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George Carson
February 24, 2023
520 views

Converting a nostalgic 1956 GM Bus Into an Enjoyable RV

A bit of history

First, let’s take a step back to 1954 when GM began building the 4104 bus. They knew it had to be strong enough to hold 38 to 45 passengers. The door width was 28” wide while the aisles were 14 inches apart. The storage compartments were designed to hold 187 cu. ft. of luggage. The 35-foot-long bus has a 261-inch wheelbase and is 96 inches wide overall. The interior height is 6 feet 2 1/2 inches and the overall exterior height is 121 inches. It wasn’t until 1960 that GM changed the bus and introduced the 4106, which continued until 1965. The 4104 was given the name “Highway Traveler” and this could be one of the reasons why it has become a great bus to convert into an RV-style coach.

Maybe it was this piece of history that attracted Richard Naylor and his wife Elsie to purchase their 1956 PD-4104 GM Bus. When the Naylor’s bought the bus they later found out it is number 166 of the 5,065 buses that were built. This makes the 4104 even more rare and sought after by collectors and enthusiasts who want to own a piece of history. During the 26+ years of owning the bus (since 1988), Richard (Dick) and his wife Elsie, decorated the bus to make it like their home on wheels, or as Dick would call it a modern “rolling condo.” Throughout these years he would find ways to improve the appearance of the bus. 

The original bus.
The original bus.
Original Bus Size View

One of his first projects was to have the exterior upper skin reworked. Sometime after 1999, Dick decided to have flared fenders installed for a more updated look. In addition, the worn 6-71 Detroit Diesel engine had to be replaced with an 8V71 Detroit Diesel that produced 340 hp. To support the new power, the old manual transmission was upgraded to an automatic 4-speed Allison transmission. 

Dick and Elsie would continue traveling the country until one day in August of 2009; the engine began to show serious problems. While that was being rebuilt, they spent a few months in Nevada and decided it was time to stay closer to home and enjoy family outings.

Another generation continues the tradition

In 2014, Rocky and Julie Naylor purchased the bus from Dick, Rocky’s uncle. To continue with the family tradition that Dick and Elise started, they were eager to take the challenge with the GM Bus to begin their adventures.

Left Site Rocky, Center Julie and Right Jon

Shortly after purchasing the bus, Rocky and Julie had their own vision of what the 1956 bus needed for it to become part of their family. A good friend, Joe Garcia suggested they contact Leisure Coachworks (formerly known as Alfateers), located in Southern California, who could make their dreams come true. Leisure Coachworks is well known for converting buses, Alfa RV’s, and all Class A’s to be functional for today’s active travelers.

Rocky’s bus needed a complete update both inside and out. It was not going to be a simple task. Jon Goldstein, president of Leisure Coachworks, met with Rocky to discuss their vision. Making it become a reality is what Jon’s company does best. The team at Leisure made suggestions and developed a plan to complete the project.

Getting started

As the list of exterior and interior improvements grew, it was then that Rocky and Julie knew this was going to be their new dream home for traveling. The project began with a soda blast to remove all the layers of paint. This gave the team a clean, bare metal surface to work with, like a new canvas. After a complete inspection of the bus by the body shop crew, it was necessary that the sidewall on the passenger side needed to be straightened before going to the paint department. The aluminum bumpers were removed and polished, plus the old circular headlights were changed with rectangular shape lights giving the front a modern appearance. The “D” windows near the front are the original design of the 4104 and they wanted to keep that signature look. Double-insulated, smoked glass windows were added around the bus giving it a sleek look.

Installing Headliner-Lights
Interior removed

It was important that this rare beauty have it’s own personality, so everyone agreed to paint the bus rather than use decals or wraps. Rocky liked the Leisure Coachworks logo because it symbolized his favorite 50’s era. Jon and Rocky decided to have the logo painted on the front and back of the bus, which set the direction for the color scheme of how the bus should look. And to give it extra nostalgia, the greyhound image was painted on the sides. But the bus needed a name according to Rocky. They are both fans of the 1950’s music, and the name “Peggy Sue” was a natural choice. It also happens to be Julie’s mom’s first name.

Greyhound Image on side
Peggy Sue name
Signature D front Window

To protect the beautiful paint surface on the front from debris during their travels, a clear bra (diamond shield) was installed across the entire front. This will also reduce the problems of bugs sticking to the paint and it makes cleaning much easier.

Working on interior

For those fun times when enjoying the outdoors, or just relaxing at night having a quiet, pleasant meal that Julie cooked, a 16-foot leg less electric awning was installed. This specially designed awning can sense when wind conditions get too strong and will automatically close. To secure the long awning, it was necessary to reinforce the sidewall with custom brackets. New LED lights were added around the exterior of the bus for just enough lighting after the sunsets. A 400-watt premium 12-volt Eclipse Solar Kit by RENOGY was mounted on the roof to provide all the power for the appliances, lights, heating, A/C and refrigeration system. The RENOGY converting system can mange up to 6 solar panels. Four of them are mounted on top of the bus. Two additional panels will be installed on the roof of the RV storage shed where the bus will be parked keeping the batteries fully charged. The exterior storage compartments were undercoated to protect from rust. This is important, especially living in Oregon, and when traveling to different places where weather conditions vary. Lastly, a backup camera was added as a safety feature.

