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Old 01-06-2008, 06:32 PM   #1
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1985 Chevy Short Bus

Hi everyone,

Well, I've been lurking around here for a few months now, hoping and wishing, trying to learn about these cool toys. As of last night, for better or worse, I am the proud owner of an '85 short bus! I don't know much about it, but believe it's a 350 V8, with the 700R4 tranny (not sure). The guy who owned it before me, bought it about six months ago from a church. He put the surfboard roof rack on top and painted it. I am probably taking the rack off, and will eventually re-paint it, in my own style.

I live in San Francisco, and am keeping at my friend's workplace in the East Bay at the moment. If there is anyone around here that can give me any advice, in terms of good mechanics, places to store it, etc. I would really, really appreciate it. It actually didn't pass smog, but I got such a good deal on it, I decided to go for it. I've run it around a couple hours already, and it runs well. I am hoping the engine will just need a tune-up to pass smog, so I need to find a shop around Oakland quickly.

Anyway, I just wanted to show it off here, and say that I love this site!

I am not too sure how to add pictures here, but I think these Photobucket links should work.
http://i216.photobucket.com/albums/cc55 ... terior.jpg
http://i216.photobucket.com/albums/cc55 ... w_baby.jpg
http://i216.photobucket.com/albums/cc55 ... e_view.jpg

Thanks!
-Nathan
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Old 01-06-2008, 07:37 PM   #2
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

I'd put money down saying it's a bluebird
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Old 01-06-2008, 07:40 PM   #3
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

Thanks! I actually read your posts and your bus info. a few weeks ago, and it got me even more interested in getting a short bus. I'm not quite sure who converted it, didn't think last night to look at the info., but I'll check it out, and get back to you.

I am definitely going to go through it, and convert it. Right now, I am focusing on making sure it gets smogged and legal, and then find a place where I can store it, to work on it.

I think mine has the 350, with a 700R4 tranny, like yours. Any quirks or tips you want to pass along????

I have a feeling the tranny is going out. I drove it around this morning, and came back, and noticed a bit of red (I think auto tranny) fluid on the ground. When I was driving it, it would rev really high before shifting into 2nd gear, and then into 3rd gear it seemed fine. Maybe this is normal, I've never owned a bigger vehicle before. I had to take off, so didnt check the tranny fluid level, but will check it in a few days and see where/if it's leaking. Either way, a rebuilt tranny (worst case scenario), is totally worth getting, so I can have a kick-ass shorty bus to convert!

Thanks so much for all the info. you've posted! I am definitely going to have a blast enjoying my new schoolie!

-Nathan
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Old 01-06-2008, 11:01 PM   #4
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

There are a couple of factors that could contribute to the shifting problems you guys have listed. Mostly I'd like to just think it is par for the course. Firm, hard shifts are what keep a transmission alive in a 1 ton. It is going to be calibrated differently from a car.

That said, there are some things you can check. Shift firmness and timing is controlled by two pretty simple factors. You have the governor on the tailshaft of the transmission. This is RPM sensing and is what is going to tell the transmission it is time to shift or the engine might come apart.

The other controlling factor is the throttle valve (and also the vacuum modulator in some cases) which tells the transmission it is time to increase the line pressure and hold on to a gear longer because of engine load.

Normally they work in relative harmony, but there is some adjustability. Given that your shifts are delaying and happening hard I would look at the TV cable adjustment.

Is it surging or anything or just making good firm, delayed shifts? Also, do you know what transmission you have yet? 4 speeds=700R4 while 3 speeds would indicate either a TH-350 or TH-400 with the TH-400 being more likely.
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Old 01-06-2008, 11:23 PM   #5
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus


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Old 01-06-2008, 11:24 PM   #6
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

I believe it's a three speed, 1st, 2nd, and drive. Maybe that's a good thing, as the turbo 400 should be a bit beefier than a 700R4, right?

