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2planker 07-14-2019 11:27 AM

Moto Bus Build
So I'm almost a year into my conversion and figured I'd start sharing my progress so far. Progress has been slow, but that's ok we've gotten plenty of use out of the moto bus so far, racked up about 6,000 miles!!

It started last year, we needed a moto hauler to get my son and I to the races and back. I looked at a box truck, a regular van, sprinters but I wasn't jazzed on any of those options. Then I found this forum and saw the conversion projects and got hooked on the idea of a short bus or shuttle bus. Found my platform in So Cal and dropped in:

Chassis: 2003 Ford E450 SuperDuty
Model: Thomas Built Buses Minotour DRW 051MS
Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke Diesel

Overall the chassis/interior and engine/drivetrain were in pretty good shape. Tires were worn and needed to be replace quickly. I was really sketched out driving it home as the fronts were pretty worn and it had been sitting a bit. So kept the speeds low and took my time. Put new rubber on the front and found a decent used set for the rear.

Had a fun time insuring and registering it, only 3 trips to the DMV :banghead:. There are quite a few good posts on here about registration and insurance. For the time being I kept registration as commercial vehicle and got a limited commercial policy for personal use. Intent is to change to RV registration in the future, but this was the quickest way to get title in my name and make it legal to drive.

As this was a handicap accesible unit with side door and lift most of the seats were already removed. Getting the remaining seats out wasn't too bad:

Most of the bolts came out easy but had to grind a few stubborn ones:

I left one seat in as the passenger seat:

With the seats out we loaded up the bikes and got on the road. Here's a pic of our first night in the moto bus:

peteg59 07-14-2019 12:38 PM

Looks good, and wasting no time in getting it back out on the open road again!
Are you using the W/C door to load the bikes? (looks like the lift is MIA?) If so, any mods to it to make it work?

2planker 07-14-2019 01:04 PM

peteg59 - yep, we load bikes in through the side wheelchair door. That's what really sold me on the concept of the short bus. With bikes in sideways it saves tons of "living" space.

Forgot to mention that I removed the lift. Thought about keeping it, but in the end I would have had to modify it, it took up 6" of width on the interior and was pretty slow/cumbersome to load two bikes. So now we just use a 9' long folding ramp, which works quite well.

Johnny Mullet 07-14-2019 06:51 PM

Thank you for sharing!

2planker 07-15-2019 11:59 AM

After a successful first weekend camping I got lots of ideas on what I wanted to do for the conversion. This was my original plan:

I've made some tweaks along the way, but the basic concept is bikes in the back and party up front!! Next I needed a place to work on it during the winter and happened to score this heated garage :-D

Having a legit working space has made this project really enjoyable. With a full time job and family of 6, this has become my quiet space :)

2planker 07-16-2019 06:32 PM

With a rough plan in mind and a shop space secured, i started in on the demo phase. First project was to remove all the interior metal panels, luckily they were screwed in, not riveted.

A bucket of screws later and the roof panels were off.

I did strip out a few stubborn screws. Used the angle grinder with a cutting blade to just cut the head off, then once the panel was removed locking pliers made quick work of the rest.

Next was the removal of the side panels. Read somewhere on this forum :Thanx: that the side panels are one piece construction wrapped from the outside sheeting to the inside, so per advice on that thread I used an angle grinder to cut 1" below the top rail and 1" above the floor and the side panels came right off.

These two projects took me a few weeks to complete. Additionally I removed the rear A/C, hit my head on that thing one too many times and since it was going to be in the garage and would only work with engine running, it had limited use for me.

During this time the temps started to drop and I discovered that cold starts were an issue. Found out that the block heater was toasted, so had that replaced. I also had the transmission serviced and had my mechanic do a once over. He ran buzz test and glo plugs were ok, advised cold start was likely due to sticking injectors. He recommended an oil additive to see if that would clean them up a bit, before doing any major work.

This had me a bit nervous to hit the road, seeing as I would need to plug in for 45-60mins before she would start, but with two small generators, I figured I would just have to remember to plug in an hour before I wanted to leave. This got me through last winter, but something I definitely need to take care of before this winter.

2planker 07-17-2019 03:24 PM

We had a race coming up in AZ so it was a perfect opportunity to test out the floorplan. I screwed up a moving blanket to act as the garage wall divider and jerry rigged some foam board insulation to the sides walls to test what it would be like to delete some of the windows.

Good news was two bikes plus all our gear fit nicely in the garage:

I was definitely nervous :confused: setting out on a trip this big. Right away we found out that the cab heater wasn't working and the stock radio was garbage which made for less than ideal driving conditions. Luckily we brought blankets and a blue tooth speaker. :whistling:

The configuration worked really well. I would need to figure out how to lock the rear doors from the outside, decided to keep one more window on the passenger side. On our way back through Vegas we got treated to a snow storm.

Our little skoolie did really well and made the 1,400 mi round trip without major issue.

