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Weight a second

So, I might be wrong on the weight issue. Another spaceliner owner pointed out to me that his bus had a GVWR of 40K. I asked him to send me a picture of the vehicle data plate.

In the meanwhile, I started digging, emailed NeOPLAN, and checked everything I have.

I hit paydirt early on with the discovery of a German Bus Spec PDF that listed the max weight at 17,500 KG which is 38,000 lbs. Most likely this would be 12K/26K on the axles.

I did some more digging and found some neat stuff.

N117/2 Vehicle Data Plate

So the plate above is a Vehicle Data plate from a 1991 Spaceliner in Europe. Max Weight is listed as 17,600. Capacity is listed as 14,620. Numbers are in KG. First axle is 5,500 and second is 11,000. 5500 KG is 12,125.42 pounds. 11,000 KG is 24,250.89 lbs. That is a GVWR of 36,000 . This is odd as it doesn’t line up with Max weight or Capacity. Capacity comes out to 32,231.58 pounds (14,260KG) and 17,600KG is 38,801 pounds.

I interpret the numbers as a GVWR of 32,231 with an allowable overload of 38,801 (17%). It’s pretty common for buses to be overloaded. In the US the Axle weights would rule, so 12,125+24250 would be 36,375. This would be fine, except that the Capacity is listed as 32,231 so that would be the number. This also happens to line up nicely with truck rules in the US which are 12K on steers and 20K on a single axle.

Where I live in the United States, Texas the rule is 20K per any single Axle. It gets confusing though. Federal rules for trucks apparently are in conflict with allowances carved out for buses. Buses can weigh considerably more. This is in light of the fact that city tranist buses are often much heavier. This makes sense considering that they destroy city streets. Federal rules are concerned with highway bridge capacity. Too much truck in too little space is too hard on bridges.

I’m still waiting on Neoplan to get back to me on what the axle specs are. They are unresponsive, as usual. One of my frustrations with this coach is that there is no manufacturer support. If you have a part number they will quote you, but past that they appear to wish it didn’t exist.

I think the Axles are ZF A 130. No mention of those on their website. Must be magical that everything in Europe turns to fairy dust after 10 years. A 132 specs exist and they rate out at 26K for the axle. I think it’s safe to assume that 24K applies. Generally speaking buses seem to follow a 65/35 rule with 65% of the weight in the back.

Regrettably, I’m content in concluding that the GVWR is 32K but could be safely overloaded to 38K. Given that there are no data plates on the vehicle I think you could probably do anything you wanted that would roll and stop. I’m not really sure how that would work out if you ever got pulled into a scale. I can’t find anything that requires such a data plate to exist and there is no obvious place where it had been removed.

I still have no idea where the weight is at. Nothing on the coach is obviously that heavy. I checked the engine weight thinking maybe the 8v92TA was the culprit. It’s not that much heavier than anything else that could have been spec’d.

So I found a brochure from 1983, featuring the highway coaches.

Update

I took the bus to weigh it today and realized I have a weight problem. I was really expecting more weight to have come out, but it didn’t. My GVRW is 34,500 which is set by Federal Law for 2 axle vehicles. My weight today was 28,500. I did some calculations to account for the diesel fuel, generator, AC’s, and washer/dryer and concluded that the curb weight of the bus is 26,000 pounds. By the time I install the materials for the buildout I’m going to be real close to the weight limit. This precludes any dream of putting in solar panels or increasing the water capacity beyond 100 gallons.

So I have decided to put the bus shell up for sale and get a lighter bus with a better weight allowance. It’s a good solid shell and anyone would be happy with it as a motorhome. The problem comes from my trying to increase my ability to boondock for over a week at a time comfortably. Someone who was doing “normal” campground camping wouldn’t run into the weight issues because they wouldn’t need the capacities that I want. Same for a full timer in a park, no capacity issues.

It’s listed up on eBay and posted to a few FB groups. My bill of materials was going to be around 5,000 pounds. That was doing an oversize shower and putting tile in it with a glass door. So someone willing to have a fiberglass shower could shave quite a bit of weight out.

Part of my issue is that I need to take quite a few tools with me for work when I’m out with the coach. This adds a fair amount of weight. Most people don’t have this issue when they go camping.

I also took the opportunity to shoot a video of the driving experience. It’s uploading to YouTube right now and I hope folks enjoy it. Here is the link.

Summary Update

It’s been a busy week. I decided to engage in an exercise to price out a windshield this week. MAN Truck has a North American presence that is mainly focused on their marine engines. I emailed them and proceeded to argue about my VIN and if they built my coach. It basically ended with them asking me for the part number before they could tell me if it’s available and how much. SMH.