The next big challenge: The Interior 

Rather than refurbishing the old cabinets, or work with the existing floor plan, the team at Leisure Coachworks decided the best solution would be to remove everything. The open interior was a great way to start fresh allowing for the Naylor’s dream interior to become a reality. While sections of the sub-floor had to be replaced, the floor plan was being designed to be more functional. Armstrong laminate flooring material was installed. The crew also handled all the necessary repairs needed such as replacing the electrical wiring, plumbing and any structural areas that required additional support. 

Flooring

Before building any of the cabinets, the layout was designed and measured. The interior front of the bus needed to be functional, and be awesome, because it was the first area of entry. That meant the design team had to reconfigure the drivers’ area and the section above. Large, plush captain’s chairs were chosen for their comfort and durability. These are great when taking long journeys across the country. 

Drivers area
Drivers area
Passenger Captains Chair

The production team at Leisure knew they had a tight production schedule so all the measurements for the cabinets were doubled checked, then given to the construction crew. They immediately began building all the overheads and storage cabinets that would have a maple stain finish. The handles on the cabinets are large enough for any size hand, yet have a nice airy appearance to not be overpowering. The maple stain color worked well with all the appliances the Naylor’s requested; as well it complemented the exterior colors of the bus. 

Next was the dinette. Knowing this would be the most active section inside the bus where friends and family would gather, the best solution was to make this area more efficient by offsetting it. Special cushions were made for the booth that matched the vinyl material used on the captain’s chairs. Rocky and Julie are happy with the floor plan because it gives them plenty of area to walk around and not feel crowded.

Building Cabinets
Building Cabinets
Installing New Cabinets
Interior Kitchen Dining area
Kitchen

The inside of the windows required some extra love and care. Building custom valances with LED lighting was the perfect touch. To make it private at night, or during those hot sunny afternoons, roller shades were installed. And not to go unnoticed in the kitchen, new solid surface countertops with built-in sinks complemented the rest of the dinning area. Spice racks were added behind the doors giving Julie the ingredients she would need to cook and prepare for their favorite meals anytime. Custom mirrored tile backsplash added more beauty to the kitchen. If you appreciate wine, like Rocky and Julie, it almost goes without saying that a wine chiller had to be added. For entertainment, a hidden 32” TV behind the fireplace rises with a turn of the switch, while the fireplace creates a warm and cozy ambiance. The antenna on the roof connects to any Wi-Fi for enjoying all the programs and sports games they want to watch while having a cozy evening. 

View from back to front
Close up of Kitchen Sink
Fireplace and cabinetry
TV rising over fireplace

Throughout various parts of the ceiling interior of the bus, LED double dome light ceiling fixtures were added. And to give control of the lighting conditions, single dome light ceiling fixtures with built in dimmers were installed. 

For sleeping arrangements, there is a spacious master bedroom, plus the kitchen and living room convert to beds to accommodate 5 people comfortably. This now completes the interior.

Headliner Domes
Master beedroom
Bench seating-dine area

Enjoying the ride

Many other features make driving this bus a pleasure, according to Rocky. Things like the air bags, which are located under the frames, give this 36,000-pound bus a smooth floating ride as they tackle different road conditions. For stopping power, a full air system for the brakes and in the wheels keeps them rolling along without major problems. 

If the weather becomes too cold, a “down the road” radiator fluid system heats up the interior for a comfortable ride. And when it gets hot, there are two A/C units that keep the bedroom and center of the bus at comfortable temperatures. A 6.5 Onan generator makes sure things keep running smoothly while a converter to 110 AC power makes it handy when you need to plug into traditional electrical power. And when you want to use the propane, now worries there. The 80-gallon tank, when filled, will last 6 months. That’s a big plus, because you don’t have to think about getting propane each time you plan a trip. 

Fueling up the 140 gallons of fuel and getting up to 10 miles per gallon keeps the Naylor’s going on those long journeys. The 3 holding tanks (freshwater, graywater and blackwater) have a capacity of 100 gallons each for worry-free travel. It’s features like these that make driving long distances a pleasure.

So what does it feel like to have a converted beautiful bus like this 4104? Just ask Rocky, he’ll say the same thing that his uncle Dick once said: its like living in a “rolling condo”. Need we say more?

Article written by George Carson
George Carson is President of Carson Marketing, Inc., an advertising and publicity agency he founded in 1980. George enjoys working with several of his RV clients handling their publicity and marketing needs. For the past few years you will find him at the RVIA RV Show in Pomona, CA scheduling with reporters to do interviews with RV manufacturers. When not working, George likes to drive his ’32 Plymouth hot rod to different classic car shows and hot rod gatherings around town.

Visit our website: www.carsonmarketinginc.com

Email George at: gcarson@carsonmarketinginc.com

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