The Classic Ride: A Good Foundation

July 20, 2017
Filed under Feature Stories

 

With its solid structure, this 1994 Gulf Stream Scenic Cruiser 34 has enabled one handy RVer to transform an old coach into a modern masterpiece

This article is part of a continuing series looking at motorhomes that have stood the test of time. They may have miles under their wheels, but they can still make dreams come true. Each has earned the right to be called “the classic ride.”

“Who would put a slideout in a 17-year-old motorhome?”

It is a rhetorical question because Phil Millett already knows the answer: He would.

For anyone who has ever pictured buying an older Class A for a song and making it better than new, Millett’s 1994 Gulf Stream is a dream come true. The retired Air National Guard pilot first got the idea of buying a motorhome during a deployment in 2007. When he wasn’t on duty, he spent his time researching motorhomes. He decided that what he wanted was a 7- or 8-year-old diesel pusher that would come in at under $80,000, but on his return to the States he soon discovered that finding what he was looking for was nearly impossible.

“It seemed like each one I looked at had a variety of major problems, from water damage to body damage to bad paint,” Millett recalls. “So I changed my mindset and began to look for something I could tackle as a project.”

The custom-designed 15-foot-long slideout not only provides much-needed additional interior space for the Milletts, but it also houses an exterior entertainment center.

The custom-designed 15-foot-long slideout not only provides much-needed additional interior space for the Milletts, but it also houses an exterior entertainment center.

He narrowed down his wish list to a Spartan chassis with a Cummins engine, and in March 2008 he found a 1994 Gulf Stream Scenic Cruiser 34 on eBay that seemed to fit his requirements. He was attracted to the coach’s modern-looking body design, and the photos showed it was in good shape for its age — basically it had good bones. As a UPS pilot he was able to jumpseat to Palm Beach and then rent a car for the drive to Okeechobee, Florida, to look at the motorhome. Unfortunately, photos can be misleading.

“In person, the RV really looked rough,” he says, shaking his head.

A barn had partially collapsed on the Gulf Stream during a 2005 hurricane, damaging the roof and causing localized water damage. It had been sitting derelict since. Millett, an experienced handyman who had previously renovated several boats and an airplane, was undeterred. The motorhome was mechanically sound with all systems functioning. After a test drive during which the 5.9-liter B Series Cummins “purred like a kitten,” Millett offered $20,000 for the Gulf Stream. Then, having never even driven a motorhome before, he set off for his home in Kentucky.

His wife, Elisa’s, reaction when he pulled up in the driveway was not exactly what he had hoped.

“I can’t believe you bought this,” she said. “You look like Cousin Eddie in ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.’”

Still not discouraged, Millett parked the Gulf Stream in a hangar at the local airport and went about the grueling and sometimes stressful job of bringing the coach back to life. He pulled off the damaged radius metal and peeled off the badly weathered EPDM rubber roof. He was pleased to find the wood beneath was still sound, but the metal definitely needed to be replaced. He contacted Gulf Stream in Nappanee, Indiana, and it shipped him enough 25-foot sections of metal roof radius metal to do the job. Millett decided that while he was there he would replace everything from the roofline up, so he installed new vents, skylights and two Coleman Mach 15,000-Btu air conditioners. It took two months of bloodied knuckles and hard labor, utilizing every spare minute of time, but it resulted in a watertight and functional motorhome.

The Gulf Stream's interior walls and flooring were replaced, and the furnishings reupholstered as part of the renovation.

The Gulf Stream’s interior walls and flooring were replaced, and the furnishings reupholstered as part of the renovation.

Unfortunately, water damage seldom stops at the roof. Several of the walls were soft, as was a spot in the kitchen floor. Millett moved out some of the cabinets and then all of the furniture, which he sent out for reupholstering. He tore down most of the interior walls to the frame and replaced them with synthetic bead board from a home improvement store, using a seemingly endless number of tubes of Sikaflex 221.

One small section of kitchen flooring had also sustained damage and had to be replaced. He then added new linoleum in the kitchen and bath, recarpeted the bedroom and replaced the carpet in the main living area with wood laminate flooring. He added a new convection microwave to the galley to complement the existing four-burner stove, and also installed a new Dometic refrigerator. Cabinetry was still in good shape, as were the Corian countertops. In the bathroom the vanity needed repair, so he customized a new one using Formica. In terms of systems, the furnace and water heater, though working, were old enough that Millett decided it was a good time to replace them as well.