Meanwhile, I located a US Supplier who thinks they have one. I need to measure mine to see if they do.

I also dug on the airbags, nothing wrong with them or the windshield, but this is a sustainability exercise. That turned out to be quite a bit easier with Meritor publishing an application book and cross references. Something that MAN/VW/Neoplan can’t seem to find or do. The Airbags are all the same in the front and back and seem to be around $200/ea which is pretty reasonable.

Oh, there was one other option on the windshield. Convert it to a two piece unit. This was used on the AN series coaches (American Neoplan) that were made for transit. It would cut the cost of replacement in half as any failure should only be for one side or the other. It would involve some welding and refit, but that shouldn’t be impossible to do.

I also started looking at the egress windows that open. I discovered that manual skylight operators would work fine. The Australians use them for Awning windows and call them chain openers. They are compact and can push the window open. Only need 4 of them so $60/ea is tolerable. No idea how I’d make a screen for them, not today’s project, not messing with it.

I think the front axles and steering stuff should be easy enough to look up as well. It’s Mercede$ and EuroTruck stuff.

I’ve also concluded that this coach has unparallelled inside dimensions…. and a tight turning radius. It will turn in a 40 foot radius which is also it’s length. Interior height is 8 feet and width is nearly the same. Inside useable area is 40′ 1″, which is unheard of for a 40 foot (12 Meter) coach.

I’ve pretty much ruled out the GM and MCI coaches due to frame construction issues. I don’t think they are suited for towing. That leaves me with the devil I know, a Bluebird All American or a Crown SuperCoach. The Crown’s are just flat out awesome, but storage is not a word you can use to describe one. Crown is out of business, but at least they used stock American Truck parts, so there are no surprises there and any parts monkey can work on one. Bluebird should be easy to get worked on as well. They also have disc brakes which are far easier to maintain. I can’t say the same for Neoplan.

I’ll post another update soon.

Other Devils

So I’ve been debating if I should sell my coach and buy a different one. No discussion of this would be complete without mentioning the other devils.

  1. GM PD4106 – the GM buses are simply fabulous to drive. If you can find one with a 6V71 they are reliable and relatively fuel efficient at around 10 MPG. 35 foot length makes them easy to live with and maneuver. The downside is that GM has been gone for years from the bus market, having sold out to MCI who was acquired and mismanaged. 🙁 The biggest gripe I have is that the skin/shell is structural. This makes any modifications dicey. The engine also hangs off the roof. This could be a problem for towing anything.
  2. MCI5A/B – Another hard to beat option. Just have to watch out for rust in all the wrong places. Typically found with an 8V71 and mild mannered on fuel. 10 foot clearance, 35 foot overall, great buses. Like the GM’s they are well experienced by the time they become motorhomes. MCI is still in business and some parts are probably still available.
  3. Skoolie – The ugly duckling of buses, but readily available, cheap and durable. Likely to be had in a 10 to 12 year old chassis with ONLY 150K miles on them. Rode hard and put away wet with less love than luggage at most districts. Will absolutely require paint and new windows. Major downside is no belly storage and likely to face hate at some campgrounds.
  4. Crown SuperCoach – Sort of skoolie, but built like a Mack truck with off the shelf parts and to a higher standard. Positives are very well built and equipped. Great fuel economy, Downsides are that they are somewhat rare and over-valued.

The Devil You Know

When you own a bus, you own a devil. One of the things you struggle with is the devil you know vs the devil you don’t. Every bus is a devil. Sometimes it’s a mechanical devil, other times it’s an intimidating devil, and other times it’s an unobtanium devil. There is no perfect bus. Just devils.

3 years ago I was looking for a flat-nosed Skoolie. With a DT466 and a good, heavy duty automatic transmission. The plan was to strip it out and convert it over time. I was looking at a Richie Bros auction and notice that the lot before the bus I was looking at was a Motorcoach. A big, modern looking Motorcoach. Half on a whim and half realizing it was a bargain I bid on and won the Pegasus / Neoplan devil I own today.

Fast forward 3 years and I finally got around to ripping out the mini-kitchen from ValueJet and the Dinnette from Denny’s. The last of the Carpet of Iniquity, the “Cat box”, The tile on plywood shower, houdini’s plumbing, the undiscovered circuits of antiquity, the tornado shelter half-bath, the pretty-unfunctional cabinets and TV Stand along with the back drop cabinets that served no useful purpose. If I was writing a book on how NOT to convert a coach, this could have been a case study. Instead it was two giant piles of trash gone to the curb and hauled off over a couple of months courtesy of the City of Houston heavy trash program. There is no telling how much weight went out as I haven’t re-weighed the bus. I also took out one of the water tanks and some rotted out plywood. I also tore out the 20 gallon residential water heater that was leaking and on it’s last legs.

