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Wulf Ward
July 9, 2023
116 views

Why Convert a Dina?

My First Bus was a 1982 Model 10 Eagle.

Twenty years ago, the Eagle was the number one bus that was being converted. Because of its excellent ride, it was extensively used by musicians for traveling from town to town.

My friend Bill Lowman used to explain the start of the bus conversions like that, saying it began with the Negro bands that needed a place to sleep, because as late as the 1960s they had few other choices where they could spend the night. These early conversions were very basic, just a place to sleep.
Then there was the Hippie revolution and the “Flower Power” school bus conversions. The little VW bus was the granddaddy to all van and bus conversions. It used to be a less expensive option than a regular motorhome.

This all changed as those conversions evolved into more sophisticated, expensive, and better accommodations. The Eagle became the bus of choice because the passengers were able to sleep while traveling in the smooth-riding Eagle.

Bill Lowman was a big Eagle fan and he talked me into buying my Eagle. It was my first conversion and it turned out to be a nice bus, but my heart was always set on the RTS. I always liked the GMC motorhome and the RTS looked a lot like one, only bigger. I had a GMC and there is zero storage under that motorhome. Therefore the limited storage on the RTS was not of any concern to me. The RTS, being a conversion from a city bus had a lot of shortcomings, especially the ride and brakes. Whereas the Eagle has cam brakes, the RTS has wedge brakes. The wedge brakes are very smooth, but they are air applied, and when the air is gone, so are the brakes. I always wished I could combine the ride of the Eagle with the good looks of the RTS.

I was thinking about cutting both buses in half and mounting an RTS body on top of an Eagle frame. Then one day Bill Low-man came to Chicago with a Dina conversion he was selling for Hausman bus sales in Des Plains, Illinois. The Dina was not very popular up north. Being a Mexican-made bus, it came as far as Texas, but in the Chicago area, it was relatively new. I don’t remember how it happened, but MCI started selling Dina buses.

The Dina is based on the Flxible design like the Eagle, same DNA. After the Flxible inter-city bus was no longer built in the USA, the production went to Mexico and Dina started to use that design in their buses.
The Dina had some reliability problems, but in a conversion, most of these problems are not an issue. They talked about the Dina having truck tires because they were running on 11 x 24.5 tires, but the Eagle did too. I think that’s a much better tire to have than the 12 x 22.5 that most buses had back then. I put 11 x 24.5 tires on my RTS, but I could not find them in a metric bold pattern for my Spaceliner. I always said nothing rides like an Eagle and that includes every comfortable car I ever drove.

I was following a Dina bus for sale on the Internet. It was for sale by Hausman Bus Sales for $100,000 as a conversion shell for a while and then it was marked down to $75,000. I had called about the bus a
few times, but when I finally had enough money the bus was sold. It ended up with a converter in Tennessee. I was disappointed and I told Brian to look out for another used Dina. A few months later Brian called me and asked me if I was still looking for a Dina. He said they had to repossess the Dina and it was in Dallas if I still want it. He said Hausman is going belly-up and I could buy the Dina for $40,000, but we needed to close the deal that night and he came to my office to pick up a deposit. I could pay the balance after I inspected the Bus in Dallas. My mother-in-law lives in Dallas and was visiting in Chicago. We drove back to Dallas with her to look at the bus.

The Dina was a lot better than what I expected in my wildest dreams. It had a fresh white paint job and was riding on 90% tires on Alcoa wheels. Hausman had the bus completely serviced including four new batteries. My only concern was the small 11.1 liter series 60. Having about the same HP as the anemic 6V92 in my RTS I was not expecting much power. Nevertheless, a lot more torque at the right RPM and the five-speed B500 makes all the difference in the world. Driving the empty bus back to Chicago I got close to 10 MPG and that makes up for having the smaller engine.

