Which to choose? A lesson here...
Hi all! These aren't school buses...I'll warn you right up front...but the lesson, if I can share it with you, applies to any conversion platform.
This week, we went to look at two different buses. First, let's look at Bus #1...an old GM being used as a storage unit. We went to look at her and found that many of the flat side windows had broken glass. The rear 3-piece window was present, inside the bus, but not installed. It was filled with stuff, which the seller and his employees scrambled to empty. Even after the emptying, this is what the inside looked like.
Here's the outside, from the rear, showing the family and the missing rear window.
Bus #2 is a newer MCI, parked at a church. It was driven there but developed a fuel pump issue. We went there armed with new batteries, a fuel pump, and tools. Here's the inside of Bus #2 (the bathroom...bonus...was in the left rear corner).
And here's the outside.
Attachment 54394Attachment 54395
Obviously, Bus #2 looks a lot better. But we chose Bus #1 even though it cost about twice what Bus #2 did. Why? Here's the lesson I hope to share...
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones!
Bus #2 was a 1974 and the outside skin is aluminum. But the frame is steel and there was serious, cancerous rust on the frame. When we opened the rear engine bay door it almost came off, because the upper frame rails were crumbling. It had great, almost new tires, and looked super clean inside and out. But the structure...the skeleton...was compromised.
Bus #1 was a 1956 and the outside was really straight. In fact, for a 65 year old bus the outside was in amazing shape, besides the paint being faded. But the inside was stripped and kind of gross. However, it started right up...cold...and the undercarriage had absolutely zero sign of rust. This bus was, physically, in much better shape than the newer better-looking one. I ended up driving it home that night, without issue.
So, lesson one. Don't get caught up in the appearance. Appearance is important...it can reflect the care the owner takes...but don't get presume that the shiny, pretty bus is a sound bus. Dig, poke, and crawl!
Lesson two. Don't assume newer is better.
Lesson three. Be willing to walk away. We actually looked at Bus #2 (the MCI) first. I was pretty excited, based on the photos and talking with the seller...and the price. I got a spare fuel pump, took oil and coolant, brought tools and a compressor...and cash. I had planned to drive the bus home. And, even with the rust, I thought about it...I'm a welder, I can fix it. Here I was, with my wife and daughter. We came to buy a bus. And the seller was super nice. But I had to make the call. If the skeleton isn't sound, the bus isn't a good candidate for a build. Your skoolie must be built on a solid foundation!
Lesson four. There's always another. We looked at Bus #2 on Monday. It was a 6-hour round trip. We came home knowing we made the right decision, but a bit dejected. I mean, I'd already created a desktop folder for this bus on my Mac! :-) But, guess what? The seller of Bus #1 listed his for sale on Monday, while we were driving. I saw the ad that night and we looked at it, and bought it, on Tuesday. Fate? Karma? Bus Whispering? Who knows? But whatever the reason, I've bid on and bought enough buses and ambulances to know this...if you don't get the bus you thought you wanted, it because the bus you really want is waiting elsewhere...looking for you, too.
Enjoy the hunt. There's a bit of passion in the process! But keep that skeptical rational portion of your brain active, to balance your heart and emotion.
Be well, safe travels, and we look forward to meeting you someday!
Ross and Kara Taylor
Good luck with the new build. More pics please!
You also just learned a lesson in why there are still so many GMC coaches on the road. That one you bought is a 4104 and what I learned to drive coaches on. They are built as solid as you can imagine with materials that last and last. Be sure to locate the serial number and let me know and I'll pass it on to a guy who's keeping a database of all GMC Coaches he can find. Who knows he may have yours in the database and give you it's pedigree. The serial/VIN number was located on a plate on the front dash just inside the entry door and will start with PD4104-XXXX. Parlor car, Diesel, model 4104 (41 passengers, 4th model/body style) then the serial numbers. If the plate is gone, and that's not uncommon. Look under the drivers side window in that compartment under the driver seat. Straight back behind the steering shaft towards the center line of the bus, you'll see a vertical frame member with the full PD4104-xxxx stamped in it by hand. They are truly awesome and strong as hell. I've seen many buses with the 6-71, 8V-71's start right up with a strong battery and making sure the oil and coolant was OK, after sitting sometimes for more than 10-15-years. Unbelievably, incredibly robust and hard to kill engines, and the 4104's too. If you have questions you know how to contact me directly.
