I've been stalking this website for over a year getting information and ideas for a bus conversion. I've wanted to do something like this for years.
Story: I am a 19 year old college kid, in kind of an awkward phase of life right now. I don't particularly want to be in college and I'm not much of an academic, I prefer getting my hands dirty building and fixing things. I was in the UNC system at their Charlotte campus last year to study mechanical engineering with a concentration in motorsports, and I didn't like it, so I went back home to Montgomery County, MD and am attending community college, half-assing my classes to keep my parents happy / to not get kicked out. During my four years in high school I spent every second of my spare time building sets for my school's theater club, which was a great end to every drab, repetitive schoolday. I also do automotive work on the side; I restored an old Bronco for my Senior Project, nursed an old BMW 3 series back to health, and find every quick and easy automotive job I can on the side to make extra money (think brakes, oil / filter changes).
I had been "shopping" for buses since about April. I was just looking, seeing as I had about a grand to my name and was in NC with nowhere to keep it. I busted my ass this summer with a full time job and side construction and automotive repair jobs and scraped together a healthy sum. I knew from the get-go that I wanted a Thomas rear-engine bus, primarily because they are a nice platform to work off of, easier to drive, look good, and have a ton of headroom; but also because these are the buses I rode to and from elementary, middle and high school. I missed the boat on the summer, end-of-schoolyear auctions because I didn't have enough cash by then, so that left only less desirable models, the correct models that were further away than I could muster, and overpriced dealer buses. I went with the third option.
This is my bus. It is a 1999 Thomas MVP - RE, I believe 72 passenger. It has a CAT 3126 (7.2 liter) inline 6 turbodiesel engine, electroncally controlled, and an Allison MD3060 electronic 5-speed automatic trans with a lockup TC (actually 6 speed but 6th is programmed out). Mileage reads 73,XXX, and I know that is BS because the hour meter reads 13,5XX(!!!). There is no emissions equipment on this bus whatsoever, not even PCV. The breather hose goes right from the valve cover to the ground.
I bought it from Brandywine Trucks & Equipment in Southern MD. They wanted $5500. I laughed and offered them 4 grand saying that was generous. They declined. We agreed upon $4500 which was still way too much but it is what it is. I couldn't wait for next year's auctions due to time constraints. They bought the bus from GovDeals for $2650 (I found this online before the sale). So they made nearly 2 grand off me by doing nothing. The salesman was incredibly unhelpful and irritable, and a bit creepy. Don't do business with them.
I got to drive the bus around the lot, but that's it (I didn't want to take it on the roads due to licensing). My cousin who has a class B drove it from Brandywine to my Uncle's house, where it is now. He is used to driving fire trucks and was pissed that it wouldn't go faster than 65 (at 3800 rpm). I thought it was easy to drive, I backed it into a 10' wide space between 2 buses no problem. The air brakes are touchy, very easy to lock up.
The ceiling is 77.5" in the center of the bus (width-wise) and about 71" tall on either side. Plenty of room for my 6' 1" self to stand up straight, which doesn't matter because my posture is terrible and I am probably 5' 11" most days. The usable interior space (flat floor) is about 24 feet long, and 90" wide. Tons of room.
The bus itself is 34' long and about 9' 9" tall.
The plan for now is to build this out pretty nicely using as many reclaimed / used / free materials as I can, and trael the country next summer with 2-3 friends (a test of who my real friends are). My budget isn't huge, but I would like to try to build a nice interior with what I can get. I am putting in as many hours at work as I can stand to make bank for this. I have a tentative floor plan that I will post later. It needs to be done by mid-June, 2014.
I'm working on it in my spare time now, which unfortunately will be at night and when it's cold. First order of business that I will start this weekend is to remove all the decals, powerwash, sand, powerwash again and prep for paint. I want to get paint done before it gets too cold. I'm not sure what I am doing about paint yet, but I know the roof will be either white or a very light shade (reflecting heat) and I was thinking an army-type olive green for the rest, while retaining the black rub strips and bumpers.
More to come.