The Perfect Magic Bus

Our last call this week on Car Talk was from our new best friend, Jay. He’s starting a tour company, hauling wine-soaked tourists through California wine country. His question: What’s the right rig that can haul a dozen tourists in style, with classic looks and a comfy ride – maybe all with a bit of that good, old, California “Magic Bus” feel?

Got any suggestions for Jay? Share them right here!

Tom and Ray

Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers

P.S. Now Jay, how about a pair of tickets to the next tour?

You might look into a Dodge Sprinter. An extended wheelbase 2500 or 3500 is 290-inches long. You probably need to get the cargo version and have it customized. Someone is likely doing it already.

Busses are great. I have had one for 15 years and drive it everyday that I do not ride my bike or walk. Find one you like. They should be 3/4 ton capacity. They will only hold 7 people including driver 2-2-3. You can put a diesel V6 engine in it. The 2 liter fuel injections would probably work, just run them hard I got 260,000 from mine and it was still running. The V6 diesel I think is from Volvo can then be converted to vegi oil, get great mileage, low pollution and get the stuff for free, you just need to strain it. Steve

What you want is a Checker Airport Limosine. These are already stretched versions of the sturdy Checker Sedans so familiar to taxi riders, and the look is pure 50s Chevy. They have multiple doors for easy in 'n out by multiple passengers, and a big trunk. The mechanicals include a tough Chevy V8, automatic transmission and power steering. if you’re looking for an eco angle, these can easily and cheaply be converted to run on either LPG or propane.

Just chop the top (or add a hige sunroof), add an acid hippie 60s paint job and you’re ready to go!

Try a Checker Airport Limo. made from 59 to 71, It’s long and capable of holding 12 people. It’s got a V-8 Chevy motor, usually a Turbo 400 Tranny and 6-8 doors (3-4 on each side). While it is doubtful that it could be ragtopped, it could be Sunroofed like a mid 60’s VW bus with the long canvas cover with snaps. The best of all possible candidates, Built like a tank and Chevy powered and can be made to run off E-85. If interested I know where 2 are sitting waiting to be useful again.

I knew a guy in college who was into restoring old Volkswagen Microbuses and though they were not stretched his solution to their general lack of horsepower was to put Porsche engines and transmissions in them. From what I understand this is a relatively simple thing to do given the similarities between the two in design and configuration.

How about a Trolley Car?

A military deuce and a half 6x6? (Rough ride, though)

Or take an old coach bus and convert it. Maybe just open the roof for sunlight and air?

Last suggestion is a double-decker which has its own indoor/outdoor option built in.

These are bigger than 11 passengers but now you can have bathroom/vomitorium facilities for the inebriated tourists.

I’ve already wasted an hour listening to car talk and now I’ve wasted another 20 minutes here! Good luck!


Here’s another link to smaller buses for sale:

If Jay is looking for something “vintage” but something that will also run (i.e. NOT a VW bus) what he wants is an old Toyota BJ. Some of these are available to fit upwards to 7 passengers without any converting and a little slice and stretch wouldn’t be any more work than a VW and you wouldn’t have to worry about killing the Dub’s poor little air cooled engine up those hills because the Toyo has a big honkin’ diesel. And if he’s REALLY looking to be different he can convert the engine to run off Veg Oil! How bout them apples?

I had the same thought about the National Park Service historic tour busses. One of the buses used by the NPS was produced by the White Motor Company in the 1930s. These are convertable busses that seat 14 passengers and can handle steep terrain. It looks like someone in California bought and restored some of these vehicles and rents them out. Perhaps they have some ideas on how to obtain and restore one and how much it would cost? Maybe you could work together?

Phone: 1-888-989-0185

Web site:

A similar vehicle is the Ford “jammer bus”.

Good Luck!
Shannon in Ohio

Sorry fellas, the BJ was the “little” version. The troop carrier was the HJ. Look for something from the late 70’s, Jay. Good luck!

I thought the concept of an electric battery powered VW bus was interesting – although considering where the electricity comes from, why not just simplify the process and convert the VW to coal-fired steam?

From a practical standpoint, I’d also suggest the Dodge-Mercedes Sprinter. It comes in a variety of lengths, a vast number of colors and you can configure it just about any way you wish. It’s powered by the famous 5-cylinder Mercedes diesel, so I suppose you might even be able to run it on bio-diesel.

I know of a guy who recently bought a '60’s air force diesel school bus in great shape and converted it to run on WVO.


When our family vacationed at Glacier National Park in Montana, the White Motor Company open-topped Red Buses would take people up the “Going-to-the-Sun” Road. Here’s a link:

I have 3 suggestions:

  1. A Ford Rachero or the Chevy equivalent. Stretch the truck bed part, install seats and voila’, you’ve got an open vintage car with plenty of power. The drop down tailgate could be adapted for the entrance
  2. Any late 50’s to mid '60’s Cadillac limo, stretched further, with the top cut off.
  3. Same as #2 above, except a hearse - stretch it and cut the top off.

i live in silver lake, michigan, and their are these sand dune rides, they use old dodge power wagons, and international trucks, they fit about 20 people, and they have plenty of power for the hills. heair is their site

In Estes Park, Colorado several of us took a ride across some steep and rough terrain through the Rocky Mt. National Park in an old Army deuce and a quater. I cannot remember the name of the company that uses them. They are a rough but fun ride and go literraly. Also in Glacier National Park they use some old Ford motor buses and converted them to use propane for a more enviromentally friendly alternative. They look a lot like the white busses someone else listed, but these are red.

The buses used in Yellowstone and Glacier are pefect and the Park Service has recently made them safer and more fuel efficent.

I’ve got it! A 73 Mercedes Benz 13 passenger + driver. It is a diesel, with a large storage area in rear to convert to a Bio diesel. Very good original condition, 83,000 miles. My Dad bought this bus in Los Gatos from Gallo wine, it was used for wine tours! We live in Port Townsend WA, a neat little town with a hand full of Santa Cruzians, myself included. It is a very cool bus, gets lots of smiles when we cruse it around. $17,500 Great price!
Call Marshall Raney (360) 379-5451 Back in town sunday
or Michele Raney (360) 344-3864