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Jeff Silver
September 12, 2022
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Scrap Yard Rebirth – The IconiCruiser

A Diamond in the Rough Shines Down the Highway Once Again!

There are those who look longingly upwards at planes flying overhead, those who gaze at ships heading out to sea, and those who get excited when the newest model bus pulls up to their stop. Whatever motorized passions people have usually stem from a young age and for one reason or another follow us through life.

The aviators fondly remember their first trip as a child on a plane to see grandparents in a far-off city, the mariners who may have spent a few years in the Navy, the man whose uncle spent 42 years working for Greyhound and always enjoyed road stories from behind the steering wheel of a gleaming silver motorcoach. From one generation to the next, passions are ignited and passed on.

Such is the case for me. From a young age I have been drawn to the deep rumblings of a diesel engine, the whine of a jet engine, and an 18-wheeler passing the family car on the highway – if it had a combustion engine – my interest was perked. Aside from my Dad’s Buick, the closest I came as a kid to the driver of anything, was on a bus.

First, the bright orange one stopping in front of my house and then the city bus I began riding in grade three. Anytime I took the bus, however short the ride, if I could snag the first seat to the right of the driver, I was mesmerized by the changing of gears, the hiss of air brakes, and the size of the large steering wheel. It didn’t take much to captivate me as a wide-eyed 8-year-old.

By the time I started college, I had been bitten by the bus bug, and the site of a new bus, be it school, transit, or coach, always captivated me. My interest was only that much more heightened when listening to my great uncle who rose from being a Greyhound bus driver in the mid-1930s to vice president for the company he spent more than four decades working for. 

Uncle Bob is on the left in 1939, leaning on the bumper of his Greyhound bus.

Uncle Bob “The Hound Driver” as he was affectionately known, had boxes full of black and white pictures from years spent on the road driving the route between Montreal and New York City. Whether I heard a story for the first time or for the tenth time, I never tired of his tales from the road.

The first bus trip as a newly hired recruit behind the wheel of a Mack BK Parlor coach, the pride in putting on the Greyhound military-style uniform of riding boots, Jodhpur pants, and a Sam Brown belt, the pleasure of driving a bus with air conditioning or excitement being scheduled on a Scenicruiser for the first time – there’s a lot of stories that come with so many years of driving and so many millions of miles driven.

Driving the Royal Glacier Tour for Brewster Gray Line, I’m seen here in Banff, Alberta with an MC-9 about to depart for Vancouver.

And so, it was one fateful Summer that I landed myself a summer job during college driving a tour bus for Brewster Gray Line in the Canadian Rockies a division then of Greyhound Canada Transportation. A dream comes true! The first Summer as a junior driver I was assigned to shuttle runs between Calgary and Banff, Alberta, driving a GM New Look transit bus and then an MCI MC-8 coach with pleasure. 

As each day passed, my confidence as a driver grew, and the powers that be must have taken notice, assigning me one day to an MC-9 and sending me westward to Vancouver on a four-day trip with 45 passengers. One trip became two and on from there. As a driver-guide, I was in my element, and it reflected in how I handled the coach and how entertaining I was tour-guiding eight hours a day over hundreds of miles. 

Just when I thought I couldn’t be happier, the company took delivery of their first three MCI 102A3 buses, and there I was a wide-eyed 8-year-old again as I stared at the new futuristic-looking design. Of course, the senior guys got these buses assigned to them, but on several occasions, the scheduling gods smiled on me, and I found myself driving a 102 down the Trans-Canada Highway. 

The affection for that specific model bus never faded, and despite the many new model buses seen over the three decades since I left bus driving behind as a career, my favorite remained the MCI 102. And so it was that I received a call one day in late 2020 from Frank, a buddy of mine in Los Angeles. 

Sadly, languishing away in the hot California sun, this MCI D4000 is seen awaiting its fate under the Scrapers torch.
I’ll take it!

As an operator of a large commercial fleet and himself an avid collector of vintage buses, Frank had been hunting for parts in a local scrapyard when he came upon a bus he knew I would find of interest. As he described it on the phone, “You’re not gonna believe what I’m looking at!” There sitting amongst the piles of scrapped cars and tires baking in the bright California sun was the bus of my memories – an MCI D4000 – the police version of the 102D3 I had driven more than 30 years earlier. With little more than 68,000 miles on it, I was quickly convinced to come check out this 2001 model myself. 

