I used to write a lot about school buses turned into campers. I had a doomed “skoolie” project because I just couldn’t get enough of what others were doing with their buses. I still check in on what’s going on in the skoolie world from time to time; in fact, I recently found a skoolie build that’s as amazing as it is expensive. This 2010 Collins Type A looks like a regular school bus on the outside, but it’s a cozy camper inside. Perhaps the wildest part is that it was apparently built in five days for a television show, but is it worth $75,000?
Visiting two of the largest RV shows has only cemented my love for custom builds. There’s nothing wrong with buying a new camper built in a factory, but as you’ve seen me say time and time again, there isn’t a ton of variety unless you go with an independent manufacturer. Want an interior that has a lot more going on than paper-thin walls and parts that fall off? If you’re handy enough, you can build your own motorhome. Or, buy one that someone else made. Going with a custom build means that you can get a camper that’s pretty special.
That’s what you’re getting with this 2010 Collins Type A school bus for sale in Kansas City, Missouri.
Now, I’ll say right from the jump that $75,000 for a converted small school bus seems like a crazy amount of money. You can get a number of really cool campers for less than that. I’ve written about many of them before! With that said, I love what’s going on here. The team that built it managed to give the bus everything you need for a road trip and apparently did it in just five days.
The Collins Bus Corporation launched in 1967 by Don Collins in Kansas City, Missouri. The company, which started life as E-CON-O Conversion, claims to have built the first small school bus based on a van. Many small school buses back then were vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban or International Harvester Travelall, but painted yellow with lights on the roof. Collins says that it was the first to take Ford Falcon vans and kit them out for school transportation use.
E-CON-O would continue to innovate from there. It moved to Hutchinson, Kansas in 1972, renaming itself as Collins Industries. A decade later, Collins claimed to have built the first Type A school bus (short buses based on vans) for passengers with special needs. And in 1999, the company says it made the first multi-function school activity bus. Collins was acquired by REV Group in 2006, where it now resides alongside brands like Fleetwood RV, Lance truck campers, and Holiday Rambler motorhomes. Today, Collins says it’s the largest North American manufacturer of Type A school buses.
This Collins Type A is based on a 2010 Chevrolet Express 3500 cutaway powered by a 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V8 making 250 HP and 460 lb-ft torque. Diesel engines are generally great for coaches, where, in comparison, gas engines end up guzzling fuel. Here, the diesel’s benefit isn’t that huge. According to skoolie builders, these will get perhaps 14 mpg compared to about 13 mpg with a gas engine. The real benefit is the torque, which would be useful for towing or climbing mountains.
Either way, this skoolie is built on a solid chassis that shouldn’t be too hard to keep on the road.
As Seen On TV
This bus was built during the television show Gutted. Launched in 2022, Gutted is a show where teams of builders compete to overhaul a vehicle in just five days. It’s reality TV, so of course there’s an arbitrary deadline to meet. The show has a basic formula where a team converts a van, another team renovates an RV, and the last team converts a school bus. Reportedly, Gutted exists as a way to advertise social media influencers and brands without directly being an advertisement. The show is also hosted in an unconventional place; the Blankspace social media platform.
What’s important here is that Gutted happens live, so, apparently, there’s none of that behind-the-scenes magic that you get with typical reality TV. Those who go to the Gutted event also can learn how to build their own RVs, which is pretty neat.
YouTube channel Kels And Jay explain that their team, who built the interior of the Collins bus, comprised DIY bus RV converters from five additional YouTube channels. I checked out all of their channels and it seems that the deck was stacked with people who enjoy building campers. The video below doesn’t detail the build, just what building a school bus for a TV show is apparently like:
This Bus Conversion
This skoolie was built for season two of Gutted, which airs sometime between this month and the middle of this year. Yep, this means that someone can buy this now and then, later on, watch how it was built, provided they have the Blankspace app, anyway.
Looking into the bus, it’s sort of incredible what the builders achieved in just five days. The interior is decked out top to bottom in wood and there are real walls in there. I’ve seen a lot of skoolie builds where the bare metal school bus walls are left as-is. Here, the builders went through the work to make walls that look more at home in an RV. That’s a nice touch.
I also dig the cabinet/table/display case sitting behind the driver seat. It looks like for display, some painting supplies and perhaps a bottle of booze were put into the case. I see this being a good place for your mobile office as well as a dining table since there does not appear to be one elsewhere in the camper.
There’s some clever use of space going on in here as well. In the parts of the camper where you’re not going to be standing, such as the couch and cabinet behind the driver seat, there’s a shelf where you can display your favorite memorabilia and decorations.
The seller notes that the camper sports a bathroom that includes a full tile shower and what appears to be a toilet, a 540 Ah solar power system, an induction cooktop, a refrigerator, sink, and other features not noted. No information is provided about water and waste tanks, heating, or cooling, though it does appear that the bus has its own air-conditioner. I reached out to the seller for more information.
I think my favorite feature here is the full shower. It’s bigger than the showers that you get in many travel trailers! I’ve written about a number of these baby school bus campers and they often miss out on the bathroom.
