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Old 01-18-2010, 10:48 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Northeast CT
Posts: 201
Year: 1999
Coachwork: AmTran RE
Chassis: International
Engine: T444E
Rated Cap: 72
Purchase advice: Rust and 8.2 Experiences

So Plan A was to wait until around April when they start auctioning the next batch of former Laidlaw AmTran RE school buses - you can get a roadworthy rear engine with a T444E for under 1,000. But how many skoolies are built with Plan A?

We recently discovered a bus that would be way more fun to drive. 88 Chevy Thomas with a Detroit 8.2, 5sp stick with a split rear, and air brakes. We could probably get it for even less than the AmTran RE (it's at a dealer but I have some connections).

Question 1: How much rust is too much? The bus has obviously been taken care of, most of the body is cleaner than the 02 Thomas I drive at work (the company I work for doesn't believe in washing). But the areas that concern me are the wheel wells. There's significant cancer on the outer skin (bondo'd over). It looks like the floor has some spots that would need to be patched front and rear of the wheels (one looks like it was already patched but needs to be re-done). Who's dealt with this kind of rust before? How big a job is it to reinforce the floor in a way that will keep the rust from spreading, not just cover it up? (I forget where but I thought I saw pictures of someone using old traffic signs to patch the floor.)

Question 2: Who's running an 8.2? The bus company I used to work for had several of this vintage, they seemed like good reliable engines. But that company had a top-notch maintenance program and owned those buses since they were new. They had one purchased used that blew a head gasket, but that was partially blamed on the driver. I've heard about head gasket issues on those engines and have heard of some mechanics who hate them. I'll take a test-drive before buying, and can check the oil and water for any signs of contamination, but I don't have a trustworthy mechanic in the area (the bus is just over 100 miles from my house). Is it worth the risk?
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Old 01-18-2010, 11:53 AM   #2
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Re: Purchase advice: Rust and 8.2 Experiences

You probably have more experience with various types than most of us. There are some negative posts about GM diesels here. I personally might think it worth the risk to get a standard shift with a 2-speed axle and air brakes as a bonus. It also depends on if you can do body work. Any bus up here will have salt exposure, so all will be suspect.

A friend of mine drives for a district about 20 miles from here. I think the REs some of them drive are Amtran, but I could be wrong. He said the district was not going to buy any more REs because the engine computer boards were getting beat up in the rear and giving trouble or failing. Just "urban legend" at this point but work asking about.

"You pays your money and you makes your choice." I would look at length and ground clearance for my purposes, YMMV.
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Old 01-18-2010, 02:02 PM   #3
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Year: 1988
Coachwork: Bluebird
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Engine: 8.2L Detroit N/A, Allison
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Re: Purchase advice: Rust and 8.2 Experiences

I just bought a 1988 GMC with the 8.2L Detroit, Allison auto, and air brakes less than a month ago. It was from Ohio and seems to be mostly rust free. I paid $1250 for mine...for reference. It was a 1200 mile trip home, and since we've been home we've put another 800+ miles on it...100% problem free. We had a cold snap right about Christmas, lows below zero, highs in the low teens. The Silver Snail ALWAYS started without being plugged in...even sitting a day or two at a time. The coldest day I started it in was 8 above after not having been run for two days.

It smoked like crazy, but after it warmed up, the smoke cleared and it's ran out great. We've been really happy with it. I, too, was a little scared about the head gasket issue, but I've been told to just watch the temp gauge and it should be fine. Actually, I had to put a winterfront on it to keep it warm.

So far, it's been a great motor...great bus. It has a BlueBird Body, by the way.

Ben.
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Old 01-18-2010, 05:35 PM   #4
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Coachwork: AmTran RE
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Rated Cap: 72
Re: Purchase advice: Rust and 8.2 Experiences

Thanks for all the replies so far.

