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Old 02-01-2021, 05:17 AM   #1
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Question Can you fix up an old bus?

Hello! I am looking to get into the Skoolie game and have been eyeing a few older buses. Many are from the 60s. They are relatively cheap, but I am obviously concerned with maintenance. I was curious if anyone knows anything about maintenance for these kinds of buses, and whether or not you can switch out the engine entirely (if so how much something like that would cost.) I am also concerned about mileage and mpg. The price is right all else considered for many of these so any information of the downfalls that come with getting something this old.

Thanks!
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Old 02-01-2021, 06:37 AM   #2
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Yes I can fix up an old bus. Look up my build "The Bus". Others have done this as well, look up 67 Gillig magic bus, and Tango has a long post about his bus. Do not remember the name of the post though.



ok with all seriousness it can be done, a lot of work and a lot of skill needs to be either had or gained. There is a real satisfaction in having fixed up an old one. It much more like restoring an old car, then you get to do the interior build after the vehicle restoration. Depending on how well you did the restoration will determine how much maintenance you have to do on an ongoing basis. It will be more then a modern bus though. However they are simpler and if you are mechanically inclined you should be able to pick up on it.



Fuel mileage on a good day I get 6mpg.
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Old 02-01-2021, 08:45 AM   #3
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Like Ronnie said...yes, with skills or the willingness to learn them. And he nailed it about the satisfaction part.

We like some of the modern bus features and there's certainly a lot to be said for getting a solid, newer bus as a build platform...for lots of folks. But I lean strongly towards the older buses, especially the mechanical ones without any electronic ignition...without any electronics, actually. If you like to maintain your own vehicle or if you plan to travel to South America or if you want to be able to drive around after a CME then an old mechanical bus is the way to go.

If I may, though, make an assumption... from your wording it sounds like you might be considering this route as a less expensive option. Going with an older bus will not be cheaper. Most cool old buses, in good shape, actually cost more than newer buses. So, if you find an old bus that's really cheap there's probably a reason for it. But if you have the time and skills and love to invest in a restoration, then you'll end up with something unique and probably very reliable.

As to the engine replacement, yes you can swap those out. To get the cost ballpark, first I'd look for used or rebuilt engines online and see what they're going for. Would you do it yourself? If so, the cost above that is primarily your time and related parts. Depending upon the engine condition, and the engine model, it might be possible to rebuild it instead. We are in the "replace" boat right now. We have an old 1949 GM transit bus which we bought with the engine disassembled. Generally that old Detroit 6-71 can be rebuilt, with new cylinder sleeves and all, without removing the engine from the bus...and the rebuild kit is a bit over $1500. Since this one sat disassembled, though, and was missing some parts we went looking for a replacement engine. We found a used, but good running, 6-71 for $1500 and I was supposed to have done the swap last week...but we got a bunch of snow. I was pretty excited to have found that engine for $1500, though, and I think that would not be the norm I'd budget for that.

I'd urge you to evaluate your motivation for looking at really old buses. I love them, but if you're leaning that way for cost savings (and not a labor of love) then you might want to look at newer options.
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Old 02-01-2021, 12:24 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by rossvtaylor View Post
We like some of the modern bus features and there's certainly a lot to be said for getting a solid, newer bus as a build platform...for lots of folks. But I lean strongly towards the older buses, especially the mechanical ones without any electronic ignition...without any electronics, actually. If you like to maintain your own vehicle or if you plan to travel to South America or if you want to be able to drive around after a CME then an old mechanical bus is the way to go.
I used to say that electronic engines are "harder" to work on, when I was ignorant of them. Now I say the opposite.


I think you can "maintain" an electronically controlled engine just as easily as a mechanical, from changing oil to replacing an alternator or water-pump - there is little difference; anything but replacing the fuel injectors in a CAT motor (need special tools, from what I heard). They will run cleaner, have more power, and get better gas mileage. If you are an old fart and computers blow your mind, or you are really really bad with electrical (what's the difference in (+) and (-) kinda ignorance - and there is nothing wrong with ignorance!), then issues with the computer still are not that bad: the computer typically tells you what is wrong (OK, you gotta drop a bill into buying a computer scanner, no biggie)! With a mechanical one, you have to be intuitive from the beginning, understand the system well, and test, test, test. But the mechanical one can run off veggie-oil with just a little to no mods, whereas the electronic ones can not at all (I think bio-diesel is OK in most modern diesels, though).


That said, I keep my old carbureted Nissan pickup for that trip to S.America. I ditched the factory "smog" carburetor that always was causing problems, making the truck run like crap - even backfiring, and creating more pollution, and installed a Weber; runs better, cleaner, stronger, more efficient. Since those motors are common down south, I feel I could get any part I needed now, and the carburetor can be easily removed, cleaned (important when the fuel can be very contaminated like it is commonly is down there), etc., and should last for 100+ years if not corroded; electronic fuel injectors will not. I will likely take the bus down south also (caravan), but it will have extra essential common-wear-and-tear parts (water pump, hoses, belt(s), electrical parts for rebuilding the alternator, u-joints, wheel bearings, etc.) in storage on hand, just in case. The truck will be the go-to for anything if the bus breaks down and I don't have the part.


