This post will take you on a condensed (really!) version of the journey that we’ve been on for the past couple of months to find our vintage bus.
We’ve had many requests to share pictures and stories of the various buses we’ve investigated. Perhaps sharing our process and top contenders might help others who are also on the hunt.
The Parameters of our Search
As we started hunting, we received sage advice to keep all options open, and to look at as many buses as possible even if we didn’t think in advance that a given bus was likely to be what we wanted. And we quickly discovered how wise this was. Every bus conversion is so uniquely done that every bus toured was a lesson in some fashion or another. Because the buses varied so much in quality, layout, features and condition, only by seeing such a wide range did we begin to triangulate in on what was important to us, and what it is we actually did and did not want in our new home.
It was however very difficult to resist the temptation to jump on the first bus that seemed acceptable, particularly after an unsolicited offer to buy our truck and trailer turned our intended leisurely plans for a year-long bus hunt from the comforts of our roving home into an adventure in being homeless backpackers traveling via an Amtrak rail pass.
With all the flux that was up in our lives (not to mention the needs to keep running our business), the siren song of settled stillness in a “temporary” home almost lured us in. But in the end, we are oh so glad that we waited until the right bus came along.
As we began educating ourselves about buses, we jumped immediately into the Bus Conversions Magazine forums, Bus Nuts BBS and anywhere else we could introduce ourselves to various bus communities. We also tapped into the invaluable wisdom of our bus dwelling friends Ben & Karen, and Sean & Louise.
The bus nut community offered up a wealth of incredible advice, and we got invitations from several people to come spend time touring their buses and picking their brains. Bus folk love to show off, and with good reason.
Once our hunt was known, we started to get tips about buses that were not advertised otherwise, and we even set up a ‘Sell Us Your Bus’ database on our web site. Soon, dozens of contenders were rolling in.
We started our search fairly certain that 35′ was the max length we wanted in any future mobile home. We wanted more space than our Oliver, but we were coming from a 17′ trailer and knew that 35′ would feel palatial. We also wanted to keep as many options open for public campgrounds as we could, particularly considering that many were built before 40′ RVs were legal. The 35′ length also meant 2-axle buses, which was appealing to save on tolls, number of wheels & tires to maintain and not dealing with a tag axle.
But focusing on 35′ buses focused our search on buses made before the late 1960s, as very few smaller sizes were produced after highway restrictions changed to allow longer (and thus more profitable) lengths.
We were also fairly certain we wanted a parlor style coach – a bus designed for long hauls, geared for highway speeds, and featuring “luggage bays” that can be used for storage for house systems. This ruled out local transit and school buses from our search, and these buses are also harder to insure as full-time RVs as well.
The models of parlor coaches that were most appealing to us included:
- Flxible VL 100 and Flxliner
- GM 4104 & 4106
- MCI 5
- Classic Wanderlodges
At the beginning of our search, manual vs. automatic transmission was a neutral issue for us. Most of these buses started as stick shifts, though many were upgraded to automatic when they were converted to RVs. We knew it would take time to get good at it, but learning to double clutch and shift a big bus wasn’t all that intimidating to us.
But then we started hearing stories about manual transmission buses burning up clutches, having a hard time maneuvering in tight campgrounds, and trouble getting started on inclines. Automatics definitely seem to have an advantage here, and after riding in an auto-equipped GM 4106 down a hilly, windy dirt backroad in Virginia we were convinced it was worth the reduced fuel economy for us.
With a little experience under our belt, we focused on 35′ automatics.
Our Search Methodology
Finding a vintage bus is not as simple as going to your local RV dealer and picking one out. There is no ‘Bus Depot’ to tour many buses at once, unless your search happens to coincide with a bus rally. Most converted buses are individually owned, and the candidates are spread far and wide. It takes a dedicated investment in time and money to find an ideal candidate.
Lucky for us, we both love research and a good hunt.
The resources we used in our search included:
Sell A Bus – The website has great potential, but we quickly found that it was seriously out of date. Many of the sellers we contacted had long ago sold their bus, even though their listing was still active. And just checking the link today, we see no updates since we first started browsing in April. Even so, we did get a couple of good leads here.
Bus Nuts Classifieds – Has a few listings that gave us some leads.
Bus Conversions Magazine – Their online classifieds are very sparse, however their magazine is awesome. You can subscribe electronically, and there are several buses featured in their classifieds every month.
GM Bus Guy – He has listings for several buses. We did find when we followed up on some that they were already sold – so the listings may be somewhat dated.
HB Industries – Honest Bob maintains a list of buses for sale, many of which are parked at his lot in El Cajon, CA that he’s worked on. His listings are fairly up to date as well.
