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Old 07-14-2019, 02:18 AM   #1
New Member
Join Date: Jul 2019
Posts: 1
Newbie with a dream for the future

Hey guys,

greetings from Germany. My girlfriend and I plan to buy a school bus and convert it into a home, like a lot of you already did. Then we want to travel across the USA and take him back home afterwards.
That’s all in the far future now, but I want to start gathering information early, so I can plan a lot. I already watched a lot of videos and read a lot, but still have a million questions and hope to find some answers here.

First I want to have an exact model and year that I am looking for( or a handful). I really like the design of the 90’s dognose Ford Blue Birds. Also I hope there is not to much electronics, so if something should break down, that I can maybe learn to fix it myself. I want one that has an interior height of 6ft 6in and an exterior length of about 33ft, because longer would be problematic for German streets. It would be cool if it can make the 80m/h, but it would be just great to be able to drive 60m/h. Also on long term I want to convert to engine to gas, because diesel is to expensive for Germany. And are there manual buses? I only saw automatic ones.
I really hope I can get some recommendations here, like I read it is really important which engine the bus have and which year it was built.

Also with a bit of luck we will be able to stay in California so to find a bus around there would be useful and am I right that we shouldn’t have to much trouble finding a rust free one around there?

Are there some mechanics where I could bring the bus to get a prebuy check in California, mechanics that know a lot about these buses? Any recommendations?

So that should be enough for the starter questions, I hope you can help me guys and that I don’t write to much, also that I posted this in the correct thread.

Kind regards from Germany
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Old 07-14-2019, 04:06 AM   #2
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The 90s Ford BlueBirds are a decent platform. I had a 1989 myself, with a 429 and a 4-speed manual. However, avoid those with hydraulic brakes like the plague -- they have the Lucas-Girling brake system, major pain in the @$$ to repair, and pricey / hard-to-find parts as well. Definitely look for an air-brake one over the hydraulic.

The easy way to tell is the parking brake actuator on a hydraulic brake bus will be a simple toggle switch housed in a black box with a yellow label. Another giveaway of a Lucas-Girling system will be that the engine is equipped with two power-steering-style hydraulic pumps - one for the power steering, the other for the brake system. The air-brake buses will have a simple hand valve with a yellow diamond-shaped knob reading "Parking Brake - Push To Release / Pull To Apply" -- like so:
Air Brake Knob.png
As far as electronics, for diesels, stay in the pre 1999 era and you should be okay. 1998-1999 is when most of the diesel engine options started getting emissions crap that began to slowly cripple them. The 5.9 Cummins was available, which is a decent engine, but had a bit of cybercrap on it at some point, I believe 1998 was the first year for EGR and a growing number of emissions headaches from that point forth. Some EGR engines such as the 6.0 had major issues with EGR coolers.

On the gassers, however, it is quite likely that some had computer control as early as 1982. Holley 4-barrel carburetors were pretty standard for most 370s and 429s, but most applications were using electronic-controlled carburetors as early as 1981, which were junk. Most truck engines, however, didn't get this crap until well into the late 80s. I'm not even sure my 1989 had it, but it's been ten years, so I can't remember.

The good news is, they were largely based on their older non-electronic controlled counterparts and usually are easily swapped. However, it is quite likely the "Check Engine" light will be on as a result. The engine will run fine, however -- the computer just won't be happy that it's no longer in control. The electronic-controlled carburetors are easy to spot, there will be a bit of wiring to the sensors and solenoids used. Standard carburetors will only have one or two for the choke thermostat coil.

The 429 engine also dates back to 1968, and can therefore be fitted with a standard vaccum-advance distributor, though I do recommend keeping electronic ignition with the DuraSpark system. The 429 was available as late as 1996-1997, and had multi-port injection by then, requiring the factory distributor be retained to run properly.

Try to get one with a manual trans if you can drive one, but if not, the MT643 auto is preferred over the AT545. So much the better if your candidate has a newer Allison trans. Here is some info on identifying these two options... Although I have read somewhere where some have said that the shifter design / layout is a giveaway as well.
Allison Trans.png
These buses were available with 370 (6.1L) and 429 (7.0L) gas engines. The 429 at least is a member of the 385-series family, which means it can be swapped for a 460 if replacement becomes necessary. The 370 is supposedly an FT-block engine, based on the FE, though some info (possibly incorrect) has led me to believe there may be two different 370s, one on the FT block, the other on the 385-series. The FT engines aren't impossible to find parts for, but the 385-series are much easier to find, and and performance parts to boot.

