For the past year, I’ve been confused by the weird design decisions and disappointing quality of some RVs from practical household names. On the other hand, custom builds continue to be an awesome bright spot. Here’s one bus conversion that stands out for being a bit different. A couple converted a 2008 40-foot Gillig Low Floor transit bus into a cozy home complete with a laundry room, a wine cellar, white wall tires, and some neat slides. Check this thing out.
As many of you may already know, I love when bus camper conversion builders choose a transit bus or a highway coach. Transit buses will usually have low floors, so you don’t have to climb steps. These buses will also often have amenities missing from many old school buses like air-conditioning, large windows, and air ride. Plus, transit buses are still built to take a serious beating, so you’re getting something more durable than what’s cranked out of Indiana these days. And yes, you can find transit buses with highway gearing for a higher top speed!
When Krystle and Erick Lopez started a new bus conversion build in spring 2019, they didn’t choose to go with the typical school bus. Instead, they picked up a former city bus. Their pick for an artsy motorhome was a 40-foot 2008 Gillig Low Floor transit bus. Looking at the fleet number on the front and its former livery, this bus served the Lee County Transit Department, which provides bus service to Florida towns like Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Fort Myers Beach. LeeTrans sold the bus after over a decade of service.
The Bus Of The Future
Gillig’s history dates back to 1890, when the Gillig brothers started a carriage and wagon shop in San Francisco. Jacob Gillig was a carriage builder and upholsterer by trade. His brother, Leo Gillig, was a shop foreman before becoming a business partner. Their shop was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but the brothers rebuilt the shop and added a third Gillig brother, Chester, as a bookkeeper. The rebuilt shop was named the Leo Gillig Automobile Works and in 1914, the Gilligs expanded into a three-story factory. Now, the company would get a fitting name, Gillig Brothers, and the business expanded quickly into car bodies and various commercial vehicles. The company even built a car top that was designed to enclose a convertible in two minutes’ time.
Gillig Brothers diversified its line when released its first school bus in 1932. Since Gillig’s other products weren’t performing well during the Great Depression the company shifted its focus to transit. At the same time, Gillig was also a distributor of Superior Coach professional cars and a builder of ambulance bodies. The company continues to build all sorts of buses today, long after its founders’ deaths. One bus sold in high volumes and remains in production today in some form is the Gillig Low Floor. Produced from 1996 and still in production in some variants today, these buses make up the backbone of countless city transit systems.
According to a press release captured by the Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board, the Gillig Low Floor was developed with rental car company Hertz to make ‘the bus of the future.’ Originally called the H2000LF, the bus sports a floor just 14 inches off of the ground. Gillig says that these buses have an aluminum alloy structure and weigh “two full-size Ford Tauruses” less than the Gillig Phantom predecessor. Hertz says that the lower floor is great for a courtesy shuttle as people with limited mobility and those carrying luggage don’t have a staircase to climb.
Here’s a snippet from the press release:
To further accommodate its passengers, the H2000LF employs a waist-high luggage rack across an entire side of the bus to alleviate the need for customers to store heavy bags above their heads. Another enhancement is the multi-level seating, which offers customers an elevated seating area at the back of the bus for better visibility. Whether seated on the lower level or in the “lounge,” customers are offered a fully carpeted bus that provides the smoothest bus ride possible today. Other enhancements include anti-skid brakes, a unique sound dampening floor over the engine compartment, an electronic announcement system, and full bus kneeling, which lowers the bus closer to the ground for easier boarding.
As it turns out, the Gillig Low Floor design isn’t just great for mass transit and for shuttles. Apparently, they make decent motorhomes, too!
This Gillig Low Floor
Erick says the motivation behind getting a transit bus relates to his work. He’s a carpenter and owns a painting company. Erick likes the idea of minimalizing everything and maximizing space. This led to a search for shipping containers to turn into a house. Erick then discovered the problem with container houses: they can’t move anywhere. A bus could be built out like a container house, but be moved to wherever it needs to be. This worked with Krystle’s love for travel, too.
Starting with the exterior, the highlight feature of the bus is a pair of slides. Krystle says that the slides were made by cutting giant holes into the bus. Erick then crafted a pair of slides with steel frames and metal closures. Erick hooked the slides up to a hydraulic system, which works on two cylinders in each slide to open and close them. In their open position, the slides add 4 feet of extra interior width.
There is a story behind the exterior design. Erick loves old woody wagons and hot rods and thus replicated the look with the bus. Before you ask, there aren’t white wall tires for buses, that’s just paint. The wood sides are also graphics, not real wood. I’m not sure if the classic woody wagon look works on a 21st-century transit bus, but I like the creativity. Power comes from an 8.9-liter Cummins ISL. That should be making about 280 HP and 1,260 lb-ft torque. It’s backed by an Allison B400R transmission. The couple doesn’t say what top speed the bus hits, but it should be good for highway runs.
Inside, Krystle and Erick seemed to have really thought about using the bus as an actual living space, and not just something to look pretty on Instagram. In the video, they talk about ensuring the interior space was functional and could work with their daily lives. But, at the same time, adding some artsy touches.
The kitchen, which sits in one of the slides, features a butcher block countertop and a farmhouse kitchen sink. It comes with a four-burner stove and an oven.
Notable here is the stainless steel backsplash. That sounds like a silly thing to note, but so many factory-built campers don’t even have backsplashes, and yes, particleboard walls can and do get stained. Capping off the kitchen is an apartment-size refrigerator.
Moving back, the next notable area in the coach is the laundry room. If you’re on a long trip, keeping clothes clean often means spending time in a laundromat. You can buy a camper with a washing machine and dryer, but those tend to be outrageously expensive. So, I love to see custom builds incorporate a laundry room of some kind. The Lopez couple fitted a residential-size washer and dryer but left the option to downsize to smaller units at a later date.
From there, Krystle shows off the living room, which features a convertible couch that turns into a bed. It’s sitting in the other slide, which helps the living room be pretty spacious for a bus conversion.
That gives way to another neat trick with the build. Krystle says they fitted a 100-gallon fresh tank and a 100-gallon gray tank. They decided to raise the floor a little to fit these tanks, which meant there was a lot of dead space. To rectify that, the couple made a little wooden box for storage. It has come to be known as a wine cellar, and it’s a cute touch.
Another fantastic feature of this bus is the oversized bathtub. If you’ve ever taken a shower in an RV before, you know how tiny those showers can get. Well, Krystle and Erick decided to give their rig a shower room a tub so big that Krystle can stretch out in the tub without bending her legs.
The wood for this bath came from boards the couple used to protect their home’s windows during a hurricane. The toilet is separate from the rest of the bathroom and it empties into an 18-gallon tank. Erick’s hot rod love is shown here as the tank gauge appears to be a car’s fuel gauge.
The bus, which is named Lola, sleeps six thanks to a king-size bed, bunk beds, and the living room couch. Lola is able to feed from shore power and for off-grid trips, there are four AGM batteries, an 8,000W inverter, a generator, and a photovoltaic array on the roof. The couple doesn’t say how long it took to build the bus, but note that the build technically isn’t finished. Upgrades in the future may include better solar panels and perhaps a bigger tank for the toilet. If you like what you see, the couple runs Studio Express, a company that converts RVs, vans, and buses. Or if you just want to follow the bus, the couple has an Instagram documenting the build and where the bus goes.
They also don’t say how much all of this costs. But, given the fact that Erick and Krystle built this bus themselves, I bet it was far cheaper than the million-dollar rolling casinos we’ve written about before. One thing’s for sure, it seems they’ve built a better transit bus than a number of the RVs I’ve seen lately.
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