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Old 09-07-2018, 12:30 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Year: 1993
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Serenity - The Rock Crawler Hauler

Well, I finally got the bus I've been looking for with just the right dimensions and just the right engine. This thread is dedicated to documenting and sharing my build experience. The single purpose of the bus is quite simple and the plan to build her even simpler.

Year: 1993
Make: Blue Bird
Model: TC/2000
Engine: 1st Generation Cummins 5.9L 12v

Her primary purpose is to haul my custom built rock crawlers and race cars to events around the country as easily as possible while serving as a place to sleep at the events and be a rolling garage with all the required tools and parts to maintain my off-road rigs or race cars during the event. Thus I have named her Serenity after one of my favorite sci-fi shows/movie "Fire Fly." Why? Because I'm a big geek and because like the fictitious ship in the show/movie she will be designed to carry my cargo to far off destinations while doubling as my home during the trips. But mostly because I'm just a big geek!

The plan (thus far) is to modify the rear to allow me to drive a rock crawler or race car up ramps onto a flatbed just big enough and have plenty of lockable under bed storage for tools, welders, parts, spare fuel, etc. The front will remain enclosed and converted to a simple 14 to 17" RV inside.

Yesterday, I went and picked her up with the help of a buddy. I won her on a government auction and thankfully she was close by. Only a two hour trip one way from my home in TN. She had been sitting for just over a year in a field next to the tiny maintenance shop of a very small town in rural mountains of Georgia. The guy I got her from was extremely nice and very helpful. Still, have an issue with the title, but he's promised me he will make it right. She had to be jumped off but started right up without hesitation. Love Cummins engines!

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After the two hours drive through the mountains home, here she sits in front of the house waiting to be parked in my driveway.

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And finally in the driveway ready to be cleaned. I do have a full automotive shop in my basement for building my rock crawlers and race cars complete with lift, welders, tube benders, and every other tool needed, but this big girl won't fit, so I will be running airlines and 240v power to my garage near driveway so I can work on her there.
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This is what she will primarily be hauling on her cargo deck. This is a one-off custom build I completed last year. You can read all about that here. Extreme 3rd Gen Build! Insane!
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Old 09-08-2018, 07:48 AM   #2
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Have fun

Have fun with your new big toy. Its like having a hot air balloon parked in the back yard. I changed gears and decided to go with a trailer and build a toter. Traded the pain of having a trailer for lower loading height and flexibility of pulling different trailers for different purposes. It also gives me more cabin space.
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Old 09-08-2018, 11:12 AM   #3
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What made you decide that engine was "The Right One"? While not a bad motor, it is not ideal for a large bus, and less so if your hauling a few 1000 lbs more of toys. IINM, that TC2000 also came with the least desirable tranny, the AT545, a bigger negative in that bus than the motor for your intended purpose.
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Old 09-08-2018, 12:45 PM   #4
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Interesting choice. While not ideal for towing, your bus is expected to carry payload likely equal to more than double the weight of your towed truck and trailer. You mentioned mountains and I highly recommend adding a transmission cooler as the AT545 will do its best to burn up if you're climbing mountains with it.
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Old 09-10-2018, 12:18 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by o1marc View Post
What made you decide that engine was "The Right One"? While not a bad motor, it is not ideal for a large bus, and less so if your hauling a few 1000 lbs more of toys. IINM, that TC2000 also came with the least desirable tranny, the AT545, a bigger negative in that bus than the motor for your intended purpose.
This one has the Allision AT634, not the AT545, which is way better. I love the Cummins 12v, which is why I went for this combo. Easy to work on and build good towing power. The AT545 can handle up to about 275 to 300HP with a decent load, the 643 should handle easily up to 450HP by my research (please correct me if I'm wrong). My crawler only weighs in at just under 5,000 lbs total with fuel and no driver, so that plus the weight of a small RV cab should do fine. This is a weird setup though, which is why I bought it. It is a 1993 model, but it has the Cummins 12v with a P7100 (P-Pump) instead of the VE pump typical of the 89 to 93 Cummins 5.9 ltrs.
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Old 09-10-2018, 12:34 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnforrest View Post
Have fun with your new big toy. Its like having a hot air balloon parked in the back yard. I changed gears and decided to go with a trailer and build a toter. Traded the pain of having a trailer for lower loading height and flexibility of pulling different trailers for different purposes. It also gives me more cabin space.
I hear ya! My neighbors gave me odd looks when I was parking it. I have nine different vehicles in my garages/yard in various states of restoration/build into crawler or race car staus. The funny part was all the guys (husbands) around me for several houses down were all like "Hell yeah, that's awesome! when can we all go for a ride? Let's take this bad boy tailgating to "X" football game" (I'm a Florida Gator having attended UF, but I'm game for any fun tailgating). Meanwhile, all the wives were like, "What the hell does he need a school but for? Makes his yard look trashy!"

