Home » This Cute City Bus RV Build Is A Nicer Home Than Your Apartment

This Cute City Bus RV Build Is A Nicer Home Than Your Apartment

Bus Conversion Camper Ts
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Once a bus has served its life as a people carrier, it sometimes ends up in the hands of an ambitious custom motorhome builder. Most bus conversions in America are done on school buses, but sometimes, a builder gets a little weird and turns a city bus into an RV. This Gillig Low Floor was once a workhorse of an American city, now it’s a rolling home that looks better than many of the apartments I’ve seen up for grabs lately.

I’ve long been an advocate for transit bus conversions. That’s not to say that a school bus build is a bad idea. School buses are practically a dime a dozen and are often easier to repair than transit buses. But it’s hard to make a school bus look like a real RV and not a backyard project. School bus floors also tower high off of the ground and builders also often need to raise school bus roofs so they don’t bang their heads.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The transit bus fixes so many of these problems. Their floors are usually low to the ground, they have high ceilings from the factory, and they blend in a bit better than a retired school bus. As a bonus, buying a former transit bus means getting a cushy air suspension and sometimes an overpowered air-conditioner. Running costs might be higher, but for some, a transit bus is the way to rock. Additional good news here is the fact that this conversion is based on a Gillig Low Floor, a common platform that has reliably gotten countless Americans to work. It’s still in production, too, so parts will be less of a headache.

The Workhorse

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I’ve written about Gillig before, but here’s a quick reminder of the company’s origins:

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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.

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Gillig

The Gillig Low Floor was introduced in 1996 as ‘the bus of the future.’ As the story goes, Hertz, the rental car company, wanted a shuttle bus to get people to and from rental counters and airport terminals. At the time, transit buses were known for having somewhat high floors, which required passengers to step into the coach, dragging their luggage with them. The Gillig Phantom was like this and Hertz wanted something better. Hertz and Gillig worked together on a low-floor bus, one that would be far better for passengers in wheelchairs or had a lot of belongings to carry with them.

I’m going to paste a snippet of Gillig’s press release here because how often do you get to read about buses?

KOCUR KREW AUTO

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.

In addition to the above advancements, Gillig put its new bus on a strict diet. Now, we are Americans, so that means measuring things in weird ways. Gillig says these buses, which are made out of an aluminum alloy, weigh “two full-size Ford Tauruses” less than the previous Gillig Phantom transit bus.

This RV Build

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This particular Gillig Low Floor is the smallest available, an adorable 29-footer. To give you an idea of what you’ll be working with, this bus has a GVWR of 30,000 pounds. The seller says the bus is a “2020,” but this must mean when the conversion was completed. Based on the front door design, this coach is older than 2008. Despite the age, the coach is said to have just 80,000 miles.

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Starting with the exterior, the bus was modified to have a few windows removed. The rear door was also swapped out from the original bus door to what appears to be an RV-style door. It’s unclear what transit authority this bus used to belong to because the body has been given a stylish bus wrap. Also unclear is what happened to the front right turn indicator, but that’s a part that shouldn’t be hard to replace.

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The real cool part is what’s inside. The seller says the bus was converted into a motorhome capable of sleeping four people. The conversion was extensive and included covering up the basic bus interior with paneling that’s a bit easier on the eyes.

Yet, not all evidence of this Gillig’s working past have been deleted. Those wheel well bumps are a clear nod to the coach’s transit history, as are the grab rails in the hybrid primary room and dinette in the back.

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Moving back up front, there’s a small living room type of area with a convertible couch and a TV hanging from the ceiling. Across from that is a kitchen featuring a small apartment-style fridge/freezer, a dual basin sink, and some cabinetry. There’s an additional cabinet behind the driver. The seller doesn’t say anything about cooking equipment, but there’s more than enough room there for a portable cooktop. The bus is also wired for shore power, too.

Barrelcamper6

Barrelcamper7

Finally, in the middle of the bus is a stand-up shower room featuring an RV toilet. There is no mention of tanks, but the bus does appear to have some holding capacity. The build is capped off with soft perimeter lighting in the interior and a Rheem instant hot water heater. More good news comes from the fact that the coach still has a working wheelchair ramp, which is great for mobility and possibly helps you bring some heavier gear for the ride.

