My Self-Build Mercedes Bus Conversion

Conception/Planning

Introduction

The decision to undertake this conversion came about through a combination of long standing interest, necessity and lifestyle choice. With a little bit of experience to boot.

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For many years I enjoyed the UK festival scene. During this time I had the privilege of meeting many people who lived full time or part time on the road. I have always taken a keen interest in their converted vehicles, the good, the bad and the ugly, often wondering how I would fare with a project of my own.

In the early eighties as a young and impressionable teenager, I was actually present at the gathering, photographed above. Lured by the promise of an alternative lifestyle and in awe of those for the most part, badly converted buses, that seemed completely out of reach to me at the time.

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With a life long passion for motorcycles, I do have experience of completing several custom projects, however cars and trucks have always felt rather overwhelming to me. That being said, my past achievements certainly gave me an appreciation of bespoke design/build processes.

I do have some engineering knowledge and at the time of building the chopper above, I was working as an apprentice tool maker, aged 20 years.

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In 2015, following a divorce I returned to the UK after several years spent living, travelling and working around the globe with my Norwegian partner. I was broke, had nowhere to live and everything I owned fitted into a small rucksack. What I did have in abundance was a wealth of experience, gained during my travels to remote places and a certain amount of confidence, enabling me to take on a challenge and get by.

The photograph above was taken on a two week ride through Spiti Valley, located on the edge of The Tibetan Plateau and the Indian, Chinese border.

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Within a week of returning to the UK I had found a couple of months work on a timber framed building project and had the promise of summer work setting up festivals throughout the UK. So with my last £800 I bought a 16' caravan and with the help of a friend it was towed to the building site. A couple of months later I'd bought myself a cheap Shogun with tow bar and relocated to a farm field in Warwickshire, ready to work the summer.

The process of relocating had reminded me how much I dislike towing and and whilst I didn't move often, during that summer the seeds of a project began to take hold. I actually enjoyed the small space provided by my caravan and the addition of an awning made life reasonably comfortable.

I met many like minded people whilst working the commercial festival circuit, moving from site to site, in every type of mobile home imaginable. Caravans, Volkswagen, 7.5 Tonne Trucks and even Double Decker Buses. Just like me, many spent their winters travelling and whilst working in the UK, wished to keep costs to a minimum and save.

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During the winter of 2015/16 I found work in The Alps, as a transfer driver between Geneva Airport and the ski resorts of The Grande Massif. The work was fine, the experience enjoyable, the pay fairly poor and the accommodation ridiculously expensive.

I really was surprised that a significant number of European seasonal workers were living over winter, in converted trucks. Their trucks were properly insulated and with a wood burner going, very cosy. In addition, the sites on which they stayed provided toilet and shower facilities with plenty of hot and cold water available. Further to my surprise, the park up fees were only in the region of 50 Euros per month, cheaper than I pay for my park up in a field without facilities, in the UK.

Returning to the UK in the spring of 2016, I moved back into my caravan. The festival season starts slowly so I had plenty of time to research various camper van and motorhome options. Whilst my caravan was OK, I knew I could do with a little more space. Camper vans were far too small for my needs and the motor-homes I saw were either in poor repair or at the uppermost limit of my saving potential. In fact I saw nothing that I would have been completely happy with as it was, at the same time as being remotely affordable.

The idea of a self build really began to take hold!

Inspiration

Embracing the age of social media, Facebook provided a great starting point for my research. Here are links to the groups I found quite useful.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/49146634723/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/sbcampervans/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1086325028155145/

The problem with Facebook groups is the ease with which new members join and the lack of critical moderation. The result is loads of information which is all too often, nothing more than unfounded opinion presented as fact. Don't get me wrong, these groups have been a great source of information and inspiration for me but absolutely must be used with caution.

Another good source for ideas is Pinterest and whilst a UniMog was several steps too far for my level of knowledge, budget and practical resources, this is an image that is firmly imprinted in my mind as I embark on my build.

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Feeling inspired I started to trawl commercial suppliers on the internet and to be quite honest, was amazed at the breadth of items available for a self build project. So much so, that it all became rather overwhelming.

This was the point at which I decided I needed to talk to people on a similar journey. I browsed several forums and.... Ended up here!

Planning

I have often said that I'm not working to a plan and whilst I don't possess a drawing of my final layout, with hindsight, this is not really true. The process of selecting a base vehicle began with several brainstorming exercises. Interestingly, these brainstorming exercises continue to inform the evolution of my project.

