MAt the Silver Fox, is the only nine-seater bus ever to win the Top Street Rod Commercial at the Queensland Hot Rod Show.
This article on Grimm’s Silver Fox Bus was originally published in the December 2017 issue. Street Machine
No bus ever shone as brightly as the one now known as the Silver Fox. Part 1936 Chevrolet Maple Leaf Truck, part Mazda Parkway Bus, this thing has the ‘wow’ factor! It sparkles and shines in silver, it’s luxurious inside, and beautifully engineered.
Some people build streetcars to show, others just to cruise or get dirty in burnouts or mud races. Others sell to the first passing fan. But for Queenslander Graeme Collins, it’s about turning his amazing ideas into reality and adding to his collection of amazing builds.
Graeme’s V6 Morris J-type van was featured. Street Machine In July 2015; It was a project he had wanted for 30 years. This latest build took very little time, but once again proves his remarkable ability to create practical beauty from forgotten relics.
The rear door is from a Pajero, trimmed to fit perfectly, while the taillights are ’89-’93 Cadillac Deville items, with Morris Minor indicators.
When told about an old ’36 Maple Leaf truck in 2012, Graeme packed the tilt tray with tools and helpers and headed west. The truck’s chassis had been sitting outside Kinmolla in western Queensland for decades, and time hadn’t been kind. It had lost almost everything – the wheels, the cab, the engine. Graeme salvaged what was left: a very straight four-metre chassis with the remains of the C-cab, guards, cowling and grille. Bonus was a pair of maple leaf badges that are still on the bonnet.
A patina of rust covered everything, but it never had a chance to do any real damage in this barren area. Graeme carefully lifted the remains from the red clay and carried them back to Warwick. Bits were carefully laid out, measured, and slowly a plan was drawn up.
Graeme soon spied an old circa 1973 Mazda Parkway bus. Having lived in the motor trade all his life, Graeme’s mind must work in a different way – somehow he saw something in the bland, boxy shape of an old bus. He took out his sketchbook and imagined how he could engineer a Mazda and a Chevy truck together to create his own unique bus. “I’ve always liked the idea of a bus,” he says. “Something to take the grandkids, colleagues, their wives and family around.”
Graeme not only collects cars and parts, but over the years he has also assembled a team of local workers. Nathan Tester started with them fresh out of school as an apprentice in ’03 and stayed on. Graeme also recognized the talents of Jamie Pollard and Nick Locke and ensured they were included in his squad. All play a part in his projects, not only with their talents but on hand to objectively discuss ideas outside of him.
First, a solid steel bed was built over the wheels to ensure the ’36 chassis would stay perfectly flat but move throughout the build. Then the old Parkway bus was given a serious trim. The chassis bolts were removed, a large grinder was put to work and the rear section was separated from the cab section. A forklift was then used to lift the heavy body – braced with temporary steel tubes – and transfer it to the maple leaf chassis. All looked great, but the ceiling was too high. A bit of bite was called for.
After putting the ’36 front and Parkway body together on the chassis at ‘ride height’, several hours (and a few tinnies) were spent getting a closer look at the general shape of the bus. A marker pen was used to scrawl the approximate cut lines for the roof cut, and after some more discussion, Acrow adjustable props were hired to support the roof. Nathan then went to work with the trusty Chucky. With freely flowing sparks, the pillars were dislodged, and the roof, now merely supporting, was then gently lowered until it was visible from all angles in place.
Along with the refinement, the chassis became the center of attention. The rear axle section was given a substantial C-Notch to lower the ride height and then the entire chassis was completely boxed. Off-the-shelf parts such as steering racks, wishbones and springs are carefully tested and tested. At the rear, an air ride shock wave system was installed to maintain the ride height whether fully loaded or empty.
Then it was time to think about what engine would power this beast. A vehicle that would eventually weigh around 2200kg, measure 6.1m, carry nine, be equipped with air conditioning and long-distance travel would put a monster strain on any powerplant. What could be better than the LS1?
Keeping his motto in mind – “Buy the best car you can get at the right price with a full service history” – Graeme bought a low-kilometre Statesman for its LS1 engine. Nathan checked the axle thoroughly and only needed to replace a few gaskets before giving it the thumbs up. The Statesman’s 4L60E transmission feeds an Aussie Diffs-built race products that float nine inches. The tailshaft needed a bit of tweaking so they called in another Warwick guru, Mallwood, to fabricate a two-piece shaft using F250 center bearings and XR6 Turbo CV joints. It runs like a dream.
This build is fully customizable. Steel everywhere. Even the old skin of the parkway has been replaced. Advanced Metal Products in Warwick assembled a few large sheets for the bus skin and people set about welding them in place. The floor is manufactured from sheet steel, cut to fit perfectly.