So, if you're dead set on having a gasser, you might find it easier to buy a factory gasser in the first place. The diesels began slowly pushing out the gas offerings starting around 1990 or so, so to get a good factory gasser, I would suggest limiting your search to 1982-1989 models, they are much more likely to have the gas engine / manual trans combo you desire. You MAY even find it easier to swap air brake-equipped axles to one that was factory equipped as a gasser / manual / hydraulic brake. There are PLENTY of those around still, though I have seen one with a 370 gasser and air brakes.

Not that later models couldn't be had with gassers, but most were shipped with diesels, and nearly all of them had auto transmissions. Pre-1982 models are even more likely to have this setup, but are more likely to have the dreaded Lucas-Girling brake system. They also have a different nose style than the one you seem to desire, which dates from 1968-1981 if I'm not mistaken. (Could a year or two off one way or the other)

The diesel options include a 5.9 Cummins (the 12V is preferred among most Cummins folks, I seem to remember some talk of the injection system on the 24V having some issues), a 6.6L Brazilian-manufactured diesel largely based on a New Holland tractor engine, as well as the 7.3L.

Some may also have been equipped with the T444E, but I've not seen one myself. Ford also offered a 3208 Caterpillar in the F-series on which the B-series buses were based, but this engine option made an F700 an F7000, or an F800 an F8000, so I am not sure if any of these actually found their way into these models, although the 3208 was used in a number of rear-engine pushers, so it wouldn't surprise me.

Somewhere in there you may find a few 6.0-powered variants, I would avoid them like the plague -- they are the PowerStroke engine, and we call these PowerJoke for a reason. If I'm not mistaken, this was one engine that used the HEUI system, which relied on oil pressure to help control the injection system. CadillacKid seems pretty knowledgeable about the T444E, which if I'm understanding correctly, is what the 7.3 PowerStroke (better engine than the 6.0L) is based on. TONS of issues with the 6.0L. Later emission-equipped engines (2004+) have even more issues. Basically, stay away from anything with a DPF or DEF system.

Hopefully this info, as well as anything offered by others here, will help you to find a good bus... Happy hunting, and welcome aboard!
"Cheese Wagon" <>

Former owner - 1989 Ford B700 64-pass Blue Bird (Rest In Peace, Cheese Wagon)
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Old 07-14-2019, 10:01 AM   #3
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The T444/7.3 (essentially the same engine, a few minor differences) was available through '04. It could not meet '05 emissions regulations coming into effect which is when the 6.0 came out. The 6.0's deficiencies could be overcome by "bulletproofing" it, at no small cost. I don't think either of these engines were available in the larger Ford school bus chassis, they were IH built engines and since IH also built school bus chassis, they only let Ford use them in the smaller pickup and cutaway van chassis (anti-competition agreements and all that).

I don't know how much more expensive diesel is than gas in Germany, but here in the states the cost difference is about 20% more expensive ($2.50/gallon for gas, $3.00/gallon for diesel). But the diesel engine will get close to twice the fuel economy of a large gasser - 4-5 MPG for gas and 8-10 for diesel. Diesel engines will also have more life expectancy and power than their gas counterparts. I've never seen a full size gas powered bus that would run more than 60 and that was on flat ground, full throttle (not saying they aren't out there, but I've never encountered one if they are). Many diesels are speed limited too mostly by gearing, but if geared for highway speeds, many will run 75-80 on flat land.

I worked for a company years ago that had 3 Ford buses which were set up for highway running, one topped out at 80+ and the other 2 would run at least 75. They were diesel and manual transmission (I forget what engines they had) and had air brakes.
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Old 07-14-2019, 01:17 PM   #4
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BSF makes good points!

While my previous '89 could touch 68 with the 429 gasser, and lost maybe 5-6 mph on a grade that brings most semis to 35-45 mph, as BSF notes, by my calculations, it got around 3 mpg doing it. Diesels do indeed get better fuel economy -- usually around 8-12 mpg in a skoolie, depending on how you drive it. Less likely to have hydraulic brakes too.

However, much of Europe heavily taxes fuel -- especially diesel. As a taxi driver, I had a client on a sort of extended working vacation from the UK who told me that diesel was actually preferred in the UK because gasoline was the equivalent of $7.00-$10.00 a gallon, and that was in 2005-2006. I'm not sure about Germany's system, but in the UK, there is a rather expensive 'road tax' -- for which the government is the butt of much criticism, as evidenced in this road tax decal overlay -- According to this particular decal, even bicycles are taxed. Many US localities have property taxes in similar fashion, but I suspect European govts are double-dipping by assessing road tax on top of personal property tax.