The first question I asked, was, "what will I do with my motorhome?" The answers gave me a very basic wish list that would be difficult to compromise on but also one which I refer back to even now.
  • Live in it either full time or for extended periods, whilst working throughout the UK and Europe. (Plenty of space.)
  • Use it during the summer but perhaps, through the winter too. (Very good insulation.)
  • Frequently park up off grid, perhaps for extended periods. (Self contained.)
  • Use it as my retirement home. (Good quality of build)
  • Undertake some overland adventures, Morocco, further into Africa and perhaps one day, all the way to India. (Robust and easy to maintain.)
The second question I asked was in fact two questions, far more immediate in nature and absolutely pertinent to the process of turning my fantastical flight of fancy into an achievable dream, "what can I drive and what can I realistically afford?"
  • I currently hold a full motorcycle license gained in 1980 and a full driving license gained in 1981. My driving license allows me to drive vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes.
  • I feel confident that I could take a course and subsequent test to enable me to drive something bigger but this would add a significant cost to my required budget.
Starting from ground zero my budget was more complex to work out and very much tied into summer work/accommodation options and winter work/accommodation options. My usual rule of thumb is to go with circumstances as they are. This works for me and any improvements that I make along the way are simply a bonus.
  • During my first summer working the festival circuit, I had saved nothing. However, I had bought my caravan, my Shogun to pull it and managed to get back on my feet in the UK. I reasonably guessed that I could save between 4k and 6k each summer.
  • During my winter in The Alps I saved absolutely nothing! Great experience but simply survival.
  • So based on my experience I could foresee a realistic budget of 12k for my project, over a period of 2 to 3 years.
Testing my second set of answers against my wish list really helped me identify what I was looking for. If you like, it served to clip my wings a little but at the same time began to turn my imagination into something real.
  1. Plenty of space meant a vehicle greater than 3.5 tonne without the cost of taking additional driving tests. Effectively a C1 driving category. I was also aware that a larger vehicle equated to greater storage and transportation costs.
  2. Very good insulation meant a blank canvas. A wheels up conversion of my own making, rather than picking up an unfinished bargain that turned out to be an expensive mistake.
  3. Self contained meant that I would spend a significant part of my budget on an efficient off grid, power and heating set up.
  4. Good quality of build meant that the base vehicle needed to be good to start with and the build would progress slowly.
  5. Robust and easy to maintain meant simple mechanically and minimal electronically. In other words an older vehicle without an ECU.
I looked at lots of different options, Unimogs were out of my price bracket, old horse boxes were just dirty, UPS delivery vans are crushed and big Lutons just felt too boxy. I put some serious consideration into an ex army Daf, however for some quirky reason I didn't like the idea of a cab that was separate to my living space.

During my second summer working the festival circuit, I was saving furiously and constantly looking out for camper conversions. As we drove the length and breadth of the UK I must have bored my work mates to tears. I kept a keen eye on the eBay auctions, following big Mercedes vans and library buses, which where predominantly built on an Iveco base. Either of these vehicles were just within my budget although the Mercedes were high mileage and rusty and the library buses invariably non runners.

I was increasingly leaning towards a Mercedes panel van or bus when towards the end of the summer, I chanced on a website article that echoed so many of my own feelings.

http://www.silkroute.org.uk/equipment/choosevan.htm

My mind was made up.

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A Mercedes it would be, van or bus, running, unconverted and preferably one without too much rust or electronic wizardry. The rest was history, as you can see if you check out my base vehicle.

Thanks for reading my story and I hope you enjoy my build as it progresses.

The Base Vehicle

Mercedes 611D Disabled Passenger Vehicle
*Note that this is a T2 with facelift body panels, not a Vario.


Year - 1997
Body - Coach Built Minibus by Frank Guy Ltd.
Seating - Driver + 9 Passenger Seats
Dimensions - Length 7210mm x Width 2192mm x Height 3000mm
Features - Hydraulic Bus Door, Under slung Hydraulic Cassette Wheelchair Lift, 24v Eberspächer Blown Air Diesel Heater
Wheel Configuration - 2x4 16"x6" Wheels
Total Permissible Weight - 5600KG
Maximum Front Axle Load - 2100KG
Maximum Rear Axle Load - 3900KG
Engine Type - OM364LA (See spec below)

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Notes - I bought my T2 Mercedes on eBay from a commercial vehicle dealer, so unfortunately had to pay VAT. I actually bought it unseen which is a first for me. However, I had done my research and knew that good vehicles in my meager price bracket would be quickly snapped up. So when this one came up I spent a couple of hours studying the photos, rang the dealer and made an offer.

