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Old 01-15-2020, 10:00 PM   #1
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We rescued a 1961 GM Fishbowl from the desert

The two of us were displaced by a hurricane in 2016, so we jumped in our old VW bus with our cat and dog. We traveled as digital nomads for 2+ years and found this incredible 1961 GM Fishbowl/New Look bus, while in New Mexico. We were lucky to get to trade our web/graphic work for the bus and we worked on it for over 2 weeks, until a family emergency sent us back to the East Coast. Our only options were to lose the bus or ship it, so after tons of phone calls, we found a shipping company to trailer it 1,800 miles to us.



Since then, we have had some work done to it and we found a wonderful place to keep it and work on it. It has taken a lot of energy, hard work and patience, but we're finally beginning to convert it into our future tiny home!



We have learned so much already, but there will be a lot more knowledge to gain as we go! We're documenting the entire adventure on our blog and we're excited to share the progress here. If there is anyone knowledgeable of these old beauties, we'd love to pick your brain! If there is anything we can do to help other people converting a vintage bus, just let us know!



Peace & Love,
The Lills
1961 GM Bus
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Old 01-15-2020, 10:09 PM   #2
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Glad to hear you are determined to fix it up. I don't know much about this type of bus, but do know Detriot diesels, have several myself just not in buses.
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Old 01-17-2020, 09:32 AM   #3
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Glad to hear you are determined to fix it up. I don't know much about this type of bus, but do know Detriot diesels, have several myself just not in buses.
Thanks Ronnie! We've learned so much, just by working on it, doing research and speaking with people who are knowledgeable about them. There's so much more to find out and master.

The bus sat in the New Mexico desert for over 10 years, so we gained some confidence, when we were able to get it running on our own. The Detroit diesel engine in it is pretty amazing and when we had professional diesel mechanics look at it and the bus overall, they were impressed with the condition.

We've begun the conversion and we're excited to share the progress as we go! Thanks again for commenting!

- Peace & Love
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Old 01-17-2020, 09:37 AM   #4
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Super cool bus! Lots of respect for people building a classic.
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Old 01-17-2020, 09:48 AM   #5
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Super cool bus! Lots of respect for people building a classic.
Thank you, we appreciate it and we're excited to share the progress!

Here are the videos we created, documenting the bus rescue and shipping from the New Mexico desert to the East Coast:







- Peace & Love
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Old 01-17-2020, 10:24 AM   #6
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Aw this is just great, looks like another youtube channel I'm gonna have to follow! I like the can-do spirit. You guys aren't afraid to dive right in and get your hands all grubby.

Good luck and
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Old 01-17-2020, 10:39 AM   #7
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Aw this is just great, looks like another youtube channel I'm gonna have to follow! I like the can-do spirit. You guys aren't afraid to dive right in and get your hands all grubby.

Good luck and
Thank you so much for the follow and for the kind words! We're having so much fun and each challenge teaches us something we didn't know before. This project is for sure is a learning process and we just want to do right by this beautiful bus.

It means the world to us to make it into a tiny house on wheels. We've been together for almost 15 years and we've never had a real home of our own. We hope it helps inspire others to fear not and shoot for the stars!

- Peace & Love
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Old 01-17-2020, 11:03 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by TheLills1961GM View Post
This project is for sure is a learning process and we just want to do right by this beautiful bus.

It means the world to us to make it into a tiny house on wheels. We've been together for almost 15 years and we've never had a real home of our own. We hope it helps inspire others to fear not and shoot for the stars!

- Peace & Love
So so many possibilities. You've been nomadic for a couple years so you know the routine...this just makes it a little more comfortable! Are you keeping the VW and towing it behind? That would make a pretty badass rig and give you a vehicle to run around in without having to break camp to run errands.

You're probably aware of Technomadia, they've also got an old GM transit bus and are digital nomads. Some good stuff on their various social media accounts.
There's some really sharp minds on this forum with tons of experience with all-things-bus (and every other aspect of conversions) and lots of interest in a unique project like this, so make sure ya stick around!
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Old 01-17-2020, 11:11 AM   #9
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Cool project ! Nice score sitting in the desert like that. Classy looking bus.

