Why the bus
The bus as its called for now, is a solution to apparently conflicting needs in our family. My son Oliver is very much Auckland based, while my heart has long since left there. The bus will allow us to spend some time in the city and some time in the country, and maintain family continuity of sorts and have one home, of sorts.
Another key driver for the project is to create an `eco` bus conversion. Previously I had been involved with Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood , a green housing development in West Auckland. That website`s worth a look for two reasons, to see firstly what is involved in building sustainability, and second, the value of documenting such projects. I plan on continuing in both traditions on the bus project.
What we wanted
We looked at hundeds of buses, trucks, campers, and got very clear that the following was needed:
- not too big that it would be cumbersome, expensive to run, require HT license etc
- tall enough for us to stand up in (180cm+), and about 2m wide.
- new enough or otherwise robust enough to be mechanically hassle free. I can turn my hand to many things, but im no mechanic.
- easy to drive, which among other things means we can swap it for a house occasionally.
- have a mid side door, so that entry is into the central living area.
Making a decison
Those criteria ruled out big buses, and trucks. Campervans are generally out of our price range, being as they are already fitted out. And anyway to get the kind of conversion I have in mind requires doing the fit out ourselves.
That pretty much left a small bus, or a panel van. It was with some difficulty that i also eliminated a small luton furniture truck. This would have been, if more roomy and flexible, more mechanically challenging. I also dont like cab over beds, they are too small for full time use. I did breifly fall in love with a huge Hino Ranger tripple axle horse truck with a huge cabover, but thats another story.
I have also heard some pretty good things about the new Transit / Fiat etc big vans, but in the end the bus won out on price and door configuration.
Of the mostly Jap imported small buses, there is pretty much the 6 and 7m Nissan Civillian, Toyota Coaster, and Mitsibishi Rosa.
Old time mechanics i spoke to spoke highly of the Coasters. I looked at and drove a few, and concluded that the GX/LX Coasters had the right interior shape. They are a midgin wider and higher that most small buses, and have more floor space. The GX is also 10mm higher and wider than the EX. EX ended sometime in 93, then it went GX, LX, then DX, the latter of which all using the same body shape with only minor differences.
The engines in these are 4.2 deisel, straight out of Toyotas Landcruiser. Its certainly going to use more fuel than our Barina, but not as much as a 7-11 liter big bus motor. (Thats the beauty of the Transits, they have little 2 l motors.)
Post 1993 Coasters sell for $30--50,000, unconverted. You can get an EX for about $25--$30,000. The Coaster comes in Auto, Manual, Turbo, or nornally aspirated, Air Suspension or normal. Plug or barn side doors, boot or double rear doors. Technically it also comes in low and hi roof, although i have never seen a low roof. While the turbos can theoretically improve fuel effiency they can also be expensive to repair. Ditto air suspension. I think there is also a super lounge model with bonded windows, ABS etc.
See also Toyotas homepage:
After a nearly bad episode with one that had done 186,000kms with blowby (that mechanical inspection was the best $160 i ever spent), we opted for one looked at fairly early on in the piece with lower miles and which was also, not surprisingly, blue.
Our bus is a non-turbo, 5 speed, call it a personal preference.
A few more pieces of useless info:
Distance 55000km (certified both in Japan and by AA)
Engine 4.2, 6 cyllinder, deisel, 100kW
Tare weight 3.2 t
Max gross 5.7 t
Internal height 1830
Internal length 5400 (usable)
Internal width 1910
Where to now
Along the way i did a huge amount of research in libraries and on the internet. Talking to people, who work on these, or have owned them. Dont underestimate the time this takes--its heaps. And theres much more to do in evaluating and choosing appliances, plumbing and electrical systems and the like.
Now that ive spent more on the bus than was originally the plan the fit out process will happen over a much longer period, when time and money allows. Still `they` say it is better to have a good foundation on which to invest all that time and energy. And, restless souls that we are, i am very much looking forward to doing just that.
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