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Bargain Bus: 1974 Mercedes 309D

1974 Mercedes 309D Camper

I love a good deal, there is nothing better than finding a great deal on a great classic. Sadly, it is getting harder and harder to find good deals. Thankfully, we have some dedicated readers who try to send us the best deals as soon as they hit the internet. Well Robert J just found this 1974 Mercedes 309D Camper moments after it was posted and at just $1,000 seems like a great buy, it’s such a great buy that Robert is begging one of you to buy it before he does! Find it here on craigslist in the San Francisco Bay area and you better act quick! If any of you are able to snag it, please keep us posted and be sure to send in photos! Special thanks to Robert for this quick submission!


  1. jim s

    the listing is still up on this one also. and again it seems like a good deal at the asking price. nice find.

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  2. DRV

    Get it off of that trailer before it breaks in two!

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  3. Ian

    I asked for photos and info as I live in SF. Will let you know what I find out.

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  4. Tirefriar

    Good luck Ian, for $1k or maybe even less, it could be a fun project if you have time and space… You may be able to negotiate on that alone as not too many people in SF possess enough real estate to perform an indoor resto on this behemoth (I’m using the term lovingly)

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    • Robert J.

      Isn’t that the truth. With the four cars and a bus I have now, if I dragged this to my house in the East Bay hills the neighbors would probably hold a meeting with me… involving a noose and a tree.

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  5. Ken Nelson

    Dang! The perfect BurningMan ride! I want it! Just got too many projects right now, nuts!

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  6. Bill

    Listing deleted by owner.

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  7. Horse Radish

    I am the one who had enough space, maybe enough time, not enough sense and no wife who can b**ch at me for having it.
    After negotiating a deal with the super nice owner and getting it transported it now sits in my driveway and is getting thumbs up from the neighbors.
    More to come, hopefully.
    Robert, thanks for bringing it here….. I needed that like I needed another hole in my head…..but I could not pass up on it.
    I have to pay off neglected bills now.
    Besides, mine needed a playmate, it was getting lonely

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  8. Chuck

    how is the resto progressing? Good to see another 309d
    Mine is in Sacramento

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    • mark

      Hi, I am from Seattle and have and have had for 10 years one just like it, a 1975 O309D bus that is currently in Arizona.

      I will be in Sac in a few weeks returning home. Contact me to exchange notes.

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      • Mark Dierking

        This vehicle is now for sale, August 1, 2018 in Seattle.

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      • David

        Still have it for sale?

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  9. Jerry Burklund

    I have owned and driven a MB 309D, with a manual 4 speed tranny, from northern Virginia, where I purchased it, to central Texas, with additional trips to the Florida Keys and have enjoyed traveling in this converted Camper for the past 14 years. Tis a bit slow off the line but will cruise around 60 to 65 mph all day .
    It has taken me to many State and National parks with No mechanical problems whatsoever….Would possibly be a bit more enjoyable to drive with a Turbo installation on the Diesel engine.

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  10. Mustapha Stokely

    I’ve owned three D309 Merc omnibuses in the past (as well as an old Unimog German Army radio-truck) and my last one I nicknamed the “Anti-Christ!” (Let’s just say that it had the tendency to break down a lot!)

    These buses require much, precise maintenance and in nearly all cases, they have been neglected for a long time. They can be fun to drive, (when they’re running) though to get one to go 55-60 mph means a fairly loud journey, filled with much “vibration!” (In other words, you will be nearly wide-open on the highway, to get one to go at top speed!) and good luck also, having a conversation or listening to the radio while driving! Your hearing will certainly be affected if you own/drive one of these things for any length of time! (I used one for a daily driver, for about a year…)

    Two of my omnibuses were part of a transportation company (circa the mid-1970s), running in a “tri-state” region, based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The service didn’t last very long and roughly 20 buses were then auctioned off. One of these buses became a band bus and the other a traveling video editing bus (Ron Duff Productions). My last Omnibus, I purchased from a physician in Kansas City, MO and it had been used as an airport transport bus prior to his purchase.