Besides my own liking of the Dina, there are other considerations about why to convert it. First off, it is a truly modern bus at a very affordable price. Most early Dina buses came from the south and if they are like my bus, there is zero rust. The torsalastic suspension is not as soft as in the Eagle and it uses airbags on the tag axle. They all have the 60 series engine and the B500. Newer models use the 12.7 liters and a transmission retarder. Mine has the electronic Jake brake that has variable settings; the same with the electronic cruise control. Many Dina buses also have a large 100,000 BTU Webasto heater. The front suspension is IFS like the early RTS and the Eagle.

I also feel very strongly about the looks of Dina. It has better lines than most much newer buses. The lines are plain without adding anything that takes away from the beauty of this bus. It reminds me of an early Mercedes or BMW before they started to look like every other car. The only cars with these smooth lines are made in the USA now, like my 2005 Dodge Magnum. I had a love affair with my RTS, like the love for a pretty woman that overlooks all her shortcomings, but there is always a compromise that the good looks could not overcome. The Dina has very little to compromise on.

Maybe it’s the swing-open front door that has no screen. Maybe it’s the too-tall front windshield, that lets too much sun come in. Maybe an extra 100 HP would be nice, but will I still get 8.5 MPG? I really can’t find anything to complain about on the Dina. I only wish I had the time and money to use it more often.

My conversion of the 1995 Dina was finished about 10 years ago. I did take my time (4 years), because I still had the Space-liner and my RTS. Both these buses were just parked because I was not in any mood to go anywhere after my wife died in 2002. I became a “Bus Nut” in 1992.

After the Dina was completed it took two more years for my first trip to the Florida Keys. After that trip, the Dina sat in my garage again for four years, until my trip out west to Yellow Stone Park in September of 2011. I think I found a new traveling companion in my new wife Victoria. I did not think that traveling in a bus conversion would be something she would like.

The big bus did scare her a little, especially on the mountain roads, but she said she will do it again soon; maybe down to the Keys in March. My total driving experience in my Dina is now about 8,000 miles and I know enough about this bus to follow up on why to convert a Dina.

Why consider a Dina as a conversion?
Engine and transmission First I want to say that my Dina was a relatively new bus in 2000. It was only five years old with about 400,000 miles on it. That’s about right for five years of inter-city service. Early Dina models had the 11.1 liter 60 series engine in combination with the Allison B500. All the buses that I converted had the anemic 6V92 except the Spaceliner which had the 8V92.

I was thinking the 375 HP in the 11.1 would be about the same as the 350 HP 6V92. But it is not, by far. Where the 11.1 makes power as low as 1200 RPM, it takes at least 400 RPM more in the 6V92.

I can’t compare the 8V92, because I never drove the Spaceliner on any mountains, just about 500 miles around the Chicago area, but I could feel the power from the extra two cylinders. Fuel consumption is about 1.5 MPG better than in the RTS but about the same as the Eagle. I think the five-speed transmission in the Dina and the four-speed in the Eagle have a lot to do with that. Also, the Eagle was geared taller than the RTS which did have the 4:10 gears.

Coming back from Texas after I bought the Dina, I was getting about 10 MPG with an empty shell and not pulling anything. I am getting about 7.5 MPG now, pulling my four-door Wrangler. I am keeping the bus at about 65 MPH at 1600 RPM. The bus runs well at 1400 RPM, about 55 MPH and I would pick up maybe ½ MPG or more, but at 55 MPH I would be like a “road-block.”

It’s not so much the bus itself, because it has very smooth lines, but it is the “brick-shape” of the Jeep that pulls like a parachute behind the bus. Using a different Dinghy like a Saturn car would make a big difference. But I have the Jeep and going out and buying a proper Dinghy would nullify any savings. Fuel consumption concerns and bus conversions are an oxymoron although it becomes more important as fuel cost goes up.