Having a huge amount of interior space is one thing, filling it effectively is another. But the inside of this bus is very well thought out. The Kia Carnival seats two, commanding a carrying capacity of nine. Each has its own seat belt mount, so with the seats securely fixed, they are ADR protected. The seats were refinished in mustard leather by the team at Kev’s Kustoms near Maryborough. About 10 skins were required for this work. You will happily sit in them for long distance bus journeys. There is plenty of legroom and all the pews are easily accessed through the original concertina side door of the old parkway.
Since the bus needed rear access, a few hours of poking around the wreckage with tape measure in hand uncovered an old Pajero. It had the rear end cut off, the doors rejigged and customized to fit the bus. Completed.
Kev’s Kustoms then used a single aluminum composite sheet for the roof paneling, trimmed with macrosoft herringbone fabric and locally topped with stainless steel ribbing, watercut.
Although not much of the maple leaf cabin remained, the team used the original metal dash. The old gauge holes were filled, and the top was modified and extended to more easily follow the unbroken lines on both sides of the cabin interior. Center holes were then cut to fit the new classic instrument panel and switches.
A 1400W fusion amp and six retro sound speakers round out a killer sound system for the long haul.
And then the last paint is finished. That coating of urethane, a few hundred microns thin, makes or breaks any building. Graeme decided on a shiny silver metallic using PPG’s Deltron system, which was deftly applied by team members Mick Bogor and Jamie Pollard. It shines!
For some years Grimm’s colleagues called him the Silver Fox. Nathan and the team started referring to the bus by that name, and it stuck. It may take some time to get used to driving the Fox. The sheer length of the bus means it never cuts corners. But passengers can look forward to many comfortable, luxurious highway miles in this well-engineered, high-spec creation. For Graeme, it’s exactly what he dreamed of.
Since the Silver Fox’s successful debut at this year’s Queensland Hot Rod Show – where it took home the Top Street Rod commercial – the second part of the project is nearing completion: a bus trailer, but nothing you’d expect. have ever seen It’s going to be a converted vintage pop-top caravan, which will carry luggage and, when parked, double as a den, with leather-trimmed Kia seats, a fridge and widescreen telly. Who wants to go home?
In September the bus went on display at the 41st National Chevrolet Festival in Warwick, and now Graeme is looking forward to taking his teammates and their families out for some long bus rides and some nice lunches. Another project is under discussion to test the skills of this tight team of craftsmen: a sloper based on a ’48 Buick. Another clever plan from the original Silver Fox. Bring it on!
Silver Fox Bus – Under construction
1. Remnants of the ’36 Maple Leaf that started the project. The truck was delivered to Wahora Station by Godfrey Brothers – Chevrolet dealers in Kinmolla. Abandoned, he was stripped to his bare form before being rescued by Grimm.
2. Mazda Parkway Bus Body.
3. After considering the measurements, the bus was braced, given a careful, severe cut and then placed on the ’36 chassis.
4. After further measurements, the roof was supported by supports, the pillars were cut, and the roof lowered until the sight was spot on.
5. This rolling steel bed kept the chassis rigid and made progressive building around the workshop a doodle.
6. You’d think there would be heaps of places to fit an LS1, but the original shape of the ’36 Maple Leaf nose cowling kept the engine installer son on his toes.
7. Steel floor being welded in place.
8. MDF patterns were made from the window openings, for Alphabet in Brisbane then the windows had to be made to size.
The body of the 9a Silver Fox was completely re-skinned using new laminated sheet metal produced locally by Advanced Metal Products.
9b. Re-skinned sides.
10a Nick Locke built a machine and ring for pressing wheelarch trims and wide edges.
10b. Complete with wheelarch trims and wide rims
1936 Chevrolet Maple Leaf Chassis, Mazda Parkway Bus Body
paint: PPG Deltron Custom Mixed Silver Fox, painted by Mick Bogor and Jamie Pollard
Brand: GM 5.7L LS1
Cooling: Custom Australia Desert Coolers Radiator
Emissions: VE exhaust manifold, high flow cats, 2.5in twin system
Difference: Race products float in 9-in.
Front Suspension: Custom IFS, Rod Tech coil overs
Rear Suspension: F250 springs, shock wave airbags, sway bar with air assist
brake: Hoppers Stoppers 330mm discs and PBR calipers (f), 270mm discs and PBR calipers (r)
Master Cylinder: 11/8-bore Corvette
Wheels and tires
codes: Intro Ram Polish; 19×7 (f), 19×10 (r)
Rubber: Continental Conti Sport Contact; 245/40/19 (f), 295/45/19 (r)