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Old 06-29-2015, 11:10 PM   #1
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Help me choose a frame

New here. I haven't started a conversion, and I'm not sure I will soon, but I'm casually starting to look in case the opportunity presents itself. I grew up taking cross country trips in my parents slide in camper and occasionally my grand parents Coachmen class C motorhome. I liked the class C better since it had a lot more usable space and you didn't have to go outside in the rain to get from truck to cab and back, so a motorhome seems like the way to go for me (now just to convince my fiancé). Now for my delima. I'm thinking a conversion is the way to go since you get direct control over everything for a fraction of the cost of a regular class C. My big question is, what to convert? I always thought a school bus would be a good conversion, but I'm not as sure anymore. I like the idea that a bus has power and a heavy frame, and can take getting hit, but most of them are boxy and bigger than I would like. I'm envisioning something shorter (21-23 feet) so that it still fits in smaller spaces. I would like to be able to tow a dual axle box trailer eventually. Ideally, I would also like something where I can modify the cabin some to make it a little more aerodynamic such as sloping the rear end so it doesn't have the huge vacuum going down the road. I would also like something old enough to have an engine that doesn't have to meet emissions requirements. I'm a Ph.D. student in controls, and I want to try designing my own engine controller to try to get better fuel mileage. I don't mind swapping an older engine for a newer one as long as the original didn't have to meet emissions since a home-made controller isn't going to pass inspection. Finally, this is something that wouldn't be driven a lot, but when it is, it will be going long distances. I've been to the lower 48 already, and I've promised my fiancé I will take her too, so whatever frame I look into, I would need a transmission set up for highway driving, preferably a stick. I really don't like automatics. They're just no fun to drive. Is there a school bus out there that would fit these specs(or come close), or should I be looking into other options? Like I said, I'm not a big fan of the class C ford and chevy frames since they are already near their maximum capacity with an unloaded RV on their back and on top of that, they get the same mileage as a heavier duty bus. Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to get all my ideas out and somewhat organized to see what people thought.
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Old 06-30-2015, 01:06 AM   #2
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I congratulate you that you have already narrowed the scope of your search by ruling out what you don't want.

Don't rule out the automatic transmissions. For one thing, most of the modern OD units will deliver better fuel mileage than most stick shifts. In addition, less than 1% of all buses are built with a stick shift. In other words, they are very few and very far between.

Type 'C' buses (conventional buses with the engine out front under a hood with the service door behind the front axle) are the most common bus built in the world. There are more of them than any other kind of bus which translates into lower cost.

Type 'C' buses come in lengths from as few as 4-rows to as many as 13-rows. So you should be able to find the size you want if you are not in any hurry to purchase.

Totally mechanical power packages were phased out in the mid-90's. By the late '90's the power packages were all electronically controlled. Many of the pre-E engines became E engines with the advent of electronic controls. Among them were the IHC T444, DT360, and DT466 and the Cummins 5.9 and 8.3.

The Allison AT/MT/HT series of transmissions came in both mechanical and E versions. The Allison World 1000/2000/3000 series of transmissions were all E versions.

If you would want to make your own E controls it would be an interesting intellectual exercise. But it seems sort of odd to try and reinvent the wheel. I would think taking a stock box and reprogramming to optimize your personal performance would be much easier to do and would have the ability to go back to stock programming rather easily if your programming should crash and burn.

The most common school bus chassis has been for years the IC/IHC chassis going back to the days of the Loadstar.

In addition to IC buses, today you will find Freightliner under Thomas and Volvo under Blue Bird. Going back a few years you will find Ford and Chevy/GMC. Stay away from the Ford and GM medium duty chassis as they are very difficult to find replacement parts. Going back even farther you will find Dodge, Studebaker, Reo, Mack, White, and many others. All of which are beyond difficult to find parts if they were OEM specific parts.

Several people have taken old buses and put them on modern chassis to have the old time look but not the old time parts and pieces problems.

Good luck and happy trails.
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Old 06-30-2015, 08:44 AM   #3
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Old 06-30-2015, 01:27 PM   #4
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Thanks for the info. I'll start casually looking for a class C bus. The reason I wanted to do my own controller is because of one of the professors on my committee. He published a paper with one of his students about 4-5 years ago solving the forward-in-time optimal control problem. The case study they tested it on was a gasoline engine in on of the labs on campus. They achieved a 90% reduction in Nox and 20% reduction in heat loss among other things (I don't remember all the details. I had the class a couple of years ago). As far as I know, Ford is the only company licensed to use it, which is part of how they are meeting fuel and emissions standards with small engines in the past few years. Anyway, that's why I want to try to build my own controller. I don't expect to achieve test-bed level results, but even half of that would be an improvement. If I could find/modify something to be set up like my pickup truck computer wise, it would be ideal. Its computer is in the firewall on top, so all I have to do to swap it is remove 3 bolts. Basically, I would test my computer, and then when I needed to work on it/mes something up, just swap the original back in. My undergraduate degree is in electrical engineering, so I'm no stranger to building micro-controller based computers. Also, the reason I wanted a manual has nothing to do with fuel. I just like driving a stick. I grew up with it, and I learned to drive on one. If I can't get it, oh well.
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