Extreme Campervan Conversion – The Big Yellow Bus

This extreme van conversion made its debut at Download Festival this year. It’s a real eye-catcher, don’t you think? Obviously, we had to find out more.

It’s based on an Optare Alero, which most people (including us)  have never heard of but apparently, they make loads of busses, big and small. The “Alero” was made in Leeds between 2000 and 2008. This one is number 100 of 329 built. There are about 50 left in service as minibuses, party busses and motorhomes.

Its owner turned out to be one Dave Abernethy from Elgin in the North of Scotland, a regular Download Festival Campervan attendee and serial engineer.

Dave say Hi …

FVL: Dave how long have you been campervanning?

DAVE: About 10 years. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to make a campervan, not just own one. So, in 2009 I ordered an 8-seater Mazda Bongo from an importer based on photos from Japan and waited impatiently for it to arrive. Whilst waiting, I rented a Bongo and went for a week’s tour of Orkney in June 2009. After that, the die was pretty much cast.

FVL: Do you just use your van for festivals?

DAVE: No, both my previous Bongo and the big yellow bus have been used for festivals and touring holidays. The Bongo went from North Scotland all the way to Slovenia and back in a 3-week trip as well as various shorter tours. The bus has been on some short tours will be deployed on longer European trips in the near future.

FVL: What other festivals do you go to?

DAVE: So far, I’ve been campervanning at T in the Park, Wickham Festival, Brew at the Bog, Jocktoberfest, Hebcelt Festival, Loopallu, Orkney Rock Festival and Download.

FVL: Does the big yellow bus have a name?

DAVE: Not yet, it tends to be called “the bus” at the moment. Open to suggestions!

FVL: Where did you get her from and was it love at first sight?

DAVE: eBay. I had previously bought an identical “big blue bus” but it was a bit too knackered so I sold it on. When I saw this one on eBay, whilst not exactly love at first sight, I knew I had to have it. It was during the local annual raft race and I was quite drunk.

The Big Yellow Bus as it appeared on the eBay ad

Photo from the eBay ad

FVL: That’s generally the best way to buy second-hand vehicles. What was the inspiration for this conversion?

DAVE: eBay again – it’s got a lot to answer for. I first saw one of these up for sale on eBay and I reckoned that they would make a great camper. I didn’t like the layout of that one, and it was a bit pricey so I started watching for un-converted ones coming up for sale.

FVL: What was involved in the conversion project?

DAVE: Strip out 17 seats and one pish-stained floor. Build the interior from the ground up and the back forward. Insulated floor, water storage, bed area, toilet/shower, kitchen, seating, electrical systems, solar. Then I painted the outside and repaired some minor parking accident damage to the bumpers etc. Mechanically, it’s not needed anything other than routine service items and a new set of rear tyres so far.

Big Yellow Bus empty shell

The empty shell

FVL: That’s pretty impressive job sheet. Did you do it all yourself?

DAVE: Yup. I’ve had assistance every now and then from willing volunteers to ‘hold the end of that’ and so on, but all the design and construction has all been my own.

FVL: Is it a finished project or do you have plans to take it further?

DAVE: These things are never really 100% finished. For the main conversion, I have a couple of drawers to make and fit and then I could call it ‘done’. Then I’ll be looking at any enhancements I fancy.  For example, currently it needs a campsite hook-up to heat the water for the shower. I’ve got a cunning plan to re-commission the original water heater that the bus had in the roof to make a boiler for hot water.

FVL: What was the most difficult bit of the conversion?

DAVE: Working alone, the tricky stuff is just where you can’t be in 2 places at once, like bolting things to the floor without someone to hold a spanner on the other end. The driver’s and passenger’s seats were tricky. That and refitting the original bus ceiling panels, they are really awkward!

FVL: It’s clearly taken some skill to complete the conversion, where did you get your conversion skills?

DAVE: I guess I’d have to thank my Dad for involving me with his various vehicle projects over the years. As a kid, I was the one tasked with being the willing (and sometimes un-willing) assistant. Some of it must have rubbed off on me.

FVL: Which bit are you most pleased with?

DAVE: I think the lounging / seating area which can turn into a second bedroom works well. It was a bit of an experiment and goes against the norm of building a slatted box that pulls out to make a bed, so I’m pleased it worked out well.

Big Yellow Bus completed

Big Yellow Bus Interior

FVL: And what’s the worst bit?

DAVE: Got to be the traction in the mud, absolutely stuck getting into the download field this year. Had to wait 17 hours for “the download tractor” to pull us into the pitch, despite the heroic efforts of my co-pilot Gav co-ordinating the pushing effort and chucking things under the wheels.  I’m investigating various ramps / chains / etc for next year.

Download Festival Tractor

Download Festival Tractor

FVL: What’s the next trip planned for the big yellow bus?

DAVE: I’m heading to Stirling to help a pal build a gate in his garden and no doubt empty his fridge in the process. The bus will be my accommodation for that trip. Then I’m off for a wee jaunt around some of the NC500 (https://www.northcoast500.com/). It’s local to where I live, but there are bits of it I’ve not really explored fully so that’s in the next couple of weeks. After that it’s heading to Edinburgh for a James concert and Glasgow for a Cure concert. With a bit of luck and co-operation from my work-mates It’ll be off to Orkney Rock Festival in August again.

FVL: Will you be going to Download in 2020?

DAVE: I hope so. I’ve got a ticket, and crucially so has the bus. My work rota has me working that week, but I’m sure I can do something about that!

FVL: Dave, thanks for sharing your story with us. Respect due to you and your engineering skills. Our roads and campervan fields are all the better for your efforts. We wish you the best of luck with the big yellow bus. Hope to see you at Download next year.


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