Bye Bye Bluebird – Matchmaker service for Wanderlodges (which are Bluebird buses that were made to be high end luxury RVs right off the assembly line).
Buses for Sale – Google for specific bus models for sale, and you’re likely to come across this site. They have an extensive listing of buses, and make it seems like they are the broker for all of them. But be very wary. What they seem to do is aggregate bus listings from eBay, Craigslist, etc. and mark up the price considerably so that they can then insert themselves into the transaction as a middleman. As best we can tell, they’re hoping that you’ll not be wise enough to find the original listing yourself and contact the seller directly. Kinda icky, if you ask us – but we did check their listings occasionally.
Motorhome Finds – This service also aggregates from Craigslist and eBay, but does so very authentically and transparently. We checked this site every morning to see what showed up on the radar, and we loved their interactive mapping features. The downside is, it searches specifically on the keywords ‘Bus Conversion’ and misses out on a lot of good options that we found on our own.
Claz.org – Another good site for searching all the Craigslist ads around the country at once.
Craigslist/eBay – We spent a considerable amount of time manually searching Craigslist ads in any area we thought we might be able to get to. It was time consuming, but yielded results we did not find any other way. Including the bus we ended up buying.
And of course, it helped a lot just getting the word out about what we were searching for. We had a lot of buses pass our way as tips from readers of this blog, friends, forum participants and more.
We would generally do a surface level nationwide search on a daily basis to see what cropped up, and then a more intensive regional search as we selected potential locations to travel to (generally towns near Amtrak stations).
From there, it was a lot of talking with sellers, diving in deep on research, tracking down the history of individual buses and deciding which were worth investing travel dollars, logistics and time to go see. This process grew complicated as flooding & wild fires shut down major Amtrak routes, forcing us to reroute several times.
The Buses on our Search
This will in no way be a listing of all of the buses we investigated. We actually ended up with a database of about 60 contenders. Yes, we have several hundred hours invested in the search process alone. We’ll only be highlighting the ones that piqued our interests enough to play a role in our routing.
We used Evernote to keep copies of listings and notes from communication with sellers, and tagged each entry with location, bus model, engine type and transmission. This worked out fabulously well – as we always had organized information, pictures and notes with us on all our devices (laptops, iPads and iPhones). If anyone is hunting for a 35′ bus and wants some leads, we’re happy to share.
We quickly got overwhelmed with trying to keep track of all the buses we were considering, so we ended up making up names for our top contenders. The commentary below is in no way an endorsement for any of these buses, if you’re interested in any of them – make sure to do your own due diligence, interviewing, inspections and research.
1958 GM 4104
|This was the first bus we looked at, as it happened to be located near where we were camped in FL when the possibility of vintage bus life first came on our radar. We were so new to buses that we had no clue what we were looking at. When the seller opened up the engine door, we just nodded (now we can prime one!). The interior was very open and spacious, and opened our eyes to the possibilities of vintage buses. The bus was previously a gospel bus, and had scripture painted on it, as well as a stained glass cross for one of the windows.Asking Price: $12,500|
1957 GM 4104
|This bus captured our interest through to the very end. It was purchased by a young guy who was intending to live in it while piloting at skydive drop zones. Then he encountered some medical issues that caused him to put his career on hold and move back to UT. We thought the Penguin would be a great starter bus for us, and we kept it in mind the entire time as our fall-back bus – it seemed fairly solid, has a nice layout and we loved the owner’s authenticity in sharing his story and the buses known issues.Unfortunate for him, we followed his advice to us of ‘don’t get horny for a bus and buy the first one you get excited about – like I did!’. Due to travel logistics, we never saw the Penguin in person.Asking Price: $15,000|
1964 Flxible Flxliner
|After delivering our Oliver in Roanake, VA, we started looking for nearby listings and found this classic. The owner isn’t overly bus savvy, but is motivated to sell. It has a recent engine rebuild, and the exterior is primed and ready to be painted (the ad shows its last paint job). It is a unique bus, with two entry doors. We discovered it was converted by Custom Coach (not Coachmen) right from the factory for the president of the Hoover vacuum company. The interior is in pretty good condition, we could see ourselves enjoying this coach, and we were tempted to make an offer and to move right in.We loved digging into the history of this coach, and it definitely primed us for loving vintage buses for more than just their 35′ length.Asking Price: $25,000
Update: In Sept 2012, we heard from a prior owner of this bus who was tracking down its history. During that search, he let us know that Hoover Bus found a new home earlier in the year.