Ironically, I'm used to flat towing my crawlers et al with my truck and I do plan to put a receiver on the back so I can potentially load one crawler on the bed (say the 88 Suzuki Sami for my daughter to drive) and my crawler on the trailer. Who knows.
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Old 09-10-2018, 12:59 AM   #7
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You mentioned mountains and I highly recommend adding a transmission cooler as the AT545 will do its best to burn up if you're climbing mountains with it.
Couldn't agree more. Tranny coolers are always on my build list for all auto transmissions regardless of build. I have actually thought about putting in a GM Allison 1000 since they do make adapter plates for the Allison 1000 to mount to the Cummins 12v. Eh, its early in the build, so we'll see.
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Old 09-10-2018, 03:09 AM   #8
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Your bus and 3rd Gen look great. I have a 99 3rd Gen too.
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Old 09-10-2018, 05:02 AM   #9
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Did someone swap the transmission? All tc2000 front engine models with automatics came with the at545. The mt643 was an option for rear engine versions.
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Old 09-10-2018, 08:17 AM   #10
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Did someone swap the transmission? All tc2000 front engine models with automatics came with the at545. The mt643 was an option for rear engine versions.
Dunno, I'm going on what the nice man in the maintenance shop said when I picked it up. I actually haven't crawled under there to look yet. Before I left with it the only thing I did is check to see if it was the correct bus (VIN, etc) I won and if it had all the necessary parts to get me home, like u-joints, engine, tranny, etc. It was advertised as "Running and driving condition" but they are a small county and he said they have been known to cannibalize parts off of some of the busses without telling the manager (who was auctioning the bus).

There is a lot about this bus that's weird including the fact it has a p-pump and not a VE pump on the 5.9ltr. That year should have come with VE pump. The P-pump makes me happy because of how much power I can get out of that engine with just some minor wrenching. Could be they took the tranny out of another bus at one point and put in this one? Now if the trans is actually the AT545 (not sure how to tell yet) then that limits my power producing a bit, which should still be okay for what I intend to do with it. Either way, I got a hell of a deal on her. My winning bid was $1,634.00 which at that price its a steal since that 12v Cummins alone is worth more than that.

As soon as it stops raining around here I'd like to get underneath and scope things out a bit more and find out what I really have.
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Old 09-10-2018, 09:01 AM   #11
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Buses are often a year older than the platform they're built on, as the chassis is usually supplied to the body manufacturer... So a 1993 bus likely came with a 1992 engine in it. That obviously doesn't work the other direction, so if you have a P pump it would seem something was retrofit.

I'd check the transmission, as they are not directly interchangeable units. The MT643 is longer and weighs twice as much as the AT545, so you're looking at shortening the driveshaft and adding a crossmember and a number of other changes. The conversion has been done several times by members here.


A 5.9 with a MT643 would be pretty awesome. However if they're the ones who said AT643 (which doesn't exist) I would take for granted it's an AT545 until verified. The transmission will have a tag on its side that clearly states what model it is.

I'm a fan of the TC2000, like I said I'm building one currently, but I'm also a realist and won't oversell it. Mine is the same generation as yours.

You may find some info if you plug the VIN ito bluebird's Vantage site. https://vantage.blue-bird.com/Portal/Vantage-Home.aspx
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Old 09-10-2018, 09:57 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brokedown View Post
Buses are often a year older than the platform they're built on, as the chassis is usually supplied to the body manufacturer... So a 1993 bus likely came with a 1992 engine in it. That obviously doesn't work the other direction, so if you have a P pump it would seem something was retrofit.

I'd check the transmission, as they are not directly interchangeable units. The MT643 is longer and weighs twice as much as the AT545, so you're looking at shortening the driveshaft and adding a crossmember and a number of other changes. The conversion has been done several times by members here.


A 5.9 with a MT643 would be pretty awesome. However if they're the ones who said AT643 (which doesn't exist) I would take for granted it's an AT545 until verified. The transmission will have a tag on its side that clearly states what model it is.

I'm a fan of the TC2000, like I said I'm building one currently, but I'm also a realist and won't oversell it. Mine is the same generation as yours.

You may find some info if you plug the VIN ito bluebird's Vantage site. https://vantage.blue-bird.com/Portal/Vantage-Home.aspx
Thanks for the info! Makes sense about the chassis. The same thing happens with Cab & Chassis models from Ford, Chevy, etc. I don't know about the retrofit of the p-pump. That's the weird part. The Cummins engine number shows a P-7100 part number on the online datasheet (WTF?), so this engine came with p-pump from Cummins factory at least. And the manufacturer year says June 1993, which is the weird part to see P-pump on factory 1993 engine. Granted that is using the engine number stamped on the body data plate, but again the datasheet online confirms the weirdness. A good buddy of mine is a Cummins 6BT expert and even he said it was strange. It's expensive and requires a great deal of work to change out a VE pump for a p-pump, so why would a small school board go through the effort?