Despite being covered in dust and waiting sadly to be scrapped out for parts and metal, the coach retired from twenty years of service to the Sheriff’s Department, was in surprisingly good condition. It would have continued its service to the county had the State of California not changed the emissions laws, basically ordering the bus off the road despite having many more good years left in it.

A week later after a 6-hour flight from Florida, there I was going over the bus myself in person. Despite a sorry appearance, it didn’t take much convincing once seeing the condition of the Detroit Series 60 engine and the Penske Leasing unit number to know this was a well-maintained diamond in the rough. 

$12,000 later, the bus was mine. The bus was purchased for a fraction of the regular price as COVID had created a glut of used buses due to the number of companies that had ceased operations over the past year. After checking fluids, putting air in the tires, and charging the batteries, the engine started up and idled smoothly.

We hit Highway 405 and headed North to the Stardust Tours bus yard in Montebello at a steady 70 MPH. Here was a bus that wasn’t ready to die just yet, and the way she cruised down the road only convinced us of that truth!  

Interior before demolition – not quite luxurious! 

Then reality kicked in… what now? You can’t do much with a bus filled with metal cages and hard plastic seats. Having turned my passion for buses into a profession, I started a company in 2015 making of all things, diecast model buses. Iconic Replicas was born of a dream to make the model buses I had always wanted to have in my collection, but that were never made.

As the years went by, we released many different model buses and our following of loyal model bus fans grew. I thought to myself, what better way to draw attention at the many bus fan events we attended than to roll up in our own eye-catching bus!

And so began my foray into bus designing. With little experience but the world of Google at my fingertips, I sat down and started formulating ideas on how to best use the space in the 40’ long x 102” wide bus. Within a couple of days, the bus design was done. 

I was fortunate enough to meet Johnny, a life-long contractor looking for one last big job before hanging up his toolbelt for good, and after a little back and forth, we settled on a very fair $25,000 to make my design a reality.

Completely stripped-out interior… a blank canvas!
Installing wall paneling.
Framing and building starting at the rear of the bus. The walls were built around the fridge.
Framing out the “throne” room! 
The washer/dryer was loaded in through the open window.
The bus features coach air/heat throughout which comes out through vents on the floor.

The first steps were to prepare the interior of the coach by stripping the interior bare to the floorboards and removing the extra thick, kick-out proof, plexiglass windows. Once the bus was empty, a vinyl-simulated wood floor was laid and then the design was marked out ensuring everything would fit. 

The bedroom has a queen-size bed and ample storage on either side, as well as four drawers under the bed.
Storage behind the headboard.
Storage closets on either side of the headboard.

Work on the bedroom area was started first, cabinets were built over the engine hump and a queen bed was built and attached to the floor. With the Mexican border only a couple of hours from L.A., a cabinet maker was hired in Tijuana who quoted a price more than 50% less than having the cabinets made in the U.S.A. Before the cabinets went in, sound and heat-reducing insulation was placed along the rear wall and floor to reduce engine noise.

Pre-fab shower purchased at Home Depot featuring a ventilation fan with a reversible motor.
The toilet room features a fully illuminated mirror purchased on Amazon for less than $100.
Vacuum accessories, broom, and Swiffer hang behind the bedroom door. Hamper for dirty clothes. A hand-held vacuum is seen in its charging port to the right of the door.

As the weeks went by, the build moved forward and a pre-fabricated shower purchased from Home Depot was installed along with an RV toilet and vanity sink. Wayfair.com offered a wide variety of wood paneling for the walls, and it was laid over a layer of insulation throughout the bus. Around the end of March, I ordered RV furniture directly from Shop4Seats, a manufacturer in La Habra, CA. 

As a result of the COVID pandemic, they required more than six months to fill the order. As the manufacturer, buying from them allows you to choose the fabric and dimensions of the furniture, and being in the Los Angeles area, I was able to pick the furniture up when it was finally completed saving the cost of shipping.

