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Author Topic: 1964 MCI Challenger Diesel 35' Bus Conversion  (Read 6691 times)
jdkblue
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« on: May 06, 2009, 08:35:24 AM »

We need your suggestions/advice on what to look for and so on...

We are currently waiting for our house to sell back in Iowa before we can become full-time RVers however we've stumbled upon an opportunity that we just can't pass up. We are out in Oregon right now; I will be done with my contract job on May 29th then we'll be returning home to look for my next contract. The thing is we did all our planning as though we were going to purchase a fifth wheel and a heavy duty truck so we are bit thrown off course. At the end of May this bus will be traveling 1700 miles back to Iowa and in order to do that it'll have to go over I think 3 mountain passes.

After doing some searching on-line we found a good deal on a 1964 MCI Challenger Diesel 35' Bus Conversion for $6,000. It's owned by an elderly retired couple that has lived in it for 14 years; it's fully self-contained but needs a little TLC (mainly inside). The bus traveled round trip from Oregon to Arizona once a year for 14 years but they are no longer able to travel for health reasons we're assuming. We viewed it for the first time on the 2nd and put $500 earnest money down on it the same day. We have yet to pay for the whole thing and still working on getting insurance for it. After sitting for a maximum of one year the engine popped right off and ran beautifully. When it was just sitting there we did run through all the gears and they all felt smooth. The owner has removed the bottle jacks from underneath the bus and got the tags up-to-date so today we finally get to drive it. It's got a 318hp 4 speed manual Spicer transmission. The owner maintained it very well and made some great upgrades including Jake brakes, air bag/adjustable driver's seat and an awning, he even has the original owner's manuals along with a large stack of maintenance records. There are no signs of water damage and lines have been winterized. The tires have plenty of life in them, the front tires are about 2 years old with 95% tire tread left the rear tires a little bit older with 65% to 75% left and they've been covered so they haven't been affected by the weather. The gas gauge and one other gauge bounce some but that looks more like a lose wire. This bus also has an extra cooling system that sprays water on the radiators as an added precaution. The bottle jacks were only used to level and stabilize the bus.

The title shows it's a motorhome but has a 4 digit VIN number so it was a commercial bus at one time. We did some searching on-line and this appears to be a MC-5 bus.  There's no odometer on it but the owner believes he put on roughly 50,000 miles and there is a tire odometer that was on it when he bought it and it's still stuck at 20,000 miles.

We've received a lot of negative feedback and warnings about this bus mainly because a lot of readers haven't ever seen anything that runs for $6000 but you really have to see it, the pictures don't so it justice.  Does anyone have any history with a bus such as this one? We received some resources for parts if and when we'll need some but did anyone else have a difficult time maintaining this type of bus? Are there certain problems that occur with this type of bus that are like the plaque?  We need your suggestions/advice on what to look for and so on because we know very little about these buses. Any other suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
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John316
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MCI 1995 DL3, DD S60, Allison B500.




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« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2009, 08:43:59 AM »

JD,

First off, I want to say that you have done FAR more than the average Newbie. The fact that you have so much info about it, gives me a gut level reaction, that it is a good bus. Other guys might get on here, and say that 6K is to much for a bus that old. IMHO it isn't, especially when you are buying from an older couple.

I can't say too much more, because I haven't seen pics.

A couple of questions are, Are you fairly mechanical? How much time have you spent going over it? And have you had a mechanic go over it?

I hope things work out for you.

