Zephyr: Our 1961 GM 4106 Vintage Bus Conversion
Meet Zephyr – our land based home on wheels!
Zephyr had been our full time nomadic home from 2011-2017, and is now our winter home as we now divide our time with cruising the Great Loop in our motoryacht, Y-Not.
Our sweet bus home on wheels began life in September 1961 as a regional charter tour bus in Arizona for Citizen Auto Stage Co out of Nogales, AZ – and is serial # PD4106-446.
While our bus was never a “hound” – this model of bus was designed in cooperation between GM (not yet GMC) & Greyhound to be the heart of their fleet in the 1960s. It was designed to seat 41 passengers and carry all their luggage. With its aluminum construction and beefier engine, the 4106 was considered the ‘sportscar of buses’ for its day.
Today we comfortably cruise at 55-60 mph on the blue highways of America.
Our bus was converted and titled to be Class-A motorhome in 1989, and had less than 20,000 motorhome miles on it when we found it in Yuma, AZ in June 2011. She had essentially sat still for over 15 years after her original converter had passed away in the early 90s.
She’s 35′ long, 96″ wide and weighs in at about 24,000 lbs. She has a 2-stroke 8v71 Detroit Diesel engine, with Allison v730 automatic transmission upgrade post-conversion.
A Brief Story of how Zephyr Came to Us
We started our full timing adventures out in super small travel trailers in 2006. First a 16′ T@B teardrop, then a 17′ Oliver Travel Trailer fiberglass egg.
After 4 years traveling ultra small, we were ready for a little more space as we slowed down our pace. Not wanting to tow something that would require a large truck, we started our search with smaller modern Class-A motorhomes (in the 26-30′ range).
In our price range, we quickly found that the quality we desired was just not feasible. And then we were turned on to older bus conversions. We could get a high quality bus chassis (which some very higher end motorhome are built on), and they can be purchased for a song and some strong hopes.
We still wanted to stay as short of length as possible as we love staying in state and national parks, which often have length restrictions. That put us looking for vintage coaches from the 60s, where 35′ long was the maximum allowable highway length.
We did extensive research on bus conversions starting in spring 2011 and bought an Amtrak Rail Pass to travel the country to look at buses parked within driving range of Amtrak station. We soaked up as much learning as we could from other ‘busnuts’ during this time.
During our search, we quickly fell in love with the history and classic styling of buses from this era.
We found our bus on Craigslist, and the ad was so simple and lacking in details that we almost didn’t go look at it. But we are so glad we did! When we walked in, it held more promise to become our ideal technomadic home than any other bus we had looked at.
The interior was well designed (with solid wood cabinetry), the engine ran strong and the body straight & nearly rust free. She needed to be caught up on nearly 15 years of neglected maintenance – but she just begged to be given a chance to go out adventuring again!
We said YES! We purchased Zephyr for $8000 (no, there’s no missing zero there) and set aside money for future major engine work – which left us a wide budget to do renovations over time to make her truly our own.
Making Zephyr Ours
We specifically were looking for a bus that was livable from day 1 (we were now homeless backpackers living on a train after all) and that we could make our own as we went. We didn’t want a big project, or putting our bus immediately into a renovation shop for possibly years – we learned this from our friends also converting a sweet vintage bus at the same time, the Creative Cruiser.
So we started small with our projects and really got a feel for the upgrades we wanted – and approached them as we had time and opportunity to tackle them. Serendipity played a strong role in determining the order of priority.
We’ve done several rounds of updating – sometimes completely on our own, sometimes with the help of friends, sometimes by hiring out contractors in our travels and sometimes in shops for extended renovations.
All and all, our costs (just over $100k spread out over 5 years) of building our ideal high-tech home on wheels on a solid bus chassis is hundreds of thousands less than we would have spent for a comparable modern high end Class-A motorhome.
Heck, it’s even less than we could have spent on a brand new low-end motorhome that wouldn’t have a chance of standing up to the test of time, miles and long term full timing.
