“Why are you taking on the job of converting a coach into a motorhome, aren’t you already busy?” That was a common response when we told our friends we were going to convert a bus into a motorhome and travel all over Australia. So, who are we and why did our friends think we were mad? Our names are Wes and Sandra and we ran a cattle property in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Besides the cattle, we both had off-farm jobs to supplement the farm. Wes was a diesel mechanic and Sandra worked for the local government as a town planner. In addition, we had sporting interests, Wes raced formula Fords, becoming a state champion whilst Sandra was heavily involved with the volunteer firefighting service being a trainer and holding a high rank. Now I can hear you all saying, how did they have time to convert a bus, leave everything, and travel in Australia? We made sacrifices, Wes stopped racing which gave us more time, and then as the build progressed, he left his job to concentrate more on the project.
Finding the Bus
When we decided we were going to travel Australia for a few years, we also decided we would do it in a bus. It was larger than a van, had much more storage capability, and was a bit different.
There weren’t too many bus conversions in Australia so our idea was a bit unique. We started surfing the internet looking for already converted buses but after a short time it was clear to us that they were either out of our price range, the lay-out was not to our liking or they were very poorly completed.
We even decided to take a couple of trips to look at a few buses which were partially converted or just gutted hulls of buses, this also came to no fruition. We continued searching and finally came across an advertisement from a major tour service coach company selling off a few of their older service coaches.
We set a time to have an inspection of two coaches and on arrival, Wes had a surprise as the service manager was Wes’s former workshop foreman when he was an apprentice for over 30 years prior. What a great reunion for them, after all the reminiscing, we drove out with our new home ready to undertake our adventure.
Our choice was based upon the service history of the motor. It had been rebuilt and was newer than the other coaches offered and the gearbox was only halfway through its potential service life, which in comparison we were not going to do the mileage it was currently subject to. In our case, it was a good mechanical decision.
We bought the coach as soon as it came out of service in 2014, so we knew it was fully operational and roadworthy. The coach was used to travel from Adelaide to Ceduna on a scheduled service run and on occasions it went along the Strzelecki Track into the outback of Southern Australia.
Gutting the Bus
We were lucky in a way as the company offered to remove all the seats, leaving only the first row so we didn’t have to undertake the arduous task of removing 20 rows of seats and then disposing of them. Once the registration was transferred into our names and all the seats were removed, we drove the coach home. This was the first day of our adventure.
Editor’s Note: If you buy a bus with seats still in, try to convince the seller to remove the seats. Frequently they will do this for free in exchange for keeping the seats saving you of the hassle of removing and disposing of them.
The first job was to remove all the overhead luggage racks, audiovisual consoles, wall carpet, flooring, ceiling materials, and finally the old water closet (bathroom).
As this progressed, we dropped every screw, nail, and rivet into a four-liter container and at the end of the demolition we were surprised as to how many fasteners we had removed. It was full. We also gutted and cleaned the bins (under storage), scraping off old paint, knocking out dents, and welding in a few patches after removing small areas of rust.
We were soon to find out that these old buses bred rust. In the engine bay, all the old soundproofing was removed and it came with 20 years plus of oil, dust, and dirt. You can just imagine how Sandra looked after this job. Being the smaller one she was able to fit into the engine bay to pull all the old insulation out.
After a good engine wash, new shiny insulation was installed, this not only soundproofed but heat-proofed the area above the engine (where the bed is) and we didn’t want to heat the bed up unnecessarily, not in Australia.
As mentioned, we concluded buses were de-signed to breed rust and this was particularly so in the areas which collected water spray from roads and dust, both of these settled on joints in the framework, disguising what was happening underneath.
Editor’s Note: When you buy a bus, always look underneath for rust damage. If there are holes in the metal, you will have to decide if it is worth patching the holes with new metal, or move on to another bus. This is generally determined by just how much rust there is. Small areas of rust are fine, but when structural members have too much rust, it may be best to look for another bus. For what else to look for when buying a used bus, read our Checklist for Buying a Used Coach on our Documents page here: https://www.buscon-versionmagazine.com/documents/
After a lot of labor-intensive scraping to get the caked on mud out, wire brushing the frame and joints, making any necessary repairs, they were all primed and painted with us knowing they were now good for another 20 years. By the time we finished gutting, repairing, and painting the inside, outside, and underside of the bus, we felt we knew the bus intimately.
The 30-year-old decor not only was dated but smelled, along with a lot of chewing gum which had to be scraped off. Once we had a bare shell, only the driver’s seat remained. The coach was ready to go to the body shop for some external re-sheeting, installation of new windows, the removal of the air-conditioning unit located on the roof and finally painting. We had also decided to raise the roof to give us more room inside and open up the space.
Our biggest issue was the roof raise (prior to the internal build), which was beyond our control, we engaged a coach building company to do this as we didn’t have the equipment or space. This was scheduled to take about three months but little did we know our nice-looking coach was to become a money pit.
Oh, if only we had superman’s eyes, we would have known the roof air-conditioning had been leaking into the body frame and this over many years had rusted out the structural tubing from the inside out. We were notified that there was a lot of rust in the roof and all the roof metal framing would need to be replaced at a considerable cost.
This was only identified once the engineers had started to cut the frames to get ready to raise the roof and all the rust tinkled out from the inside. A decision had to be made, do we give our project away, selling the remains of the coach as scrap, or spend more money replacing the framework. At this point, the coach looked like an open-top tour bus.
It was decided to go ahead with the replacement of the sheet steel and at this point we decided to not replace the old heavy steel roof but put on a lighter fiberglass roof instead, saving weight. This took more time than expected and extended our build by approximately six months.
The decision was made to keep going ahead, it included new framing from the Z-bracing up, a rebuilt front end, new push-out windows and roof hatches including a single piece fiberglass roof, re-sheeting of the side panels, and a shiny new paint job. It was six months before we had our new motorhome back at the farm ready to begin the internal build.
At this point, it now had a name, THOR. Not be-cause it was painted Kenworth Grey or because of the God of Thunder but because it has “Taken Heaps of Revenue”.
We were determined to steam ahead with the build as we had read about many of these projects stalling and never being completed. The first job was to scale out the inside space and draw up our floor plan on paper.