This has that and what appears to be everything that you need. One thing that I’m not fond of is the lack of a passenger seat. This camper seems perfect for a couple, but whoever is riding in the bus has to sit on the bench, which isn’t great.
I’m also on the fence about the $75,000 price. As I said before, that pile of cash does buy something pretty decent in the RV world. Though at the same time, it is cheaper than even the cheapest camper vans that you can get from Airstream or Winnebago while offering way more punch. So, for now, this is going to be some eye candy, and I don’t mind staring at it. If you happen to be the buyer this seller is looking for, you can scoop it up in Kansas City, Missouri.
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That ‘bench’ looks like one of the original seats laid on its back. I can see it being a cute air bnb in someone’s backyard.
How well does a tiled bathroom hold up to travel, especially on some of the not quite smooth roads in campgrounds?
I’d think a fiberglass drop in unit, while not as attractive, would be MUCH better suited to this.
It’s a glamper, not a camper. I wouldn’t want wood flooring in something that I expect will have wet and muddy stuff dragged into it on a regular basis. Vinyl plank with a thick underlayment is what I would go with.
How about that loose bar stool? That is a literal loose cannon. Where and how is it secured while underway? It is required if you want to sit at the workstation and do work, so it it can’t be just a prop for the photos.
I wonder what the interior height is?
Climbing into bed from the head of bed would get old fast. Where do you keep your clothes? Your lawnchair? Your dirty hiking boots? Your toolbox?
Not worth $75k it looks nice, but actual usability is not optimized.
It’s just TV nonsense, starting with the artificial deadline. I cannot watch anything where “the clock is ticking, only twenty-six hours until the whatever”.
How well does the tile hold up? Probably about as well as that guitar and plant will do up on the shelf during travel…
This photographs well… but I suspect it wouldn’t be great when it was moving.
I also think the decision to have the toilet exposed in the open right next to the kitchen area is a… bad move. The entire toilet/shower area, while looking nice in photos… is probably something most of us wouldn’t care for in use.
$75,000 doesn’t sound that crazy when you consider that school buses are built like absolute tanks, whereas a cheap (or sometimes even an expensive) RV is built like a Happy Meal toy.
School buses pull pretty rough duty, and they have to do it while containing dozens of unsupervised children, day in day out, for years, in all kinds of weather. They can do that and still have a ton of life left in them for a second career as someone’s mobile living quarters.
RVs sit under an awning and get pulled out a couple times a year for nice gentle cruise down the highway, and sometimes can’t even survive that for more than a couple years without springing a leak or having some other catastrophic failure, assuming that they don’t come broken from the factory, which is hardly a given.
School buses are a fantastic platform. After that, I can easily see spending several tens of thousands of dollars on the inside. You could do it cheaper if you cut corners, scrounged a lot, and/or went for a really minimalist build, but I could also see an interior that literally looks like a million bucks. It just depends on what you decide to do in there.
Exactly that school bus sold for more than $75,000 new and this is self contained and self powered. The $48,000 trailers we see dont include the cost of a tow vehicle. They are just puny and (can be towed by most vehicles.)
For $75K it better not look like an on-duty short bus on the outside.
It’s a made-for-TV build. They want the audience to see a regular old school bus on the outside for the dramatic reveal of the interior. If you actually bought this bus I would bet that the novelty of an untouched exterior would get old really fast.
I would absolutely keep it yellow! I would definitely have fun with the graphics though, with made up school districts and so on.
And rename it Cool Bus. (I’m sure that’s never been done before.)
I like that idea. Put “School of Hard Knocks” on the side and call it good.
Or “School of Rock”.
“but is it worth $75,000?”
Maybe I’m being too harsh here.
It’s been on FB for 18 weeks. That’s a first indicator that this is not “worth it”.
Second, it reminds me of “Pimp my Ride” – glam up the inside but don’t actually fix the reason it was taken in. “My Wagoneer starts hard and runs rough” –> “Great news, we put a tool box in the back, some blingy wheels, and didn’t touch the drivetrain”.
Third, does anyone like working on a Duramax in a Chevy van chassis? IIRC this era Duramax has some known issues. If those weren’t resolved it seems like a pain.
Yeah.. the “pimp my ride” factor is what would put me off of it. Watching (well, skipping through) the actual video makes me a lot more optimistic about parts of it. The quick shot of wiring at 2:01 looks neatly done, and all Victron and Battleborn gear. The ceiling looks like it actually has some insulation in it. I assume a trip along a bumpy road will mean some tile shards on the floor, though.
It’s amazing what can be done in a short amount of time if you spend months and months of preparation planning, buying materials, etc. If they were randomly told “here’s a bus, make it an RV” without any warning, it would not look as nice.
Speaking of looking nice, it’s already been touched on, but this is for TV and not for actual life. All that siding, tile work, etc. weighs a ton. 26 kids weigh a fair amount too, but I’m pretty sure we’re pushing the bounds here. Additionally, tile and grout do not handle flexure well; something that bus is going to do plenty of the second it moves. The kids on the bus don’t go completely stationary without any movement at all, all through the town after all. Then you’ve got rust.
