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Wayne Busette: Wikis

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The Wayne Busette was the first small school bus designed on a cutaway van chassis. A product of Wayne Corporation of Richmond, Indiana first developed in 1972, the Busette utilized a van chassis equipped with dual rear wheels. With a low center of gravity, Busette provided an exceptional combination of increased seating capacity and handling stability over conventional vans and van conversions.

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Overview

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Cutaway van chassis

By the early 1970s, Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors were all manufacturing many models of passenger vans. Chrysler's Dodge Ram Wagon and Plymouth Voyager each had a maximum seating capacity of 14 persons plus a driver; these came to be commonly known as 15-passenger vans, eventually joined by similar models by the other manufacturers. Conversions of full-size vans into personal motor homes became very popular, drawing the interest of recreational vehicle manufacturers.

In the early 1970s, the so-called "Big Three" (Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors) began working on bigger models of their popular full-size vans, but intended these chassis solely for use by second stage manufacturers. Second stage manufacturers build such products as bus and truck bodies, motor homes, and other specialized vehicles. Neither their product, nor the first stage portion, called an incomplete motor vehicle, are fully-compliant with requirements for a complete motor vehicle. Neither portion can be licensed or operated lawfully without the other.

Featuring a van front end and cab design, the body ended immediately behind the driver and front passenger seats, and usually was covered by temporary plywood or heavy cardboard material for shipment to the various second stage manufacturers. It was soon known by the name cutaway van chassis in recognition of this feature.

A cutaway school bus

In the early 1970s, Wayne Corporation began experimenting with an expanded cutaway van chassis with dual rear wheels. As a light duty vehicle, a bus body built upon the incomplete cutaway chassis could be marketed and serviced by automobile dealers, a major advantage.

Wayne's initial prototype was built on a Ford Econoline cutaway van platform and had dual rear wheels. With four rows of seats behind the driver, it was named "Busette". The overall weight was kept down by maintaining 63" of headroom, which facilitated seating for up to 24 children, but limited standing room for most adults.

The Busette prototype on the Ford Econoline chassis was well-received. Initial production began in 1973 on Chrysler's Dodge chassis. Chevrolet and GMC brand-names were added the following year. Due to differences in cutaway floor construction of Chrysler, Ford, and GM products, Ford production was deferred until 1981. At first, curbside entry was provided through a makeshift arrangement utilizing the stock right side van door. However, soon a more conventional school bus door and step well were added as an option.

Busette proved to be a very popular Wayne product. School bus versions of the Busette were widely accepted by Head Start and special education programs. In comparison, the dual rear-wheel design was favorable to single rear wheels due to its greater stability. The low headroom made the Busette seem less big to drivers transitioning from passenger vans to a bus.

Transette: higher headroom

In 1975, a higher headroom version for adult transportation was developed called Transette. Wayne changed the Busette to include higher headroom and a bus-style walk-in door. Since the Transette was bound by school bus safety standards, Wayne also added features like larger side windows, standee windows, and non-school bus seats. Also, air conditioning was made available as an option.

The prototype was introduced to the dealer organization in the fall of 1975 at the Annual Wayne Dealer Sales Meeting, held that year at Richmond, Indiana. Dealers were very enthusiastic about the new Transette product. In early 1976, the prototype Transette was introduced on a nationwide tour, and orders began rolling in. One market for which the Transette proved exceptionally well-suited was car rental shuttles at airports. Within a single year, Wayne Transette minibuses became the primary small shuttle vehicle for all the major rental car companies: Hertz, Avis, National, Budget, and Dollar rent-a-car organizations each had many units at or near most of their US airport locations.

Busette and Transette minibuses offered wheelchair ramps and electro-hydraulic lifts which had been developed by accessibility product pioneers Don Collins, a former Wayne dealer, and founder of Collins Bus Corporation which grew into a major small bus builder, and Ralph Braun, a disabled man who started Braun Industries with products developed in his garage. Transette became especially popular in small town transit and paratransit dial-a-ride type services in the US.

Competing products

By the early 1980s, all five of the major school bus body companies in the United States had developed competing products built on the cutaway van chassis. These manufacturers were joined by several others which specialized in small school buses. In the early 1990s, Mid Bus, an Ohio manufacturer specializing in small school buses, purchased the tooling and product rights to build the Busette from Wayne Corporation.

In modern times, more small school buses are based upon cutaway van chassis than any other type. But, the innovative Wayne Busette was the first.


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