These luxurious homes on wheels represent the ultimate in rolling elegance.
By Lazelle Jones
Luxury custom-converted private coaches provide an unparalleled driving — and living — experience. Outfitted with the most upscale, exotic, and innovative features imaginable, these mobile mansions enable travelers to hit the road in first-class comfort.
Luxury private coaches can be divided into two categories. In the first category, companies design and build a coach from the ground up; this includes the chassis (to which they add the power train), as well as the walls, roof, and floor. The coach builder equips the vehicle with luxury residential appointments and systems.
In the second category, companies start with an existing shell that has been produced by a bus manufacturer; it already includes the chassis, power train, exterior walls, roof, and front and rear caps. The empty shell is then converted into a palatial habitat known as a private coach conversion — and the subject of this article.
Private coach converters may offer spec coaches (designed and built prior to sale) or customer-ordered coaches where the client is intimately involved in the design and creation of the individual vehicle. In either case, the possibilities are limited only by imagination. The suggested retail prices for both types of coaches can run well in excess of $1 million.
Sales of private coach conversions are conducted in a couple of different ways: factory direct or purchased through independent dealers. Some coach converters maintain their own factory sales locations in geographic areas separate from their production facilities. Others build and sell factory direct and also offer their products through independent dealers.
Several coach converters also renovate and update existing coaches for clients who prefer to keep their current shells but want them retrofitted with the latest in interior appointments and state-of-the-art systems.
Two bus shell manufacturers provide the majority of empty shells to the private coach converters: Prevost, located in Quebec, Canada, and Motor Coach Industries (MCI), located in Schaumburg, Illinois. To a lesser degree, other bus shells have been used for private coach conversions, among them Neoplan, Setra, and VanHool. The cost of an empty shell can vary dramatically, depending upon the model and the number of factory slideouts; however, the shell’s price tag can easily exceed half a million dollars.
Since the sky's the limit in the private coach conversion category, these vehicles serve a variety of needs. For example, they are designed and built for use by private individuals; sought after by entertainers; outfitted as hospitality coaches for corporations; and used by motorsports teams, professional golfers, and other traveling athletes.
What follows is a roundup of the bus shell manufacturers and private coach converters that are commercial members of FMCA and build private coaches for coach enthusiasts. All have extensive service networks or arrangements with others to provide maintenance and service.
Prevost offers two models, the XLII and the H3-45 VIP, which are extremely popular shells. The XLII shells can be ordered with one or two slideouts, and the H3-45 VIP shells can be ordered with one, two, three, or four slideouts. The turbo-diesel engines on the Prevost are currently the 14-liter 515-horsepower Detroit Diesel Series 60 that develops 1,650 pound-feet of torque. Both Prevost models are 45 feet long and 102 inches wide. The XLII is 11 feet 8 inches high (before conversion), while the H3-45 has an exterior height of 12 feet 5 inches (before conversion). Both models have a 54,500-pound gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The under-floor storage on the XLII measures 407 cubic feet (before conversion), and the H3-45 VIP offers 505 cubic feet (before conversion). Both Prevost models feature stainless-steel upper structures, with the exterior skin on the XLII being stainless steel (up to the bottom of the windows) and the H3-45 skin being a fiber composite.
MCI builds one model, the J4500c, for coach conversions. The J4500c can accommodate up to three optional slideouts. MCI currently features the Cummins ISM engine, rated at 450 horsepower. The length of the J4500c is 45 feet, the exterior width is 102 inches, the exterior height is 12 feet 5 inches, the interior height is 89 inches, and the GVWR is 54,000 pounds. Exterior basement storage capacity is between 450 and 500 cubic feet. The shell features stainless-steel semi-monocoque construction with an aluminum roof and exterior walls made of a composite material. The new MCI J4500c shells feature the Wide-ride suspension for improved stability and handling.
The towing capacity for both Prevost bus shells is 20,000 pounds; for the MCI J4500c, the towing capacity is 10,000 pounds. Cargo carrying capacities vary depending upon how the finished coach is equipped. With full fresh water and fuel tanks, it is not unusual to see remaining cargo carrying capacities of more than several thousand pounds. Holding tank capacities vary depending on the converter.
(757) 925-2862; www.amadascoach.com
Amadas Coach in Suffolk, Virginia, is a family-owned private coach converter that traces its roots back to 1981. Its team of engineers and craftspeople includes many with considerable experience building some of the world’s finest offshore yachts. Each conversion is shaped through the ideas and vision of the client; then engineers and craftspeople unite to build an exclusive motor coach for the client. Amadas Coach incorporates technologies from both the yachting and aviation industries, and the team continually seeks out new materials, technology, and engineering solutions in an effort to find new ways of creating one-off motor coaches. Photographic touch panels provide intuitive control of major coach systems such as audio/video, lighting, shades, doors, toilets, heating and air conditioning, awnings, slideouts, and more. Amadas Coach craftspeople hand-assemble each coach from components manufactured by its own automated computer numerical control (CNC) machining center. This machine tooling allows Amadas Coach employees to manufacture strength- and weight-optimized components directly from the engineers’ 3D computer-aided designs while allowing them to focus on structural and aesthetic details. Advanced lightweight composite materials are used to reduce weight while maintaining or enhancing the strength characteristics of a component.
