Home » How A Couple Turned A Gillig Transit Bus Into A Better Camper Than Most RVs

How A Couple Turned A Gillig Transit Bus Into A Better Camper Than Most RVs

Converted Bus1
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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!

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Screenshot: Tiny Home Tours

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.

YouTube channel Tiny Home Tours recently got to take a tour of the bus conversion. First spotted by Motor1, the bus is a sight to behold:

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The Bus Of The Future

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Gillig

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.

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Gillig

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.

2002 Gillig Low Floor Bus 4x2 2d
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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.

2002 Gillig Low Floor Bus 4x2 2d (1)
KOCUR KREW AUTO

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!

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This Gillig Low Floor

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Screenshot: Tiny Home Tours

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.

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Screenshot: Tiny Home Tours

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.

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Screenshot: Tiny Home Tours

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.

Usable Features

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Screenshot: Tiny Home Tours

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.

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Screenshot: Tiny Home Tours

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.

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Screenshot: Tiny Home Tours

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.

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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.

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Screenshot: Tiny Home Tours

 

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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Ted Fort
Ted Fort
11 months ago

Small note – I think it would have around 900 ft-lbs of torque. I think the 1,200 figure is in Nm.

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
11 months ago

This is a fabulous build and fabulous content!

Ok_Im_here
Ok_Im_here
11 months ago

damn… that’s a hell of a conversion. Anyone with the cajones to put in their own slides without destroying the structural integrity of the bus is just about godlike in skillset to me. I have to admit, this checks all the bells and whistles I can think of–nice kitchen, stunning bath, sleeps a lot of people, washer/dryer. Pretty cool. The color scheme seems to mismatch the vintage of the bus itself, however… but that’s a small detail compared to everything else.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
11 months ago
Reply to  Ok_Im_here

Psst, cajones means drawers in Spanish, I think you’re looking for cojones. :-p

Bucko
Bucko
11 months ago

The conversion is really nice, but the stupid whitewalls and the dog dish wheelcovers just ruin the whole thing for me. It turns a tasteful look into a garish one.

V8 Fairmont Longroof
V8 Fairmont Longroof
11 months ago
Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago

Nice! There’s a small chance I’ve been on this bus (used to love in that area-Lee County) and would even use the bike rack on the front of these buses

ScottyB
ScottyB
11 months ago

The wide whitewalls and painted hubs are just the shit. Now I want these on all buses.

You really have to admire whatever went into the engineering of that pop-out section too, just wow.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 months ago

This thing is CUTE. I love the “wine cellar” so much!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

After a brief stint with the local transit authority i thought a Gillig would be a great RV conversion. Note I know who rides transit buses boil it in alchohol first. They did some nice work that suits them but i would go different. Its 2 buses long sliders are just going to leak. Not a fan of baby blue and faux wood but i can see why they like it. The WD front loaders are a good choice low water usage but a WD one unit does both would save space. Sure a two door side by side is too big but an apartment fridge too small how about a normal fridge. I cant believe the water wasting farm sink, but it is nice looking. A full size tub is insane. These buses can hold alot of weight spread out but that tub is going through the floor in a year or two. A full sized bathroom with tile all around that works as an enclosed shower would be elite enough. Who takes a bath anymore? But where do you park this beetch? Not a campground, not walmart during the day. So i think a British double decker might be smarter.

Ok_Im_here
Ok_Im_here
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

bleach… already been exposed to lots of alcohol

Pappa P
Pappa P
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

A British double decker is never, ever, ever the right choice.
It’s not cheap to tow a double decker bus, and it’s something you would be doing quite often.
The only time it makes financial sense is if you work for government and your job is to purchase busses. The 6 year lifespan means you will have steady work for a long time, and each multi-million dollar purchase comes with some serious perks for the individual making the deal.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
11 months ago

That is one of the best RV conversions I’ve ever seen. Tastefully done with a lot of cool / unique features .

(My only concern is the long term reliabilty of the slides)

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

Looks great but a sales vid from the couple who designed it, built it, owns it, and sells it? Yeah i bet they glossed over a lot.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I was merely expressing my appreciation for the unique features and appearance of this RV conversion, I would never buy an amateur RV conversion.