1973 MCI 7
|The owner of this bus contacted us off of one of the forums, offering to meet us to teach us about buses. He also had his 40′ MCI 7 for sale, and since he knew it likely wasn’t what we wanted, we met him with no pressure or agenda to get us to buy.And wouldn’t you know it? Just after making a firm decision on wanting 35′ and automatic transmission – this 40′ manual transmission beauty seriously tempted us. It had been wonderfully maintained, the interior modern & open, and it even had satellite internet already installed. She used to be a transport coach for gamblers along the eastern seaboard. After just becoming homeless days before, we seriously thought ‘This could be a great temporary home to continue our search in’. We made a low offer on it, but fortunately it wasn’t accepted. We actually felt relieved. The Gambler wasn’t what we ultimately wanted, but it was likely to be too comfortable to motivate us to take our further search seriously. But this is a great bus, and if anyone is interested – we’ll be happy to put you in touch with the owner.Asking Price: $25,000
Update: In September 2012, this bus finally found its new home and will be moving to Phoenix, AZ with its new owner.
1967 MCI 5ARock Springs, WY
|This bus came to us via the bus forums. From everything we know about it, it’s one sweet bus for the money. It’s got a 6v92 Turbo engine with a 5-speed automatic transmission – with enhanced radiator cooling to handle all that power. The owners had recently full timed in this for years, so we felt good that the systems are well shaken out. The interior layout and look however didn’t call us very strongly (mainly, we wanted a walk-around queen bed) – but the condition and features of this bus kept our attention.Logistical blocks just kept popping up for us… but the owners have been super helpful and friendly in our search. So, if you’re in the market… here’s what sounds like one sweet MCI 5A. We’ll put you in touch.Asking Price: $30,000
Update: In Oct 2011, the owners of this bus brought Rock Springer out on a mini-vacation and met up with on the road. To the best of our knowledge, they planned to keep it.
|“Oregon VL 100”
1959 Flxible VL100
|We fell in love with the look of this old Flxible, and contacted to owner. We had a great late night chat one evening, and this bus became tempting enough to rise to the top of our contenders list. The more we talked with the owner, more pending projects were revealed – but no single one scared us. We started scheming ways to get to Oregon from the east coast, and that’s when the plans for an Amtrak adventurewere hatched.After some negotiating on the price and another chat with the owner, we booked our tickets to head to Oregon. We started going deep into Flxible research, and discovered that many parts for them are made of unobtanium – making Flxible’s more difficult & expensive to keep on the road than other old buses. And because of their steel construction, they are more prone to corrosion issues. We talked with a former VL 100 owner who had to do a major frame rebuild, and his stories had us . growing concerned that Flxibles would likely be beyond our novice capabilities. As other Oregon candidates came on our radar, we contacted the owner to make sure he knew his bus wasn’t the only we were coming across country to see. He wrote back saying he didn’t think his bus would be a good starter bus for us, and canceled our meeting.We felt rejected, but since his conclusion was matching ours.. we got over it.
Asking Price: $32,500
1976 Prevost ChampionRoseburg, OR
|We called Southern Oregon Diesel (SOD) to see about getting the Oregon VL 100 inspected, and they told us about a 1976 35′ Prevost they had for sale at their shop. When the told us it “had been to many of those ‘Black Rock’ events”, we thought serendipity had lead us to OUR bus!! We cooresponded with both the owner and the folks at SOD, and learned that the bus had suffered a tire blow out that caused damage to the rear fender, but supposedly it could be fixed for a couple hundred bucks. The Black Rock had a lot of sweet Burning Man optimized features, like a swamp cooler, vast amounts of water storage, 2 solar panels, no propane systems and a Webasto heater system. The interior was light and bright. Prevost is still in business, and a call confirmed they still had parts available for it – so it seemed we could get a more modern supported bus AND our 35′ preference.As the VL 100 moved down our list this one quickly moved to the top.. our Amtrak cross country trip became about seeing THIS bus. It would be fair to say, our hearts got attached to it – it seemed to have our names written all over. We got caught up in the potential romantic story.Our first date with it was a-ok, some disappointments but things remained promising. The next day, David at SOD put the bus up on a lift.. and that’s where the heartbreak began. You see, in 1976 Prevost made only 10 Champions in the 35′ length as a custom order for the Canadian Armed Forces. Icy roads = salt = corrosion. The corrosion was pretty extensive, and while the visible corrosion could be addressed with some welding work – we just couldn’t convince ourselves this was a solid base to invest in to make ours. Combined with numerous small problems on the bus adding up, we were throughly heartbroken. After 3 days under and in the bus … we forced ourselves to walk away. It was painful (and very educational), and we felt aimless afterwards.