Coachworks dba Texas Custom Coach
(888) 761-4225; www.texascustomcoach.com
Coachworks LLC operates two divisions in a 28,000-square-foot facility in Pipe Creek, Texas, just west of San Antonio. The company has been building custom conversions since 1985. Collectively, the staff of 30-plus has more than 125 years of coach-building experience. Throughout the past 23 years the company has completed 135 projects on Prevost, MCI, and Silver Eagle bus shells; today its focus is on new Prevost and MCI conversions. The company also has developed a new line of private coaches named LifeStyle LS-II and LS-III. Each new project involves the customer with the design, equipment package, and color scheme. Owners are included in every step of the process, which helps to ensure that the finished product is exactly what they want; in fact, the company strives to exceed their expectations. Coachworks LLC also remodels and renovates an average of 75 coaches each year. Renovations may include interior replacement, exterior repair and paint, and system upgrades or replacements. Full tear-out and replacement is also available.
Country Coach Inc.
(800) 654-0223; www.countrycoach.com
Since 1991 when founder Bob Lee first launched the Prevost conversion program at Country Coach in Junction City, Oregon, the company has continued to execute dramatic designs that are both bold and subtle to marry the client’s goals with the Prevost XLII. Country Coach officials note that the conversion and customization of each coach, tailored for the individual client, goes beyond the usual look and feel of the motorhome. The modifications include the latest technologies and ergonomics that the individual customer wants to embrace. Once a clear idea of what the customer desires is decided upon, the next step is to communicate these parameters to County Coach engineers. This is followed by the generation of drawings, the procurement of specific materials needed, and the design that is unique to each coach. Custom inside and out, the Country Coach Prevost conversion is built on the 45-foot Prevost chassis with dual slides, an air lift tag axle, full air suspension, and front and rear antisway bars. A Country Coach conversion comes with a front gross axle weight rating (GAWR) of 18,000 pounds, a gross vehicle weight rating of 54,500 pounds, and a 74,500-pound gross combination weight rating (GCWR) with 20,000-pound towing capacity. The XLII is powered by the 515-horsepower Detroit Diesel Series 60 DDEC IV engine, which is paired with the Allison six-speed HD4060 automatic transmission.
Creative Mobile Interiors (CMI)
(866) 204-8264; www.creativemobileinteriors.com
Based in central Ohio, Creative Mobile Interiors has been in the business of coach conversions for nine years. The company specializes in converting motor coaches, vans, trailers, and mini-coaches into luxury vehicles outfitted with top-of-the-line amenities and electronics. Every vehicle is unique and is designed to meet the specific needs of its owner. CMI founder Owen Connaughton worked 14 years in the conversion business before starting the company. Owen explained that his motivation for founding Creative Mobile Interiors was to bring custom conversions to a wider audience. With experienced craftspeople, production efficiencies, and design talent, he believed CMI could make a difference by offering custom conversion work that is affordable for people at many different price points. In the area of craftsmanship, CMI uses no particleboard, and all the structural wood is marine-quality plywood. Company employees engineer cabinetry, fuel tanks, water tanks, basement compartments, electrical harnesses, and plumbing systems so they provide ease of access and rugged, rattle-free security. Ceilings and walls are insulated, and two types of composite underlayment are used below the floors to ensure quiet over-the-road operation. CMI incorporates high-tech satellite systems, flat-screen televisions, and wireless Internet systems.
Custom Coach/Farber Specialty Vehicles
(800) 852-5979; www.customcoach.com
Located on 10 acres, the new 50,000-square-foot facility occupied by Custom Coach and Farber Specialty Vehicles is only minutes east of Columbus, Ohio. Dealing exclusively factory-direct, Custom Coach converts on both Prevost models and the MCI J4500c, and on occasion has also converted VanHool, Setra, and Neoplan bus shells. Company officials are dedicated to giving each client exactly what he or she wants. Kirwan Elmers founded Custom Coach with his father, Miles, in 1955 and attended FMCA's July 1963 formation meeting in Hinckley, Maine. Today Custom Coach is a division of Farber Specialty Vehicles, a company that has been associated with the automotive industry since 1920. Farber is a major player in creating specialty vehicles for special-response teams. While maintaining a low profile, Custom Coach has converted a number of coaches for luminaries such as John Madden, Merle Haggard, Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Roger Penske, Evel Knievel, and the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia (21 Custom Coach conversions, several delivered by air).