As to that MC8. I shall reserve comments, except to say that I bought one for my Charter Company when I had my own little fleet of buses, and the net result was that it managed to put me completely out of business with it's MASSIVE mechanical issues. As it turned out I wasn't so alone in this kind of experience, as many guys had similar problems with them. It was a blessing in disguise since it got me out of the bus business before I had a chance to really ruin my life.... Worst thing is to wake up 30 years later and realize you have nothing of any real value and your health has been ruined by worry and stress related to running and staying afloat in the Charter business. I have no regrets and thank my lucky stars. Been there, Done that, got the T-Shirt. I still like driving Charters and am happy to have someone else deal with the headaches and pay for the fuel and maintenance. You made the right choice to walk away from that thing. Even if it had been primo, it still would have been an '8, and something would have cropped up, it's just what '8s do.
In the end though, MCI learned their lesson, and very quickly brought out the legendary and awesome MC9 which to this day is probably the best long term Charter Coach built, and I'd say second only to the 4104 for it's overall greatness, longevity, and massive acceptance by bus operators everywhere. The only newer things even approaching the MC9 would be the MCI "D,DL" and "J" Coaches. Again I've put untold hundreds of thousands of miles and decades on the road driving all these MCI and GMC coaches and I consider these particular ones the creme of the crop. Fantastic to drive, reliable, and straightforward to maintain and keep on the road in revenue service.
Thanks UFO_pilot, Crown_Guy, and Cheese_Wagon.
Yup, she's a 4104. I knew that...in fact, had one of those (or a 4106) on my search list. I think it's cool that you could identify that, though. I'm still not experienced enough to tell a 4104 from a 4106 from a photo. I didn't want to clutter the "lesson" post with all the gory model details - especially since they're not school buses. Shame on me! :-) I just meant to urge the new bus buyers to look past the surface. But, for those who want them, here are some more details about each bus.
The MCI is a 1974 MC-8 with a Detroit 2-stroke 8V71. We already have a 1973 MC-7 which originally came with an 8V71 as well, but it was repowered (by the prior owner) with a 6V92TA and the manual transmission was swapped with an automatic. Personally, I prefer the manual trannies but since we plan to sell this one someday the automatic is probably a more widely-preferred option. We're moving into this bus in a couple of weeks.
And, as Crown_Guy identified, the GM is a 1956 PD4104 with serial number 1639. I did already share this serial number in the BCM "4104 survivors" thread, but if you know another historian please feel free to pass that on. And, you've got my phone number so you can share that if needed, too. The screws which held the old Greyhound dog on the sides of the bus are still there, so if you squint and look at it as if it were a constellation you can still imagine the running greyhound. I might even cut some new ones out of aluminum, someday. Maybe.
The 4104 has a Detroit 2-stroke 6-71, normally aspirated. It's the same engine as in our old Crown school bus, except it rotates in the opposite direction. In these old GM buses, the engine is sideways (transverse, officially...) and the transmission is a V-shaped contraption. This is the same configuration as our older 1949 TDH4509. And, as Crown_Guy pointed out, these GM model numbers can be decoded. So, for example, our TDH4509-099 is a Transit, Diesel, Hydraulic (the automatic, 2-speed transmission), model 4509, #99 produced. This 4104 has a 4-speed manual with the solenoid reverse, so to put the transmission into reverse you shift into first, then press and hold a reverse solenoid button (which causes the solenoid to move a lever on the tranny), then shift into the 2nd gear position.
Okay...back to school buses!
I love the 4104's, almost as much as Crowns! Great luck with the new purchase, and please keep us updated as it progresses!
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