The Welfare Bus had been owned by Bournemouth County Council from new, had 120,000 miles on the clock and came with 12 months MOT. The dealer agreed to deliver the bus to my storage site so I had no pressure to organise insurance etc.

The T2 was manufactured from 1967 through to 1996 at the Daimler-Benz plant in Dusseldorf, Germany. The second generation of the T2 was introduced in 1986, with a longer bonnet and sharper design. It has been very popular with bus companies in many countries and has even been manufactured in Brazil and Argentina.

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OM364LA Engine Spec

Manufacturer - Atlantis Diesel Engines (PTY) LTD
Configuration - In line 4 Cylinder
Cycle - 4-stroke
Features - Turbocharged & Intercooled
Displacement - 3.972 liter, 231 CID
Bore - 97.5 mm, 3.839 in
Stroke - 133.0 mm, 5.236 in
Compression - 16.5:1
Power - 100 kW, 134 hp @2600rpm
Torque - 408 Nm, 301 lb.ft @ 1400
Weight - 756 lb, 343 kg

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If you would like more detail on this engine, just check the files attached to this showcase. Specifications, torque settings, a workshop manual and even the original sales brochure.
  • Mercedes OM360 Series Engine Spec - Includes images, displacement, dimensions and weight, essential bolt
    tightening torques and engine characteristics.
  • Mercedes OM360 Series Valve Set Head and Torque Sequence - As title says.
  • Mercedes OM360 Series Workshop Manual - Complete workshop manual for OM364 and OM366 engines.
  • Mercedes OM364LA Performance Curves - As title says.
  • Mercedes T2 Sales Brochure - The original T2 sales brochure.
Here are a few more photos of the info plates on my bus when she arrived.

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This useful dimension plate located on the headlining above the driver came into its own the first few times I came to a low bridge. Once my build is complete, I will be having a new one made!

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Fuses and solenoids located in the glove compartment of all places. I might well relocate this during my build process.

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I'm sure this handy schematic will really come into it's own when I attempt to tidy up the dashboard wiring.

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Every time I look at this plate with my axle and vehicle load ratings I'm racked by the knowledge of one massive omission to my pre build planning. I should have driven to the weigh bridge and checked out what I was starting with. It's all now in the lap of the gods.

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This plate was rather confusing, however with the help of this forum and a Mercedes T2 Group on Facebook I now feel that I understand it.

The brakes on my bus are air assisted and the chart shows the required air pressure under different rear axle loading. There is a brake reduction valve located on the rear axle that is set in accordance to the information provided on this chart.

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Wheel torque values as shown.

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Frank Guy Ltd is the original coach builder who is still trading today. I did contact them to see if they could provide me with any information on the original build spec but was informed that they don't hold any information that old. That was a great shame.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_T2
http://archive.commercialmotor.com/article/5th-july-1986/25/12-a-new-generation

The Build

Getting Started

I had organised secure open air storage in rural Worcestershire, a friendly site that I would recommend, set against a backdrop of the Malvern Hills. £240 up front bought me 6 months storage on a well drained stone standing. There was an electric and water point available although not within reach of my pitch. A potential bonus was that several small caravan and motorhome businesses operate at the same location, providing useful services. Again, I highly recommend the site and would happily give further detail to anyone seeking a storage solution in that part of the country.

On taking delivery of my bus, I did the usual walk around keenly looking for bubbling paint that would probably signal areas of rust. A nasty patch on the roof, and a crumbling rear quarter were my main areas of concern. Several of the panel seams had tell tale discolouring and the drivers door and bonnet both had 3 inch splits on panel creases.

My eyesight is not fantastic these days and my joints have started to feel the onset of arthritis after many years of motorcycling. Even so I took a tentative look underneath the bus and was rather happy to see that new track rods had been recently fitted. At least the bus had been maintained. I could see nothing that caused immediate concern.

Inside, the bus was worn as one might expect with a working vehicle and featured 9 passenger seats on Unwin rails, along with the usual, yellow coated safety rails associated with all buses. Around the skylights, there was evidence of water ingress, so too around a couple of the window frames. In the central sliding windows, the seals had perished and there was a fine build up of moss growing.