God bless,

John
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MCI 1995 DL3. DD S60 with a Allison B500.
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Will & Wife
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« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2009, 08:58:26 AM »

JDKBlue,
Welcome to the madness (I like that saying too) Grin We went from a bus to a travel trailer to a bigger truck and fifth whl. We tried a stick and staple motorhome also and guess what? Yep, we went back to a bus.  Grin No regrets! It sounds to me like you found a diamond in the rough and are smart enough to overlook the easily cleaned up cosmetics. With that said, I would have a busnut or bus mechanic in the area skip on by and have them take a look at her mechanical systems. These things will still be on the road long after we're gone, (Fuel providing) if they're maintained and driven properly. But when they need fixing, it can be very expensive if you're not capable of doing a lot of the little stuff. We bought our last bus fully converted and in sound condition, yet I'm working on little things all the time (by choice, nonetheless). These things are addictive to say the least. Good luck and post pictures when you can, Thanks, Will & Wife
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Jerry32
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« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2009, 08:59:18 AM »

sounds like a good thing to me. The trouble with manual transmissions is the clutch so when you drive it pay attention to how it operates . Having to manuever these busses into camping spots requires slipping the clutch a lot since the reverse is higher geared than 1sst. I know I bought a bus in SC and drove it to OR with no problems so if it works ok and has been used to go to AZ the PO more than likely kept it in fair condition  You didn't say whare in OR you are at but I am in Hermiston. Jerry
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1988 MCI 102A3 8V92TA 740
jdkblue
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« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2009, 09:14:34 AM »

Here a few pictures that we have of the bus.  Tonight we will be looking over it more and driving so will probably be getting more photos.  My husband is pretty mechanically inclined it's the newer stuff that he can't work on. Thanks for all your comments keep them coming.
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John316
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MCI 1995 DL3, DD S60, Allison B500.




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« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2009, 10:12:48 AM »

Looks to me like a decent bus. It sure doesn't look like a MCI 5, but then again I don't know every bus. The inside doesn't even look to bad, just a bit dated.

I will look forward to seeing more pics of the engine (or was it motor Cheesy) and power train.

God bless,

John
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MCI 1995 DL3. DD S60 with a Allison B500.
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« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2009, 10:25:18 AM »

That looks like a heck of a deal.  I would have bought it and I am not in the market.

The interior layout and condition look good.  What you say about the tires is encouraging.

BoboftheNorth made some good comments the other day about a different bus: "brakes, airbags,suspension and steering are big ticket items and need to be verified by a BUS MECHANIC.  DD should eval the engine/trans condition on a dyno." Loose quote but solid advice.  NOBODY is mech inclined enuf to do a bus inspection without very specific written instruct and experience regardless of how many years of lack of experience they might have.  Being clever there but the truth remains.  GET HELP!

At $6K you are not far enuf into the thing to not be able to write it off.  That isn't the main issue, at least not for me.  The serious issue is being stranded with a seriously broken bus that is loaded with all your precious stuff and needing a 100 mile tow......that would hurt.  Even if you have to swap out the engine I think it would still be a good deal....doing it yourself, that is.

I wish you luck on this adventure and wish you all the best of luck.  Know that I envy you!  Get "roadside assist insurance".  Have ample insurance on your personal belongings.  Pack some tools for the trip.  God Bless.  Join Fam Mtr Coach Assn AND get access to the "help along the road" list that we have.  I am on it and you are welcome to call for whatever when you are passing thru Eugene, Or.

John

PS:  There is a DD fact service center dlr with a dyno in Eugene.
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Lin
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« Reply #7 on: May 06, 2009, 10:41:05 AM »

I saw this bus listed on Craigslist and spoke to the owner.  I am at the point of making the "new clutch or auto decision", and I called to see what transmission it had.  I considered looking at it as a parts bus, but decided against it.  I really want to avoid going to that level.  Anyway, the owner seemed honest and knowledgeable about it.  That would make it less likely that there are intentionally hidden surprises, but that does not mean there will be no surprises.  Going through the service records he has can be useful.  Look at the most recent and go back a couple of years.  That should tell you what and when different systems have been serviced.  Even if you are comfortable enough to buy it without having a major inspection by a qualified bus mechanic, you should have it looked over before you hit the road.
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Airbag
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« Reply #8 on: May 06, 2009, 06:19:04 PM »

Look for rust in the engine air blower compartment and up front behind dash, also in the bay where the over the road AC condenser lived L/H side just behind the driver. The pieces that rust are the frame work that support the floor. You will see some rust but you don't want to see these members rusted thru. Keep in mind that parts for these buses are very hard to find with the exception of the drive train. Most of these have gone to the scrapper. Window seals can still be had from MCI.

