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Ford E-450 4x4 Expedition School Bus

Yes, what you are looking at is a four-wheel drive school bus on 37’s. Thankfully, this isn’t a new nationwide initiative to get kids to school during inclement weather. What you are seeing is two-and-a-half years of hard work to create a unique expedition vehicle that Steven Merrill can enjoy with his wife and four children. Working at Ujoint Offroad in Fletcher, North Carolina, Merrill knows a thing or two about the 4th generation Ford E-Series.

While we’ve seen a variety of E-Series 4x4 van conversions over the years, rarely have we come across one that started off life as a school bus. Being extremely familiar with the E-Series platform and wanting something unique for this family to travel in, a school bus checked all of the right boxes. While finding a used one in good shape was no easy task, Merrill eventually found a 2013 Ford E-450 with a Thomas Bus body to kick off his build journey.

2013 Ford E-450 4x4 School Bus on 37's Nitto Ridge Grapplers Ujoint Offroad

V10 Power

One of the biggest must-haves for Merrill when he was searching for a bus was the 6.8L V10 engine. This powerplant is common in the E-Series RV platforms and makes adequate power for a heavyweight build such as this.

6.8L Ford V10 engine top view E-450

Splitting Power

Behind the V10 you’ll find a 5R110 automatic transmission. As part of the four-wheel drive conversion, the transmission is mated with a manual-shift NV271 transfer case.

5R110 Transmission and NV271 transfer case bottom view E-450 Ujoint conversion

70 Rear

While the original Dana 70 axle still remains in place, it did get a full rebuild along with a 4.56 differential gear change. Atop the full-float rear axle are custom spec leaf-springs that work with helper air bags to handle the load variety the bus often sees.

Full float dana 70 rear axle E-450

4x4 Conversion

To transition the bus to four-wheel drive, Merrill used a 6-inch 4x4 conversion from Ujoint Offroad. This system uses leaf-springs to secure a high-pinion Dana 60 front axle in place. Helping with traction is a Detroit Truetrac, while a crossover steering system allows the van to navigate all conditions with ease.

Ujoint offroad 4x4 E-Series conversion Dana 60 front axle

Ridge Grapplers

Picking the right tire was critical for this vehicle as it truly does see a wide range of on and off-road terrain. Merrill states the 37x12.50R17 Nitto Ridge Grapplers were the perfect choice. The Ridge Grappler is a hybrid terrain tire, which means it blends features from an all-terrain and mud-terrain. Living in the mountains of North Carolina, the bus encounters a mix of mud, snow, and gravel backroads frequently, which the Ridge Grappler can handle with ease.

37x12.50R17 Nitto Ridge Grapplers Ford School bus mud on tire

Big Hardware

Securing the Ridge Grapplers in place are 17x8.5 305 HD wheels from Method. Up front, you can also see the SpynTec Hub Conversion along with the massive 8-pistion calipers from SSBC.

Method 17x8.5 305 HD Wheel with 37 Nitto Ridge Grappler mountain overlook

Light Recovery

Seeing a school bus come down the road with a high-clearance winch bumper and 37’s is a fairly incredible sight. The Ujoint bumper is not only home to a Warn winch and Baja Designs lights, but it’s made from aluminum to keep the weight of this already very heavy build down.

2013 Ford E-450 4x4 School Bus on 37's Nitto Ridge Grapplers Ujoint Offroad

Emergency Exit

Attached to the factory steel rear bumper is a tire carrier and accessory mount. This extra cargo holder often secures a cooler to create additional cold storage for the family of six.

2013 Ford E-450 4x4 School Bus on 37's Nitto Ridge Grapplers Ujoint Offroad rear view

Penthouse Views

Climbing nine feet to the roof of the bus is not for the faint of heart, but it will give you an incredible view from the CVT tent. The tent, along with 300-watts of solar panels, are secured to the custom Ujoint roof rack. On the passenger side, a 14-ft Fiamma awning makes shade for when you need it.

2013 Ford E-450 4x4 School Bus on 37's Nitto Ridge Grapplers Ujoint Offroad CVT Tent open

Bus Deluxe

Inside, the bus has been completely overhauled with Tarkett waterproof vinyl flooring creating the base. The seats came out of a coach-house bus, while the queen bed frame in the back Merrill hand built. There’s a Dometic fridge on a slide under the bed, and plenty of storage beneath to haul gear.  

Converted school bus interior layout with queen bed and coach house seats

In Action

We’ve just touched on a few of the many modifications made to this bus. If you want to check out the van in action and learn more, be sure to visit our YouTube channel and watch our full video breakdown.

2013 Ford E-450 4x4 School Bus on 37's Nitto Ridge Grapplers Ujoint Offroad side view driving

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