All the ceiling mounted internal lights were working, as was a powerful spotlight above the rear doors. At the rear, were operating instructions and a controller for the wheel chair lift. The scuff marks on the tread plate fitted to the rear door inner panels suggested that the lift had been in regular use.

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The drivers seat and dash area was rather tatty, with various additions pertaining to the vehicles working life. Some sort of radio/intercom system, rubbish bin and Eberspächer controller. The battery box beneath the driver seat had been fitted with an isolation switch.

From inside, my biggest area if concern was the hydraulic passenger door. Daylight was visible through the seals and the operating arm swung into the bus space as the door was operated. The operating mechanism was mounted on a plate above the door, that although heavily carpeted, was an accident waiting to happen. The entrance step was sagging under the weight of the door and the whole arrangement was completely unsecured.

Next step was to start the bus up. Turning the ignition key illuminated the glow plug light for about 4 seconds. As the light dimmed I turned the key fully and the bus roared into life. I left her ticking over as I took another walk around. I checked the lights, internal and exterior, the indicators and horn. After allowing the bus to warm up for 10 minutes I put it into first gear and eased off on the clutch. The revs increased quickly and she pulled away with ease, however within just a few meters, almost immediately I sensed that it was time to change gear. Finding second gear was easy and as I raised my foot from the clutch pedal the bus surged forward. There was a massive gap between first and second gear ratios. As I reached the end of the storage yard, just like I would in my car, I tried to find first gear. The box wasn't having any of it and I now know better. First gear on my bus appears to be simply for pulling away from stationary. In fact there is a warning on the dash to always pull away in first gear to avoid clutch damage.

After my short drive around the storage area I reluctantly parked up and jumped in my car to head up to North Wales, where I had some work for several weeks.

So on Christmas day I arrived back in Worcestershire to stay with family. On Boxing day I was back with my bus. Key in the ignition, turn and nothing. In my absence the batteries had lost their charge, despite the isolator being switched off.

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A pair of 12v batteries are located in a sealed box which also functions as the drivers seat base. The first thing I had to do was get my head around the idea that 2 12v batteries connected one way made 12v, and connected another way made 24v. If you're having the same problem, I've added a resource to my attached files.
  • Battery Connection Diagrams
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One important thing I had overlooked when embarking on this project, was that my tool kit collected over many years was now either stored in India with my motorcycle or lost in to my ex partners basement in Oslo. Rummaging around my fathers garage produce a couple of my old ammunition boxes containing some meager and forgotten kit.
  • 3.5 Tonne Trolley Jack
  • 5 Tonne Bottle Jack
  • A pair of 1.5 Tonne Axle Stands
  • An old 12v Battery Charger
  • A budget set of Combination Spanners
  • A 1/2" drive Socket Ratchet with 2 sockets
  • A set of Electrical Screwdrivers
  • A Lump Hammer
  • A can of WD40
Well this certainly wouldn't cut it, although at least the boxes were strong and useful!

Tools in hand I returned to the bus and managed to remove the batteries which were date stamped 2014. With time on my hands I set about removing one of the passenger seats that was fitted to the quick release Unwin rails. Some WD40, a little pushing and pulling, it came out quite easily.

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That evening the first battery was put on charge whilst I logged onto this forum and Facebook to conduct a straw poll for recommended socket brands and tools. The most relevant tool to my current (excuse the pun), situation was a Multi meter, which was promptly ordered. Free postage and it arrive next day, fantastic!

