Mobile Survival Retreat
I guess like most people, I could never afford to own a piece of land to use as a retreat. I had started off with a 1994 Toyota Landcruiser for a Bug Out vehicle and spent a small fortune modifying it. This included cutting the back end off making it into a dual cab ute with another 18 inch extension in length and extended mileage fuel tanks. Thinking I could not possibly want anything larger than this, a few things came about to change my mind.
Trying to get two cats and a dog to the vet for their annual vacinations in the back seat not only takes up all the room but is also a nightmare. There are only so long cats like being enclosed in cages, all of two minutes then all hell breaks loose. One problem with large 4WDs is they can take hours if not days to pack if doing so for the first few times, learning where everything has to go. The large 4WD's are great for short trips but I really wanted something to use for extended travelling.Trying to set up a tent for long term accomodation with three animals just wouldnt work. The animals are also quite happy travelling in this way, not being confined for long periods. The cats sit on the large dash in the sun and the dog sits on the passenger seat folded down with a mattress on top.
I had lived in a 1957 double decker bus for three years at one stage in my life. This was pretty rough. No hot water system or toilet etc and mostly within caravan parks and using a kettle for hot water to do the dishes. Being a 30 footer, still had its limitations. Especially the roof height in that style of vehicle, being pretty low and the drivers cab was enclosed seperately to the rest of the bus.
Living in a bus is fun but can also be a pain and a money pit if choosing the wrong vehicle. A double decker would only fit in so many parks and always stood out. Under 30 feet can be parked just about anywhere and not draw attention. I realized that the 4WD wouldnt hold my gear, enough food for longer than a month and my animals if needing to leave suddenly. If I ever need to leave my home then there wont be anything left to go back for and i dont want to end up a refugee in my own state. It was also getting harder and harder to drive around the burbs with a 4WD that large. I ended up selling it and buying a small Jeep Cherokee KJ. I never regretted going for the smaller vehicle. Mercedes engines are like driving a petrol car in a diesel, once that turbo kicks in.
This was the smallest 4WD I could find that wasn't in all wheel drive having a high/low shifter and a decent suspension system. This is actually more comfortable than a customized 80 series. Long wheel base vehicles are usually preferred by people with back injuries.
The 2.8 litre diesel can get 700kms around the city or towing or 800kms on highways with a 70 fuel tank. ARB and TJM 4WD suppliers come out with 105 litre conversions giving a mileage of between 1000kms and 1200kms. I was lucky to find a custom maker in Melbourne that makes 132 litre units that would push the mileage up to between the 1200kms to 1500kms range. This is not only handy for bugging out but the way I drive don't need to refuel for between five to six weeks missing the high/lows in fuel prices and can pick and choose when to buy.
In terms of models the 2003 came out with drum brakes on the rear and weren't upgraded to rear discs till 2004. The 2005 models were upgraded with Garret turbo's giving 400nm as compared to the standard turbo at 360nm. Power chips can up the power from 360nm to 400nm and the 400nm to 454nm. Don't ask what an nm is, wouldn't have a clue.
Sorry for going on about jeeps but there is none of this information on the web. I spent weeks on forums and being annoying asking questions of mechanics then luckily met someone through a jeep forum who had gone through all the options and was happy to fill in a newbie. The advantage of a small 4WD to a bus owner is that they can be towed. Having a secondary vehicle if one should break down.
Generally life is a series of compromises, the same can be said for purchasing a bus. What I would have liked or what I would recommend are not always what you end up with, due to finances or other parameters. My dream bus would have been a 22 to 25 footer in a diesel. Anything larger is harder to keep in suburbia. You need to suit the power to weight ratio, along with the diff ratio and wheel size. Never buy a short stroke engine, always buy a long stroke. These are more economical to run and made for towing.
Essentially I only had a front yard 8 meters long. This limited me to what could actually fit without modifications to the yard or the vehicle. By chance a friend put me onto a bus for sale in the backyard of one of his neighbours. A small Bedford 20 foot bus, with a 214 petrol engine costing only a grand to purchase. To go for a larger frame bus, providing the added storage space under the chassis would not have fitted in my front yard. I would also still be looking for the right bus, just to find the perfect length wheel base to cut down to fit in the allowed space. This would become too much of a headache and a long wait.