All in all the bones of the bus are in good shape. No major rust. I did get the 4 opening windows working, but the latches are a hot mess. I found a minor leak around one AC unit and the skylight…. not a huge deal. I also found that there is a water leak in the front cap somewhere. I have not had time to get up there and see what’s going on. It could be as simple as clogged drain tubes or more involved. There are usually wasps up there as if climbing 13 feet up wasn’t enough fun on it’s own.

When I originally bought the bus the idea was to re-convert it. So I’m finally getting around to that. About a year ago I decided to make a career change. I was “downsized” by a company that no longer needed someone running their IT. Um, good luck with that. I was going to restart a t-shirt company, but then Harvey happened along with some other things and that sort of sunk. I decided to become an Insurance Adjuster. It gives me an opportunity to help people, see the country, and do something productive while having free time when I’m not working. I quickly realized that this involved alot of travel and cheap hotels. You see, my hotel and meals are my expense….. Where some see adversity, I see opportunity. In this case I saw an opportunity to put my Motorcoach to work. Hotels are expensive long term, and more so when you are in a disaster area. Disasters are where people need help and that’s where we go as IA’s.

This helped me rationalize the bus as an asset, not a toy. One that could save me some money if I used it. For Hurricane Michael in 2018 I took the coach with me. I wound up being called into the office to help with claims. I lived in Mobile, Alabama for 2 months staying in a nice little Mobile Home / RV Park called Pala Verde Mobile Home and RV Park. The bus saved me a ton of money and was comfortable. I had my share of plumbing adventures, but overall it worked out. I also had a mechanical issue on arrival when the fan bearings needed rebuilding.

So I got to thinking about the bus and how most of the parts are European and difficult to get in the United States. The engine is a Detroit Diesel…. Allison Transmission. So those are easy enough to maintain. The issue is the glass. The front windshield is reportedly $5K and a 6 week lead time. It’s also the largest windshield I’ve ever seen. 9 feet across and 5 feet tall. The upper is Polycarbonate, so it’s unlikely to be damaged by rocks… but the lower one practically screams hit me to rocks. The side ones …. oh and you thought the front one was bad? lol. The Windshield is at least common to Cityliner and Spaceliner models. There might also be a split windshield option I could convert to. The side ones are huge… and the fixed ones are $2700 with a 6 week lead time. Curved at the top, trapezoidal and specific to each side. One each for your pure terror. And then there are the 4 opening windows. In Europe, they simply break the window to get out in an emergency. In the US the windows have to open. So all 13 buses imported to North America from Germany were equipped with them. The American made Neoplan buses did something else. The 4 buses built for Kennedy Space Center did something else entirely. Those are Megaliners. These windows simply aren’t available. At any price. I have no idea what the hinge mechanism is or how durable it is. This means that the window could fall out.

The windows are probably the biggest liability on the coach. Traveling alot with it, it’s just a matter of time before something happens to them. If they were flat windows it wouldn’t be a big deal. Any auto glass place can cut flat pieces and install them.

So I could pre-empt the side windows and remove them and re-do the sheet metal to square them up and make them sliding windows. It would be easy to do, but the windshield is not the same….. So the question is do I stick with the devil I know or sell it and buy a different devil?

The advantages of the current bus are:

  • 8v92TA Detroit Diesel with great access
  • No overheating issues
  • A strong Allison transmission with 60K capacity rating on a 34K vehicle.
  • Overall, very low mileage at 75K
  • 8 foot ceiling, 8 foot interior width.
  • 40 foot length overall inside and out.
  • Bonus space above the driver area
  • Bonus storage space behind the driver, between the front wheels.
  • Tons of space for a kitchen / living room.
  • Skylight for shower, space for a 3.5 foot shower

Disadvantages of the current bus:

  • Expensive windows / windshield
  • Stairs are steep
  • water tanks are not setup right
  • Generator setup is wasteful of space
  • AC setup is just wrong……. no AC in cab
  • Heater in driver area not behaving.
  • European parts – hard to get.

That’s it for now. I’ll muse about other bus models another day.

NO POUND LEFT BEHIND

Last Fall I took the bus out for work. I’m an Independent Insurance Adjuster and sometimes when I go to work a storm there are no hotels to stay in. So I brought my motorcoach to stay in. That worked out well and saved me a bundle on hotels. I stayed in a nice RV/Mobile Home park in Mobile, Alabama called Pala Verde. It was quiet, reasonably priced, and conveniently located. I was there for 2 months.