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It's a Proster MS2108A Auto Range Digital Clamp Meter.
  • Auto ranging DMM.
  • Display: 4000 counts.
  • Capable of performing function: DC, AC voltage/current measurement and resistance, capacitance frequency measurement, diode test, transistor test, audible continuity test.
  • Overload protection
  • Data-hold function.
  • Back Light Front Light.
  • Low Battery Display.
  • Relative measurement.
  • Auto Power-OFF: If the meter is idle for 15 minutes (idle time), the meter automatically turns the power off , After auto power-off, pushing any of the push button or changing the rotary switch can turn on the meter again.
Specification:
  • DC Voltage: 400mV/4V accuracy(±0.8% of rdg ±3 digits) 40V/400V/600V accuracy(±1.0% of rdg ±5 digits)
  • AC Voltage: 4V/40V/400V accuracy(±0.8% of rdg ±3 digits) 600V±(1.0%+5)
  • DC Current: 40A/400A accuracy(±2.0% of rdg ±6 digits)
  • AC Current: 40A/400A accuracy(±2.0% of rdg ±6 digits)
  • Resistance: 400 ohm/4K ohm/40K ohm/400K ohm accuracy(±0.8% of rdg ±3 digits) 4M ohm/40M ohm±
  • Capacitance: 400 nF/4μF/40μF/400μF/4000μF accuracy(±4.0% of rdg ±5 digits)
  • Frequency (From Clamp): 0~ 10KHz accuracy(±1.5% of rdg ±5 digits)
  • Frequency (From Plug): 0~ 10MHz accuracy(±1.5% of rdg ±5 digits)
  • Duty Cycle: 1%~ 99% ±3.0%
  • Dimensions: 250 mm * 55mm * 30mm
The winner of my straw poll for socket brands and by a large margin, was Halford's Advanced range, which come with a lifetime warranty. This made plenty of sense to me and as luck would have it and in spite of it still being December, they were featured in the January sales at half price. I promptly ordered a comprehensive selection of sockets, which I hoped, would serve me well throughout this project.

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Halfords Advanced Professional 21 Piece Socket Set 3/4"
  • 3/4" Drive
  • 16 x Metric Sockets: 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 29, 30, 32, 35, 36, 38, 41, 46, 50mm
  • 3 x Extension Bar - 100, 200 & 400mm
  • 1 x Sliding T Bar - 450mm
  • 1 x Breaker Bar - 475mm
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Halfords Advanced Professional Socket Set 3/8 & 1/4

  • 3/8 Drive
  • 11 x Metric Sockets: 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24mm
  • 12 x Metric Deep Sockets: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19mm
  • 1/4" Drive
  • 12 x Metric Sockets: 4, 4.5, 5, 5.5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 11, 12, 13mm
I also added a few essential items to my order. Those of you who are old school engineers may well recognise the Zeus book, a wealth of useful information, thread depths, bush sizes, sheet metal bend calculations and Pythagoras Theory, which I simply couldn't be without.

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With tools ordered and batteries being charged, I had time on my hands, so I drove up to my bus to remove the other passenger seats. They all came out reasonably easily. I left one in place, just in case I needed to carry a passenger. I cleaned up the 8 removed seats and put an advert on Gumtree, not really expecting them to sell.

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To my surprise I had sold all 8 seats within 6 weeks or so, bringing in a total of £225.00. This was an unexpected and welcome bonus.

As I was due to work away again I thought it a smart idea to fill the fuel tank and treat the diesel to prevent a build up of bacteria. The bus was not yet insured so I had to buy a couple of Jerry Cans and make several trips to the fuel station. The Jerry Cans would make a useful addition to the bus which would be built with a view to undertaking some real overland adventures. The fuel gauge had been reading empty and by time the tank was full, I had put in 80 litres of fuel.

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Whilst filling the tank I added Wynn's Fuel Biocide which is a curative as well as preventive treatment against the formation of micro-organisms in fuel.

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The spec sheet for this product can be found in my attached files.

  • Wynn's Fuel Biocide
My batteries had each been on charge for 24 hours and rested for a further 24 and 48 hours respectively. I took my new multi meter and after reading the manual that came with it, took voltage readings. The readings were 12.38v and 12.58v, telling me that whilst not entirely useless they were not great either. I left them on the bench and headed up to North Wales where I had work to finish.

As soon as I bought my bus, I had set up several searches on eBay and Gumtree, for Mercedes and conversion related items. Whilst working just outside of Bangor, a classic Calor cooker came up, located on Anglesey. I couldn't resist and snapped it up for £35 if I remember correctly. Although it's a pretty cooker and seemed to fit the bill for my somewhat romanticised vision of future home, I'm not entirely sure that it is very practical. Firstly I find the hob in my caravan a little small for my needs. Secondly, after transporting the cooker in my car, I realise the the various fittings rattle like crazy!

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These cookers are quite sought after, so I'm quite happy to hang on to it until I'm sure it won't be used. Another bargain I picked up from my saved searches were 3 brand new and boxed Seitz Locker Doors. They come complete with locks and measure 700 x 400 mm.

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Again, I'm not certain that they will be used but at £60 for the set I'm not concerned about keeping the until my build is complete.

When I returned from Wales, the batteries had been sat for 3 weeks. The voltages had dropped to 11.97v and 12.24v and I realised that new batteries were required. I was reluctant to buy new batteries until I had taken the bus for a road test, so I borrowed a second battery charger and put them both on charge for 24 hours. Whilst working away I had organised insurance and taxed the bus, planning to take it out for a test run.

