The Future of Driver’s Ed: 1968 Dodge Mobilab

We all can look back with either fondness or horror at the vehicles used in high school driver’s ed classes, but how many of us can say they learned how to drive virtually inside the “Education Service Unit Driver Training Simulator”? This is an oddball to top all oddballs, as virtually no information exists about this bus or how it was conceived. Regardless, this 1968 Dodge bus here on craigslist looks largely sound and will be the talk of any car show you roll into. 

With Google being what it is, you’d think almost every vehicle has been discovered or catalogued. Well, I found a barren wasteland of information on this Driver Training Simulator, of which enough were made that supposedly, different states each received this mobile training unit. Still, even that information is unconfirmed, but it makes sense if Dodge was trying to partner with local communities to advance driver training while also creating good will. We should mention – thanks to Barn Finds reader Olaf E. for spotting this major curiosity!

The seller has figured out that there previously were monitors, or simulators, inside the bus where students would sit and watch videos, presumably about safe operation of a motor vehicle. Those simulation devices are long-gone, but it’s still fascinating to peer inside and imagine the noises and flashing lights present in the 1960s that likely captured the attention of wide-eyed adolescents in every community it served. Do any of you remember taking driver’s ed classes in such a rig?

In addition to the interior surroundings and the glistening Airstream-like exterior, the Dodge also had some mechanical tricks up its sleeve. According to the seller, the rear end can be locked out to create a “4×4 rear-end drive,” whatever that means. Is he trying to say it becomes a true 4WD vehicle? I’m not sure, but one thing is for certain: this driver training bus is darn cool and I wish more information existed as to its history and the program that commissioned its assembly. Fill us in below if you have any ideas.

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Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    Actually, I found quite a bit of info on these. One person said,( on the “Airstream” forum) the State of Oklahoma had 10 or 12 of these, each with 10 driver simulators,( that he worked on) and would drive around to rural areas, that didn’t have programs of their own ( hence the 130K miles) They were made by a company called Singer-Link, had 318 engines, and either Avon, or Airstream provided the bodies. They were also used for mobile health vans, and such. I’m sure it’s not unlike driving a whale around.

    • Tim

      Ah, 1974, Mustang High School Mustang Oklahoma, Drivers Ed, Coach Morgan was our teacher. When my class took a turn, poor dumb Doug Mantooth held the accelerator to the floor from the time we started driving, he didn’t know Coach Morgan was monitoring us. Coach came up from behind and “WHOPPED” him in the back of the head without a word!
      Now those were the days when a teacher whopped a kid in the who needed it !!!
      We all laughed all the way thru the class because we were driving a Dodge!

    • Gary Moss

      Howard, Contact me as I know the son of the designer of these and he would love more info on others that still exist or if you have more info on these. His father died shortly after producing 144 of these and he does not have any of his father’s documents on these. He currently is restoring one that came from Oklahoma.

  2. Tim Wagner

    I think I took my Driver’s Ed training in that bus. Our school district was served by ESU #3. They parked the bus outside next to the school and we would go out to it for class. Each station in the bus had an instrument panel from something like a ’69 Dodge Dart, complete with seat, steering wheel & pedals, linked so the instructor so he could monitor our progress. It also had a regular film screen & projector so we could see the lovely driver’s ed films of the day.

    • Howard A Member

      Hi Tim, we beat the crap out of these in H.S. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/sim1.jpg

      Like 1
    • Jeffro

      I see the simulator was set up for a manual trans. Could you catch 2nd gear in a simulator?

      • Tom S.

        I remember sitting at one of those simulators in the summer of ’72, but I recall the setup being in a trailer instead of a bus. You faced the back wall of the trailer, where a film was shown that gave a driver’s seat view of traffic and you would work the controls to match the pace. The movies appeared to have been filmed in SoCal. Lots of palm trees and such in the backgrounds.

