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Old 06-11-2021, 12:58 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Feasability of converting 1959 GMC bus to 4x4?

Like the title says; how feasible is it to convert an oldie on what I believe is the GMC/Chevy Viking platform, to 4x4? This was essentially their medium duty truck chassis, I believe. This isn't a photo of the exact bus I'm looking at, but it's the right platform, right year (the one I'm considering is a 4 window, about 22 ft):





I currently have a completely different, modern bus in mind, but provided I don't win that auction, I'm considering taking my future skoolie build in a completely different direction; restoring a small, old bus. At the very least I intend to repower with a modern and more fuel efficient engine like the 5.9. Given I get a lot of snow, I'd also like to add a selectable locker. For this, I'm thinking of changing the rear out for a Dana S130 since they're relatively cheap and easy to come by for a 14,000lb+ axle. I could also keep the stock axle, provided I can change the ratio to match a Dana 60 front if I do go 4x4. The bus I'm considering has a 2 speed rear, possibly a Spicer. I'm not sure if I could make that work if I kept it and added a Dana 60 front?



What kind of work/how much work would I be getting into? Anything fundamentally different from swapping axles on any other truck? The one thing that has me worried is spring center-to-center distances on a 1959 GMC versus whatever axles I'd be getting... but I assume there'd be no issue in repositioning spring seats on the axle? Likewise I assume it'd be best to find an engine + transmission with a T-case, or would it be more cost effective to just buy an entire "rolling chassis" from, say, a Dodge 3500 or up?

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Old 06-11-2021, 07:09 PM   #2
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This guy or gal is doing something similar using GM chassis and drivetrain.
Check it out here: https://www.skoolie.net/forums/f11/1...dow-34205.html

Definitely not a job for someone who does not already do extensive heavy metal fabrication.

Good luck, and post pics if you go for it...
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Old 06-11-2021, 09:33 PM   #3
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This is way out of my league, but what the hell.

Since you want to modernize it and make it 4x4, seems to me it would be simplest to get the right undercarriage and put the bus body on it.

I know that's overly simplistic, but sometimes when one doesn't have the knowledge, skills, tools or money, simplicity is a great choice.

That way, at least the mechanical is matched up, easy to find parts, works better together, etc..

Look forward to seeing what you come up with.
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Old 06-11-2021, 09:47 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Simplicity View Post
This is way out of my league, but what the hell.

Since you want to modernize it and make it 4x4, seems to me it would be simplest to get the right undercarriage and put the bus body on it.

I know that's overly simplistic, but sometimes when one doesn't have the knowledge, skills, tools or money, simplicity is a great choice.

That way, at least the mechanical is matched up, easy to find parts, works better together, etc..

Look forward to seeing what you come up with.
I've considered that as well, and honestly for what they are, a RAM 3500 rolling chassis isn't too expensive. I assume for that I'd need a chassis-cab though, aren't those frames more conducive to this kind of thing - less weird curves and such as typical on a chassis designed for a pickup box?


On one hand, I could do everything I want - engine, trans, 4x4, with what amounts to a body swap, in one shot. Biggest worries with that are...

A: how do I lift the body off without a forklift/crane? Some carefully-orchestrated cribbing? Or do I lift it off with some heavy machinery, but fab the brackets ahead of time?
B: Should I use cleats/clips to retain the bus body to the frame, like OEM tend to do? Is this how they did it "back in the day" with a 1959 bus? Should I just adapt the bus body to the chassis' body builder's guide?
C: I worry about finding a rolling chassis with the exact wheelbase I need. I suppose I could move the rear axle back or forth, but I'm unsure of what to do as far as drilling into the frame goes, and I worry about cutting it in half to add a middle section - are Superduty/3500 frames heat treated?


On the other side of things, I could add a locker to the rear, and do a trans/engine swap. This sounds like it'd be less work, but once all the fabrication is said and done, will it actually be less than having the body plopped onto a new frame, with everything already there mechanically/electrically?
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Old 06-11-2021, 09:49 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by peteg59 View Post
This guy or gal is doing something similar using GM chassis and drivetrain.
Check it out here: https://www.skoolie.net/forums/f11/1...dow-34205.html

Definitely not a job for someone who does not already do extensive heavy metal fabrication.