Road Test

The next morning I was up early, full of anticipation. The batteries hadn't rested from their charge so I didn't bother testing them. I drove the 15 miles to my bus, fitted the batteries, sat in the drivers seat and turned the key. Glow plug light came on for 4 seconds and she roared into life.

As I sat with the bus warming up I went through a mental check list. Being a little nervous, I had meticulously planned my route. A mixture of road types although no lanes too small. I had checked the height of both the low bridges and planned two stops where I had access to parking, power should i need to recharge my batteries, a cup of stress relieving tea and worst case scenario, a lift back to my car. The round trip was 60 miles, with a stop at 15 miles and 25 miles and my route included a couple of steep hill climbs.

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My maiden voyage seems an age ago now and the vehicle was certainly a new experience for me. The bus is slow but seemed to pull well and my biggest difficulty was getting the hang of gear changes. First gear is simply for pulling away and once rolling, I need to be changing up into second gear. In fact all the gear ratios seem pretty wide and changing down the box needs to be carefully timed. Changing down into first is not really viable unless stationary.

These Mercedes have an oil pressure gauge on the dash and on start up, it immediately climbed to 4 bar. Under load the gauge climbed to 5 bar and my only concern was on the overrun when the gauge would drop to around 3 bar and the oil pressure light would flicker on momentarily. Knowing a bit about oil properties I felt confident that an oil and filter change would sort this out.

The bus roared, so think I might want ear plugs on a long drive. All in all, she handled much like the oversized van she is and I had to check myself as I became more confident. The power steering took most of the effort out of the drive and the brakes were more than adequate for the top speed of 60mph that I accomplished.

I wanted to be sure that I was happy with my purchase before I put any more money into the project. If I had concerns, I would either undertake some investigation or simply cut my losses and move the Mercedes on. As it was, a 60 mile round trip sealed the deal. The bus was good and I was now committed!

First Steps

So the gloves were now off, I was keeping the bus so I could start work on stripping it out. I knew this would be a start and stop project with variable periods between visits, so the first thing to do was get a good set of batteries fitted. After much research and shortlisting The Battery Megastore, I discovered it was just down the road and I could easily save myself the delivery charge by collecting myself.

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As my Merc runs a 24v vehicle system I needed a good heavy duty pair. I chose Megastore's own brand which comes with a 4 year warranty. The Hankook MF60038 is a 12v sealed calcium battery, rated at 100AH with 850 amps of cold cranking power. The dimensions are 354 mm long x 174 mm wide x 190 mm height and weighs in at 22.7 Kg.

Working on my usual principle of "Prepare fore the worst, hope for the best", my next stop was Halfords, to buy a battery charger. Once my "off grid" build is complete, this charger will hopefully become redundant, so balancing need with budget I went for a Ring RCBT27 Pro 27A. Not an intelligent charger but quite adequate for my needs, with the ability to charge at either 12v or 24v. I believe the best way to charge a pair of 12v batteries running in a 24v system, is to charge as the run, as a pair at 24v. The unit also has a 150A mains-powered jump starter to restart vehicles with a completely flat battery and comes in a nice, sturdy casing.

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I have no experience whatsoever with car body work, so I asked a friend to come and give my bus the once over. Happily he felt I had bought well and the visible areas of corrosion were a fairly straight forward fix. He did however forewarn me, that once I got into it, the job would be bigger than it first appeared. Never the less, this was good news.

With my friend present it was a good opportunity to take a short video of the wheelchair lift in operation, as once removed I would try to sell it.

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The wheelchair lift was a cassette type, bolted to the Mercedes chassis rails and operated by an electric motor driven, hydraulic pump. I found an installation manual on the internet, which informed me that the unit weighed 234 Kg. Removal would have to wait until I had the means of supporting the lift.

I now turned my attention to the Unwin rails. These are the lengths of tacking that the bus seats attach to and are quite common in welfare buses. I first removed the drivers seat for ease of access along with my new batteries. The Unwin rails, all 9 of them, were secured to the raised floor by 8mm, countersunk set screws on 200mm centres. This meant lots of them!

