Editor’s Note: This is a story about what it can cost to ready a bus for converting. Another cost which may be just as important is time. If you have to spend a year to fix rust and replace broken or worn parts on a bus to bring it up to being safe, legal, and roadworthy before you convert it, then that is one year less that you will have to enjoy your conversion and to make memories. What is that worth to you?
I have converted and owned several buses in my lifetime. Here is a story about my findings of whether to buy an older bus for less money that may need quite a bit of work vs. buying a newer bus that costs more but will almost be ready to roll once the interior is completed. I hope you can learn from my experiences.
My first bus was a 1982 Model 10Eagle. My second bus was a 1979 RTS, and my third bus was also an RTS. That third bus was a 35’ Avis Blitz. The Avis was re-manufactured originally in 1979 and now was a 1984 TMC. It was not really a bus conversion, because I built it into a Limo for picking up friends and family from the airport to impress them, mostly coming from Germany.
I had the bus painted red, black, and gold, the German colors. That did not take much with Avis, because these colors were already there. I had two flags attached to it on the side, German and U.S.A. I never had a problem parking, because they thought I was from the German Consulate so they let me park practically anywhere. LOL
I bought it off a used car lot for $5,000. It had a 6V92 engine and was a really clean bus. It had fair tires on Alcoa wheels. It had Perimeter cloth seating and full gauges. I did not do much to convert it. I added a little bar with a small fridge, some music and it was ready to go!
I loved that bus and took it everywhere. It had less than 7,000 miles on it, and when I got a good offer, I sold it. This bus and my GMC motorhome are what I should have kept, but I had the bus-bug and kept looking, buying, and converting more buses.
My next bus was the Neoplan Spaceliner. I got this bus for free because I bought it together with two other Spaceliners. One was in fair running condition, with an 8V92 and an Allison 745 transmission.
I pulled off the decals, fixed the body a little, painted it white, and sold it for $79,000; that’s about as much as I sold my converted Spaceliner for. That was after putting over 3,000 hours of my own labor into it and over $120,000 in parts and accessories.
The saddest thing about selling the Spaceliner conversion is that I never drove it, and got no use out of it, at all. I just converted it and a buyer came along who really wanted the bus so I sold it to him.
The next bus, a Dina, the bus that I have now is a 1995 model. It’s a fifteen-year-old bus, but it was just five years old when I bought it as a conversion shell. It was an experiment by Hausman Bus Sales, to take buses that came off lease and needed a complete refurbishing and then turned them into shells.
They just gutted the interior, closed off some windows, installed new tires and batteries, a few other small repairs and upgrades, and then sold them for $120,000.
Six Dina buses were converted into shells and were sold to a bus converter in Texas. They went belly up and Hausman got some of the shells back. They were asking $80,000 for all of them. There were three Spaceliners at $10,000 each and a Dina for $50,000. That price was not within my budget so I passed.
After about a year, I made them an offer for $50,000 on their last Dina. For the three Spaceliners, I offered them a crazy lowball price of $10,000 for all three of them and they accepted my offer therefore I was hoping they may also take the $50,000 lowball offer.
They took my offer but I needed to close the deal that day. That evening their salesman came to my office and picked up a $25,000 deposit for the Dina and I gave them the remainder of the money when I picked the Dina in Dallas.
I never saw the Dina prior to buying it, but when I came to Texas to pick it up, it was a very pleasant surprise. Because it was only five years old and it spent all of its life in southwest Texas, it was like a new bus.
I’ve written a lot about my impression of the Dina, and I don’t need to write about it here again as you can read about them in my previous articles in BCM.
To read about Wulf’s Dina, click here:
Goodbye Dina, Goodbye My Dreams
Here is how the cost breaks down. The bus I got for free, ended up costing me the most in the end, and the bus I paid the most for originally cost me the least in the end.
The 1982 Eagle, I bought for $25,000 from Hausman was drivable, but needed a lot of mechanical work. Lucky for me it was not a rust bucket like some older Eagles. It had an in-frame engine rebuild, so getting it up to 300 HP was the largest expense, as well as the new tires on the new Alcoa wheels.
Without getting into every expense, I had about $100,000 invested into the Eagle. I sold it for $45,000 plus a like new 1936 Ford Coupe I had, and that was okay because I already had finished the RTS and did not need two buses.
I really loved the RTS conversion, just as much as I loved the Limo. It drove like a sports car compared to the Eagle. I had about the same money invested into the RTS as I did the Eagle.
It was more work and more costly, but I only paid $2,500 for it and that made up the difference. After I had finished the Spaceliner and had started on the Dina, I no longer had an interest in the RTS. Also, my wife had passed so everything went on hold for a while.
I still could cry, when I think about it, but I sold my RTS for $10,000. That was about half of what I sold the RTS Limo for. The Spaceliner was a rust-free bus, but it had no engine or transmission. Buying them was very costly because I had no engine or transmission cores.
It was a lot of work, lowering the upper floor for additional ceiling height. Again, that story has already been told in previous articles in BCM so I won’t go into it here. This is a good example of the least expensive shell costing the most in the end, which is not that uncommon in the bus conversion world.
Bottom line, when buying a bus, don’t just consider the initial cost, but also consider the cost to bring it up to being safe and roadworthy as well as the time it takes to do the build.
Stay safe, Wulf.