The price sounds good I paid over five times that for my MC-5A. Misery loves company Cheesy They are good reliable machines when you get the bugs ironed out. I drove mine from NY to AZ when I purchased with no problems. I hope you have the same good luck. They are a bastard to learn how to shift but if you read RJ's technical explanation / how to, you will get the hang of it. 

I am in Marana Arizona if you need any help, Just click on my web site and you will see my contact info.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2009, 06:32:17 PM by Airbag » Logged
RJ
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« Reply #9 on: May 06, 2009, 06:32:33 PM »

JDKBlue -

See if, in among the maintenance paperwork, the current owner had any work done at Southern Oregon Diesel.  If so, see if he'd be willing to have Dick or Dave Gregory inspect the rig for you.  Well worth the couple hundred bucks it will cost do do so.

SOD is in Roseburg, OR.  Phone 541-672-7400.  Ask for Dick or Dennis.

Otherwise, it looks like you might have found yourself a bargain!

FWIW & HTH. . .

 Wink
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RJ Long
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« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2009, 10:27:45 PM »

jdkblue, that should be one of the more economical models to operate, since it has the standard transmission. The 318 is not a stock setup for that coach, AFAIK. But, a lot of people think that 8V71s are 318s, so it's easy for them to be mistaken.

If it is stock, it should have 60 injectors, and if it is set to 2100 RPM for maximum power, it should produce in the neighborhood of 270 hp. That works out to be a horsepower per hundred pounds IF the coach weighs around 27,000 lbs., as so many of them do.

The next bigger injector, 65, with the timing set at advanced produces 304 hp under standard conditions. However, somebody promoted that engine as 318 hp under more optimum conditions than standard, so it has been known as a 318 ever since.

While it's possible you could face some serious bills to fix something, there's an excellent chance that you can run that coach for a lot of miles with very few repairs. I do think that there will come an itch to change something in the conversion that will lead you to spend some fairly serious money even if you don't have any failures. Only time will tell on that.

An inspection would be good, just to avoid surprises and disappointments. I am thinking that you may have found a good coach to learn on. Do be honest with yourselves about how you want to use it; there are several varieties of conversions, and they don't change character easily from one to another.

For what it's worth.

Tom Caffrey
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Tom Caffrey PD4106-2576
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Ed Hackenbruch
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« Reply #11 on: May 07, 2009, 05:45:34 AM »

Looks like a good one. we have a 68 5A and love it.  Surprising how many of them are still out there and were converted. Where in Ore. is it? One of us may be close by and could check it out for you.
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1968 MCI 5A with 8V71 and Allison MT644 transmission.  Western USA
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« Reply #12 on: May 07, 2009, 07:57:32 AM »

JDK, If it airs up quickly and holds air well get in it and drive home!  Life is a adventure and if You wait too long adventure will become scary.  Go for it and good luck.  By the way after the owner tells you how to check the fluids etc maybe video taping Him on a walk around would help You later.  Good luck and have a blast.  Regards John
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Damn Yankee
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Bob Shafer 1965 Mci-5A-6029 8v71 auto




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« Reply #13 on: May 07, 2009, 03:05:10 PM »

I,d scarf that puppy up! Definitely get it inspected by at least a knowledgeable bus nut. Lots of good suggestions here. I see lots of ads for seated coaches of that era for 8-10k. Ignore the negative feedback and warnings that there is no running buses for 6k, it's not true.  There are some very good deals out there if your in the right place at the right time.... Check out the photobucket pics of the 5A that I got for $3,800.00 http://s734.photobucket.com/albums/ww347/Michigander_Bob/My%20Bus%20Conversion/ It needs around 4k more invested in it to bring the systems up to date but has saved me 1000's of $$$$ and 1000,s of hours of work. Buy it and enjoy it and update it as you go....
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Garymci5
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« Reply #14 on: May 07, 2009, 11:39:08 PM »

Here a few pictures that we have of the bus.  Tonight we will be looking over it more and driving so will probably be getting more photos.  My husband is pretty mechanically inclined it's the newer stuff that he can't work on. Thanks for all your comments keep them coming.


