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VINTAGE 1961 GM BUS CONVERSION – PART 1

by | 2019 | The Lills, Travel

While traveling for 2 years in our VW bus, we learned to live on very little. Our needs became basic: food, water, shelter, a place to park, a place to shower/use the bathroom and a place to do our design work. Not having a toilet or shower in our bus proved to be very difficult at times. Our pop-up bed saved us from spending all of our funds on hotel rooms, but we found ourselves craving a more comfortable space to call our own.

After our cross-country journey in our VW bus, we spent the winter season in Colorado, where we re-imagined the future of our Simple Life With Big Adventures. We dreamed of a bigger home on wheels, where we could grow as a couple and a family, so we got back in our little bus and on the road!

The Lills Photo | Lara Lill | Alex Lill | Pagosa Springs Colorado | Travel | Road Trip | VW Bus

While traveling to southern Arizona, we just so happened to be guided straight to our dream home: a vintage 1961 GM Transit bus, which had been preserved in the dry New Mexico desert for over 10 years! We contacted the owners and drove to them to check it out. There were many people who did not believe this beautiful piece of the past could come back to life, but we had faith and determination. We made an agreement to design a logo and website for the owner’s jewelry company in trade for the bus. A few weeks after finding the beautiful relic, we drove back to the desert to resurrect it!

The owners thought the transit bus only needed batteries, filters and tires, so we imagined we could get the job done in one week. We parked our VW bus in one of the big sheds on the property and slept in it at night. The location was something out of an old Western movie or Quentin Tarantino film. There were huge, oddly shaped mountains that looked over us and there wasn’t much else around for miles, just lots and lots of sand.

VW Bus GM Bus Conversion - The Lills

The desert heat was pretty intense at times, there were occasional sand storms that would blow in and halt our production, plus it could get very chilly in the mornings and evenings. The owners of the property, Myra and Jim, lived in a small home, with a dog named Dakota. They too lived a simple life and became like family to us, right off the bat.

Myra knew a thing or two when it came to the diesel world and Jim had been an experienced diesel engine mechanic, so they brought a lot to the table when it came to diagnosing and fixing the bus. Although Jim’s health was not great when we arrived, he seemed to get stronger each day and it was clear that he found as much joy in resurrecting the bus as we did. We were like little kids, running back and forth from the home to the 40 foot transit bus.

1961 GM Metro Bus Conversion The Lills Alex Lill Lara Lill

Our first job at hand was fixing the battery tray and installing 4 new batteries, which took a minute to finagle the wires and hookup properly. Once it was clear that we had power, we moved on to cleaning up the incredible amount of sand that had been collected in the bus. The same day that we cleaned the interior, a massive sand storm pulled through and filled the bus back up with sand. It was hilarious.

Changing out the fuel filters was pretty simple. We removed the old ones, filled the new ones with diesel fuel and installed them. This was the point at which we figured we could turn the bus on and get going on tires. Jim and Myra handed us a single key with a mystical unicorn key chain. We were all so excited to put it in the ignition. We all gathered in the bus and looked around…there was no ignition. It turned out that the key was for a little metal box, which held the odometer and a clock, so that metro transit drivers could keep on time and on schedule. Finally, we figured out that it required pushing a combination of buttons and switches to get it to kick on.

Detroit Diesel 6v71 - 1961 GM Fishbowl New Look Bus Conversion - The Lills

It was an incredible feeling to hear the vintage bus start after 10+ years of sitting dormant in the New Mexico desert, but the secondary fuel filter kept running dry. There was more to do and we were determined to get this baby going!

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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