That said.. while we walked away from this being our full time home, this bus is a GREAT find for Burning Man and the fesitval circuit. So, if you’re looking for a sweet desert dweller.. call David at SOD.
Asking Price: $20,000
|“The Radiator”1961 GM 4106
|So this is where we really start testing our faith in serendipity to keep the search going. After the heartbreak from ‘Black Rock’, we discovered that some fellow nomadic bus owners also happen to be in the Eugene, OR area. So we meet up for dinner, and they show us their super sweet GM 4106. Steve remembers a listing he saw for a very clean looking and well equipped 4106, and it was posted on a site we hadn’t stumbled across yet. We look over the ad and contact the owner – it does sound, feature wise, like the bus we eventually want to create. It has an office area already built in, satellite internet, 320 watts of solar panels and a lot of other very nice touches. The seller sends us more pictures, and we notice a big black thing mounted on the back – where we discover he has relocated the radiator for the transmission cooler to solve an overheating problem.And now with Amtrak having shut down both the Empire Builder and California Zephry due to flooding, heading south is sounding like the only way out of the Pacific Northwest via rail. So, we contact our friends in Arizona to confirm their open invitation for crash space, and we route to the land of low humidity with this bus in mind.We did see this bus in person, and it is exceptionally clean with a lot of great features. However, because of the way it’s capped & painted- it doesn’t have much of a vintage bus look, and the radiator on the back really does stand out visually (but there shouldn’t be any overheating issues!). We do agree with the owner that this bus is potentially worth more than other 4106 conversions, but it’s still priced high for the market.
Asking Price: $32,000
1962 GM 4106
|As our plans changed to Arizona, we started scouring the internet for all buses meeting our criteria. We came across this black bus on Craigslist, and thought ‘who would own a black bus in Arizona??’. We dropped an introductory e-mail to the owner and after reading our blog, he told us ‘You don’t want this bus!’. It’s explained that it is a rather barebones conversion, but it didn’t discourage us – and he seemed quite open to meeting up with us anyway.And good thing we didn’t pass on stopping by, turns out Bus-Osaurus (it’s given name, complete with an epic tale) is owned by the president of the Western FMCA GM Club! This bus does have some great things about it, such as an awesome stock vintage look – and we were quite tempted by it as a solid base bus to build off of. Charlie and his wife Judy were quite friendly, and made it clear they were thrilled to have younger folks coming into the vintage bus community. They offered themselves as a resource, period – regardless of what bus we selected. In fact, when we shared our bus list with them – they predicted the one in Yuma was ours.Asking Price: $12,000
Update: Right after we bought our bus, in August 2011 we meet up with some nomadic friends in Flagstaff, AZ. They had been contemplating a different setup from their travel trailer – and upon spending a bit of time with us in our bus, decided they needed a bus too! We handed them our research on buses in the area, and they fell in love with Bus-Osaurus. A week later, we helped them pick it up!
1961 GM 4106
|We came across a pretty generic Craigslist ad that pretty much just said ‘Greyhound bus/camper – cool way to go camping!’. With such a meager description we could have easily skipped over it, and it certainly wasn’t going to show up in a vintage bus or GM 4106 search. Getting more pictures emailed to us involved having to call three different people. We learned the seller owns a taxi company, and he bought the bus at auction a while back after the previous owner passed away, and he didn’t know much else about it. But he made it clear – he was motivated to sell.It didn’t start out as a serious contender. We really only kept it on our list because our Arizona host wanted to join us on a road trip to Yuma, and we could catch Amtrak out of there to continue searching onward.After seeing our other two AZ contenders, we decided to swing by Yuma to see this one too before returning to our hosts. We were anxious to get all our AZ options on the table. When we toured her, we were impressed! The Taxi Bus started right up, and we discovered that the interior was extremely well done – far better than any other bus interior we had seen. Many of the receipts and manuals were with the bus as well. It was far more intriguing than any pictures they sent indicated – livable from day one, with lots of potential to eventually add our touches. It had some major issues too – like needing new tires, and the generator being in a questionable state. But it was of so promising!
We gave it a lot of thought, passed all the pictures and information we gathered by every bus nut we had met along the way who offered advice. She passed muster of all of our trusted advisors. We knew Taxi Bus could be a gamble, as the current owner knew little about buses and the last loving owner was deceased. We’d be in Yuma, where few folks are this time of year – with no local bus support options. But we may have very well discovered a gem.
So we made an offer contingent upon a few more tests, and after consideration – it was accepted.
So, now that you’ve heard the hunt story, seen the asking prices for various buses in our search and seen a video tour of Taxi bus.. we’re taking a poll.
How much to you think we paid for ‘Taxi Bus’ ?