Hello-

I took a close look and drove that bus before buying another one-- basically the same model (see pictures on this forum). I know that says alot and don't want to put the dampers on anyones hopes or saying it's "bad". We were also excited by the price and wondered why it hadn't sold yet.

Here is what I noticed when we showed up one sunny December '08 afternoon, in The Dalles (after driving 5+ hrs):

The bus looks pretty good, but has some rusting-- seemingly not structural, but you will see it in the cargo bays. Ours does too. At least it's not an Eagle falling apart at the seams. (I owned one and have the right to say this!)

The engine took a lot of cranking to get started and several attempts in order to let the batteries rest up. Think it had sat for several months (my GM sat for 9 months and fired right up, for comparison)... Once running sounded good/okay, but the smoking did not clear out even after extended idling. Maybe it's due to old fuel....clogging injectors....? I'd pay close attention to how fast the exhaust manifolds heat up at each port-- can't remember if I did that.

Once warmed up a bit went for a test drive. Noticed that the smoking did not clear up even after a hard run for 15-20 mins. Blue smoke the whole way. Power seemed sluggish like our heavy Eagle 05 (30K empty). Maybe it's just a throttle adjustment or clogged fuel filters? Our 35' MCI in comparison SCOOTS (better be sitting for 1st and 2nd gear), and pulls the rolling hills great. It has 122K on the hubometer and documented mileage for over 20yrs.

Shifting was a challenge. The linkage is way out of adjustment and sticky. Very hard to get 2nd gear; kept popping out of gear.... Seemed very challenging to shift at all. I know the cold makes it harder to do. At one point I had to stop on our way back and start out in 1st gear again. The clutch chatters. Noticed while pulling out of the driveway. Possibly very worn and/or the rear main seal and/or the transmission oil has contaminated the clutch linings.

Power assist is basically non-existent. Good luck pulling out of of the driveway...maybe the fluid is low? Steering is VERY loose. Couldn't drive it straight to save my life. My wife was not comfortable and noticed how hard I was working (i guess it was all the sweat...). We drove across country and knows I'm a good driver.

Owner could not get the propane genset started. But I believed him when he said it runs great.

Crawled around and noticed the right rear axle seal is leaking. The braking is effected since gear oil is dripping onto the brakes. That will be a big and expensive job. I'm a pro car mechanic (ASE Master Tech) and even that put me off.

Thought it had a JakeBrake, but didn't use/try it.

Body and under-carriage looks decent enough. No evidence of damage that I could find. Brakes getting a bit low maybe?..

The owner was very nice, but definitely not knowledgeable about the bus or mechanics He did not seem the type to be concerned about maintenance. When I asked him questions, the response was usually "it's never been a problem". After several questions I gave up. That's a big red flag for me-- basically saying that nothing was done because it didn't fail (yet). I'm sure the rear axle fluid is way overdue for a change-hence the leaking seal.

His "friend" (the burly truck driver) was way too talkative and seemed like a sales guy to me. Ignoring him didn't work either, even while directly talking to the old timer. Interesting dynamics....

The bus lists to the left some. I fought persnickity air valves on my GM Fishbowl and didn't want to do it again.

Our assessment was that despite the "great price" it didn't feel right for us. Compared to our other buses it seemed "long in the tooth" and would need substantial "investment" to be useable and safe. For the right person the bus surely has lots of potential.

Best of luck if you move forward with the purchase and the bus will be thankful to have some much needed TLC. Bear in mind this is just my opinion and perspective. As you can tell I did see the bus in person and have some basis for all the input/comments. No intentions to scare anyone off on this bus, because everyone is different in what works for them. Hopefully it will aid a prospective buyer. If you reallly or appreciate like this, send me a gift card?  Grin

The built in blender is nifty(it works),  bet they made some great drinks  Wink
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Cheers,
Gary

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