While I was there I bought a Splendide 2000 Washer/Dryer Combo unit. I was going to put it in the kitchen, under the counter. When I went to do it I realized the plumbing and layout were a hot mess. So I postponed that. Just as well, I only had one day off a week to work on the RV.

When I got back to Houston in December I decided to engage in a remodel and get some revenge on things I’ve hated since I bought the RV. That meant the “diner” seat and couch of disgust and Motel 6 carpet were going on the curb.

As I tore out crap I realized that the coach had been reconverted at least once, maybe twice. It seems to have been build under the no pound left behind program, using the heaviest crap they could find for everything. I tore all of it out, down to the frame.

I found a few minor water leaks, two in the front and a couple around AC units, the skylight, etc. The AC units are mounted to what should have been roof / escape hatches. Below are some photos of what came out and what it looked like before and after.

Playlist of YouTube videos related to the renovation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkKhRTJ7i_k&list=PLKyop-RNjtpcUGqjbGKZEef1ONNZbhKHZ

Fan Bearing Miracles

So I needed to take the RV on a work deployment to Mobile, Alabama.  The coach made it fine.  About the time I got to Alabama I noticed a strange noise coming from the back.  By the time I got back there I wasn’t sure what it was.

I got to the hotel I was headed to for a meeting.  We’ll call it the Hustle Inn.  It’s seen way better days.  They were nice enough to let me park in back.  The biggest shame is that the property has so much potential.

I also noticed a squeak from the generator in the morning, so I shut it down.  At lunch I came out and found that the generator fan had died and that the main engine cooling fan bearing was shot.  When I shut the main engine down the bearing was loose.

There are a couple of interesting projects here but I’ll summarize that I surrendered and checked in to the hotel for a few days.

CoachNet helped me find a mechanic, but was otherwise worthless.  Glad I didn’t absolutely need to be towed.  They could not find a Landoll.  The mechanic came out and when we investigated the bearings basically fell out as a powder.  That’s pretty bad.  It was a miracle that it held up, but we weren’t done with that miracle.  I wound up putting it back together and running 20 miles to the mechanic’s shop.  The repair involves removing the fan shroud.  The fan hub has to go towards the radiator to come out.  To get the fan shroud out involves opening the cooling system to remove the upper pipe.  Yup, it’s a giant PITA.  MAN Americas was helpful though… suggesting that the bearings were replaceable on the Behr Hella hub/fan.  Behr/Hella was generally worthless.  No support without part numbers…. .no part numbers on a 35 year old vehicle.  Sigh.

The wheels on the bus go round and round

It’s been a while since I’ve posted… sorry about that.  But I’m doing stuff with the coach again so I’m gonna start posting.  It’s been a hectic year of change, so the coach took a back seat.  I had an unplanned career change when the non-profit I worked for decided it no longer needed IT management…. good luck with that.

I was going to start another t-shirt company, but that didn’t work out as planned so I scrapped it.

I transitioned to doing something I enjoy as an Insurance Adjuster.  I get to travel, help people get their life back to normal, and do something challenging.

It also gives me the opportunity to put the Coach to work.  Way cheaper to camp in the RV than to camp in Motel 666 where they leave the roaches out for ya.

First order of business was putting a hitch on the coach.  I opted to use a $23 Harbor Freight Step-mount hitch.  I welded it to the cross member that is rated to pull the coach out.  If it can handle a 35,000 pound pull I’m comfortable it can drag 5,000.  Class III hitch.  Check it out here: 

Second order of business was buying a tow dolly.  I’m towing a 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid.  It could flat tow, but I opted to dolly it for simplicity.    I picked up a Master Tow 77T basic brakeless dolly for $1000 from PPL Motorhomes in Houston.  It was a great deal.  Check it out here.

Master Tow 77T

The dolly tows like a dream.  I figured the Coach has enough braking capacity to not notice the dolly or towed.  At one point I wasn’t sure if either were still back there.  lol.

I also replaced the engine batteries with a pair of 8D units from Sam’s.  The old ones were 3 years old and well abused.  The generator battery was the same age and also ready to be replaced.  $70 for a 27 series Marine battery.

I will be full-timing in the RV for a while so I have lots of things on the to-do list.

It took me 4 hours to get the damn Norcold fridge out.  The controls on it were bad.  I decided to ditch it’s power thristy self and replace it with something modern like a mini fridge.

July Update

Hi folks, just a quick update that all is well.  I’ve been focused on my house and letting summer come and go.  I’m planning on going camping in September so I’ll be working on some minor things here in the next few weeks.  I’ll post more when I start working on it again.