On the outside skin, I was thinking more along the lines of the Good News Bus - cutting out the rusted panel at the seams (or somewhere near the rubrail above the wheel) having a custom piece cut to match the shape, and then riveting it in the way Thomas originally did. Neither of us have any experience welding. I might be able to find someone who could help teach me the basics and lend me some equipment, but chances are I'd have to pay to have any welding done. For the floor, I really like the idea BUSBOZO had of using old highway signs. Definitely doing foam insulation under new plywood no matter what bus we get, so it'll be covered. I'd just hate to put all this time and effort into a conversion and have the floor rust out from under it a couple years later. I guess I'm looking for some assurance that we wouldn't be in over our heads.

I'll be talking to my "connection" tomorrow to find out how good of a deal we can get and if there are any issues they didn't advertise. The bus is on eBay right now for $2,500. I'm crazy enough to drive a school bus, and crazy enough to turn one into a camper, but not crazy enough to pay that much. I'm hoping to schedule a test-drive next weekend. The RE (Plan A) would probably make for a better camper while parked, but the thought of having 10 gears to play with makes me smile.
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Old 01-18-2010, 08:06 PM   #5
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Re: Purchase advice: Rust and 8.2 Experiences

Hey phil, Is this 88 Chevy Thomas from Bus & Chassis in New Hampshire? If so, I can give you some info on it!

Also, as far as the panels go, you could get in touch with a Thomas Bus Dealer and actually purchase the seperate panels and rivet them in. I'm not sure how much they would cost. But something worth looking into.

I think it was Smitty that gave me the idea to use some old road signs. It was a bit challenging bending them to the contour of the wheel hump. But they should hold up nice.

On your floor.. TEAR EVERYTHING UP! You need to see what kind of rust issues the bus has. Do some patching if needed, then grind off loose rust and paint with POR15 or equivalent. Then vapor barrier, foam, plywood. Make sure you look closely at the exterior wheel openings even after the mudflaps. The spinning wheels over time actually (sand blast) the undercoating and the sheetmetal starts to rot, and then the water, sand and salt get inside and saturate the plywood floor. I would also tear out the inner wall to check for leaky windows.

Again, if this bus is from Bus & Chassis.. You need to contact me. I live about 30 minutes from there and that is where I bought my 93 SAFE-T-LINER. They are great people to deal with. Whatever you do DO NOT do a buy it now for this bus on ebay. (don't worry, nothing bad). I will explain. Let me know and I will PM you with my number and we can discuss.

Dan
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Old 01-18-2010, 08:25 PM   #6
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Re: Purchase advice: Rust and 8.2 Experiences

Buy it now is great if you dont want to risk loosing the auction, but you will end up paying a bit more than you probably could if you wait till the last Minute and submitting your bid.
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Old 01-18-2010, 09:04 PM   #7
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Re: Purchase advice: Rust and 8.2 Experiences

When I first started shopping for a bus, I went to look at one that was listed on publicsurplus.com online auction, it was being sold by a local school system. It had the 8.2L Detroit in it, and the bus barn service manager that was selling it off warned me about a particular problem they had with the engine. It seems the air compressor is mounted to the cyl head, and because of vibrations they had a tendancy to vibrate loose, eventually breaking off a piece of the cyl head... and those heads are expensive and from I can tell are getting hard to find.

He told me it was otherwise a great engine, and that if I did buy one, that I should check and tighten the compressor on a weekly basis. I guess if it was run every day maybe weekly would be good, for casual use I'd just tighten it every so often...
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Old 01-18-2010, 09:13 PM   #8
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Join Date: Jan 2010
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Year: 1999
Coachwork: AmTran RE
Chassis: International
Engine: T444E
Rated Cap: 72
Re: Purchase advice: Rust and 8.2 Experiences

Thanks for the advice about the air compressor.

I have a friend with connections at that dealership, and will hopefully be in touch with someone there in the next few days for an off-eBay sale.

BUSBOZO, I sent you a PM but I'm not sure if it went thru, it's showing in my outbox instead of sent (still technically a newbie on this forum ).
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