Featherlite Coaches Inc.
(888) 826-8273; www.fthrc.com
Located in Sanford, Florida, Featherlite Coaches Inc. builds the Vantare private coach conversion on the Prevost XLII and H3-45 shells (40-plus conversions a year). Several floor plan options are available, including six double-slideout, three triple-slideout, and three quad-slideout versions. Featherlite Vantare highlights include the following: all design and manufacturing processes are executed in-house for maximum flexibility and control; slideouts feature flat-floor installations, with slideout depth, length, and placement configured per individual needs; and lightweight technology has been implemented. The design of each coach and the distinct floor plans and interiors are supported by an experienced engineering and interior design staff. Computerized coach functions are controlled by a proprietary system called Featherlite Advanced Systems Technology (FAST). It incorporates user-friendly protocols, built-in hardwired redundancy, and customized programming. Other system features include integrated stereo and surround sound; high-end dash with navigation, DVD, satellite radio, and iPod; closed-circuit color backup and side cameras; HDTV; and ducted house air-conditioning for even, quiet airflow distribution. Featherlite dealer locations can be found on the company's Web site, and factory tours are available by appointment.
Hoffman Coach Company
(814) 723-4550; www.hoffmancoach.com
Taking care of business in the small town of Clarendon, Pennsylvania, Hoffman Coach Company has been satisfying private custom coach clients for 43 years. In fact, it is touted as the oldest continuously operating bus conversion company in the United States. Founders Don and the late Margaret Hoffman converted their first motorhome back in 1965, a rear-engine school bus that they used for several years while raising their children. Hoffman Coach and the Hoffman family have been associated with the Family Motor Coach Association for decades. This includes attending and showing private coach conversions at FMCA international conventions as well as hundreds of rallies. Still housed in the original 12,000-square-foot facility, the small company has a skilled and dedicated staff that has played a continuing role in the private coach conversion industry over the years. In 1977, the first converted Prevost shell to roll off an assembly line was converted by Hoffman Coach. In addition to Don Hoffman, four other family members run the business and build the conversions (sons Tim and Jeff Hoffman; daughter Debbie McClain; and Debbie’s husband, Doug McClain).
Liberty Coach Corporation
(800) 332-9877; www.libertycoach.com
Situated just minutes north of Chicago, Liberty Coach boasts a long and extensive legacy of excellence in designing and building private coach conversions. An example that sums up the Liberty Coach genius is the recent creation of the Elegant Lady H3-45 SO-2 Brassfield Edition. Its features include four 14,000-Btu reverse-cycle heat pump air conditioners and an 80,000-Btu Webasto heater. Electrics include 24-volt house electrical; a 20-kw Kohler auto-start generator; two 3,500-watt inverters; and a 75-foot shore power cord with a remote-controlled reel. Audiovisuals include 42-inch plasma and 32-inch LCD televisions; Bose components with Dolby surround sound; satellite systems in the bedroom and living area; a navigation system; a lower bay entertainment center; and an in-motion satellite receiver. The coach comes with a 20-gallon electric water heater; a 189-gallon stainless-steel fresh water tank; a 189-gallon aluminum holding tank; air-operated dump valves; a macerator holding tank pump-out system; and a three-stage water treatment system with reverse osmosis. Included is a marble shower; a 20-cubic-foot side-by-side refrigerator/freezer; a stacked washer/dryer; a 220-volt Gaggenau cooktop; a custom-built electric sleeper sofa; an air-operated pocket door; wine storage; an air-ride leather driver seat with heat, massage, and cooling; keyless touchpad entry; and custom-polished stainless-steel side rails.
Loyalty Mobile Innovations
(615) 230-9051; www.loyaltyusa.net
This innovative Gallatin, Tennessee, company has been creating custom vehicle interiors since 2005. Founder and CEO Joe Loy has 20 years of industry experience designing and converting vehicles for a wide variety of applications. Most recently, Loyalty expanded operations to include the creation of extremely custom high-end motorhomes for the private sector. This line has proven very successful, allowing the creativity of the company to really shine as client needs and desires meet Loyalty's design expertise and exacting production standards. No project is too small or too large with the collective experience of Loyalty's staff, which includes conversions of Prevost, MCI, Eagle, and one-of-a-kind shells.
Marathon Coach Inc.
