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The Lost History of the Partridge Family Bus

January 28, 2008


The Partridge Family Bus

Recently, while we were playing around with Joost, Telstar Logistics happened upon the 1970 pilot episode of "The Partridge Family." We were never really fans of the show -- it was too contrived for our tastes, even when we were small. Not surprisingly, however, we've always had a soft spot for the De Stijl school bus that the family drove to get from gig to gig. The Partridge bus is basically what Ken Kesey's Furthur would have looked like if he'd dropped acid at RISD after watching a few reruns of "The Monkees." But it played a big role on the show. Second only to David Cassidy, the bus is what gave "The Partridge Family" it's visual identity:

The Partridge Family

So how was the bus introduced to the show? In a satisfying little bit of backstory, the pilot episode includes a scene that shows the family purchasing their bus -- a 1957 Chevrolet -- from a used car dealer:

The Partridge Family Pilot - Selecting the bus

In reality, apparently, the studio purchased the used bus from the Orange County (Calif.) School District... but never mind. More troubling is the scene that shows the family giving their ride its distinctive paint job. The design is obviously inspired by Mondrian's Composizione 1921, but we never learn why a middle class family in Southern California was moved to create a rolling homage to Dutch proto-modernism. Must've been something that happened off-camera:

Painting The Partridge Family Bus

The visual transformation of the bus mirrors the rising stardom of the Partridge clan, and before long the family takes its act all the way to the bright lights of Hollywood - with David Cassidy hanging out the window in a not-OSHA-approved sort of way:

Shirley driving The Partridge Family Bus

And mom (played by Shirley Jones) behind the wheel:

The Partridge Family Bus

We all know what happened next, of course: Fame, Fortune, and much Getting Happy. But what became of the bus after the show was cancelled in 1974? A Partridge Family fan website tells the tale:

After exhaustive research with a highly reliable source, we have uncovered the following...the actual bus lived for years behind Lucy's Tacos on Martin Luther King Blvd, right by USC. When Lucy's repaved their parking lot, circa February 1987, the bus was sent off to a junk yard. It was in horrible shape -- windows broken, tires flat, all identifying type (such as the family name on the side and the "Caution Nervous Mother Driving" sign on the back) was painted over in white and the rest of the bus was miserably faded. So, the upshot is that the original bus is long gone.

Pity we'll never get to see the bus on display in the Smithsonian, but that also means that we should be way of impostors, such as this replica which was spotted on the side of a road in 2007:

The Partridge Family Bus
David Cassidy Downunder Fansite