All of this is backed by a platform running on a Cummins diesel engine, an Allison transmission, and an air suspension. Sadly, the seller doesn’t say what exact Cummins is back there and the Gillig Low Floor had quite a few Cummins options over the years. One common configuration was the 8.9-liter Cummins ISL. It makes about 280 HP and 1,260 lb-ft, feeding that power to the rear wheels through an Allison B400R transmission.

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One thing you’ll want to watch out for is top speed. Many transit buses are geared for not much better than city speeds, which isn’t great for going on a road trip. Others would hold legal highway speed just fine. I would hope this bus is geared for higher speeds.

The next question is if the asking price of $28,000 makes this bus worth it. Being generous, the bus itself is likely worth about $4,000 on a good day. So, do you see about $24,000 of work here? I could sort of see it.

What I do see is a different way to hit the road. This is something a little different than the common school bus build and while it’s not perfect, it looks nicer than some of the apartments I see out there. Certainly, it makes my apartment seem like a shack. If anything, a $28,000 bus is cheaper than some of the broom closets you’d find in New York City!

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(Images: Facebook Seller, unless otherwise noted.)

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Ok_Im_here
Ok_Im_here
17 days ago

I give this a B. There are things I like about it: the interior is nice. I would prefer a bathroom door however. The benches on the passenger door side are a bit monotonous… why not a booth table or captains chairs with a table between them? Wheel wheels can have closets built over them…at least in the front. That isolates the driver though, so I can see why maybe they didn’t. The back should just be a bedroom. The center piece needs to commit to being a table or a bed. And shades for the windows. The exterior paint is awful.

I’d make those changes then put a poptop somewhere for extra sleeping for kids.

Honestly, for all that effort, not a terrible price IF the bus itself passes a mechanic’s inspection.

Ben
Ben
17 days ago

The only place this even matches my first apartment is the terrible decision to go without pulls on the cabinets (sounds like a minor gripe, but when you consider how many times you open doors and drawers in your kitchen per day it adds up to one of my biggest pet peeves with that apartment) and the stupid glass door on the shower. Although at least my apartment’s door was frosted for some amount of privacy.

Other than that the impression I’m getting from this is not “nice”, it’s “pass”.

Goffo Sprezzatura
Goffo Sprezzatura
17 days ago

Creative and ambitious, but all I can see is a city bus.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
17 days ago

One more challenge with converting low-floor transit buses is the floor ain’t flat and the front wheel wells are huge.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
18 days ago

Doing a number two behind a glass door in a city bus will take a bit of getting used to 😉

Electronika
Electronika
17 days ago

Maybe it will inspire a new trend where they just install toilets instead of seats

Ross Fuller
Ross Fuller
18 days ago

i have had nicer apartments, and i am far from wealthy – very odd interior design, and clearly low budget.

BigRed91
BigRed91
17 days ago
Reply to  Ross Fuller

I was thinking the same thing – this is significantly less nice than a cheapo camper trailer you can buy for $14k brand new from RV World.

Joe L
Joe L
18 days ago

The interior looks pretty good, but even shiny new transit buses sound like helicopters – a bunch of parts flying in close formation. There’s a restaurant near my house that’s too close to bother with Uber, but even driving a few blocks under the influence is irresponsible. I take the bus there and even though it’s like a 5 minute ride, the cacophony over every bump is maddening. I can’t imagine humping a city bus bucket of bolts to Joshua Tree, let alone Burning Man.

An underrated benefit of a trailer is that you have passenger vehicle levels of NVH while driving. Of course the flip side is that the speed limit in CA for towing is 55, while motorhomes can do 65. Considering this is a city bus, I don’t think I’d want to listen to that Cummins scream at 65 anyway. I think the only good bus conversions are those based on intercity coaches, though your RTS does have the advantage of looking like the 70s version of the future, which is fun at least!

Isaac Fortner
Isaac Fortner
18 days ago

There’s such a glut of DIY “#vanlife” conversions out there after Instagram models and trust fund hippies realized living in a van by the river really isn’t a great as it’s cracked up to be, I don’t see this selling for anywhere close to $28k.

I’ve followed some of these “builds”, and while the work ethic is there, the experience isn’t, and many have trendy design features with truly horrifying electrical and plumbing infrastructure underneath.

Not to say they CAN’T be done properly to some kind of building code, but even then it’s all custom and every repair is going to be a voyage of discovery. I’d be EXTREMELY cautious buying into someone else’s project.