Besides , I already am the owner of a Class A motor-home.

Black Peter
Black Peter
11 months ago

Haven’t I see a video of this RV? Like of someone walking from back to front, passing a sleeping dog.. On Instagram or something?

SYKO Simmons
SYKO Simmons
11 months ago

I totally dig this! Especially the white walls! Makes me want to finish my 1984 American lafrance century firetruck, RV ramp truck car hauler! Hopefully next year you’ll start to hear stories of it being seen on the road with my car on back!

Robot Turds
Robot Turds
11 months ago

I used to drive by the Gillig factory every day on my way to work. Anyway, this looks super well thought out and done!

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
11 months ago
Reply to  Robot Turds

Hayward represent! Gillig moved to a larger facility in Pleasanton a few years ago.

It was fun to see the new buses out on 92 and 580 heading west in the livery of their new owners.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
11 months ago

Ditching the stock pneumatic/electric doors and presumably the accessibility ramp eliminates approximately 90% of the failure points in this chassis, and cuts the wind noise and rattles at speed from deafening to tolerable. What gives me pause are the DIY slide-outs.

A clever, tasteful build.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

Maybe eliminates 50%. But you need that bus to bend.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
11 months ago

Like others have said, this is such an amazing build. As we push towards electrification, I’m betting a lot of these Gillig busses will be retired before the end of their useful lives, so there will be more prime candidates for this kind of conversion.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
11 months ago

In a previous job, my employer owned ~20 older Gilligs and New Flyers. A retrofitter in California proposed replacing the diesel drivetrains in our low-floor transits with electric. It didn’t pencil out as the employer did not qualify for EV tax credits or grants. The employer is now replacing the low-floor buses with high-floor diesel buses at a much lower purchase price.

Point of my story is yeah, EV conversion for old buses is possible. But the economics of retrofitting are daunting.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

My experience at transit company our EV Bus experimental bus is equally hated by drivers mechanics, and passengers.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
11 months ago

The ONLY way that transit “busses will be retired before the end of their useful lives” is if another government agency is writing a big check/handing out “free” money to do so, especially with the higher purchase prices of current electric bus options.

Gee See
Gee See
11 months ago

I like they actually putting ducting for AC in. It seems miles ahead than the million $ RV (granted this will have trouble going off road).. or the “duck” RV issues. What is the silver cylinderical shaped thing sitting in the background in the picture with the washer and drier?

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
11 months ago
Reply to  Gee See

Big Berkey water filtration system.

Gubbin
Gubbin
11 months ago

Quite simply that is the nicest RV I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen a few Class A monsters and big trailers, and none of them have the practical livability, spaciousness or fittings this build does. Can you even imagine having an RV that “kneels” when you park it?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

It is a sales video, you expected honesty?

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
11 months ago

Sometimes things can be overdone, but I really like the mint with wood on this build. I don’t feel like it is overdone. I love seeing some color on this build!

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

I also love that this appears to be a kneeler bus.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago

Thanks Mercedes. An interesting build for sure. Exterior features as mentioned are not my choice but paint is not cost prohibitive yet.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 months ago

DOPE! More of this please! Love seeing the creativity, originality, and personal touches of individual builds instead of just generic instagram builds. And yeah, this is the way to do it, built not bought. Not everyone has the skills, but you learn SO MUCH doing so. Just keep chipping away at it, and break it down into a series of smaller, easier to accomplish tasks. Additionally, google “rv crash” and then google “bus crash” and let me know which one you want to invest in. Buses are at least built to hold up, unlike RVs which just sort of fall apart.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
11 months ago

I’ve been around a lot of transit buses (used to work in the industry) and I’m usually very skeptical when people are going to buy old large buses to convert to an RV “someday”.

This is by far the best conversion of a (non classic) transit bus I think I’ve ever seen.

And Gilligs are built so rock solid that when they do have to take them for Altoona/Federal durabilty testing, almost nothing goes wrong with them.

Meanwhile other buses have actually almost cracked in half…

(like what happened to a certain foreign bus maker trying to enter the U.S. market)

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
11 months ago

Neoplan?

Pappa P
Pappa P
11 months ago

Alexander Dennis? We’ve had to condemn some units for structural rust at 5 years

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