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Old 05-04-2014, 04:46 PM   #1
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Project Road Buss begins!

Hello, I have been dreaming of having a school bus race car hauler/RV for years, and I finally found a bus around here that seems like it might work. Its a 1995 Thomas, I believe to be a mvp-FE... it has a flat nose and single headlights. Its powered by a 5.9 12V cummins motor, and from researching I believe it should have a allison 643 behind it? does that sound correct? Its pretty hard to find reliable information about this rigs.

anyway, I just went to look at the bus today, it ran and drove great, but has a couple issues I am slightly concerned with:

the right rear leaf spring is broken in the middle - it still has a leaf there to keep it in line, but it is sagging and needs to be replaced before any weight is loaded in. how hard will it be to find a replacement spring? and how mush will it cost to have a shop replace it? I'm not real familiar with leaf springs especially on such a big vehicle, and don't think my shop equipment is heavy enough to lift this thing up so I'm hoping I can have a shop replace it without spending a fortune.

second issue is that the engine brake/retarder is not working... it has the electro-magnetic thing around the driveshaft, and a 4 position lever on the steering column. This will definitely be necessary for hauling over the mountain passes here in CO... is there much of a chance that the brake itself could have gone bad? I'm hoping its just wiring, and in that case I shouldn't have much trouble figuring it out.

the bus has 207k on the clock - other than those 2 issues seems pretty solid mechanically - cosmetically is pretty rough but I'll be changing most of that anyway, so its not a big deal. The guy is asking $3200 - does that seem like a decent price?

I'm hope this will work out, I'd really love to make this dream a reality.

thanks for any help!
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Old 05-06-2014, 08:24 PM   #2
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Year: 1960
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Re: New Here!, about to buy a bus, have some questions!

Hi RoadBoss - First allow me to welcome you to the form. Second is that I can not help you with your questions. But many years ago I did change a rear leaf spring. We used a tow truck to lift the rear end and allot of elbow grease working the u-bolts. Hardest thing was using a bottle jack for lowering and raising the axle. Leaf spring we found in the junk yard. This was to change a leaf not the main leaf which attaches the axle to frame. Anyway so much for my mis-adventures. Someone who knows more than me will be willing to answer your questions. Best of luck with your bus. the old man Richard
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Old 05-06-2014, 10:42 PM   #3
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Location: NE Oregon, SW Idaho
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Year: 1995
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Re: New Here!, about to buy a bus, have some questions!

You could do the work yourself with a good 12-ton bottle jack, some wood 'cribbing' or stout, large jack stands and some muscle and the right wrenches or socket set. If a shop does it, expect to pay around $85-$125 per hour for labor in a truck shop plus the cost of a used spring. Labor should be around 2 hours at a good truck shop.
As for the retarder or engine brake, sounds like electrical but you won't know for sure until you dig into it and perhaps find some of the components are defunct. Hard to say what that might cost.
$3,200 sounds close to average for a bus of that vintage and miles from a school district that has taken care of service and has not neglected any repairs. Tires should be at least 30% at that price, and brakes should still have a lot of life left. Are the brakes hydraulic or air? For your application in hilly Colorado, you would want air brakes.
Welcome to the insanity!
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Old 05-06-2014, 10:55 PM   #4
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thanks all!
I called around to some shops for the leaf spring, depending on the model, the spring should be between $350 to 1000 I'm pretty sure I could get custom spring made for less than the latter price. one shop said it would be $350 for labor, which sounds reasonable, and the other said $1000 for labor....
I'm also debating the idea of fitting air springs instead - just using the top part of the leafs to align the axle and getting a couple 10k lb air bags to support the load. seems like it will be cheaper than a $1000 spring.
I will probably get a heavy duty jack and do the work myself if I go the air route.

the brakes are air, and work quite well, although I'm not sure of the life left on them. as for the tires, the fronts are nearly new, and rears seem to have a bit left on them although its hard to tell... there appear the be 'wear bars' in between some of the small tread, and then some very deep grooves between the 'main' part of the tread... I think tires will be okay for a little while at least.

I think I may try and talk him down a bit due to the cost of the leaf spring...

thanks for the help!
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Old 05-06-2014, 11:23 PM   #5
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Re: New Here!, about to buy a bus, have some questions!

also, is there any chance this thing could have a AT545 in it? I was assuming the MT643 but I'm not entirely sure now...

the bus has a GVRW of 30k lbs which is the exact limit of the that tranny according to this

also, pretty sure that 210hp cummins has just about that max 445 lb ft...
these busses should be pretty over-built right? meaning not having a transmission thats right at its limit?
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Old 05-09-2014, 07:25 PM   #6
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Re: New Here!, about to buy a bus, have some questions!

thanks for the info. I asked the seller to check and he said it is a 210hp version. also I asked him and it has a mt-643 trans.
we've been checking on getting a new spring and looks like the part will be around $700.... therefore the seller said he would go down to $2500 for the bus.

starting to think it sounds like a pretty good deal!
I think I will probably pick it up and build an airbag setup for the rear axle -it should help a lot with getting the car in the back as well if I can drop the suspension a few inches.
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Old 05-10-2014, 11:28 AM   #7
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Re: New Here!, about to buy a bus, have some questions!

Another Welcome --- sounds like a most excellent deal and Nat is absolutely right...not your average combo. The 643 is a way better tranny than the old 543's and much sweeter to drive. Jump on it!
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Old 05-12-2014, 06:16 PM   #8
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Re: New Here!, about to buy a bus, have some questions!

well, I'm making a deposit on it this wednesday, then will pick it up within two weeks.

I'm already getting excited! thanks all for the information, I can't wait to start posting up progress pictures.
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Old 05-24-2014, 05:50 PM   #9
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Re: Project Road Buss begins!

picked up my bus today! I'm incredibly excited about how well it did on the highway, even with broken rear springs. cruises at 65mph @ just over 2000 rpm (has 4.11 gears in the back). drove it down the mountain pass and the brakes worked great and engine by itself kept the bus fairly slow, although I still want to get the engine retarder working (its a Klam retarder). I was pretty afraid to take turns with the spring issue in the back, but it still seemed to be pretty stable! can't wait to get it all fixed up and see what it'll do.

Here she is in front of my house. paint is pretty bad, but the metal itself is in good shape! (finished scraping stickers off post photoshoot)

interior shot before the seats disappear. Baby blue color probably needs to change as well.

now I need to find some airbags I can fit in here... 10k lb bags are almost 10 inches wide, so I may need to do double 5k lb bags on each side instead.... or figure out something else.
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Old 05-25-2014, 08:40 AM   #10
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Re: Project Road Buss begins!

Originally Posted by RoadBoss
Hello, I have been dreaming of having a school bus race car hauler/RV for years, and I finally found a bus around here that seems like it might work.
I'll be following your build as I work on mine. Welcome aboard.
The more I do, the more I find needs done.
Build Thread - ET - ELWOOD Transporter
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