I had never heard of an AT643 and assumed he meant MT643, but like you said I need to verify that. I'm not too concerned about any of it really. It's the engine I really wanted. Any modifications needed to mount a different trans doesn't really bother me, I have all the tools and fab skills to do that. Not that I necessarily want to, but could. I would like take full advantage of the Cummins 12v since it is capable of HUGE power.
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Old 09-10-2018, 11:54 AM   #13
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The 5.9 is a great engine with lots of easy options to turn up the power, The AT545 is rated for 445 lb-ft of torque maximum and you're likely within a gnat's whisker of that already. The MT643 weighs twice as much because it can handle a lot more, and is rated for 640 lb-ft so you have some room to grow.
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Old 09-10-2018, 03:17 PM   #14
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I did a 1000 swap a year ago... albeit on a 7.3 and not a cummins, but the mechanicals of a 1000 built right (defero, suncoast and others) can make up a 1000 with an SAE3 bell and tail set so mechanically a 545 comes out and the 1000 goes in.. (have to cut dow nthe driveshaft is it).... the electronics are the harder part of doing a 545 to 1000 swap...



its pretty easy to drive your bus and tell if it had a 545 or 643... when you got out on the highway up to 40 or faster, and you tip into the throttle a bit if the engine RPM tended to stay the same or slow go up as the bus sped up.. then you have lockup and 643./. if the engine likes to rev every time you go part way into the throttle. at that speed.. you have a 545 (no lockup)..
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Old 09-10-2018, 04:29 PM   #15
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We had two 1993 ford chassis bluebird buses at our school district that had 5.9 cummins with p pumps. Cant remember where I heard it but someone told me that the medium duty chassis buses/trucks of that vintage could come from the factory with p pumps.
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Old 09-10-2018, 05:36 PM   #16
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its pretty easy to drive your bus and tell if it had a 545 or 643... when you got out on the highway up to 40 or faster, and you tip into the throttle a bit if the engine RPM tended to stay the same or slow go up as the bus sped up.. then you have lockup and 643./. if the engine likes to rev every time you go part way into the throttle. at that speed.. you have a 545 (no lockup)..
-Christopher
Then it's a 545 because it just creeps up hills no matter the RPM. I found a 643 online used for $500 so I may just go ahead and have that shipped to me. The Allison 1000 is a great trans. I've always said that if you combined the Allison 1000, with the Cummins Diesel and stuffed that in whatever, it's a great vehicle. In fact, I have a 1967 Ford F-250 (I'm a ford guy) and I plan to put a 6BT or 4BT in it with a ZF-5, ZF-6, or Allison 1000. Already has a Dana 60 out back. Will make a nice rat rod tow pig rolling coal!
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Old 09-10-2018, 05:37 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by 84chevyguyid View Post
We had two 1993 ford chassis bluebird buses at our school district that had 5.9 cummins with p pumps. Cant remember where I heard it but someone told me that the medium duty chassis buses/trucks of that vintage could come from the factory with p pumps.
Good to know, thanks. I'm thankful for the p-pump for sure.
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Old 09-12-2018, 08:13 AM   #18
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Crawled under this beast yesterday to check the trans and sure enough its an AT545. Well, crap! Oh, well, you win some, you lose some. Already on the lookout for an MT643 to swap in since I will be using this thing for long hauls and in mountainous terrain. Plus I'll need a trans that can handle the extra 400HP I plan to squeeze out of the 6BT.

Plans are now on the drawing board for getting this project moving, but I did make an excuse to drive it around my neighborhood with my kids the other day and after we parked it I overheard my son speaking to the neighbor's boy the same age. "Your dad going to be driving our school bus to school now?" The neighbor's boy asked. My kid replied, "No way! Dad says it's not a school bus, it's a Skoolie and that's different!" Neighbor's kid looked puzzled, "Looks like a school bus to me." My kid replied, "Well you obviously don't get it."

This turned into a long conversation between me and the boys on what it's for and how I will do it. It's great to see that spark of curiosity and the glow of excitement in my kid's eyes. It's almost like he can see the potential. Can't wait to get him out there wrenching on it with me.
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Old 09-12-2018, 10:10 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NotKewl View Post
Already on the lookout for an MT643 to swap in since I will be using this thing for long hauls and in mountainous terrain. Plus I'll need a trans that can handle the extra 400HP I plan to squeeze out of the 6BT.
.
Be aware of the MT643 limitations:

Max HP 250
Max Torque 640 lb. Ft.

You may want to take a look around for an MD3060
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Old 09-16-2018, 12:00 PM   #20
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Shiny!

You're off to a fine start, posting lotsa pictures. No offense, but it sounds to me like you're Mal and Kaylee rolled into one.

Looking forward to whomever is playing Inara's photos posted post haste..!

Can't wait to see how you address the Firefly effect in your build. Me, I currently have an el cheapo solar path lamp pushed into one of the tow bar's toad chain hook holes (temporarily whilst in camp only, natch)
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