Road Tax - Fix Potholes.jpg

And to think that most Brits think of us Yanks as yahoos -- They gave up their guns, and now they can be taxed on their television usage. That's why the Second Amendment is so important, folks. But I digress. Anyway, I suspect fuel taxes and road taxes are likely why the OP is leaning towards a gasser. Gotta pay for fixing the AutoBahn SOMEHOW, eh?

Serviceability is another possible factor in why OP is more interested in gas power. Could be that diesel repair in Germany is ridiculously expensive and they prefer something they can work on themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I prefer diesels myself. Both BSF and myself, as well as a few other members here, have driven commercial trucks over-the-road professionally, and after awhile, diesel gets in your blood, so to speak. Most of us who have still even have our commercial licenses. Haven't driven commercially in over a year but still keep my CDL current.

Another argument for a diesel is that with a mechanically-injected engine, you can modify the fuel system to run it on WVO. You basically treat waste vegetable oil to remove impurities, and store it in a separate heated tank to help ease flow and keep it from clogging the injectors. The caveats being that you have to shut down and start up on straight diesel fuel, if you do not switch to diesel for shutdown / startup, the WVO will turn to grease in your injector pump and lines and you'll have a big mess to sort out. But the upshot is, you can make your own fuel from what fast-food joints throw away and will probably give you for free to save them the costs of disposing of it.

However, one strong argument for a gasser is if you plan to run a generator, very few generators of appropriate size for an RV / bus conversion are diesel. Most are gas, a few are LPG / CNG.

But if I may venture a suggestion for the OP, there is an alternative if this is one of your reasons for preferring gas power. Commercial trucks (at least in the US) are often equipped with an Automated Power Unit, or APU for short. It is essentially a small two-cylinder diesel generator that powers an auxiliary electric HVAC system that is used to keep the truck cab at a comfortable temperature while the driver sleeps, and uses much less diesel than the chassis engine (about 1-2 gallons per day as opposed to between a half-gallon to three-fourths of a gallon an hour, and 1 US gallon is approximately 3.785L).

Most US truck salvage yards will have at least a few trucks with these. The Thermo-King TriPac is an excellent unit and delivers better performance than any of them. If you go this route, stay away from the Comfort-Cool systems, they are junk in my experience and are difficult to repair. The caveat to the TriPac is that they are electronic controlled and it is common to fry control motherboards, but the good news is they are fairly easy to replace, and can possibly even be modified to eliminate that part of the control system. Do your research.

One other consideration is that I wonder how easy or difficult it might be to find or get parts for American V-8 gassers in Germany. I recently had to go on a scavenger hunt for a friend in Poland who managed to acquire a 90s Ford Taurus that had been brought over and left by an American couple who had brought the car with them on an extended holiday and found it was cheaper to sell the car there than to have it shipped home.

Anyway, the parking brake pedal had cracked and broken off. It would seem Ford uses a veritable flow-chart on most applications for any given part, because they don't seem to stick to any standard package for most models when it comes to certain parts. Yes, even on a parking brake pedal assembly. Poor guy had bought three over the Internet that did not match up to his car. Locating one anywhere in Europe was impossible, as European Ford dealer parts catalogs neither covered American models, nor went back more than 10 model years (car in question was 24 years old). Such cars were impossible to find in European salvage yards either.

Fortunately, I was able to help him out by researching the VIN through a US dealer and getting the specifics as to what specific models the part had to be sourced from. In this case, it had to be a certain model year range, with cable-actuated rear drum brakes, column-shift automatic. I caught a break with a salvage yard about 30 miles away that had a wagon with the correct setup, acquired it and shipped it to Poland for him after arranging payment.

That was to get a parking brake pedal for a run-of-the-mill car that can be found on any street corner or salvage yard here in the US. There are even a few in some folks' back yards pending repair. I can only imagine getting parts for an American school bus in Germany will be more difficult, as commercial truck chassis have much more obscure parts catalogs and much more application-specific part revisions. However, American gas V-8s and American muscle in particular have a strong following in Poland, I wonder if this is the case in Germany as well.
"Cheese Wagon" <>

Former owner - 1989 Ford B700 64-pass Blue Bird (Rest In Peace, Cheese Wagon)
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