Brakes
Next to power and fuel, I want to talk about stopping the Dina. Only the RTS had wedge brakes; all my other buses had spring brakes including the Dina. The basic difference, without getting too technical is the way the brakes are applied. The wedge-brakes need air to close and the spring-brakes will remove the air to close. If the wedge brake system loses too much air, the bus will not stop anymore. The little emergency spring brakes on the driveshaft will do very little to stop the bus, it is barely strong enough to hold the bus on a steep incline. Los-ing air pressure is a problem in any air-brake system, but in the spring-brake system, if you lose air pressure the bus will just stop because the brakes lock up. The 36,000 pound RTS will just keep on going, with nothing to stop it. It can be pretty scary. It’s a similar problem with vacuum assist brakes, like in the old GMC motor homes and it may be the same in motor homes on a non-air brake chassis, like the Chevy P30. When the engine dies you have only two or three pumps on the pedal before all vacuum is gone and there is no more boost for the brakes. It happened to me in my GMC on the Mt. Eagle Pass in Tennessee. Yes, it was pretty scary. But at least you have some brakes, but in the wedge-brake setup, you have no brakes whatsoever.

The Dina has an electronic progressive jake-brake and it works well, but not as well as the mechanical jake in the RTS. It works in two ways, both on the engine and on the transmission computers. It’s a little like the CIA and the FBI on communicating—it can get a little confusing. Coming down a very long 6% grade in the Big Sheep Mountains, I think I went too fast and used the brakes too much. About 15 miles into the downhill drive my rear brakes started to smoke. It looked like the bus was on fire. The aluminum rims were so hot, I thought they would melt and the tires would burn off. We stopped for about an hour and poured water on the wheels.

After we stopped the smoking I took the Jeep off and started back down the road. Victoria followed in the Jeep. It was a nice break for her because she was getting afraid of riding on the bus by that time. After about a day or so the burned smell went away, but we did take the Jeep off the bus more often. I never had that brake problem in my other buses, but I think it was my fault for going too fast. As the saying, “Go downhill as slow and in the same gear as you go up” and I think that’s where the problem was in the Dina, it went too fast up these hills out west. I also think driving the Dina gave me too much confidence, more so than any other bus and I became too careless.

Handling and Ride
Basically, the Dina has the same DNA as the Eagle, because both buses evolved from the Flxible bus. The ride of the Dina is perfect. A lot better than the RTS, but nothing rides like an Eagle. Both the Spaceliner with its gigantic airbags and the Dina come close; especially the Dina. The Spaceliner is somewhat softer and the RTS rides like a sports car. I said that I had a love affair with my RTS for many years, but love can be misplaced and overshadows many shortcomings. Regardless, the Dina is light years ahead of the RTS and all other buses I worked with. Not just because of the engine, transmission, brakes, and handling, but other important features.

Conversion Cost and Features:
Where should I start? There are so many nice features in the Dina. Some of these features are in other newer buses too, but the Dina is the newest shell I have converted. Maybe it will help my fellow bus converters to look for these features when it comes to buying a shell. Starting with the price and the total cost of converting a bus, including not just the money, but the labor involved. I paid $40,000 for the Dina shell. I think that only about 25% of most other five-year-olds used buses at that time would have cost. It was ready to be converted, with the seats removed and 6 windows closed off. The shell had a nice new white paint job, it had 90% tires on new Alcoa wheels, it had four new batteries and it was just completely serviced before I picked it up from Hausman Bus Sales in Dallas.

It was about double the cost of my Model 10 1982 Eagle in 1992 and eight times more than the 1979 RTS—$5000 in 1995. I really can’t put a price on the 1985 Spaceliner, because it cost me nothing as a part of a three-bus deal. The price you pay for a shell is not relative to the total money and labor you will spend on the total conversion, but the condition is. By the time I had the RTS shell in the same condition as the Dina, I spent more than $40,000 on it. The same goes for the Eagle shell and almost double that amount for the Spaceliner that I got for free.

The RTS has the added cost of doing two conversions; first from a city bus and then into a motor home. The Dina ended up costing me a total of about $80,000 to convert. That is more than $20,000 less than the RTS and the Eagle and half as much as the Spaceliner.