The original driver’s nameplate kept for over 30 years is now proudly mounted on the front wall.
The running Greyhound hood ornament from a 1934 Lincoln doubles as a testament to the Greyhound Bus Lines family legacy. 

The scrapyard where I had originally purchased the bus, Zachers Auto Recyclers in Long Beach, CA, specializes in buying buses at auction and 

either re-selling them or stripping them for parts. At any given time, they have a dozen buses sitting on their lot. While on a parts run one afternoon, I spotted a generator through a half-closed luggage bay door on a recently arrived bus. 

Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a Cummins Onan Commercial generator – an ideal power source for a large RV. With barely 700 hours on the meter, I bought the $14,000 generator for $4,950. The 483-pound diesel generator feeds off the bus’s fuel tank and only burns 0.56 gal/hr. generating 7500 watts. With an enclosed muffler, it runs super quiet and was easy to install with the use of a small forklift, taking up half the middle cargo bay. 

While the bus does have two roof-mounted solar panels keeping batteries charged, the generator is required for running items with high power draw like the 240V washer/dryer, the 240V induction cooktop, and the second roof-mounted air conditioner. Otherwise, the bus runs off solar-charged batteries. The good thing about this generator is it takes up the slack when solar panels start to weaken, notably at night and on cloudy days. The generator can also run while the bus is moving down the road. 

The stacked Splendide washer-dryer combo with storage above and below.

Once the plumbing was completed with the installation of a 75-gallon freshwater tank, a 50-gallon tank for gray water, a 27-gallon tank for black water, and a 25-gallon hot water tank, there was little space left in the third cargo bay. Despite the space needed, it allows for showering as well as the Splendide RV-specific washer dryer to handle laundry while on the move. 

Kitchen area. 
Fridge and microwave oven combo.

My Tijuana-based cabinet maker fabricated the kitchen counter including a great copy of the SuperCabinet from Thomasville which allows for a ton of storage in a small place. Most of the parts were purchased from the Container Store and it was built for a fraction of the cost. Amazon delivered both the Norcold 10 cu. ft. refrigerator for $1,500 which can be ordered with door hinges on the left or right side and the Toshiba microwave and convection oven combo for $242.  

The Dinette table can be lowered to make an additional bed once an air mattress is added on top.
The interior from the front of the bus to the back.
At night, the bus is lit up with lamps and under-cabinet, inset lights.

In that the bus will be based in Florida where summer lasts from May to November, two Coleman Mach 15, 13,500 BTU roof-top air conditioners were installed – fore and aft. These can be used in extreme heat or cold situations with the generator running when the bus is parked, but for the most part, one of the big advantages of buying a motorcoach is the factory-installed air-conditioning that comes standard and easily handles cooling and heating aboard the bus while on the move.

Checking the Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine from the inside out!

There are several advantages to buying a used motorcoach to convert. First off, the entire structure is made from stainless steel giving it a solid strength not generally seen in RVs made from fiberglass. With air suspension, you get a smooth ride and the 4-stroke Detroit Diesel engine is one of those engines with plenty of power that just about any mechanic can repair with parts readily available. 

Many of these types of engines have brake retarders which come in handy on long-graded descents or in traffic. Equipped with factory-installed air-conditioning, the bus keeps itself cool even on the hottest of days, and one unique feature of the bus I purchased is the ability to raise and kneel making it easier for people to climb aboard.

As weeks stretched into months, progress continued with the installation of limousine-grade tinted and tempered glass windows, the furniture which finally arrived after seven months, along with electronics consisting of a surround sound stereo system, smart TVs at the front and back of the bus, a CB radio just because it seemed cool, a cell phone signal booster, backup camera, and RV specific GPS. At 40’ and weighing a little over 38,000 lbs. you wouldn’t want to end up on a bridge rated for 10 tons or less!

Taping the bus up for paint.
LED tail lights going in. 

In its previous life as a police vehicle, the bus had originally been outfitted with emergency blue and red lights and a roof-mounted siren. These were removed in the body shop as the bus was prepared to receive an all-new graphic look after sporting the same Sheriff’s paint scheme for the last 20 years.