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My first step was to liberally spray them with WD40, (some things never change). I started to remove them, all tight and stiff, they turned out to be 40mm long. A few came out with little effort but the nearer I got to the floors extremities, rear, front and sides the harder they were to budge. Around the wheel arches they wouldn't move at all. After about 4 hours I had removed half and my Allen socket was looking rather sorry for itself. I spent another hour with my impact driver trying to loosen those left. Another good dose of WD40 and I went home with aching arms.

The following morning started with skinned knuckles and a broken Allen socket. Thankfully I had planned for the worst and bought Halfords Advanced sockets, with a life time warranty. A handy 3 miles away was a Halfords branch were I replaced the broken socket and bought another, figuring this would be a war of attrition. It sure was, that second day I removed 14 screws and destroyed 2 more sockets and my impact driver Allen bit.

I had local work for a few weeks so I visited a different Halfords to replace my broken Allen bits, in fact I visited several Halfords that week and returning to my bus each evening the battle was eventually won.

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To be honest the last few set screws were only removed with the help of some power tools, a drill and an angle grinder.

The purchase of power tools was was a difficult decision. Yes my storage site had a power supply that I was free to use but the distance from my pitch meant that it was not a viable option. I also live off grid for much of the time so cordless tools seemed like the obvious choice, with the ability to fire up my generator to recharge 18v batteries. With hindsight this was probably a rather expensive mistake as I now realise that the completion of my project was always going to require access to proper workshop facilities. Cordless power tools are great for small jobs but they are expensive and for this undertaking, would prove woefully inadequate.

We live and learn as they say. For my initial purchase I went for tried and tested quality and bought Makita. A Makita DHP453RFW 18V 3.0Ah Li-ion drill and a DGA456Z 18V Li-Ion 4½" Brushless Cordless Angle Grinder.

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I soon realised that particularly with the angle grinder, a battery doesn't last long. I now have 2 x 3Ah and 1 x 4Ah batteries.

The bus body had speakers and lights set in the ceiling and all came out easily.

049 Speaker Image

050 Lights Image

Having read through Lister Diesel's 614D Showcase, I have the same lighting units which I will also convert from 24v bulb to LED and re-use.

Pulling away the carpet covering was a dusty job and to my surprise, exposed aluminum sheet lining, bonded and pop riveted to the body. With the pop rivets drilled out, the aluminum sheet came away fairly easily, to reveal rock wool type insulation. Very itchy!

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I removed several panels above the bus door to expose the operating mechanism, which is a control unit and hydraulic ram, rotating a heavy bushed spindle on which the door is hung.

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For me, the bus door was a massive problem that has caused me sleepless nights of worry. It was heavy and the operating forces in play were fairly extreme. Evidence of this could be seen in the sagging entrance step and a number of additional bracing plates that had been added between body rails in the roof. When shut, it was anything but weather proof, unsecured and the operating arm and hydraulics made a large amount of internal space redundant. I had no idea what to replace it with but I was certain that it had to go.

I removed the huge headlining panel which had been modified to accommodate the door mechanism. This panel would have to be replaced with something more aesthetically pleasing and functionally making better use of space in the big airy cab area.

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With the headlining removed I was able to really get my teeth into stripping out the aluminium lining in the upper portion of the bus, the meager rock wool insulation, ply lining on the lower side walls and the ply board, false floor.

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The aluminium lining sheets would be saved for reclamation and potential later use, perhaps as a finishing lamination. The ply lining on the lower body showed signs of water ingress from the bus windows and the 12mm ply floor, just like the Unwin rails, was secured with corroded and seized screws. Various lengths of chequer kick plate had been used in the bus but it was all badly worn and unlikely to be usable in my build.

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I removed the ply floor by taking out the removable screws, then using cold chisels and bars to rip the board up. This process revealed a significant steel frame, on which the false floor had been mounted and ducting running from the under slung Eberspächer heater to several ugly, blown air grills. The frame C sections measured 150mm topped wit 12mm ply, so once removed I would gain 162mm of additional head room.

In the cab and door area I removed all the trim, floor covering and step tread plate. My attention was immediately drawn back to the door issue.

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The framework supporting the coach built foot well had completely rotted out and the door supporting pivot point had dropped and twisted.

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The coach built replacement panel forward of the bus door has been fabricated in very light gauge aluminium and with the door closed, the ill fitting door seal allowed me to actually get my hand through. Not secure at all.

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With no immediate solution in mind, all of this was just procrastination for the real job at hand. Removal of the raised floor frame was a daunting task, particularly with only a cordless angle grinder at my disposal but I made a start.

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