In the Dina, I kept a lot of the interior and exterior features. I kept the window setup and the one-piece swing-open door. I think a regular RV-type door is a better choice because it can have a screen door and it will have no problems with mechanical failures from the electronic and pneumatic controls that the original door can have. On my Dina, the door has worked fairly well. I also kept the windows, because the original windows are thermo-pane, but they only supply emergency exits and there is no way to install a screen. Changing all six windows will set me back about $2750 and I can live with the windows I have on the bus. Maybe I will change out some of them later because 2 are steamed up between the thermo-glass.

I really love the tall windshield. It is taller than most buses, including most much newer ones, but again it is wrong to look just at cosmetics. The tall windshield is great for the passengers in the back of the bus, but in a conversion, it is just too much glass. The driver has pull-down shades on two sides, but there is nothing on the right side of the windshield. In my RTS I had aviation-type sun visors that can be pulled down quite a bit, but maybe they will be still too short for the Dina. Maybe I will install some sort of film on the top half of the window to block the sun.

I also kept the two escape hatches. Unlike most RV types of roof vents they have no screen and no fan
to intake or exhaust air, but they bring in more air going down the road and I did not have to modify
the ceiling. Being 43 feet long, the bus is a perfect size, much easier to ease yourself into a 40-foot maximum campground than a 45-foot bus. Regardless of how long your conversion is, it is easy to forget the size of the bus that you are driving down the road.

Some more about the mechanical:
Like all other buses I have converted, the Dina has an IRF suspension. In the RTS it does not work too well for the front-end ride. The front airbags are like little flat donuts and it does not have an air beam, like other GMC buses to compensate.

The ride in the Dina is compliant and more like the Eagle, because of the Flxible DNA. It rides somewhat firmer and it uses airbags on the tag-axle. It still has a little tipping, porpoise action like the Eagle, but it does not lift you off your seat like in the Eagle. The turning circle is about the same as the Spaceliner and a little better than the Model 5 and 10 Eagle because the tag-axle on the Eagle is in front of the drive-axle.

But the RTS is the champion when it comes to making a tight turn. It practically turns itself around. Other plusses—the fac-tory 100,000 BTU Webasto heater. The hot water is pumped into a hydronic baseboard heating system that is static and consumes no power. The Webasto runs on very little amps. That is important when you are only on battery power. Like the Spaceliner, the Dina has a very large driver’s window that slides open two ways. I see this as a big plus over the Eagle and the RTS. The later model RTS buses may be different and I know the window in the older RTS models can be converted to a big slider, but the Dina has it already. It is one of the features of the Dina that I love.

On the interior, I did not change much. The seats were removed already when I bought the bus and it has a flat floor. I added some tile and carpet to the floor, but I kept the original “industrial” tile covering the driver area floor and the stairs. I hated the slippery wood I installed in my other buses for the stairs and keeping the original floor cover in the Dina worked out well. Also on the ceiling, I did not change much. The center that also contains the neon lights was not changed. I only did some modifications by adding carpet and hickory trim to the sides.

The recessed lights work well and are controlled off the dash. I have added an additional switch for the upstairs control. Having the recessed lights will give an unobstructed 77” ceiling height. Six and a half feet will fit most and for me, it’s an extra ten inches worth of room. I kept the bus basic, to be used as a camper and “dog friendly.”

All the seating is leather and I used hickory in all my woodwork. I think it holds screws better than any other wood, including oak. I did all my previous buses in Oak and I wanted something different in the Dina. That also went for the colors, where I change the red-maroon tones to the grey/blue in my Dina. The interior was mainly grey already and I added the dark blue and light hickory to dress it up.