With the interior looking like new, Millett turned his attention to his Gulf Stream’s dated teal-and-white exterior. He chose Precision Painting in Bremen, Indiana, for the repaint, and settled on a color scheme that reminded him of his beloved Virginia Tech Hokies. The cost of the new paint was $12,000, and the results were stunning. No one could accuse Millett of looking like Cousin Eddie anymore.

The color scheme of the renovated bedroom, like the exterior, reflects the family's support of the Virginia Tech Hokies.

The color scheme of the renovated bedroom, like the exterior, reflects the family’s support of the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Though they were new to the RV experience, Millett and his family immediately put their motorhome to good use. With their two young sons, they traveled to Florida, the Indy 500 and to the popular Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) annual Airventure in Wisconsin eight years in a row.
“My boys, Andy and Will, are 15 and 13 years old now, and I have marked their years growing up by our RV trips to Oshkosh,” Millett says.

Millett and his college buddies, all Hokies season ticket holders, also used the motorhome to attend Virginia Tech football games. Since so much of the Milletts’ time was spent dry camping, he upgraded to Lifeline batteries. It’s a change he recommends for anyone who goes “off grid” for several days. “Our furnace used to shut off at 2 a.m. because it had drained the batteries. Now we can go all night.”

During the next few years, Millett completed rehabs of all of the other systems, overhauling brakes and the cooling system, replacing the transmission control module and converting the chassis air conditioning from R-12 to R-134. He jokes that he is “on a first-name basis” with technicians at his local Freightliner, Cummins and Allison service centers, all of whom he credits with making the renovation possible.

The Milletts appreciate the family time spent in their Scenic Cruiser.

The Milletts appreciate the family time spent in their Scenic Cruiser.

With all of the work he had put into his Scenic Cruiser, you might think Millett was done, but a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan started him thinking again. What was the one thing that would truly “kick the RV up a notch”? He knew the answer at once — a slideout. He researched the companies that were experienced in that kind of work and went with MasterTech RV of Elkhart, Indiana. The company came up with a design that included a 15-foot single slide with a built-in exterior entertainment system. At a cost of $23,000, it was a big expenditure for a then 17-year-old motorhome. But Millett points out that the rest of the coach was already like new, so it made more sense to continue to upgrade the Gulf Stream rather than sink three or four times that amount in a younger model. When the slideout was completed, he knew he had made the right call. “People look at this now, and they can’t believe it is not a new motorhome,” he says proudly.

Millett accepts that it is unlikely he will ever get his investment of sweat or dollars back out of his Scenic Cruiser should he want to sell it and “move up” to a newer or larger motorhome. Then again, he is not sure that he wants to part with his project. He found the work to be fun and rewarding, and he has the advantage of knowing his Gulf Stream inside and out. His last few years of ownership have been trouble-free, and with 115,000 miles on the diesel engine, it is barely broken in. Besides, he says, “I am emotionally attached to this one.”

When asked whether he would undertake a project like this again, knowing what he knows now, he laughs. “No way, but it’s been an interesting ride.” He pauses a moment, thinking, then adds, “And what great memories we have made!”

Memories that began with a labor of love and will continue for years to come in this 1994 Gulf Stream, a true classic ride.

 

A Taxing Decision

The new paint job on the Milletts' Gulf Stream may have been pricey, but the results are well worth the cost.

The new paint job on the Milletts’ Gulf Stream may have been pricey, but the results are well worth the cost.

There are pros and cons to renovating an old or damaged motorhome and, even if you do the labor, it is highly unlikely that you will recoup those costs later. Millett estimates that he has about $100,000 invested in his RV, but he points out that it would be difficult to find a coach for that price as well-equipped and in as pristine condition as his Scenic Cruiser is today. He also points to personal property tax as a factor to consider when choosing a project over a newer RV. At a 4.5 percent rate in Kentucky, the low valuation of an older unit can be a big plus. Bottom line: If you have the requisite handyman skills, a 1994 Gulf Stream Scenic Cruiser 34 diesel pusher ($19,000-$25,000 on the used market) can be a good choice.


 

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