Good luck, and post pics if you go for it...
Thanks, this is very helpful to take a look at! How much fabrication equipment do you think would be necessary? I know my way around stick, I'd do TIG if I had the gas, don't have shop space large enough for this to be inside though, but do have land to park it on. No access to lifts or forklifts either...
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Old 06-11-2021, 10:03 PM   #6
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If you plan to actually use it for traveling, particularly offroad, then you want something you can easily and quickly get parts to fix in remote places. That would suggest you swap the body onto a modern chassis and drivetrain.
Is 4x4 really needed? Plenty of trucks around, in particular, California has the new diesel rules making lots of big trucks 2010 or older not allowed.
I got an ex-towtruck diesel F550 cheap for this reason.
Those are also easy to make 4x4.

I'm putting on 72 C50 on a Dodge Motorhome chassis myself. It really requires you have the right equipment, like a lift, plasma cutter, mig welder, etc.

Then when you are finally done with that job, now you have to make it a motorhome too.
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Old 06-11-2021, 10:40 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by BeNimble View Post
If you plan to actually use it for traveling, particularly offroad, then you want something you can easily and quickly get parts to fix in remote places. That would suggest you swap the body onto a modern chassis and drivetrain.
Is 4x4 really needed? Plenty of trucks around, in particular, California has the new diesel rules making lots of big trucks 2010 or older not allowed.
I got an ex-towtruck diesel F550 cheap for this reason.
Those are also easy to make 4x4.

I'm putting on 72 C50 on a Dodge Motorhome chassis myself. It really requires you have the right equipment, like a lift, plasma cutter, mig welder, etc.

Then when you are finally done with that job, now you have to make it a motorhome too.
That's what I'm really mulling over, and I'm thinking you're right... 4x4 may not really be necessary. 4x2 + locker is at least as effective as 4x4 with no locker in a lot of terrain (particularly mud I find, which I feel would be my greatest enemy with a heavy vehicle).

That'd mean I'd want to do a diesel swap (Cummins 5.9, T444, maybe?) and add a locker to the rear, at minimum. That seems pretty manageable, eh? I'd consider swapping the trans. It's a 4-speed with 2-speed rear end. But we'll see.



I don't plan on doing intense 4-wheeling per say, but I do want the piece of mind of being able to un-stuck myself... on forest trails and such, so maybe a winch would be more viable than 4x4. I'm not sure if it translates over to buses, but 4x4 just gets you stuck further down the trail - the winch is what gets you out in my experience!
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Old 06-11-2021, 11:00 PM   #8
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I think adding a bus body onto a current truck like frame, drivetrain, axle setup is the easiest and most maintenance friendly way to go.

I think it would be easier to fabricate on the bus body to match up to the existing frame, wheels, etc., then to try to match the undercarriage to the bus body.

Per 4x4, I'm not sure what "lock" you're talking about, but I'm assuming it's like posi-traction? I think most situations a posi like setup will get you through a lot.

I have a friend who is into jeeping. They just went for the first time and the snow was still on the road causing a pretty knarly side slope. They simply winch up to the uphill side and wind up the winch as they drive forward.

No 4x4 would get you through that. And, as you've already said, the winch is what always pulls you out.

One of the posters on here has even added a winch to his pimped motorcycle, because you never know when you'll need to respond to the bat signal. (reference Batman gadgets)

Per a location to do all this, if you have the land, you have the location.

Building a pole barn with a multi-looped pully (not sure what they are really called) and a winch should allow you to raise a short bus body.

I'd be surprised if someone on here hasn't done something like that in their life.

So, buy the undercarriage, the bus body, build a pole barn, rig the pully and winch....boom! You're ready for the Motorhome conversion part.
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Old 06-11-2021, 11:10 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simplicity View Post
I think adding a bus body onto a current truck like frame, drivetrain, axle setup is the easiest and most maintenance friendly way to go.

I think it would be easier to fabricate on the bus body to match up to the existing frame, wheels, etc., then to try to match the undercarriage to the bus body.

Per 4x4, I'm not sure what "lock" you're talking about, but I'm assuming it's like posi-traction? I think most situations a posi like setup will get you through a lot.