The guy I bought it from told me that lately it seemed to be revving higher than normal for him, before shifting into 2nd gear. So, he added a quart of transmission fluid, and it went away, he said. When he and I were driving it around yesterday, it seemed to shift fine. And I didn't see any tranny fluid in his driveway or anything.

Today, it seemed to just take forever to shift into 2nd, but you're right, maybe I am just not used to the way it is supposed to shift and/or didn't notice it yesterday. It still has an obvious leak of something, but I'll figure it out.

Thanks for the help guys!
-Nathan
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Old 01-06-2008, 11:31 PM   #7
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

A TH-400 is infintsmally stronger than a 700R4. Both were used in 1 tons, but that doesn't make it right. The early 700R4's were notoriously weak. They can be built into decent trannies and are ideal in some applications, but I hold fast to the idea that it's throwing good money at bad, atleast in the applications I generally deal with.

Have you tried a tranny service? I don't think bad fluid is the cause of your issues, if they are in fact issues, but it is good practice to change all the fluids anyway. A filter and gasket kit is going to run you maybe $25-$35. The TH-400 isn't really going to care what fluid you use, but regular Dexron/Mercon III would be a good choice and should tame those shifts. Running the newer Dexron might even tame them more, but the friction additive package in Dex III is a good choice for you.

The job is easy and may well solve your problems. At the very least you will make sure you have good, clean fluid at the proper level and wil give you a chance to make sure you don't have real nasties on the magnet in the pan (some fines are ok).

Oh yeah...stiff shifts in the morning aren't uncommon. The fluid is thicker when it's cold. Does it seem to get better after driving some?
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Old 01-07-2008, 02:30 AM   #8
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

I would get the smog thing figured out before you spend any money on anything else. Except for the tranny service. Congrats on the purchase.
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Old 01-07-2008, 02:31 AM   #9
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

By tranny, I meant transmission not the other kind.
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Old 01-07-2008, 11:50 AM   #10
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

Yep, smog is definitely my first plan of attack, today or tomorrow, hopefully. I need to get it done quick to appease the California DMV gods!
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Old 01-14-2008, 02:37 PM   #11
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

Hi there,

Thanks for keeping me on-track, Shortbus. I had some ups and downs this week. I talked to a mechanic last week, who was open Saturdays. That is perfect, since I wouldn't have time to get my bus to a mechanic during the week. We talked about my bus, and that it needed to get tuned up to pass smog, etc..

So, I got up early Saturday morning, drove it over there, to meet the guy. He said that I "never explained it was a bus" and never told him that it didn't pass smog. I gently reminded him that we talked for 20 minutes about it, but he told me I was wrong. Anyway, the owner of the shop came over, we started chatting, looking at the bus, and he secretly loved it, and said he'd be happy to work on it, but they had over-booked their mechanics that day. and he was apologetic.

So, long story short, I am taking it back there next week, hopefully, and dealing directly with the owner.

I spent most of Sunday, tearing half of the wooden box off the top, and taking out a few of the seats, which is going great so far. There isn't much rust anywhere, and all the screws/bolts are coming out just fine.

As for the transmission, I got to crawling around underneath, and noticed that the transmission modulator hose was completely unhooked. I figure that's probably a big issue as to why it was shifting strangely, since as far as I know, it helps tell the transmission when to shift. A trip to the local parts store, and I got a new air filter, new PCV valve (was completely "gunked up"), and a new transmission modulator, and things are definitely looking up.

Next weekend, I will get the rest of box off, and the seats out, and take some more pics. I've been kicking some floor plans around in my head, and am leaning towards a full/queen size bed lengthwise, across the back of the bus. That way, it's over that heater box, that is trouble-some to remove, and I can build drawers underneath it for storage. I still have decided if I am going to remove some of the windows or not, we'll see. I am also thinking heavily about putting a small wood stove in there someplace.

I feel like I've rambled a lot, but I am just so darn excited to have a skoolie!