Some more amenities:
I learned from my other conversions and I made some changes. Because the Dina still has the bus heat and A/C, I used a smaller 7.5 KW diesel generator. It has a three-cylinder water-cooled engine that is enclosed in a soundproof box. The RTS had a 10 KW Wrico and the Spaceliner had a 12.5 KW also a Wrico. My first generator was in the Eagle. It had a 10 KW Power Tech in a soundproof box and I wanted to go back to a quieter generator again. Unless you get the remote fan setup the open-designed Wricos are noisy, but I paid more for my little 7.5 Guardian R/V by Generac than I paid for the 12.5 KW by Wrico. The 7.5 is a real fuel saver, but if I had to do it again I would go with a larger unit. Maybe I would work around the noise and buy a larger Wrico again. The open-designed Wrico makes it a lot easier to work on, than the enclosed Generac, but Generac Power Systems is in Whitewater, Wisconsin, about a two-hour drive from where my bus is garaged.

In this bus, I put my generator on a slide-out for easier servicing. It is mounted about in the middle of the bus. It is so quiet that I have to turn on the AC lights in the bedroom to see if it is still running. All my generators, including the larger 12.5 KW in my Spaceliner, were wired for 120 V, because it is impossible to balance the load in a 240 V unit, without giving “too much away.” For the lighting, I used 12 V and 120 V AC like in my Eagle. I am using 120 V track lighting along the walls in the front room and in the bedroom as reading lights over the bed. They all are on dimmer switches. All 120 V services run off my three KW inverter.

I had a crank-up satellite in both the Eagle and RTS. I did not use it in the Spaceliner, because it is too tall to put anything extra on the roof. I wanted to use an in-motion system in the Dina. But the Dina is also just less than 12’ tall. Therefore I used the TracVision Model A7. It is a flat horizontal unit that is just five inches tall, or about the same as the escape hatches. I mounted a twenty-inch flat-screen TV on a pull-out, swing-out wall mount. I have enough space for a 32” TV, but we have not used the TV very much. I am getting a 32” TV for my office that uses the same mounting and I may install it on the bus for my next trip.

I installed a 7.1 BOSE surround sound that is fantastic. The speakers are only about the size of my fist, but they blow you away. For the RV A/C I used basement units and this time they are heat pumps. Using basement A/C will keep the bus under 12’ and the ceiling free of obstructions. The heat pumps work great, much better than the electric heat strips I had in my Eagle roof units. These heat strips are a waste of money and power. My front A/C is a double 27.500 BTU unit and the bedroom is a single 14,000 BTU unit. These basement units use a very large home-style wheelblower and make much more CFM than the roof units. To save room under the bus, I installed the large front unit under the 36” kitchen cabinet and I still have a 24” sink base and a 12” drawer base under my 6’ kitchen counter. Unlike all my other buses I am not using an electric cooktop, but I wired the counter for it if I change my mind later.

Last Word:

I hope you got some benefit from my own bus conversion experience. My experiences are based on the buses I have converted, or I was a part of the conversion process. Some of these buses may be no longer of interest to all of you, but the actual conversion basics are the same for all conversions. This is not a guide on how to convert buses or what shell to start out with—just my own experience I want to share. It would be a shame to waste the long hours of work that were not always just fun. Still, I want to share the challenge, satisfaction, and joy of taking on and completing a gigantic project like converting a bus into a motorhome. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment when you drive your conversion down the road—as long as you don’t break down in the middle of nowhere! I hope you can sense this joy in my article about me converting the Dina.

POSTSCRIPT
Like I said before, converting a bus is a lot like building a house and there are always things to add, make better, or change; the same with my Dina. Since I wrote this article I have dressed up the bus interior somewhat. I have added oak-framed 10” x 16” mirrors on both sides and oak paneling to the center of the ceiling. I don’t know if it was much of an improvement, but it gave me something to do!

Article written by Wulf Ward

Wulf Ward started converting buses in 1994 after not finding what he wanted in a factory motorhome. It was an evolutionary process involving five conversions over a 20 year period.

Wulf was always looking for the right bus to be the last one to convert. Maybe his last bus, the Dina is finally what he was looking for, or he ran out of money and time to do a sixth conversion.

Wulf can be contacted at:
Wulf@MenAtWorkCS.com
Visit his Website at
MenAtWorkSCS.com

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