I have a friend who is into jeeping. They just went for the first time and the snow was still on the road causing a pretty knarly side slope. They simply winch up to the uphill side and wind up the winch as they drive forward.

No 4x4 would get you through that. And, as you've already said, the winch is what always pulls you out.

One of the posters on here has even added a winch to his pimped motorcycle, because you never know when you'll need to respond to the bat signal. (reference Batman gadgets)

Per a location to do all this, if you have the land, you have the location.

Building a pole barn with a multi-looped pully (not sure what they are really called) and a winch should allow you to raise a short bus body.

I'd be surprised if someone on here hasn't done something like that in their life.

So, buy the undercarriage, the bus body, build a pole barn, rig the pully and winch....boom! You're ready for the Motorhome conversion part.
Yeah you're basically thinking of the same thing with the posi - that'd be an autolocker I believe? a selectable diff locker would be pneumatically or electrically activated, but it does the same job!


You are right about the winch. I think presently, if I go 4x4, it's going to be a brand new frame like you and others have mentioned. That way, the engine, trans, and electronics, are already done. I may consider a rear locker + diesel swap, but that may be more work than it's worth...


As for the pole barn thing... are you thinking of a ginpole? I bet that could be done.
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Old 06-12-2021, 09:02 AM   #10
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This:
https://images.app.goo.gl/BFAmosDAMrj4kSu39

With this:

https://www.amazon.com/Vestil-LOW-2G...89766419&psc=1

This way you are covered from the elements, can add siding as you wish (canvas?) And can pick heavy objects up and move them back and forth easily.
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Old 06-12-2021, 11:42 AM   #11
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I'd say go for it! Jack

.

Lift off the bus body


Set up frame
.

Roll frame under
.

Drive off to your favorite camp site

\.
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Old 06-12-2021, 03:16 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simplicity View Post
This is way out of my league, but what the hell.

Since you want to modernize it and make it 4x4, seems to me it would be simplest to get the right undercarriage and put the bus body on it.

I know that's overly simplistic, but sometimes when one doesn't have the knowledge, skills, tools or money, simplicity is a great choice.

That way, at least the mechanical is matched up, easy to find parts, works better together, etc..

Look forward to seeing what you come up with.

thats along the lines of my thinkiing.. go with a moden chassis.. start with a Kodiak chassis or such and look at cosmetically mounting the front clip..



of course you can go full on custom with dana 60s or such (netting you likely modern hubs and brakes too).. alot depends on how much customizing you plan to do on the engine / trans as well.. if its all going to be custom a chassis swap seems the way to go....
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Old 06-16-2021, 07:18 PM   #13
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2spd rear axle is out of question for a 44 build. Front and rear axles must match ratio. If its pusher or rear eng, Forget it! If its front, go for it. If its an "Oldie" with "juice" brakes, the sky is the limit. I see some folks have sugested a later model Ford, Dodge or Chev 1-2/2 ton donor truck. Its a good idea! If your donor comes with a desireable diesel, all the better. A Ford front axle thats NOT solid might be a challenge to fit underneath, so stay with straight axles. Drive shafts and various hangers will be a bit of fabricating challenge, but not impossible. If its a larger Air Braked bus, you'll have to look in a commercial yard for a utility Line Truck for donor drive train. I have done this, give yourself plenty of down time to complete and dont get frustrated.
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Old 06-16-2021, 09:19 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by baipin View Post
Like the title says; how feasible is it to convert an oldie on what I believe is the GMC/Chevy Viking platform, to 4x4? This was essentially their medium duty truck chassis, I believe. This isn't a photo of the exact bus I'm looking at, but it's the right platform, right year (the one I'm considering is a 4 window, about 22 ft):





I currently have a completely different, modern bus in mind, but provided I don't win that auction, I'm considering taking my future skoolie build in a completely different direction; restoring a small, old bus. At the very least I intend to repower with a modern and more fuel efficient engine like the 5.9. Given I get a lot of snow, I'd also like to add a selectable locker. For this, I'm thinking of changing the rear out for a Dana S130 since they're relatively cheap and easy to come by for a 14,000lb+ axle. I could also keep the stock axle, provided I can change the ratio to match a Dana 60 front if I do go 4x4. The bus I'm considering has a 2 speed rear, possibly a Spicer. I'm not sure if I could make that work if I kept it and added a Dana 60 front?



