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This Mercedes-Benz O319 Is a Better VW Bus Alternative

Charming, robust, roomy, and less common, this Mercedes is one cute hauler.

It might look like a bus, and be called a bus, but the Mercedes-Benz O319 17-passenger Omnibus actually rides on a shorter wheelbase and is shorter overall than a Chevrolet Suburban. Whatever else the new Suburban has going for it, it can't carry nearly as many humans as this Mercedes. Nor does it have the delightfully vintage charm of this variant of the L319 truck and van platform built by Daimler-Benz.

And it was inspired, in part, by the success of the Volkswagen Type 2, which has a similar mission in a smaller form factor. Mercedes hadn't built any commercial vehicles since World War II when it was building the Blitz military truck designed by rival Opel. So the L319 range of trucks, which debuted in 1955, had a big job to do: Reintroduce the concept of Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles to the market. And it did just that. Think of this bus as the ancestor of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which plays a similar role to the L/O319 range today. Like the Type 2 Bus, it adopted a cab-over-engine sort of arrangement, which provides a shorter overall length and great forward visibility at the expense of a protruding "doghouse" in between the driver and front passenger.

That front passenger should probably be the last person to take a seat since getting to the more than a dozen other passenger seats is accomplished by entering through the front door and folding the front seat forward to access. But there's no denying the practicality of the arrangement—that's a lot of people in a smallish overall package.

There's no fear of scaring any of the passengers with overenthusiastic acceleration, either. Originally O319s were powered by either a 74-horsepower gasoline or 46-hp diesel four-cylinder engine. As you can imagine, performance is barely adequate. The particular O319 you're looking at, for sale at the time of this writing at Bring a Trailer, has been retrofitted with the legendary Toyota 20R 2.2-liter gas engine, which is rated at just under 100 ponies but represents a significant power upgrade over the stock unit. And it's probably more reliable overall, too. You have to try really hard to kill a 20R.

And you have to try really hard not to smile at the idea of this goofy but lovable Mercedes-Benz bus, which seems like the perfect upgrade from the much more common VW Bus. If you're not in a hurry, then an O319 makes the basis of a great promotional vehicle for a small business, a charming shuttle for a little resort hotel, or even a camping rig with a little interior refitting. What would you do with one?