Dear Autopians, I have to confess that I have been looking for a GM New Look bus to join my RTS. Thankfully, I’ve been finding exactly zero original New Looks for sale and the drought has been over a year long. Instead, in my searches I’ve found other interesting buses. One of them is this 1974 Crown Supercoach. This bus started life as a school bus, but at some point, someone converted it into a motorhome. It’s powered by a mid-mounted Cummins diesel engine, shifted with a manual transmission, and the conversion work is rather impressive.
When I first laid eyes on this bus I was confused. I’ve never seen a Crown coach so tall as this one before, but it certainly has Crown’s distinctive front-end design. After some digging, I’ve realized that this bus has been given a roof raise. Normally, that wouldn’t be much to talk about. School bus motorhome builders raise the roofs of their skoolies all of the time. However, usually, the end result is still something that quite obviously looks like a school bus that was converted. This bus is not that:
When I look at it, I see something that could have rolled out of a factory like this. Whoever did the conversion went through the work to preserve the roof’s design and seemingly went as far as to extend the windshield area, including sourcing larger glass. That’s a level of detail some builders wouldn’t even bother with.
The Crown Coach Corporation
This bus was originally produced by the Crown Coach Corporation. Crown was a manufacturer that did not survive to the modern day, but our older readers on the west coast may have ridden in a Crown bus in the past. I say west coast because Crown started life as Crown Carriage Company in 1904 in Los Angeles, California. Crown was founded by Don Murrillo Brockway and in those days, the company was a coachbuilder known for mail coaches and depot hacks. Brockway previously hunted buffalo for a railroad before moving to Los Angeles and working for Ernst and Rucker, the city’s first hardware store. His real passion was in wagons and carriages and that was the motivation for founding Crown.
As the Crown Coach Historical Society writes, in 1910, the horse-drawn carriage began losing ground to motor trucks. Apparently, Brockway believed that the horse could never be replaced, but reluctantly started building truck bodies, anyway. Brockway’s focus on horse-drawn vehicles continued into 1916, when Crown began constructing open-air buses on Federal truck chassis.
Winds of change came in 1921 when Don’s son, Murillo M. Brockway joined the family business. The son could see what his father couldn’t. The horse was losing to the gasoline engine and the company’s fortunes were not in horse-drawn wagons. As the Crown Coach Historical Society writes, gasoline-powered buses were becoming common in the region. Eventually, the elder Brockway was convinced and Murillo was put in charge of the company’s school bus operation. Reportedly, the workers couldn’t remember Murillo’s name and eventually, they just started calling him “Brock.”
The move to buses turned out to be the correct one and, in 1923, Crown moved to a larger facility to meet the high demand. Horse-drawn wagons were phased out entirely as the company went all-in on buses and truck bodies. From there, the company would evolve its buses and even get into airplane manufacturing.
In 1927, Crown changed its name to Crown Motor Carriage Company and introduced what is said to be the first school bus with dual rear wheels for greater passenger capacity. In 1930, Crown’s 43-passenger school bus rode on a Mack chassis and for the first time, the company’s buses featured metal bodies.
Two years later, Crown introduced what’s said to be the first school bus with an all-steel body and its frame integrated into the body via welding. That year also saw Crown move to a cabover design and safety features included backup braking systems and safety glass. Those windows slid open, an upgrade over the previous design utilizing roll-up curtains. By 1935, the cab-forward school bus grew to carry 79 passengers and it would earn the name Super Coach.
This 1974 Crown Supercoach comes after Crown evolved its bus through the decades, including making the “Super Coach” name just a single word. Over those decades, the Crown Supercoach continued to be built on a channel frame integrated into the body through welding. Typical buses of the day were bodies that were bolted to ladder frames. Crown also departed from the norm by placing its engines toward the middle of its buses, under the floors.
In the 1950s, Crown expanded its line by turning its basic bus design into fire engines, prison buses, and even a weird bus-based straight truck. The company also got into highway and intercity coaches (below) 1954 was another important year for the company as it saw the launch of what is said to be the first diesel-powered school bus. Crown buses were also known for their strength.
