when I bought my RTS bus I was warned by multiple fleet managers that wheelchair lifts break all the time and your best bet is to delete them and forget about it.
If you’re as in love with these buses as I am, both have two days left in their auctions. The 1996 is currently bidding at $3,025 with the 2007 sitting at $4,075. Head over to Earl’s Auction Company if you want in on these pieces of Indy history.
(Images: Indianapolis Motor Speedway unless otherwise noted.)
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.
This 82-Year-Old Flxible Clipper Camper Conversion Is In Better Condition Than Some New RVs
The Hybrid Wankel Rotary-Powered Mazda MX-30 R-EV Is Finally Here. Here’s How It Works
One Of The Rarest Rotary-Powered Mazdas In The World Is This Transit Bus
This ‘Flxible Visicoach’ Used To Tour Mount Rainier National Park, Now It’s An Incredible RV Conversion
I inspected these yesterday. Newer one leaks coolant and has check engine light, couldnt read OBD. The other leaks a significant amount of oil. Must have some leaks as floors are spongy in corners and looked rotted from below.
I was at the speedway a few weeks ago and the replacements are battery electric. Which is a perfect application for that kind of usage. An employee told me the higher mileage bus was originally used as an airport shuttle, didn’t know the miles when it came to the track.
One of those models totally looks like an ElDorado Armadillo.
I didn’t have time to read the article yet, but I’m looking at these El Dorados and thinking they look absolutely ideal for a camper build. Like perfect.
I think I’d mount the kitchen on the wheel chair lift. 😀
Mercedes, you should absolutely buy one of these.
Then take it to the Speedway and pickup passengers for a “guided tour”. Drive around the parking lot, point at random cars, and declare they are owned by various celebrities, race drivers, captains of industry, and random citizens.
“That Pontiac G6 sedan? Kim Kardashian. That lifted Ram dually? Ed Begley Jr. The green thing is all an act. See that Toyota Sienna? Mario Andretti. And the guy who manages the Hardee’s over by the mall owns that Porsche 911. Lotta money in chicken and burgers.”
Then just drop everyone off on a random street corner.
Maybe get Michael Richards to drive!
If the tour happens to pass by the dump, I’ve got a few bags of muffin stumps, and I’d appreciate it if you could drop them off for me.
They are vewy cute lil’ busses. I bet theyn don’t have a lot of miles on them either
Or read the article almost 200,000 miles.
“ The tour will take you on a lap around the famous 2.5-mile oval with a stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway finish line, where you can kiss the historic bricks!”
One can only imagine what sort of contagion outbreak could result from a bus load of tourists from around the world meeting up and kissing bricks together.
Frankly, “Brick Kisser” sounds like something Captain Haddock would yell at fleeing miscreants.
The auction website is not showing these open for bid. Any further knowledge/info is appreciated. DT get out of here. Not enough rust, move along nothing to see here…
OK I got it now. Nevermind.
The site requires registration for bidding. I registered…you know, just in case. Anyway, when I finished the registration process (phone verification, agreeing to terms) the bus auctions now allow me to put in a bid.
Wow. This is just too tempting. Good luck if you end up going for it. Too bad there isn’t a Buy It Now price, just the same.
This is not a topic I was ever expecting to litigate here, but as a former design engineer for these lifts (not the brand pictured however!), the overwhelming reasons we found that they fail is because drivers abuse them and fleets don’t maintain them well.
They are a complex device installed in a rough riding vehicle that usually traverses broken urban roads many hours a day, are rarely used, and are designed for a low upfront cost, because the while the transit agency customers say they want features, longevity, etc, the price is all they care about. Nonetheless, they can last the life of the bus if they are used carefully, inspected and maintained, and not abused.
Awesome context, v10omous!
Color me unsurprised! The one in my RTS still works, but that’s because Texas A&M definitely worked to keep it alive. I think in the 900+ pages of service history I have, wheelchair lift work and radiator work shows up the most. For whatever reason (probably the abuse you mention), TAMU constantly battled lift leaks. But hey, it’s not leaking now, so no complaints from me.
Is yours a DPA (Dual Parallel Arm) similar in style to the ones in these busses? Or does it slide out horizontally from under the bus floor?
An RTS probably could have been equipped with either.
If I recall, it extends out from the interior, but the last time I used it was like two years ago (I scared myself from using it), so don’t quote me on that.
Yep, that kind will slide straight out from under the steps.
Those handles should fold down out of the way and tuck under with the platform as well unless it’s an odd design I haven’t seen before.
To put your mind at ease though, there is always a way to move it manually even if you lose hydraulic pressure or electric power.
Once you convert one of these busses for camping, this officially becomes the ‘beer keg’ lift. You definitely want to make sure it’s in working order.
These both are very cool. Thanks Mercedes! Exactly what I’d like to do a build out on, a great vehicle to use. Wonder about the rust factor though. If these stayed inside the track they are probably good. But once out of the oval all bets are off. Great find.
Now the rest of you folks just stay away from this auction, please…