Do you have the itch to tackle a vintage bus conversion?
You’re not alone.
Each year many RVers decide to live out their fantasy of buying an old bus and converting it into the RV of their dreams. Some people think these bus nuts are insane, but who can blame them for falling in love with the classic styling of a vintage vehicle?
Antique commercial buses are solidly-built machines that can last for a long time with the right TLC.
This Flxible bus looks like it has potential.
Unfortunately, like the restoration of a hundred-year-old home, these bus conversion projects can turn into endless money pits that cause more grief than pleasure.
When I found this old Flxible bus, I fell in love with the idea of returning her to the glory days. Could my husband and I be the right people to bring her back to life?
Doesn’t she look ready for a makeover?
For us dreamers who fantasize about taking on a bus restoration project, here’s a little reality check from the Flxible Owners International Group.
Although old commercial buses can be purchased very cheaply, they might also bankrupt you before you ever travel a mile.
The same story has probably repeated itself dozens of times during the life of that old bus: the previous owner ran out of money and energy to keep it on the road, then put it back on the market for some other fool who had the itch to try his or her hand at fixing her up.
According to Flxible Owners International, here’s a sampling of what a Flxible bus conversion project could cost:
- Body and Chassis: “This most important part could cost thousands.”
- Drive Train: “A modern diesel and automatic transmission to match can cost $20,000.”
- Interior: “what’s inside can add from a couple of hundred to thousands to the fair price for your prospective new motorhome.”
- Glass: “Good glass adds another $1500 to the eventual value of a prospect.”
- Tires: “So it’ll be 2K basic, 4K if you decide on fancy wheels.”
- Brakes: “This, like tires, is a job usually left to pros. . . So you may want to allow for 0-$2500 worth of brake work.”
- Exterior Finish: “If your prospect has good paint with no problems, add a minimum $5000 . . . If the paint is in really bad shape, and will require complete removal before refinishing, your total refinish work will cost a minimum of $3000, and could easily go to double that – this if you do most of the work yourself.”
Restoring a large vehicle isn’t just about a paint job and a tune up. That’s a hippie skoolie fantasy, and one of the reasons why you’ll find old commercial buses with a long, long list of owners.
More than likely any bus that you purchase will require a complete down-to-the-chassis overhaul. And you’ll probably have to replace the engine and transmission.
Rebuilding may be a possibility, but in most cases the engine will be something old and obsolete, meaning parts are rare and expensive, and the engine once rebuilt will still not hold a candle to more modern alternatives.
This Flxible bus needs a lot of interior work.
A DIY vintage bus restoration project requires you to be a Jack and Jane of all trades – are you? Tackle a project like this and you’ll need to be a mechanic, body expert, carpenter, plumber and electrician all in one. And if you’re not, you must have the financial resources to pay someone who is, or your bus will be back in a field before long.
Perhaps most important of all is the ability to know when you need to hire help and “farm out” jobs that are above your skill level. Remember, you won’t need just the skills mentioned above, but also the right tools and equipment – not to mention a safe and secure place to do the work.
It’s no wonder the bus conversion fantasy can wear people down.
As Donavan Farley, editor of HonestBlue.com, and his family learned, a project of this magnitude can consume your entire life. In his revealing article about the good and not-so-good that happened during his old Blue Bird bus project, he describes a long, two-year process that “began about money, and it ended about money, as many projects do.”
After restoring “the Albatross” to a pristine state of interior beauty, only to be hit with huge mechanical bills just prior to embarking on his family’s long awaited cross country road trip in the bus, he writes:
Well, we had a great, liveable bus, and couldn’t afford to drive it anywhere because fuel costs add up atrociously. To drive across North America and back costs a minimum of $5000 just in fuel. . . The bus had served its purpose—we had gotten out of debt. We had saved up money, and we had built a house by hand that was worth something. We had gotten closer as a family and as a couple, something we had desperately needed. We had learned how to build stuff, when we had never built anything in our entire lives. Now we could build anything. After two years totally consumed with this project, we were a little tired. Maybe it was time to go back to normal life.
It’s easy to overlook the financial and emotional toll of a bus conversion project when you see how beautiful other buses have turned out.
On the other hand, you’ll find many bus conversion blogs with sporadic posts that leave you wondering, “what happened?” If these chronicles were as revealing as Donovan’s, we would all find a lot more buses rusting away in farm fields everywhere.
Thanks to the reality check from my research on bus conversions and the brutal truth offered up by the Flxible Owners International Group, there’s one more old bus that will quietly fade away into history.
Because I’m not going to be the one who buys it.