The company built its bus structures out of high-tensile steel and draped that structure in aluminum body panels. Safety was huge at Crown and the roof featured thick door panels. Crown was so confident in the longevity and durability of its buses that its warranties were reportedly as long as 20 years and 150,000 miles. And the buses became absolute beasts, including three axle units with a 97-passenger capacity.
This 1974 Crown Supercoach started life as a school bus before it was converted into a motorhome over the span of three years, from 2015 to 2018. The seller confirms that the roof was indeed raised a whole foot. And in doing so, the builders maintained a factory look by replacing the front glass. I’m still impressed with that part.
Located in the middle of this bus is a Cummins NHH-250. This is an 855 cubic-inch inline-six diesel making 250 HP and 658 lb-ft torque. These engines were known as “pancake” engines due to their horizontal layout that allowed fitment under bus floors. That engine drives the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. The Cummins engine below is a similar design:
The camper conversion part is another sight to behold. The interior features color-matched accents and the floorplan looks like something an RV manufacturer would build. I especially adore the use of lighter woods and lighter colors, which give the interior an airy feeling.
Also great was the choice to replace the bus windows with large RV windows. I probably would have gone with even more windows, but they also seem to lend to the lighter vibes of this camper interior.
The list of features is pretty great, too, from the seller:
The home batteries are new (2022) and rated at 400AH with a Xantrex 3000watt inverter/charger. The fresh water tanks can hold 100 gallons, grey tanks 110 gallons, and black tank 55 gallons. There are 2 heat pumps/AC, one diesel heater, a propane oven, propane on demand heater, and a high efficiency apartment sized fridge.
Other goodies not mentioned in the listing are a large shower skylight, a combination clothes washer and dryer, and a sizable bathroom with running water. Notable for me is the inclusion of what appears to be a full-size shower. Have you ever camped in a modern camper? Those showers get impossibly tiny! This? Oh, I could take a long shower in this bus. Really, I love this whole interior and it’s one of my favorite custom campers this year thus far.
Not Going Anywhere Quickly
Sadly, there is a downside to this bus and it’s one of the downsides that goes with converting a school bus into a motorhome. Many school buses aren’t built to go down a highway. You have to pay attention to factors like rear-end gearing and limiters, if they exist. My Nova Bus RTS-06 goes 70 mph, as did my old International 3800 skoolie project. Some buses are geared for speeds less than that. I’ve seen a school bus with a top speed as low as 45 mph. The seller says that this bus tops out at 55 mph.
In the listing, the seller explained that they expected to stay in one place a lot, so the focus of the build was on making a cozy living space. They didn’t see the benefit in regearing or repowering the bus to reach a greater top speed. Still, the bus has shown itself to be capable enough to get to Yellowstone National Park and back to Ohio without major issues. The seller says that it leaks a little from the water pump, necessitating coolant top-ups.
If you want more speed out of the bus, an inexpensive hack would be sizing up the rear tires as tall as you could get them. You’ll accelerate slower but gain just a little more top end. Aside from that, you’ll probably be looking at new gearing. The seller wants $45,000 for the bus. Given the fact that it’s a piece of history that you could travel the country in, I think that’s a fair price. The gearing can wait if it needed to, I suppose. This is the perfect machine to take down Route 66 or the kinds of roads where speed doesn’t matter.
As for Crown, the Brockway family owned the company until 1979, when they passed the brand on to a new owner. The Crown Supercoac itself managed to march forward through over 40 years of production seeing only evolutionary updates.
Over time, the company would go into a state of decline. Crown tried to diversify with an articulated bus built in a joint venture with Ikarus Body and Coach Works but it, along with a line of different owners, failed to keep the business afloat. Crown closed in 1991. Then owner GE Capital Railcar Services cited the company’s inability to compete with cheaper and smaller school buses.
(Images: Seller, unless otherwise noted.)
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