  3. Olaf E

    Hi Tim, could the one in the link be an example of the missing units?
    http://www.dodgecharger.com/forum/index.php?topic=107070.0

    • Tim Wagner

      The actual instrument panel was different in the one we had, ours used the gauge clusters from wither Dodge Darts or Plymouth Valiants, but otherwise that’s just what it looked like

    • Wayne Spaulding

      Made in New London, NH by Stuart Spaulding. Body was not made by airstream but in house by a crew of six. My father would buy a rolling frame complete with front seat, either a 318 or 440 and stearing wheel. 143 total units made. I have been looking for one of these units for a long time. The craigs list add has expired and would love any info as to the location of this one. Thank you

      • Doran Connell

        Wayne, it is located in Ozark, Missouri. I can provide you with the owners contact info if you would like.

      • Wayne Spaulding

        Doran Thank you My email is summitbistros@aol.com or 970-409-0087 Thank you

  4. edh

    Who thought a 318 was adequate power for this train car?

  5. ckkurtz Member

    It’d make a killer vintage race car hauler w/ sleeping quarters. Personally I’d leave the Driver Training Simulator graphics on it!

  6. Terry J

    Tandem Axle 4 wheel drive has been around since the 30s. There was an old Studebaker WW2 Army 6×6 on the farm back home. A 6×6 was all wheel drive capeable which included not only the front axle but the tandem drivers as well. Dad put a big GMC V6 in it if memory serves. Can’t remember how he did that. Probably like a lot of other things, he designed and fabricated an adapter. Back in those days, farmers and mechanics were usually great mechanical engineers. Had to be. :-) Terry J

    • Bobsmyuncle

      Yep every power unit (tractor) I’ve driven has one.

  7. John Hess Member

    A 318 would be plenty of power for this aluminum bus that just motored from school to school. Now running down the road maybe a 360 in the days would be better. Had a 74 27 Ft Travco W/360 and it was heavier and motored great to Key West.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      I agree, lightweight construction and runs empty.

  8. Rustytech Member

    That 318, even though it was a great engine, it had to be working hard to pull this thing around! I love this look. Now I know about what an Airstream motor home would have looked like, and I think that is what I would make this. An engine upgrade would be #1 on my list, and the Cummins Diesel would be my first choice.

  9. Martin Sparkes

    Most heavy trucks have an interaxle differential that would lock the two axles together, but that just means you get one corner of each axle with traction instead one corner of one axle. To be a true 4×4 would require the interaxle diff lock plus each end would need to be locked or at least posi traction of some kind. Don’t know why they would do that for a driving simulator. Even now its not that common.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      Good point. Colloquially we call that 4×4, most any 4WD is actually 2WD.

      Regardless if this was cruising backroads to smaller communities in the winter I can see the value.

  10. JW

    Wow this would be like driving a semi taking corners except at least a semi pivots the cab to trailer. Our school had it’s own simulators in class but only one guy & car to take you out driving so I got tired of waiting my turn so I paid $100 quite a lot in 1969 for a high school kid to take my driver training behind the wheel at A-1 driving school and got my license a couple months ahead of my classmates.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      You realize that the simulator was inside right? The student didn’t drive the bus.

      • leiniedude leiniedude Member

        Now that’s funny!

  11. CJay

    GVWR is at 12000 max lbs as I read the ID plate.
    What does that thing weigh?
    IMO that has to be close to it’s weight setting there empty.
    Granted it would never be a problem until DOT gets involved. Or there is an accident and insurance companies get involved.
    It would be cool to reuse a dozen ways!

  12. Bobsmyuncle

    Man I would just love this thing. What a great way to tour the continent race car in tow.

  13. daniel wright

    We had the same simulators as late as 1996 at my high school. The film strips that we used with them had 60’s era cars. One featured a drive by of the Queen Mary which was moored in Long Beach.

  14. Chuck Foster 55chevy Chuck F Chas Foster

    This won’t last long, I love Airstream Motor Homes, but never saw one this old, I would convert this to an RV with a ramp/door for inside storage of a Harley, and tow a dolly for whatever old car I have driveable at the time, leaving the outside as is.

  15. Steve B

    This wins the Internet today. Like something out of Men in Black.

  16. michael streuly

    I like it.

