Meet my Bus
I've received a few questions about what bus I own - so thought I'd share some of the details for you.
Manufacturer: Gillig | Model: Phantom School Bus | Year: 1988 | Length: 40ft | Engine: Detroit Diesel 6v92TA DDEC2, 552cu inch 9 liter 277HP 816ft lbs of torque | Tranny: Allison HT748 | Brakes: air
I ended up buying my bus off of eBay - and paying more than I thought it was worth. Why? Well, at the time of purchase (end of Nov 2015) our goal was to purchase a bus by the end of 2015. My wife and I had been looking for about two months when we found this one. Our plan was to be out of our rental apartment, and living in the bus by June 2016. Recognizing that it was a short amount of time to find a good bus, we were willing to pay a little extra if the right bus came along. We ended up paying $7,000 for this one that had been out of service (Stockton CA school district) since March of the same year. I figure a fair price for it probably would have been in the ballpark of $4-5,000—but again, we were limited on time, and were planning on a full $30k buildout, so bumping that up to $32-33k didn't really change things much for us. And I hadn't seen anything better in the time I'd been looking that met our requirements. The bus probably had around 300,000 miles on it, but only 62,000 on the odometer, which has either been replaced at some point, or the engine may also have been replaced with a remanufactured one, (there's some evidence of this, at which point they possibly reset the odometer). Four other Phantoms were all auctioned at the same time, all with between 200-300k miles on them, so worse case scenario, this probably has about 300k on it.
Plans changed almost as soon as we bought the bus. My wife's parents decided to sell us their rental house, a HUGE blessing, but it meant that our need to quickly convert the bus (which we'd named Jacques Busteau, in honor of the famous French explorer) were no longer urgent...and those funds would be needed for the purchase/renovation of the house. So Jacques is on the back burner for the next few years. We have stripped the seats, removed most of the vinyl floor, removed the exterior school decals and signage, painted the school flasher lights black to meet code, deleted the stop sign, and added a queen bed, curtains, and a work counter top to the inside (so we could put a temporary stove on it, in order to register it as an RV in the state of Oregon). I added a backup and side camera system, a few extra 12v plugs and USB charging ports, a passenger seat with built-in shoulder belt, added a locks to all the storage bays, as well as the emergency door, and converted the headlights to LED (the factory ones were horrible). We drove the bus across the country in September to my parent's house in Indiana, where we'll work on it slowly, every time we are out there for a visit or work. The storage fees here in Portland were going to kill us when this turned into a multi-year project, so we opted for the free-but-far-away storage option. We'll eventually drive it back here, but we visit Indiana a couple of times each year anyway, so we'll get to work on it.
We're still working on floor plan layouts, saving money, and collecting supplies for it (we've got a wood stove, and a 100 gallon gray water tank... that's about it so far).
Reasons we like the gillig phantom school bus:
• Less curve to the roof - this means more standing height near the walls, and easier to build the interior walls. The little section of ceiling that juts down on the edges that houses the speakers is just the fiberglass ceiling. Once that's removed, we'll have about 6ft of headroom on the edges.
• Extra-tall windows - we wanted to keep the original school bus look, and wanted a full-length deck on top integrated as extra living space (interior stairs up to it) so no roof raise, and we were keeping as many original windows as possible...hopefully all of them. The extra tall windows on the Gillig mean more light inside, and even at 5'11", I don't have to bend over to see out. Love 'em! Also love the window latches the Gillig uses, which seem to be much easier to use than the traditional school bus window latches.
• Heavy duty engine and drivetrain Although it's a little harder to find mechanics who will work on the Detroit Diesel series 92 engine, there's no arguing that this thing is a workhorse. The series 92 engine was produced from 1974 through 1995, and dominated the highway bus market, not to mention semis and boats. In fact, the design is pretty much just a rebored series 71, and the V-configuration series 71's have been around since 1957..that's 38 years!. Seeing old Greyhound buses for sale today with this engine, with over 500, 600, or 700,000 miles is not uncommon. The tranny, an air-shift Allison HT740 is also extremely heavy duty. I wish it had another gear for better fuel efficiency, but it does just fine. Main downside is the lower fuel mileage - we get 7-8mpg, which isn't that awful. Hey, gas buses often only get 4-5mpg. There's also a huge, and very active online support group for these engines.
• Monocoque Unibody design (as opposed to a body on frame design) - sleek, with far fewer seams. The roof and sides aren't made from overlapping steel sheets, rather large continuous sheets from front of the bus to the back. Not really a big deal, but it's fewer places to worry about leaks. Also, ours doesn't seem to be steel, but rather some sort of aluminum alloy? In any case, ZERO rust on this thing. The monocoque design also allows for an interesting floor design...there's no steel floor, just marine grade plywood. I'd be worried about this, except that it's 28yrs old, and still in very good shape. However, we'll be removing it, and replacing it with our own design that allows for possibly some insulation below floor level, as wells as in-floor storage compartments. Of course, you could do this with a steel floor too...it's just easier when you don't have to cut through steel to put in a compartment.
• Internal panels are screwed on - no rivets. This makes for a fast demolition phase.
• Pass-through storage underneath: we were planning on full-timing in this bus, with both of us working out of it. We needed as much storage as possible. The full pass-through bays were a good selling point. We wouldn't have to build any under bus storage.
• Windows are already tinted - hooray! Will help a bit with the heat in the summer.
• Great driver's area: Besides a well-organized wiring compartment located above the driver (accessible inside, rather than outside the bus like most Bluebird/Thomas/International buses), There's a huge drivers side window that slides open from the front or the rear (or both) and gives you amazing visibility out the left side. The driver can look down and see the lane marking beside them. And of course, like with other rear-engine buses, the front windshield is huge, and goes down quite low giving you an unobstructed view of the road ahead.
• It's rather unique! Sold only on the west coast from 1985 to 1990, and then an additional short run of them produced in 1993, and from what I've been able to gather there were somewhere between 400 and 2,700 (depending on your source of info) of them ever produced (for comparison, there are currently about 480,000 school buses in service at any given time). They're the last school buses ever produced by Gillig, which is still in business today producing a large percentage of the US's city transit buses. 2016 was the last year the Gillig Phantoms were allowed to be on the road (due to the 2-stroke diesel not keeping up with emission standards), and most of them were scrapped under the state's program, since schools could receive more money that way (to be used for buying new buses) than by auctioning them off. I've managed to connect with a few other people who own these buses, and will happily add to the list if any one runs across more!
Link to Brian's 1988 Gillig Phantom - 6v92TA - also from Stockton, CA - purchased in 2016 - now under renovation in Texas
Link to Gilligan Phantom, Justin & Valerie's 1987 Gillig Phantom, 6v92TA - purchased in Nov 2017 from Los Angeles - now under renovation in South Carolina
Link to Melissa & Tony's Gilly Bus - 1989 Gillig Phantom