2planker 07-17-2019 03:38 PM

Headlights were the next big upgrade. Found these 5x7 LEDs on Amazon for $85 and decided to give em a try. They are direct plug and play, literally took me 15mins to swap out. So happy with this purchase:

cadillackid 07-17-2019 05:29 PM

these lights look like the ticket!.. I have the craptastic ones with the 3 rows of LEDs on my DEV bus and I hate them.. these look like the lights i need.. im ordering a set

2planker 07-18-2019 04:26 PM

cadillackid - no complaints from me so far, these lights are very bright compared to the tired old halogens. The top of the pattern has a very distinct cut off line too.

2planker 07-18-2019 05:37 PM

1 Attachment(s)
After dropping in the new headlights I didn't do much work on conversion for a couple of months. We did however do some traveling and took the motobus to SoCal, NorCal and a few trips into the desert of Northern NV.

Having gotten some good use out of the motobus and a clearer vision for the conversion I was ready to make some real progress. We stripped out the old rubber floor. I found a heat gun and cutting the floor into thin strips really helped, but it was still a pain in the @$$. Additionally we removed 4 windows on the drivers side and two windows on the passenger side.

For the divider wall I wanted to incorporate a bunk bed which was set back so the bikes had more space in the garage yet the bunk didn't intrude as deep into the living space. The final design I came up with is attached in the pdf.

This project would require some welding, which is a skill I don't have and wasn't confident I could learn in a short time, so I had a shop do it. They did an awesome job and welded up the divider wall/bunk bed and spot welded in some window coverings. I threw on a coat of primer and used some seam sealer to make them water tight. I like the look, it retains the bus feel, yet gives us more privacy. Hoping to gain some R value too as I plan to insulate behind the coverings with hard foam board.

ol trunt 07-18-2019 08:12 PM

Nice work. Glad you are having fun with it!

Oldcarnut 07-18-2019 10:32 PM

Nice score. Get an Exhaust Gas Temp gauge and 6.0 tranny cooler to keep an eye on things. Bigger exhaust and a tune will up your mileage and cruising speed, at least it did on my '02.

2planker 07-19-2019 01:28 PM


Originally Posted by Oldcarnut (Post 338864)
Nice score. Get an Exhaust Gas Temp gauge and 6.0 tranny cooler to keep an eye on things. Bigger exhaust and a tune will up your mileage and cruising speed, at least it did on my '02.

Thanks for the advice! Did you put a new chip in yours? I was looking at something like this one:

2planker 07-22-2019 06:13 PM

Next major upgrade was the passenger seat. The school bus seat worked for a bit, but it was miserable on the long hauls so after some research on expedition forum I found a single Toyota Sienna XLE 2nd row reclining seat at a junkyard in Sacramento. Mated it with a seat base from base-fab and installed it.

Here's Troy enjoying the ride on our latest trip to WA:

And here we are setup in the pits:

Trip was great on the way back we got to explore some trails in sourthern WA in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, even if you don't ride its a great place to visit and get away.

Our trip would have been perfect except the alternator gave out in Portland and stranded us on the freeway. The battery light had been flickering for about an hour and I thought I may have knocked a cable loose, so tightened all the connections and kept an eye on the meter. When it finally gave out I had some time left to drive but unfortunatley we were in grid lock and so got stranded and had to get towed.

Eventually, we made it home and now I'm starting to prep the exterior for paint. Time to get rid of the school bus yellow. I'm taking the opportunity to remove the top circular lights and replace the top markers with LEDs. Excited to try and patch the fiberglass holes. I'll use the rears as my test before removing the fronts.

This gets us to the current state of the build. Still have a long way to go before its complete, what was that saying about eating an elephant?

BlackJohn 07-22-2019 07:07 PM

One bite at a time I heard. Glad you are enjoying it with your son.


HazMatt 07-22-2019 08:10 PM

Seems to me, starting at the front would be the more palatable option..!

o1marc 07-22-2019 10:36 PM

Nice seats, what years are they in? There's 3 Siennas at the local PAP.:Thanx:

2planker 07-23-2019 10:40 AM


Originally Posted by o1marc (Post 339676)
Nice seats, what years are they in? There's 3 Siennas at the local PAP.:Thanx:

This one was from a 2016 but any year from 2014 to 2018 had a recliner option on the XLE trim package. I read somewhere that it was an optional seat upgrade so not all XLEs have them. Took me a while to find one at a reasonable price, I just searched eBay for Sienna Recliner, took me about 6 months to find one within driving distance.

Bon Voyage 07-28-2019 02:39 AM

I like that you didn’t have to call a heavy haul tow truck like I did when my first full size bus broke down and wouldn’t start in a Walmart lot.

If you haven’t already put your interior walls on, spray foam between the cracks of that ridgid foam and it’ll make a big difference.

What are your plans for power in the bus, any AC and DC?

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