  17. Terry J

    In my little Eastern Oregon town Drivers Ed was in a real car. I’ll never forget Mr.***** (the instructor) with a car load of students out in front of good old McEwen High one day circa 1965. The student driver was Teri (cheerleader). The car was a ’65 Falcon with a 3 on the tree. Poor Teri tried to get that car to move but each time she let out the clutch it would lurch forward and die. Over and over and over again. 12,15 times. Soon we were all watching from our classroom windows. Eventually poor ( lovely)Teri was reduced to tears and Mr. *****, who was also our football coach and never gave up on anything, called it quits. Next year the Drivers Ed car had a automatic. Was talking to Brad last week, a Supervisor for a big contractor who owns several 2 ton trucks, all manual trannys. Brad said they couldn’t find anybody to hire that knew how to drive a stick. FUNNY! Sad. :-) Terry J

  18. Peter K

    I’d say gut it, rehab the interior, put a decent diesel in it like a pumped up 5.9 Cummins or a Duramax and go touring.

  19. MSG Bob

    We had driving simulators set up in a classroom-trailer (about 12, IIRC) at Tech H.S. in Indianapolis. Those were made by Ford, and you could change them from manual to 3-on-the-tree by moving the shift lever from one post to the other and pulling a knob to release the clutch pedal. The movies were all shot down in Florida, which was one of the first states to do right turn on red. Ticked me off that I couldn’t do that in Indiana until a couple of years later.

  20. Gear Head Engineer

    Intriguing! I could see this as a cool RV for sure.

    I can’t imagine there’s a lot of buyers lining up for this, even if the seller drops a zero off the current asking price.

    I recently attended a driver’s ed class. It was in a building that was in similar condition to this rig. CT requires one parent to attend a two hour class with your student driver. I didn’t do terribly well on the test…

    – John

  21. Howard A Member

    After the simulators, we would go outside to the parking lot, where a dozen, or so brand new 1971 AMC Matador 4 doors awaited our destruction, donated by a local dealer. ( Kuehn & Sons, I think) Then came “road day”, also with disastrous results.( lot of bent rims) I think there was a Gremlin with a stick in there too, and for some reason, most women have a rough time with the “friction point”. Years ago, I’ve tried, in vain, to teach my ex-wife to drive a stick, with dismal results. I know my daughter could handle it though.
    Sad, drivers ed isn’t even offered anymore, you have to do it yourself, what I did with my kids, or farm it out to a school. Times sure have changed, we had a blast ( and it got us out of class, it was the only course I ever got straight A’s in)

  22. Terry J

    Most boys in the 50s and 60s in Eastern Ore farm country were driving trucks in the fields starting in the 6th grade. Typically these were WW2 military 2 tonners . By the time we were 15 we had hundreds of hours driving time under our belts. Hiring teenage gals came along about 1962 ish and from that point a few of the gals were as experienced. Dad came to prefer them. He said they weren’t as rough on the machinery. :-) Terry J

  23. Alan (Michigan)

    This is a little newer:

    https://roanoke.craigslist.org/rvs/5964373094.html

    But is bound to be an easier unit to convert to a motor home, and is pretty much guaranteed to have the classic aluminum skin underneath, if someone would care enough to clean off the paint and polish up the metal.

    What I find to be interesting is that school systems would bump up the cash for expensive items like this!

  24. Brad C

    Here’s another Mobilab from the same period. Supposedly used in New London, NH.

  25. Cleric

    I would convert this into a motor home. Add some windows, swap the 318 for something stouter (probably a Cummins 6BT), and keep the rig nice and polished as an aluminum rig should be.

  26. Doran Connell

    It is now on Ebay.

  27. aaron7

    WOW!! Those simulator stations are absolutely amazing. Being a kid from the 80’s I never got to see anything awesome like that. I’m guessing the buses were full of these things? Where’d they all go??

  28. Dustin

    This thing is awesome but probably handles like a pig.

  29. Lem Stephens

    I own a 1968 MobiLab with a Dodge 318 engine. I have been searching for more background info. I want to convert it to an RV and need input and a connection to other owners.

  30. DayDreamBeliever Member

    There ya go…..

  31. Gary Moss

    I know the son whose father DESIGNED and BUILT these vehicles. Just spoke with him last night and he said his dad built 144 of the Mobilab “buses”. He has one that he is currently restoring. He said he only knows of his and 3 others. He would like to know if others exist. He lives in our town in the Colorado mountains.

    Like 1

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