A Rat-Rod ’41 Chevy School Bus with a P-pumped 12-Valve
Between running a construction company, operating a bar, owning a carwash, and managing several rental properties, life can get pretty hectic for central Illinois entrepreneur, Jason Bliesner. Meet his escape vehicle: a chopped and lowered, Cummins-swapped ’41 Chevy school bus. Thanks to Jason’s rat-rod approach to his people-hauler, the bus retains its original look while also packing a well-fueled, 12-valve 5.9L, compound turbos, and a full air-ride suspension. An updated interior also allows him to bring a dozen friends along for the ride on his much-needed weekend excursions. You won’t always find Jason cruising in the fast lane, but let’s just say his magic school bus gets 15-mpg at 80-mph.
On a mission to quench his thirst to build a school bus-based rat-rod, Jason and his father found themselves at an auction 700 miles from home, hoping to be the highest bidders on an old Ford bus. However, when the Blue Oval went for $9,000 they set their sights on following a lead on a Chevy. For a cool $2,700, Jason brought the ’41 back home and then took off for Iowa to pick up the 5.9L Cummins he’d purchased for it. He knew right from the start that he wanted to go diesel with the project. “I like anything weird,” he admitted. “I wanted to do a rat-rod project but do it differently.”
Though he knew the 5.9L Cummins ran when it was pulled out of the Ford school bus it was powering, Jason also knew it was an eBay purchase. Needless to say, instead of stacking horsepower on top of an unknown engine, the 12-valve was torn apart and treated to various upgrades during the rebuild. Most of the machine work was undertaken by nearby Quality Engine Machine Shop, while Scheid Diesel cut the block for fire-rings and Drew DeClerck of DeClerck Custom Machine assembled the refreshed 5.9L. ARP main and head studs, a Hamilton 188/220 hot street cam with tappets, heavy-duty pushrods, and 180-lb valve springs all made the list, along with port and polish work being performed on the head.
Benched P7100, 5×13’s, and Compounds
To fuel the beast, Jason turned to the 12-valve experts at Scheid Diesel. The Scheid team in Effingham, Illinois supplied him with a potent P7100 capable of full fueling to 4,500 rpm, custom-bent injection lines to work with his one-off intake manifold, and a set of 5×13 injectors. Bringing plenty of oxygen to the party is a compound turbo arrangement that centers an S472 above the engine and bolts an S363 to the stock, flipped exhaust manifold. Building 60 pounds of boost is a cinch, with compressed air being crammed through a Treadstone Performance intercooler.
14-Bolt and Air Ride
A four-link system and a 14-bolt GM make up the rear suspension and axle arrangement. In order to get the bus’s ride height dropped down where he wanted it, Jason essentially set the 14-bolt rear-end in place and built the floor around it. For proper clearance, he C-notched the frame and fabricated new fender wells. A 3.21 axle ratio—in conjunction with a built TH400 three-speed automatic—allows the Cummins to hum along at 2,700 rpm while cruising 80-mph down the highway. Up front, the independent suspension was robbed off of an ’85 C30 two-wheel drive donor, though Jason had to modified the control arms to make them work. The bus also rides on air springs, front and rear, with dual compressors mounted beneath the driver seat.
Despite the rise in diesel rat-rod popularity over the years, Jason has built something pretty unique with his ’41 Chevy school bus. Between its chopped and lowered stance, the multi-turbo Cummins seemingly spilling out of the engine bay, or its ability to light up the rear tires on command, it draws a crowd wherever Jason takes it. And trust us, his bus makes the rounds. Within the first five weeks of being finished, Jason racked up more than 2,000 miles in weekend trips alone. “It’s a toy,” he told us. “If it’s nice out, I’ll drive it. If it’s not nice out, I’ll leave it in the shed.” Simple as that.
As a Harley rider, classic car collector, and long-time hot-rodder, Jason usually points his creation toward gear head gatherings, so don’t be surprised if his short bus rattles past you at the car show, bike rally, or truck pull. And definitely don’t be surprised if you find it entered in the burnout competition…
1941 Chevrolet School Bus
Owner: Jason Bliesner
Hometown: Stonington, Illinois
Engine: 5.9L Cummins with ARP main studs, fire-ringed block, ported and polished head, 180-lb valve springs, heavy-duty pushrods, ARP head studs, Hamilton 188/220 hot street cam and tappets, C-Line/562 Fabrication low-profile oil pan, Canton Racing Products overflow reservoir, Wizard Cooling radiator
Fuel: Scheid Diesel P7100, custom-bent stainless injection lines, and 5×13 injectors, homemade fuel system with FASS 260-gph lift pump, Summit Racing 20-gallon aluminum fuel cell
Air: Custom compound turbo arrangement with BorgWarner S472 atmosphere charger and S363 high-pressure turbo, Treadstone Performance intercooler
Exhaust: Flipped factory exhaust manifold, 5-inch turbo-up system with rain cap
Electronics: Fabricated-aluminum gauge panel with Auto Meter gauges for boost, EGT, transmission temp, water temp, oil pressure, fuel supply pressure, fuel level, air pressure, mph, and engine speed, Billet Automotive Buttons push button switches
Transmission: Turbo 400 three-speed automatic built by Steve’s Transmission with manual valve body, line-lock, non-lockup converter, and TCI shifter
Horsepower: 650 hp (est.)
Torque: 1,200 lb-ft (est.)
Suspension: ‘85 Chevy C30 front IFS with modified upper and lower control arms, rear four-link, Air Ride Technologies air-ride (front and rear)
Rear Axle: ‘85 Chevy C30 14-bolt with 3.21 ring and pinion