I had a 78 VW bus once, it went coast to coast and all over(with lots of repairs, push starts and bailing wire)
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Old 01-17-2020, 12:30 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Drew Bru View Post
So so many possibilities. You've been nomadic for a couple years so you know the routine...this just makes it a little more comfortable! Are you keeping the VW and towing it behind? That would make a pretty badass rig and give you a vehicle to run around in without having to break camp to run errands.

You're probably aware of Technomadia, they've also got an old GM transit bus and are digital nomads. Some good stuff on their various social media accounts.
There's some really sharp minds on this forum with tons of experience with all-things-bus (and every other aspect of conversions) and lots of interest in a unique project like this, so make sure ya stick around!
We are so excited for more space! Not having a toilet or shower proved difficult at times on the road for sure. We are keeping the VW as our daily driver and lots of people have mentioned towing it. Will see if it's doable, once the conversion is complete.

We'll check out Technomadia, thanks for mentioning them! We're excited to learn from the community and we hope to be of some help to others! We're thrilled to be here and we appreciate everyone's thoughts and support!!

- Peace & Love
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Old 01-17-2020, 12:31 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by ACamper View Post
Cool project ! Nice score sitting in the desert like that. Classy looking bus.

I had a 78 VW bus once, it went coast to coast and all over(with lots of repairs, push starts and bailing wire)
Thank you! Awesome that you had a '78 and got to travel in it! We're definitely happy we started in the smaller bus, we can't express how excited we are to have a bigger space to live and work from! Thanks for commenting!

- Peace & Love
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Old 01-17-2020, 01:35 PM   #12
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I didnt realize till now.. it looks like you got one of the rare factory Air-conditioned Busses of its era.. neat A/C systems they are too... unlike most bus A/C systems, fishbowl Air conditioning was unobtrusive.. didnt restrict headroom with hanging units or lowered-ceiling ducting..


Fishbowls have "Central Air" of sorts.. where the air ducting is concealed behind the sidewalls. and the vents run the lengfth of each window.. the though process being that cooling the interior walls and blowing cold air across the hot windows would do a good job of keeping the bus cool inside.. and it worked.. a working fishbowl A/C was a far cry from the later RTS GMC busses.. but it did a pretty darn good job of cooling the interior...



-Christopher
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Old 01-17-2020, 02:02 PM   #13
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I didnt realize till now.. it looks like you got one of the rare factory Air-conditioned Busses of its era.. neat A/C systems they are too... unlike most bus A/C systems, fishbowl Air conditioning was unobtrusive.. didnt restrict headroom with hanging units or lowered-ceiling ducting..


Fishbowls have "Central Air" of sorts.. where the air ducting is concealed behind the sidewalls. and the vents run the lengfth of each window.. the though process being that cooling the interior walls and blowing cold air across the hot windows would do a good job of keeping the bus cool inside.. and it worked.. a working fishbowl A/C was a far cry from the later RTS GMC busses.. but it did a pretty darn good job of cooling the interior...



-Christopher
Hey, that is some stellar info Christopher! We were told the air conditioner can no longer be used because of some sort of liquid it uses to run it is now considered illegal...but, we have to do more research.

We do love the shape (it looks like a rocket booster), but some of our helper bees are wondering if we should keep the exterior shell and remove the actual system (if we're not going to use it).

Any thoughts would be appreciated!

- Peace & Love
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Old 01-17-2020, 02:23 PM   #14
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the "liquid" is Freon... asnd some used R-12, orhers R-22.. both of whiuch there are direct drop-in replacements for... no idea whether the whole system is there or not without seeing it.. ive worked on a few Fishbowl Air-conditiooning systems... each and every one is somewhat different. from what ive seen...



whether you try to keep it or not depemnds alot on how much of or all of it is there.. me being the modern guy who thinks driving through summer heat in 2020 is barbaric without A/C would fix the A/C at all costs.. well OK a big part of it for me would be the challenge of making it work... (and if you dont keep it, then be very careful about taking it and all of its components out.. there are likely fishbowl collectors looking for good A/C parts to fix their systems)..



alot has to do with whether you are keeping the bus windows and whether you are going to gut the interior walls out or not..