Finally, how much longer do you think they will allow old diesels on the road, due to smog concerns? I have an electronic one, and I'm not putting $10K-$20K $+ into the interior conversion for that very reason. Will I be able to drive it in some states (Cali being the top of the list), or get fuel, in 20 or even 10 years? Already those old diesels are not legal for anything except a motorhome in Cali.


I just read Navistar will begin making hydrogen fuel-cell motors for trucks and buses here in the States very soon. They will be partnering with another company to set up hydrogen fueling stations nationwide. AirBus just announced a few months ago that they will be developing hydrogen-powered jet airplanes, and again, setting up hydrogen refueling stations at airports thought the world (making hydrogen that much more common and accepted). Great Britain (or at least England) had already set a timeline to outlaw diesels on the street entirely (2023 or something like that I think).



Anyway, that is my opinion.
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Old 02-01-2021, 12:28 PM   #5
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And what is a CME?


Continuing Medical Education, google tells me. I am guessing that is not what you are talking about.


Nor the stock traders group....
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Old 02-01-2021, 02:38 PM   #6
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Good points, Mountain Gnome, and I agree with you. I didn't intend to imply that electronically controlled engine/tranny systems are bad. In fact, we have several and I had hoped to convey that those were the right choice for a lot of people. But there are advantages to old mechanical options, too...specifically that they may be a good option for travel to places where any shadetree mechanic can work on them. I like and have both...but I do personally like the old school diesels. My only real concern about them, actually, is what you mentioned...that someday somebody might tell me I can't drive one.

CME...haha...sorry! In my non-medical world I was referring to a coronal mass ejection.

I think all of us agree that getting an old bus because it's cheap won't be the cheap way to go in the long run. We get old buses because they appeal to something deeper.
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Old 02-01-2021, 03:04 PM   #7
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The older buses as mostly gasoline powered, so the threat of not being able to run a diesel will not effect those. At some point in the future converting to electric may well be a reasonable option. A nuclear fusion plant is supposed to go online in about 4 years in southern France. Notice that is fusion not fission. This could be a real game changer, and make electric vehicles the way of the future. Just even look at Tesla. now just need a wrecked Tesla semi....
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Old 02-01-2021, 03:25 PM   #8
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Year: 1954
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Chassis: old f500- new 2005 f-450
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old busses

Here is my take. I have a 1954 ford/wayne school bus. This bus was never built to do 65 mph. I think top speed when it was new was probably around 55 mph. That is all out wind it up top speed. Never ever intended to cruise at that kind of speed. Also probably would have been runnin dirt/gravel roads too.

If you are prepared to rebuild the engine, repair clutches and brake shoes and wheel bearings pretty much every 50 to 80 thousand miles. Tune ups twice a year. Just stuff that older cars and trucks used to have to do, you can run an old bus.

I chose to a little different route. I really dig the old look, but I dont want to try to buy a front wheel seal or front brake shoes for a 1954 B600 ford in the middle of Utah on a hot summer day. I have the bus on a 2010 ford f450 chassis, gives me power steering, antilock brakes, disc brakes, and the parts are only about 10 years old right now, so getting parts is easier to do than 1954 ford medium duty truck.

The engine is another deal all by itself. I choose to use a mid 90's cummins 5.9 litre diesel engine out of a dodge one ton truck. This engine does not need any electricity to run after it has been started. If I have the engine warm enough and a bit of a slope to roll the bus, I can even bump start it.

I have a manual shift transmission also. cost? yea well, you could buy a small house in kansas for the amount I have spent.

For me I dug the idea of old bus, I needed to breakdown proof the rig as much as possible. I dont want to ask six, little kiddies, my grand kids, to suffer breakdowns during excursions.

I also have 1958 shool bus international/wayne that is a little bigger with the original gasoline six cylinder engine ... I am thinking of leaving that one alone, but I have not decided. will be a 50-55 mph driver, slower up hills, I bet it does not get over 15miles to the gallon. and have to do repair/maintenance a couple times a year.

william
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Old 02-01-2021, 10:40 PM   #9
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California has a similar path for internal combustion, but maybe 95% biofuel will be acceptable at least until my bus does.

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Old 02-01-2021, 11:24 PM   #10
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California has a similar path for internal combustion, but maybe 95% biofuel will be acceptable at least until my bus does.

I always wondered why the gleaming alloy air car didn't just fly up in the air and shoot him from above. If it can't fly, why is it called an air car?
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Old 02-01-2021, 11:27 PM   #11
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I always wondered why the gleaming alloy air car didn't just fly up in the air and shoot him from above. If it can't fly, why is it called an air car?
But Neil Peart!
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Old 02-14-2021, 10:57 AM   #12
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Like a cheap boat, you will pay MORE than the savings in maintenance if you have to hire it out or if you value your time.

But if your labor is free, parts aren't the most expensive part of automotive repair.

As long as you enjoy it and have space, like others said, it's similar to restoring a car. It's not worth the cost if you hire a shop to restore a 1992 Dodge caravan with rust removal, rebuilding the engine and transmission, redoing the interior... Cheaper to buy a 2012 with 20 years newer technology that's running perfect.

But if you love the 92 caravan, then you will pay $$,$$$ for a restoration.

Can it be done vs Should it be done depends on Who is doing it. Your free labor vs a shops $100/hr labor really changes the calculation on what's cheaper in the end.
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