(800) 234-9991; www.marathoncoach.com
Established in 1983, Marathon Coach has been under the stewardship of the Schoellhorn family since 1990. Converting a hundred Prevost shells a year, the company bills itself as the world's largest Prevost converter. Marathon provides its customers the option of buying a spec coach or designing their own custom conversion. The Marathon mantra is “When it comes to a private coach conversion, there’s very little that can’t be done to achieve the customer’s dream.” The litany of high-tech, state-of-the-art features that are routinely included are multiple LCD high-definition televisions, Crestron remote-control systems, KVH in-motion satellite receivers, quad slideouts, and Marathon’s exclusive TechLink internal intelligence system. Building a coach typically takes about 16 weeks and involves between 5,000 and 10,000 hours of labor, depending upon the complexity of the design. Marathon employs 400 skilled craftsmen and professionals; nearly 60 percent of them have been with the company for five years, and more than 32 percent have been with the company for 10 years. In addition to its 134,000-square-foot complex in Coburg, Oregon, Marathon has sales and service facilities in San Antonio, Florida, and Beaumont, California, and an independent dealer in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Millennium Luxury Coaches
(407) 328-0190; www.millenniumluxurycoaches.com
Located in Sanford, Florida, Millennium converts both Prevost bus shell models, using Prevost's "super slide" option to produce triple-slideout and quad-slideout conversions. Owners Nelson and Evelyn Figueroa attribute their success to their creative, cutting-edge design acquired from years of experience in Florida’s custom yacht industry. The cadre of Millennium specialists includes coach builders, interior designers, electronic gurus, technicians, and support personnel. Within a 24,000-square-foot facility that houses 16 design/construction and service bays, they focus on accommodating the private coach enthusiast's needs with design suggestions, five-star craftsmanship, and solutions to unique customer requirements. For example, Millennium explains that the company's typical client is under the age of 60, and many of them are raising families or have grandchildren and want a playroom for the children along with the luxury coach lifestyle. To manage the gross weight of the coach, the company uses lightweight materials for interior cabinetry that is dressed with real wood veneers. The coaches feature four Crestron/Lutron control screens that permit operation of all coach systems at the touch of a fingertip.
(254) 965-3234; www.outlawcoach.com
Outlaw Coach provides custom luxury interiors using the Prevost bus shell line. Established in 2004 in Stephenville, Texas, Outlaw Coach is a branch of Outlaw Conversions, which was founded in 1996, also in Stephenville. The company's primary business line is manufacturing custom living quarters for horse trailers, with dealers nationwide. Each coach conversion must meet strict quality guidelines that have been established by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, and Outlaw Coach, before it is complete. The company places great emphasis on crafting custom luxury interiors, and, for quality and excellence, builds one coach at a time. Its main goal is to exceed customers' expectations through quality manufacturing and excellent customer service.
Paradise Coach Interiors
(541) 914-4928; www.pciconversions.com
Paradise Coach Interiors, established in 1991, is a custom bus conversion shop in Coburg, Oregon, specializing in complete remodels and upgrade projects for motorhomes. The builders and mechanics, along with owner Larry Oberfoell, have a combined 60 years of industry experience. They are a small team but have a passion for the work they do. Innovative ideas, creative solutions to unique problem areas, and specialized techniques are their trademark. Extraordinary attention to detail enables their work to transition seamlessly into existing coach design. While smaller projects are welcome, Larry and his staff specialize in full coach conversions. Extensive interviews with customers begin each new project, including several sessions to discuss the basic floor plan and design. Larry and his staff learn their customers' visions for their coaches. Using his 22 years of experience, Larry expands and refines the original concepts, incorporating many features to make each coach one-of-a-kind. The company also upgrades coach bay/storage areas to make them more user-friendly, and creates, remodels, updates, and renovates air, electrical, and heating-cooling systems. Larry and his staff also will address power issues, specializing in inverter and generator installation and service.
Parliament Coach Corporation
(888) 571-5755; www.parliamentcoach.com
Parliament Coach Corporation manufactures corporate conversions, such as CNN's "Election Express," and private conversions for families. Using the Prevost chassis exclusively, Parliament involves the client in every step of the process when designing a private coach conversion at its Clearwater, Florida, facility. Use of the latest CNC machine gives more consistent tolerances and maximizes creativity for both the customer and designers, as they can see the final product on-screen in 3D before the first cut is even made. Each coach begins on a computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) system that creates a custom floor plan. The machine shop handles custom fabrication, stainless-steel work, plumbing, and fittings. Electrical systems are engineered to ensure that all switches are conveniently located and feature one-finger operation. Custom cabinetry, furniture, built-ins, countertops, and shelving are cut by the CNC machine on-site and assembled by skilled cabinetmakers to ensure precise fit and finish. A professional designer assists each customer in selecting furniture, lighting fixtures, window treatments, carpeting, and the exterior paint. Parliament was founded in the early 1990s and is owned by the Mitchell family, which has marketed high-line motor coaches since the early 1970s. The company operates a full paint and body shop; is a full warranty center for most major components found on Type A motor coaches; and offers an indoor full-storage facility. Tours are available Monday through Friday by appointment.