The Dude
The Dude
18 days ago
Reply to  Isaac Fortner

I guess being Uncle Rico isn’t as much fun as it looks for a lot of people.

The Pigeon
The Pigeon
18 days ago

I used to drive these Gilligs on the regular, and they could keep pace on the highway. Though the ones I drove were mainly in-city, I had to do 1 or 2 charter drives out of town to the airport and they could maintain ~70mph. The older Flxible buses we had in the fleet at the time were the real rocket ships, though.

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
18 days ago
Reply to  The Pigeon

I remember doing transit buses on the highway. They could do the speed just fine but man were they noisy, especially through the front door. And after the transition to low floor Gilligs, I definitely felt more road.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
18 days ago

Where the base vehicle comes from has a big impact on its value. Larger transit operations, in big metro areas, are highly data-driven, racking up hundreds of thousands of miles on their equipment before auctioning them off, but with a robust maintenance infrastructure to keep ’em rolling.

Smaller operations, in smaller towns and with various private shuttles, are far more variable. They can have lower miles, but their maintenance will also be more suspect. Has it been contracted out or left to the Public Works Garage mechanic?

Like most high-mileage vehicles, the most insidious issues revolve around rust and simple metal fatigue. Frame rust and braking and power system failures can create serious money pits.

The other challenge is that all that fixed glass offers little insulation value. It’s less of an issue for daily transit use but can be challenging if you’re trying to stay comfortable while parked.

Highway gearing has already been covered, but off-road use and copilot seating should also be considered. Some shuttle buses, with their center doors, are better for copilots, while school buses offer more off-road capability, due to their design for use on rural roads.

Finally, storage. By definition, stuff expands to fill any available space. While low-floor transit buses limit under-floor storage options, the plumbing challenges, especially for holding tanks, will be more frustrating in any conversion.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
19 days ago

This bears a passing resemblance to the car rental shuttle the Car Wizard was working on before he pulled the plug and bought a Bluebird Motorhome. I would want a thorough inspection to determine if this was well done before buying. I have seen too many expensive but slapdash conversions.

James Carson
James Carson
19 days ago

Realistically, if it is built properly in terms of electrical, plumbing and the propane setup it is probably 110% better than the majority of commercial rv in its price range. The major concern is the actual mileage and maintenance on the drivetrain and if it is geared for highway use or can be converted for a reasonable amount. Not sure about the black wrap. That’s gonna be warm in the hotter months.

Rob Bannister
Rob Bannister
19 days ago

Taking a shower or a shit in a glass box next to the sofa? You better be pretty friendly with whoever you’re camping with.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
18 days ago
Reply to  Rob Bannister

Is it porn (shower) or performance art (shitter)?

JDS
JDS
17 days ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Both, if you’re German…

Electronika
Electronika
17 days ago
Reply to  Rob Bannister

Giving Cleveland Steamer a new meaning. I mean WHY WHY the glass door? If you are going to spend all that time and money this just looks so bad and not homey

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
19 days ago

I guess maybe the Gilligs are available on the cheap, but why would you ever want a city bus to be the basis for a camper conversion? Theoretically it’d be better to drive in a city yes, but considering most of the time these conversions are highway-cruisers I’d always start with a coach instead. Again, I understand that’d be more expensive, but driving even a high-geared Gillig on a freeway sounds like one of the most miserable ways to see America I can imagine. Then again, I am particularly sensitive to the continued drone of high RPMs on the freeway. It’s one of the big reasons I do enjoy modern CVTs because unlike the 4-speed autos of days past, they can do 2500 rpm at 80 mph.

Greg R
Greg R
19 days ago

Also coaches usually have under floor storage, which city buses don’t. I made and fitted a couple to a bus I converted a long time ago, it’s a lot of work and lots of rivets. It wasn’t a city bus, did country work but was still a bus not a coach.

Iotashan
Iotashan
18 days ago
Reply to  Greg R

When I got to the water capacity part I was like “oh, city bus, where’s all that?”

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
19 days ago

It takes one troll through the photos to tell that this isn’t even worth a visit to look at.

The sloppy lack of attention to laying the pattern of the sink backsplash is enough for me to say “hell no, there’s no way this is worth $28,000”. It speaks to all manners of corners cut and other half-assery. Like using a cheap clear glass door and nothing else for the wet bathroom.