-Christopher
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Old 01-17-2020, 02:48 PM   #15
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I am with Christopher, keep and fix the original air if at all possible. I hear so many on this forum taking out the a/c and have to wonder why?
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Old 01-17-2020, 06:45 PM   #16
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ive been searching for a fishbowl with A/C for quite a time.. most dont have it.. and its really tough to add to one if it never had it.. the structure of the bus is different..
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Old 01-17-2020, 07:14 PM   #17
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As a general statement R134 replaced R12 ('less' environmentally damaging...) for automotive use...

The molecules are a little smaller so making new high & low pressure lines designed for the 134 would be advisable. After this many years I'd suspect new lines would be needed anyway...

There are a few other a/c parts required to switch from r12 to 134 but it's diy for you folks from what I've seen -- just more research!
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Old 01-17-2020, 08:17 PM   #18
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Fishbowl A/C is different.. uses a full crank-case compressor... 134a isnt as good at picking up the oil as R-12.. plus its a TxV system, so to use 134a you need to change to a 134a specific TxV.. there are a couple R-12 replacement drop-ins that work better and have a better coefficient of heat than R-134a.. with the Layout of a fishbowl Air conditioner you could likely use a Hydro-Carbon refrigerant since there are no components in the collision zone on one of those coaches..
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Old 01-18-2020, 12:38 PM   #19
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Fishbowl A/C is different.. uses a full crank-case compressor... 134a isnt as good at picking up the oil as R-12.. plus its a TxV system, so to use 134a you need to change to a 134a specific TxV.. there are a couple R-12 replacement drop-ins that work better and have a better coefficient of heat than R-134a.. with the Layout of a fishbowl Air conditioner you could likely use a Hydro-Carbon refrigerant since there are no components in the collision zone on one of those coaches..
I (have observed from your other a/c posts) acknowledge and respect your goals for efficiency.

"full crank-case compressor."
Like a York style compressor?

I've converted the R12 to R134 on York compressors (my Scout for example) doing nothing more than changing the oil to a 134 compatible oil and adding a leak-sealer since the R12 lines are more porous. Didn't change the TxV or the dryer. Worked well enough to get me through a summer in Tejas -- which was the only reason I recharged it at all... Did I lose some efficiency? Sure, but I was still putting out 47°F degrees -- good enuf!

For a bus this cool (and old) I would replace or flush more components to ensure the compatibility with the R134 (some of the different flavors of compressor oil are truly incompatible and should not be mixed).
I'm sure there's a comparable size Sandan compressor that could be adapted to where ever the York compressor was installed.

By replacing the R12/R134 with:
"use a Hydro-Carbon refrigerant since there are no components in the collision zone on one of those coaches.."
I assume you mean propane or one of the other flammable gas "refrigerant" mixes?
I wouldn't use propane as a refrigerant anywhere it's leaking for any reason could lead to its leaking into a confined space...
I recognize my paranoia is my problem -- rather than deny it, I frequently indulge it...
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Old 01-18-2020, 03:04 PM   #20
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the coach compressors are similar to york but not totally..

and yes I meant Propane, butane, etc.. Notice i didnt say recommend it.. im just saying in a tight system where the evaporator is easily testable as are the lines and compressor it "could probably " be used..



to me 47 degree air is Bleh.. thats just me.. a bus isnt gonnas stay cool inside with 47 degree air esp not a fishbowl.. a scout wont stay cool except in the front seat with 47 defgree air.. (yes reme,mber I grew up with scoiuts too.. ours blew out 39 consistently and the back seat was liveable...



and yes there are non-flammable drop-ins for R12 that work pretty well and dont require Barrier hoses.. (of course ALL mobile A/C systems really should use barrier hoses jiust because they are better and do a much better job against permeation as they age..



perhaops im too much of a perfectionist that I expect to be able to fog the windows up on the outside of a bus in a florida summer day... or at least push cold enough air that im right there on the verge of freezing the coils without axctually freezing the coils.. lol thats just me.. A/C isnt a utility for me, its a Passion..
-Christopher
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