Earlier this year, I said goodbye to my nightmare skoolie project. I also decided to get my dream U-Haul fiberglass camper instead of converting a piece of transit history. Despite that, I still pay attention to what’s going on in the skoolie world. Today, I found camper conversion that’s both small without also compromising on equipment. This 2009 GMC Savana 3500 school bus camper conversion almost has it all, and you won’t even need to shower outside.
Some of you have sent me emails or even told me at our car show that since starting here I haven’t written much about skoolies and wacky camper conversions. Looking at my history, you’d be right. So, let’s change that! And I think that I found a decent one.
A number of the school bus conversions that I have written about for a while were built out of large buses. Big buses are great! I find them fun to drive and you have lots of space for whatever your mind cooks up. But, fuel economy isn’t nearly as fun and you need an extra-large space to park the things. Plus, you still have to drive a big bus that would normally require a CDL if it weren’t registered as an RV. So, there’s an appeal to going small.
But I sometimes find myself disappointed by smaller builds that lack amenities like toilets, showers, or places to put your cookware that won’t send a pan into the back of your head on hard braking. For an example, check out this skoolie of roughly the same size:
It’s gorgeous, right? But it doesn’t have a bathroom, and the kitchen’s refrigerator does have a lot of space. Oh, and you don’t get an oven, either.
That’s what makes this little 2009 GMC Savana 3500 refreshing to me. It looks like its builder actually thought about having to use it for camping. And the seller claims to have camped in it over a year and 28,000 miles, so it seems to do the job.
This bus started off as a Thomas Minotour. As vehicle history site Coachbuilt notes, the Minotour has been in production since 1980. And “Thomas Built Buses” itself has an interesting history. It started in 1916 by Perley A. Thomas to build streetcars. It built streetcars until 1936, when it followed industry trends and started building buses.
In 1980, the cutaway chassis cab van was still a fresh concept. In the 1970s, the Big Three introduced models of their vans that featured the forward cab up front and a bare chassis out back. These cutaway vans allowed body manufacturers to build a variety of small and medium-sized commercial vehicles on the back of an existing vehicle. For Thomas Built Buses, it meant the backbone for a 30-passenger school bus.
It isn’t said when this 2009 was taken out of service, but it looks like it survived school service well. Mileage isn’t noted, but under the short hood is a 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V8. This is good for 250 horsepower and 460 lb-ft torque.
Of course, the big reason to go diesel with something like this is the fuel economy. The seller says that it scores 15 to 17 mpg. In my experience, an equivalent gasoline-powered bus of this size would get about 12 mpg.
The living space of the bus is built out like a cabin in the woods. The first thing that I love is that directly behind the driver seat is the bathroom, which features a toilet and shower.
The room is lined with cedar and you get a big window to look out of while you read the Morning Dump in the morning.
Aft from there is a wall of National Park maps, a couch, and then the kitchen. I love this, too, because the refrigerator is large enough that you could get by without having a separate cooler. And there’s an RV-style range with burners on top and an oven.
For electrical power, it features power outlets, 400 Watts of solar power, a 300Ah house battery, and an inverter.
In the back of the camper is another couch, which leads out the back door to a porch. From there, you can climb a wooden ladder up to the party deck. It looks like a rather nice place to pop a chair and watch a sunset.
It looks like you don’t get an air-conditioner, but there’s already a spot to add that. Like I said before, it looks like the builder thought about having to camp in the thing. They didn’t try to chop the roof off to raise it and the builder even thought about storing stuff while on the road. I reached out to the seller for more insight, and I’ll update this if they get back to me.
The asking price is also pretty reasonable. At $29,999 it’s not the cheapest thing out there, but it seems to have a decent bang for its price. That aforementioned pretty bus above is $58,000 and doesn’t have nearly the same amount of kit. This little bus makes me wonder: Would you rather camp in something like this, or buy one of the many campers coming out of factories in Indiana?