Markers, turn signals, and rear taillights were all replaced with LEDs from the local chrome shop, steel wheels were replaced with chrome-plated aluminum ones, and new tires were purchased which proved to be quite the challenge given the severe tire shortages caused by COVID. Many manufacturers simply stopped making bus tires as demand had plummeted with the sharp reduction in ridership. It took three different stores to finally provide the eight tires needed.

The driver’s seat was removed to be reupholstered.
Rewiring the dashboard and replacing burnt-out lightbulbs.

Drivers’ area. The original air-operated seat was reupholstered. The lamb’s wool seat cover makes a big difference.
A remnant of a previous life spent working for the County Sheriff the LA County Sheriff’s logo adorns the steering wheel horn.
The Captain’s Chair which rotates 180 degrees has a fold-down desk, reading lamp, and cup holder. The custom-made cabinet can be used for storage and to hang coats.
Polishing and buffing the stainless steel. It took almost 40 hours for my friend Juan to bring the stainless steel dulled from 20 years of public service back to a gleaming chrome finish.
Polishing the sides.

Once the bus was pretty much completed, California Bus and Coach Upholstery sent over an installer to replace the weathered vinyl on the dashboard, walls, and sun visors. Then it was off to the paint booth where the bus was repainted white, and the stainless-steel sides buffed and polished for the first time in twenty years. That took almost four days as the grime of the road had dulled the finish. With the paint application and stainless polishing completed, the bus literally gleamed in the sunlight.

The front door is operated with air from the bus system and can raise and lower the bus making entry easier.

After almost twelve months to the day, I arrived for the ninth time in the past year in Los Angeles, but this time not to work on the bus but to take delivery of it which I did on the 18th of December, 2021. The idea of driving the 2,800 miles back to Florida seemed daunting at first. 

Was the bus mechanically sound enough to make the long run east, not to mention my trepidation at driving back alone on a real shake-down trip? My fears were unfounded, the bus performed flawlessly. I did carry spare parts including belts, fuses, airbags, and a new starter just in case. After leaving L.A. on Saturday night and heading east on I-40, I arrived a little before midnight in Boca Raton four days later, the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” playing for the umpteenth time on the stereo.   

Docking lights on both sides of the bus illuminate when backing up.
The head-turning graphics of the IconicCruiser.
A rear look at the IconicCruiser.
Bus front in the evening.
Evening shot of the rear. 

Print Mor Graphics with locations in Coral Springs, Florida, Las Vegas, and New York City took my graphic design and applied an amazing wrap over two days to the recently painted white bus, truly transforming it into a head-turning coach and being the final step in making my dreams a reality. 

The bus dubbed the IconiCruiser will represent my company, Iconic Replicas at the many car, bus, and truck shows that we attend around the country. But more than that, if one could say buses have souls, I’d like to think this one appreciates having been spared the indignity of being turned into razor blades and will enjoy being driven down the country’s highways and byways almost as much as I’m sure I will enjoy driving it! 

South of the Border in South Carolina.
Article written by Jeff Silver

Stretching back to his early twenties as a tour bus driver in the Canadian Rockies, Jeff has been a bus fan for some thirty years,

not only collecting diecast models from around the world but starting Iconic Replicas in 2015 and growing the business as the Chief of 

Innovation & Design to become the largest manufacturer of diecast model buses in the world. 

When the opportunity arose to purchase an actual bus out of a scrapyard in December 2020, Jeff jumped at the opportunity to refurbish it and 

finally, get behind the wheel of his own bus to see where his dream of exploring the backroads of the USA with his wife Lisa would take them.   

“The thing with building out a bus is you never really finish – it’s always a work in progress. But every now and then, you step back, look your bus over 

and think… I did that!”  And so, from Junk Yard Dog to Jeff & Lisa’s gleaming Pride of the Highway, the IconiCruiser with its new lease on life has only just 

begun what promises to be an interesting journey down the nation’s highways and byways. 

You can visit his website: www.Iconic-Replicas.com or email him at jeff@awesomediecast.com.   

You can also follow his Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/awesomediecast 

Visit the Model Bus Fan Club’s Instagram, or subscribe to his YouTube.

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