A 20 footer gives me enough room to work on the body in my driveway, isn't too high for the neighbours to complain about or the local council to bother with. The good points were it didn't need to have the roof raised having a 6 foot 3 inch ceiling and only needed to have a quick paint job to bring it up looking respectable. The brakes had just been rebuilt; all I needed to do is replace the engine and gearbox to a diesel with an automatic gear box. The interior width of the bus was also 7 foot 6 inches. The interior only had a rough set up of a lowered bed frame and basic fridge and cooker.
So far I've stripped the bus interior except for the frame work of the upper storage cupboards. These needed to be re-enforced and the ply paneling removed. Apart from the 70,s look of the grey wood grain, the ply panels hold a lot of dust and bugs. The cupboard frames are to be removed and replaced with ferret nets to hold gear on the ceiling. I like having head space and not banging my head everytime I stand up or use the kitchen.
The walls have been insulated with 2 inch thick fire retardant high density foam and covered with 1.0mm gauge zincalume. The next job was cutting out any rust on the outside and using small panels to cover the holes as bog will fall out due to the vibration. These are attached with rivets. I generally use 3/16 blind rivets. Blind rivets leave the shank in the centre hole preventing any water from draining in but are a pain if they ever need to be removed.
The tool box frame mounted on the rear needed to be modified, as it can over hang only one fifth of the axle to axle length. (Depending on state laws). The air conditioner was removed as being directly over the bed, causes too much noise. Also power drain is too great as the previous owners used a standard house hold appliance. I want to stay strictly 12 volt.
The engine is being swapped to a Bedford 330 diesel. This will give me enough torque to tow a small 4WD. This is the largest engine I could use legally before engineers certificates would be needed and supplies a good power to weight ratio.
Automatics are just too hard to find to suit a low revving engine; they're usually made for higher revving motors. A five speed would be better for highway work, but if I find there's too much strain its cheaper to put on larger tyres which will do a similar job but loose some of the lower down torque. This model may allow me to use a Ford C6 gear automatic gear box. There are three models; a small block, large block and FE which has a rounded bell housing.
The paint being used is B-16 infrared reflective primer as a base coat which is a water base. I've made the mistake of just using kill rust paint directly over the existing colour on a previous project and had it start to peal after 4 years. Household exterior paint will last 2 years on a vehicle, killrust will last 5 years without proper preparation. Automobile paint will last 10 to 15 years depending on the quality used, but needs to be sprayed. Industrial paints will dry within seconds and not recommended.
As a top coat on the roof I'm using EC-100 Ceramic heat reflective, to reduce heat. The top coat on the sides of the vehicle will be Rustguard paint. Before applying an enamel over a water base it's recommended to wait two to three days. Killrust didn't make a suitable colour whereas Rustguard made a nice beige. It's not worth getting colours mixed if you need to match them at a later stage. Incase you run out half way through and need more. Rustguard with a proper undercoat and prep work should last 8 to 10 years.
The reason I've chosen to not use an automotive paint is due to, not being able to use or afford a sprayer. By using a roller I can do the paint work myself. Besides it's an old bus it doesn't need to be perfect only good enough not to stick out or look untidy for traffic police to take a second look at.
Solar panels, battery banks and inverters are still to be installed, so I'm not dependant on mains power grids. A small 4 stroke Honda 2kva generator can be used as a backup in emergencies. This also allowed me to keep my gear permanently packed to take off at a moments notice. Buses allow you to live any where you like within reason and can be semi permanent off the grid with the rego in someone elses name. As long as their willing to re-register every year and have some way of contacting you for the cash and to post the renewal papers.
I think buses or RV's may well be the survival retreats of the future. They can even be ran off bio-diesel. I can store all my equipment, tow my 4WD, provide long term accomodation for myself and have up to 6 months of food stored. Im keeping the interior simple with a double bed frame at the rear for storage underneath and I like to mainly live outdoors. It becomes too hot cooking inside during summer and takes very little to heat inside during winter.Most of the furniture will be made from storage crates secured to the walls.