Never mind not being nearly as unique.
And we’ve had a heck of a fun time doing it!
Here’s a video tour of our bus (filmed in February 2018):
And here are some photos of the before/after renovations we’ve done over the years:
And present day after our 2015 renovations:
Thus far we have done:
- 800w Solar Panel Installation at AMSolar
- Massive interior updating (new floors, kitchen, bathroom, ripped out the dinette, installed a dual computer desk, put in cat doors, re-covered valences, etc).
- Lots of gadgets that help keep us online
Built a cutting edge Lithium Ion battery & Victron MultiPlus inverter
- Massive amounts of house systems revitalization (plumbing, electrical, etc.)
- Replaced the fridge with a Vitrofrigo Danfross marine compressor model (12v/110 electric only)
- Converted to LED lighting
- Replaced all of the dash gauges with custom designed gauges from SpeedHut.com.
- Had a major out of frame engine & power system overhaul at Interstate Powersystems after our engine overheated.
- New driver and passenger seats (by Flexsteel, installed at Bradd & Hall in Elkhart, IN).
- Repaint the exterior & minor body work
- All new windows – upgrading to dual pane, with MCD shades
- Replacing our diesel generator with a smaller propane powered one.
- Replacing our hot water heater with a Precision Temp Jr. propane hydronics system for water heating, radiant furnace and engine pre-warming
- All new awnings provided by Dometic, including a 16′ Dometic 9500 automatic case awning (which required a specially fabricated mounting bracket to fit our curved roof.)
- New Thomas Payne Jack Knife sofa provided by Lippert Components
- New air conditioners (Dometic Penguins)
- And lots of other tweaks and minor projects
- Updating plumbing, including new holding tanks (112G Fresh / 120G Grey / 70G Black) and SeeLevel monitoring.
For a full list and details of the projects: Summer 2015 Bus Renovations Tour & Project List
Our aim has been to create a versatile coach for a variety of environments and camping situations – from boondocking off-grid for weeks at a time, drive-way surfing with friends & family, scenic public campgrounds to going pole-to-pole in urban RV Parks with way too close by neighbors.
Our pace of travel varies quite often, and we want to be comfortable whether we’re just overnighting or pulling in for a few months. We like to mix it up.
We flat tow a 2009 MINI Cooper (manual transmission) behind the bus as our primary means of local transportation when we’re parked. While it’s not officially supported by MINI (it can void the transmission warranty.. no problem if you’re out of warranty anyway), flat towing a manual transmission 2009 or older MINI is not a problem, and requires no modifications other than the baseplate.
For more on flat towing a MINI: 5 Years of Towing a MINI
We also enjoy walking, using public transportation and have folding electric bicycles that fit in our bays and MINI.
More Information on our bus:
The Story of our Bus and general articles/updates:
Why we sold our Oliver Travel Trailer
Why a Vintage Bus?
Our Search for a Vintage Bus (Our resources for shopping for a bus)
Buying our Bus
To Tow or Not To Tow (a vehicle behind)
Is It Worthwhile to Renovate an Old RV? Why Not Just Buy New? (2015)
Five Years in a Vintage Bus (2016 update)
Further bus resources:
Bus Conversion Magazine: Considering a bus conversion yourself? There’s no better resource than this magazine & community. Subscribe immediately, order some back issues – you’ll learn a bunch. Their forums are full of fellow ‘bus nuts’ (you’ll soon understand.. owning a bus conversion takes a nut) who have far more expertise than we do. Ask your questions there, you’ll be tapping into a wealth of information (it’s where we go!)
US Coach & Equipment: 888-262-2434 / 856-794-3104 – If you own a bus conversion, this number should be in your contact book. Luke stocks a lot of parts for these machines and if you’re passing through New Jersey, their shop in Vineland provides top notch service.
Choo Choo Express Garage – Located in Chattanooga, TN this is a great shop that provides great service on old coaches, at very reasonable prices.