Dammit. I’m on the hunt for a tiny Class C (tow the racecar, sleep the team at the race), and I most certainly do NOT need outside influences trying to convince me that I could turn a bus into a sleeping unit in a month of weekends. *It’s only TV. It’s only TV. It’s only TV.*
Its interesting the Heating/ AC unit is still on the header above the back door and is probably original to the bus- so big savings there. IS the fridge that little drawer under the island- maybe good for a small weekend away.
Someone asked about the tile- while traditional grout wouldn’t work, fairly wider grout lines work and most mastic is Vinyl these days (Caulk for grout), so with the proper caulked flex joints, you’er going to be OK with most of the tile, but you gotta keep that thing dry (towel out the shower after every use and spray with chlorine based cleaner).
Granted I didn’t watch the video- but if they solved the generator, and holding tank placement issues in this small package- it could be a really cool rig.
This looks a little better thought out than “the machine for looking at” on the German lighting site but still not fully realized. I would also like a really close look at the electrical and plumbing work after seeing some of Rolling Living’s clean up jobs.
I love this design.
If the builder chose a longer-wheelbase schoolbus, they could have made the toilet and shower private, and isolated away from the kitchen, while keeping a hallway towards the back so that the rear door can serve as a 2nd entry/exit point. A rolling tinyhome on wheels.
Genuinely I think a proper camper trailer is better housing than many apartments and many rental homes. I’ve know several people who have lived in rentals with black mold because they couldn’t afford anything else and if the owner was going to fix the black mold they’d subsequently jack the rent up to make more money because of the lack of black mold and to pay for the cost of removing the black mold.
While a bus or van conversion is nice if you have any serious mechanical issues it needs to go into a shop for you’re without a house and are stuck in a hotel and the costs of which add up pretty quickly.
The main disadvantages to trailers are that if you intend on being mobile in one you need a rig that can pull it, and while pulling it you’ll have a hard time finding parking, and you’ll be paying a lot in gas, but the nice thing is trailers are cheap (to make at least) and are simple mechanically.
I think once liquid cooled solar panels make it onto RVs and they tie into a small battery bank and with an instant hot water heater you’ll have quite the rig. There have been advancements in greywater filtering and reuse that could allow for you to have a very small grey water tank, and with incinerator toilets and such you can avoid a lot of the blackwater issues.
Honestly Trailers are highly underrated, they last for a long time, they’re very easy to repair and maintain, and while cars come and go trailers stick around.
Honestly I think that if we used trailers more often than self propelled equivalents the world would be a better place. Instead of busses that get scrapped when their drivetrain goes kaput you can have trailer busses and you just switch out the tractor unit as needed for maintenance, repair, replacement, etc. Instead of having these massive motorhomes that hardly ever get used, fall apart, and then get scrapped you got trailers that hold up much better long term, keep their value much better, etc.
Not to mention hydraulic fluid is horrible stuff and 1 liter of it can poison up to 1 MILLION liters of water. Pneumatics and electrics are much better, and trailers are the main users of electric brakes and pneumatic brakes, and with a light enough trailer you don’t even need trailer brakes!
And probably most important issue of all: Pickups. I love pickups, but I never want to use a pickup for pickup duties. I care to much about my cars to willingly beat them up like I would a utility trailer, and for unibody pickups bed damage is structural damage, so you can’t afford to let it rust through.
Think of any pickup on the market. Now imagine it without a bed (if using a traditional trailer tow bar) or with a short bed just big enough for a fifth wheel or gooseneck. Now can you see how much shorter all of those vehicles would be without a bed? Considering most pickup drivers rarely have anything in the bed the pickups would be much shorter most of the time resulting in much better turning circles (some still having a better turning circle even with a trailer than the ones with a bed), much shorter length making it easier to park in general, lower weight, etc.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for banning pickups, I just think they’re mostly stupid, and I own one.
I’d much rather have a properly small car or SUV with a trailer (or several trailers) than a pickup truck.
Honestly if Toyota made a new iQ as a hybrid that gets 35+ MPG with AWD-e using a tire size you can get snow tires for and it could tow 1000lbs I’d buy like 3 of them and put all but 1 in storage so I can drive them for the rest of my life. As much as I like manuals and such I’d give it all up for a properly small car with at least seating for 3 (including the driver), a properly tight turning circle, AWD or 4WD, and the ability to tow 1000lbs. I have a hard enough time parking my 94 Toyota and it’s 6.6 inches shorter and 5.9 inches narrower than the smallest new street legal pickup in the US which is the Ford Maverick.
Anecdote to support your comments:
A neighbor was getting rid of a refrigerator. Someone showed up in a 4-door pickup truck with all seats filled. Sounds like a good move, right?
Only two of those people did any work, and they had a small trailer for the refrigerator. That pickup truck bed was doing nothing for them.
Love it. But maybe they have to tow a 8,000lb boat across a mountain with all four people once a week?