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Dodge School Buses

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An advertisement for 1929 Dodge Brothers school buses claimed that the "Chassis and body alike are constructed according to the Dodge Brothers standard of quality - and each is built for the other." Rather than sending chassis to upsellers, they built their school buses as complete units. (Another, 4-page ad is at the bottom of this page - both courtesy of Ted Finlayson-Schueler.)

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The next school bus ad we could find was from 1934, and was listed on the Bus Explorer site; it had a choice of Dodge Brothers chassis, Graham Brothers chassis, and Wayne All Steel Coach Company chassis; that 1934 was used for 22 years, and is now in the Churchill County Museum.

Another Dodge-chassis early bus showed up in 1936, with the body built by Carpenter Body Works; currently in the Smithsonian collection, it was used in Martinsburg, Indiana, and survived as a traveling store through 1962.

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Starting in the 1940s, Superior Coach used Dodge chassis for its buses along with other brands.

In the 1960s and 1970s, numerous Dodge-based buses were built by Blue Bird (now part of Cerberus), Ward, Wayne, Superior, Thomas, Collins, U.S. Bus, and Carpenter. Dodge was by then, a full line manufacturer making medium and heavy duty commercial trucks as well as cars and light pickups. For the moment, buses even carried the Dodge name on the front.

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The 1968 Dodge bus chassis was used by Superior Coach (Ohio), Perley A. Thomas Car Works (North Carolina), Wayne Works (Indiana), Ward Body Works (Arkansas), Blue Bird (Georgia), and Carpenter Body Works (Indiana), which by then had at least 34 years of experience.

Two chassis were available, the S500 and S600, with four wheelbases. The S500 was rated for 48 pupils with the 197 inch wheelbase, 54 with 221 inches. The S600 was available in 60 and 66 pupil lengths, with wheelbasese of 240 and 258 inches respectively. The maximum body length ranged from 22 feet, 2 inches on the shortest S500 to a full 29 feet on the longest S600.

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Chrome plating added to some parts for brochure illustrations only

Three engines were available, starting with the 225 cubic inch slant six, rated at 140 gross horsepower at 3,900 rpm (around 100 net horsepower), with bimetal connecting rod bearings and Stellite-faced rotating exhaust valves for durability. The LA 318, introduced in 1968, was 10% lighter than the prior A-series 318, but made more power, with the same gas mileage, on regular gas instead of premium. It had a hardened, shot-peened crankshaft, trimetal main and connecting rod bearings, Stellite-faced exhaust valves with rotators, and stainless steel head gaskets, and was standard on the S600.

Both chassis had an optional 361 V8, one of the original B-engines, rated at 186 horsepower at 4,000 rpm; it had induction-hardened crankshaft journals, trimetal main and connecting rod bearings, hydraulic valve lifters, sodium-filled rotating exhaust valves (not used in the car engines), and a chrome-alloy cast-iron block.

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Key features of the 1968 Dodge chassis included:

  • Driveshaft guards, to protect people if the driveshaft was damaged
  • Gas tank outside the body, for student safety in case of a fire
  • Exhaust pipes extended beyond the rear to carry fumes away
  • Full-floating Eaton or Rockwell axles; optional two-speed axles
  • Large, hydraulically-activated clutches with 11-13 inch single plates
  • Standard four-speed New Process Model 435 synchronized manual transmission, with an optional Allison MT30 six-speed automatic on S600
  • Carbon-steel frame side rails and box sections, with alligator-jaw crossmembers
  • Vacuum-hydraulic brakes with dual braking; optional 1,000 cubic inch vacuum reserve tank (and optional full air brakes on S600)
  • 70 amp-hour battery with optional relocation to the frame side rail
  • Long and wide semi-elliptic leaf springs in front; optional rear shocks, standard front shocks
  • Worm and roller steering, optional power steering
  • Variable-rate rear suspensions with mechanical-automatic load matching
  • Transmission-mounted parking/emergency brake controlled by an Orschein lever adjusted from the driver's seat
  • Full-flow, replaceable element oil filter and oil bath air cleaner

Maximum cargo weight ranged from 3/4 to a full ton; both had extra-wide double doors on the right side and rear for easy loading or handicapped entrance. Several seating arrangements were available. Features of these vans included a heavy duty rear axle, large breaks, fifteen-inch wheels, and slant six or V8 power.

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Schools could also use the Dodge Sportsman wagon for both kids and cargo; the Sportsman came with two wheelbases, 90 inch (213 cubic feet of space) and 108 inch (252 cubic feet). Coach advertised their 1974-75 "Fortivan" version as being "four times safer" than full size buses, though there was likely some optimistic thinking in their figures. Wayne, meanwhile, said their own Dodge-based full-size bus was the safest in 1973 and 1974 - dubbing it "the Lifeguard."

Wayne Corporation's Busette was the first school bus built on a van chassis; it had dual rear wheels, and had better seating capacity than standard vans or conversions (Dodge maxed out at 14 passengers). While a prototype used the Ford Econoline, the production units exclusively used Dodge chassis in 1973, with GM added in 1974, and Ford not showing up until 1981. The Busette used a widened floor structure and complete new body.

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The 1974 Dodge medium-duty trucks were also the basis for school buses; changes from 1973 included a larger windshield and a lower floor, without a step well, for easier access. The cab roof and back panel were double-walled for safety and redued noise; sound deadeners between the cab and engine bay also cut noise. The base engine for buses based on the medium-Duty Dodges was still the 318, and the 361 was still optional - as was, for the D800, a two-barrel 413.

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The following advertisement (4 pages) was supplied by Ted Finlayson-Schueler - thank you!

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