Thanks!
-Nathan
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Old 01-18-2008, 10:32 PM   #12
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

Well, I played hooky from work today, and dug into work on my bus. I got the seats out, and most of the roof rack off the top of the bus. I also found a picture of my bus, in its previous "churchly" duty. I thought it was kind of funny, so have included it here.

Here's what it looked like until last August:


I got all the seats out pretty easily. Didn't need to grind any screws off at all. It just took a lot of elbow grease and a socket set:


I also got most of the wooden box of the top of the bus. You'll notice my lovely workshop, a semi-industrial back alley street, near my buddy's work:


I don't know if this is the manufacturer or not, but was the only info. I could find:




I don't really know what this stuff is. It's in a box, above the driver's seat. I wonder if its the electronics for flashing lights or something? Most of the wires have been cut, and I didn't feel like trying to figure it out yet:


Well, that's about it for now. My friend and I are going to take the wooden floor out tomorrow, and clean the interior up. First, I have to head to the dump in the morning and get rid of some of this stuff.

After that, we're going to put some kind of vapor barrier sealant down, and head to Home Depot to debate flooring ideas.
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Old 01-18-2008, 10:50 PM   #13
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

Did the vacuum modulator clear things up? You're right about having it disconnected being an issue. With it disconnected the transmission isn't seeing any vacuum, just like if you were at wide open throttle pulling a big load.
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Old 01-18-2008, 11:57 PM   #14
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

You know, I haven't actually driven it since changing the modulator out. Tomorrow is the big test. Yesterday, I went to the DMV and got it all registered and legal, so I am not as worried driving it around.

I have a feeling it will probably help a fair bit, since the transmission will now know what's going on. It seems to make sense, if it thought I was at full throttle, it would wait until forever to shift, to get the most power.
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Old 01-21-2008, 12:55 PM   #15
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

Yeah, I ended up just tearing the whole thing off the roof, and chucking it. I thought about keeping some of it, but I am pretty much going to re-build the deck anyway. The previous owner hadn't sealed the holes in the roof at all, so for now I sprayed a bunch of that expanding foam in there, to hopefully keep the water out.

I also finished ripping up the rubber mat, and wood floor too. My buddy and I wire brushed the metal floor, and vacuumed everything out, then sprayed Rust-oleum everywhere. My next plan is to throw some kind of vapor barrier down there, and then a new plywood sheet, along with some of that fake Purgo flooring stuff (may be able to get some free leftovers).

Oh, fixing that transmission modulator hose made a world of difference. There is no more leaking transmission fluid, and the thing shifts like a dream. It makes me very happy, as my mind was racing, envisioning monsterous repair costs.

One last question for anyone, in terms of roof decks. I've been looking on the forums, but wasn't sure. If I want to build a roof deck, that would hold at least, say 5 people, are there specific points that I need to bolt into, on the roof? I didn't want to tear the roof apart, just to look for beams. I was even thinking about having posts bolted to the floor, that come up to the roof, to support the deck. What do you guys think?

Thanks!
-Nathan
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Old 01-21-2008, 05:53 PM   #16
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

My roof easily supports 20 people over its length. Even still, when I get around to building my roof rack I'm going to try and tie into the vertical studs between the windows. There are also the bows that go from side to side (as well as a pair of longitudinal rails on mine) that would make a good point even just to run the joists across. That way if it flexed at all it would contact a rather strong point on the roof. To find the framework is pretty easy. Just follow the rivets. They all have to go into something more substantial than just the sheet metal.
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Old 01-22-2008, 12:45 PM   #17
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

Thanks for the info. about the roof. I figured I'd bolt into the lengthwise areas, where the rivets are, but wasn't sure. I'll take a look and try to find the supports running side to side as well. I don't plan to have 20 people up there or anything, but the last thing I wanted is for the roof to crack or something.
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Old 03-31-2008, 10:39 PM   #18
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Re: 1985 Chevy Short Bus

How is the floor coming?
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