What kind of work/how much work would I be getting into? Anything fundamentally different from swapping axles on any other truck? The one thing that has me worried is spring center-to-center distances on a 1959 GMC versus whatever axles I'd be getting... but I assume there'd be no issue in repositioning spring seats on the axle? Likewise I assume it'd be best to find an engine + transmission with a T-case, or would it be more cost effective to just buy an entire "rolling chassis" from, say, a Dodge 3500 or up?
Depends on four important factors; Money, aptitude,tenacity, and Monry. Oh and dont forget you will most likely need a big pile of money.
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Old 06-16-2021, 10:01 PM   #15
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Four wheel drive short bus, because it's flippin cool as hell
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Old 06-25-2021, 12:20 AM   #16
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Well, thanks to everyone's input and the fact that every one of the five other buses I bid on went for $55,000 each (!!!) when similar ones had previously sold for $7,000 to $20,000... I've since decided that restoring an oldie and putting it on a new frame, is the way to go. It's been a dream of mine to restore an older vehicle, let alone to make it my home too. This will be one helluva' project for me - but I love a challenge especially when it yields a one-of-a-kind beautiful thing from all that effort.






This is what I'll be working with. Actually somewhat convenient that part of the grille is missing; that's right where the winch will go!

Also, is anyone able to identify if those are Firestone RH-5's in the pic? If so, I'd rather get started on the frame swap sooner than later. If that's the case, would it be safe to chain them up, jack up the bus, deflate from a distance, then remove with an impact?
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Old 06-25-2021, 02:08 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by baipin View Post
Well, thanks to everyone's input and the fact that every one of the five other buses I bid on went for $55,000 each (!!!) when similar ones had previously sold for $7,000 to $20,000... I've since decided that restoring an oldie and putting it on a new frame, is the way to go. It's been a dream of mine to restore an older vehicle, let alone to make it my home too. This will be one helluva' project for me - but I love a challenge especially when it yields a one-of-a-kind beautiful thing from all that effort.






This is what I'll be working with. Actually somewhat convenient that part of the grille is missing; that's right where the winch will go!

Also, is anyone able to identify if those are Firestone RH-5's in the pic? If so, I'd rather get started on the frame swap sooner than later. If that's the case, would it be safe to chain them up, jack up the bus, deflate from a distance, then remove with an impact?
Hey D
I was just about to pm you and ask on the auction details when I saw this post.
That's absolutely insane money for those buses, I was really expecting with the crazy increase in demand they might hit $30,000+ but $55,000 is out of the park. I spent 9 hours round trip on the road to North Vancouver today for what should have been 3-4 tops and thought I had a crappy day, sorry to hear the wheels fell off that wagon.
Time to move forward.
Cheers

Curtis
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Old 06-25-2021, 02:42 AM   #18
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Thought I would pass on this truck for sale in sacramento, $700, one that can't be registered in california anymore.

https://sacramento.craigslist.org/ct...334642947.html
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Old 06-25-2021, 08:30 AM   #19
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You said "deflate from a distance" and I'm envisioning a little fun with a rifle. That should be safe enough.
Jack
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Old 06-25-2021, 07:28 PM   #20
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You said "deflate from a distance" and I'm envisioning a little fun with a rifle. That should be safe enough.
Jack

I don't think the neighbours would appreciate that...

...but I know I sure would! Sounds like a good excuse for some target practice.

Now, I haven't taken delivery of the bus yet, so I haven't a chance to take exact measurements, photos, etc. But as I've stated before I'm looking at frames to put it on. Right now, I can find 4x4 Ram 2500 Cummins 5.9 trucks and rolling chassis in good condition for relatively cheap. They don't have a dual rear though, but many are cheap enough and in good condition relative to the few 3500's available, that financially, I suspect replacing the rear axle with something beefier would make sense.

On the other hand, I can just wait for a DRW 4x4 cummins 5.9 Ram 3500 to pop up with minimal rust. Am I barking up the right tree here - is this what I want? The wheelbase on a long box is 13 ft. I believe, exactly what my bus is. Would one of these chassis be a good choice, and I assume if I go with it, I box in the section that sinks down so it is flush with the rest of the chassis?
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