Further, wrapping an RV in black is definitely not a good idea.

Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
19 days ago

My main concern is how do you get out of the thing in the event of a fire?
Second question: Is the wiring to code? Any code?
Third question: Who plumbed it for propane and propane accessories?
Otherwise, $28,000 doesn’t sound terrible. But I would want to have some assurance it won’t kill me, my family and friends before I buy it.

Nauthiz
Nauthiz
19 days ago
Reply to  Arthur Flax

I would hope that the windows they left intact, still have the emergency release levers. Both the front and middle doors on these can be manually pushed open in the event of an emergency, and from the photos in the article it looks like at least the rear roof emergency hatch is still there.

I took a lot of trips on this style and make of bus back in my university days.

As for the rest of the build, caveat emptor.

Iotashan
Iotashan
18 days ago
Reply to  Nauthiz

That’s probably about 3 more options than a normal RV

Ben
Ben
17 days ago
Reply to  Iotashan

One of the few regulations that is actually enforced on regular RVs is the need for egress windows. There are plenty of problems with RV build quality, but lack of emergency exits generally isn’t one of them.

Jj
Jj
19 days ago

Why does Autopian assume all the readers live in terrible out-dated apartments?

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
18 days ago
Reply to  Jj

Because they’re spending all their money on cars. My living quarters have been pretty “vintage” due to this as well.

Iotashan
Iotashan
18 days ago
Reply to  Jj

Have you seen apartments in Wisconsin? /s

Isaac Fortner
Isaac Fortner
18 days ago
Reply to  Iotashan

I’m willing to bet even Wisconsin apartments don’t have toilets in the see-through shower though.

AlterId
AlterId
18 days ago
Reply to  Isaac Fortner

Only because Scott Walker was a prude. From what I understand, things were pretty racy up there back in the “Sewer Socialist” days.

AlterId
AlterId
18 days ago
Reply to  Jj

I agree. Some of us have terrible, outdated, and heavily mortgaged fully detached houses, thank you very much.

Jj
Jj
18 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

Thank you. Now I feel seen.

Joe L
Joe L
18 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

Lean into the dated-ness! That’s why I bought a house made in 1969. Mid century modern for the win!

Jj
Jj
18 days ago
Reply to  Joe L

There was nothing cool going on decor-wise in 1880.

AlterId
AlterId
17 days ago
Reply to  Joe L

My house was 30 when yours was built, and the kids were saying “Never trust anyone over 30” in 1969. I would have liked MCM, but most houses in the part of town I wanted to be in were quite a bit older than that, and mine is the second-newest structure that isn’t a cheaply built ’70s infill duplex on the block. It’s a quiet dead-end block in a neighborhood that’s walkable and 15-minute city for the most part, though, and even when I got it I knew I could rent it out for the mortgage payment.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
19 days ago

As with virtually every bus-to-RV conversion you see on social media, this ad is all about the build out and no information about the greasy bits.

Whether or not the Instagrammers tell you, I feel like most of these conversions get 2 or 5 or 10,000 miles down the road before the owners face a very expensive tow to the one shop in the area that will work on it.

Without any information on the mechanical parts, I can’t tell if this bus is worth $28k or $2800.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
19 days ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

There’s at least $2800 worth of scrap value here.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
19 days ago

Core value of this transmission is typically $2000 if it’s functional. And 3 grand for the engine. So definitely.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
19 days ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

It’s pretty obviously NOT worth $28,000.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
19 days ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

80,000 miles show in the ad. Is that after the conversion when it already had 400,000 miles of city transit duty? Agree with your premise this has a robust commercial powertrain that usually runs a long time BUT takes a lot of dough to rebuild when it’s worn out.

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
18 days ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

Transit bus mechanic where I worked told me parts get swapped often and the odometers aren’t accurate.

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
19 days ago

That’s a really nice build! I like being able to have storage under the floor along the frame rails that I have on my school bus but I do love the transit bus builds. I still want a double decker

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
19 days ago

Actually 28K does not seem to be an unreasonable asking price here.

Just the same, it’s a crap shoot when buying what was someone else’s project.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
19 days ago

Would want to know a few details like 30 vs 50 amp, where is the bed for the other two people, and the tank sizes. Compared to others I have seen I can see 28k as a good start to work with. Though FB marketplace is where craigslist merchandise goes to die.

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