    Anyone contemplating purchasing one should NOT make the decision too lightly! Much work will have to be done and good luck finding spare parts or someone who will be able to properly sort one of these out. Tires too can be pricey (are metric) and put simply, 99% of the folks who purchase one of these omnibuses simply are not ready for the commitment to do what needs to be done.

    Rust tends to be a real problem with these buses and while I have heard “rumors” of body panels being available, in nearly 30 years I’ve yet to actually see any such (new) panels being sold. In theory, you can simply pull off (easier said than done!) rusted-out panels from the cage underneath and replace with new/OEM panels. (This too, I’ve yet to see performed!)

    Have I mentioned how hard it is to find a windshield or a back window?!

    Top A/C units in nearly all cases are broken/nonfunctional. The cover is hinged in the back, which means that if you are not careful and ENSURE that the cover is firmly secured from the front, the cover can come open during travel, slamming straight into the back window, of course, breaking said back window! (Yep, experienced it!)

    The diesel lines can develop air leaks! There is a manual fuel pump at the injection pump and this too can come loose or develop air leaks! (Which means that your engine will simply shut down while driving, or not start at all.) The Bosch starter is fairly large and expensive and rebuilding one does not mean that they will last very long. The key is very “pointy” at the tip and it is like carrying a large nail in your pocket!”

    Two batteries under the driver seat and a relay box at the driver side door: Be prepared to tinker with this relay box and on regular basis. Sometimes these problems can be so persistent that the only solution is to simply park on an incline, so you can just let the thing roll, and “pop” start it that way. (If you park downhill, better hope that it will not pop out of gear on its own, after you’ve left it, ending up God only knows where!)

    Brakes! (Air assisted!) The air tank has the tendency to build up moisture inside/bottom (when not leaking) and in cold weather, this means that this water will freeze and obstruct the pressure RELIEF valve. While I’ve never had an air tank blow-up from the build up of pressure, you can end up without brakes! (Yes, experienced such a failure coming downhill in traffic.) In this way, you can have some “Diehard” movie like excitement!

    Some of these (typically 1975 or newer) have automatic transmissions. Avoid them! A manual transmission is far simpler to maintain and make more sense, especially given the low horsepower engine.

    Some buses have higher ceilings and they are more desirable, in my opinion.

    Work Manuals! They are out there but can be very difficult to find. Again, these buses require precise maintenance (Mercedes-precise, which I cannot stress enough!) and ask yourself if you are READY for the commitment. You WILL need to find the proper work manuals! You cannot service these buses (or keep them running) without the proper work manuals! Keeping one of these things running/driving can be akin to trying to get a 90+-year-old person on life support to get ready to run a marathon! (OK, I am being a bit too dramatic, but not really “too” dramatic!)

    Some buses have ether canister starting assist systems. In theory, you screw in a large container of pressurized ether (aka “starting fluid”), and a single push of a button ensures a brief squirt of ether into the air intake. Out of three buses, only one had a functional one. The canisters aren’t cheap, but they can make a difference in cold weather.

    I’m sure I can think of more things to discuss and/or to caution about, but you get the idea… If you must have such a beast, opt for the type that followed this chassis type (1980s). Why? Well, they’re less maintenance intense and use the passenger vehicle diesel engines, rather than the commercial, and since there are more of them around, you’d have easier time finding spares. (Though you will NOT find a replacement windshield in the U.S.) Going through the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, CA can help with the shipping costs. Otherwise, you can pay $600.00+ in shipping alone, not counting the cost of the replacement windshield!)

    One final bit of suggestion: You would do better to find/source/purchase such a bus in Germany. They ARE available (I think they’re called 608d) and they will be in MUCH BETTER condition than what you will typically find available in the US (or elsewhere). German vehicles are better preserved, better maintained and have typically, significantly less rust. You can also find ambulance, firetruck and RV variants of this chassis type in Germany, and such variants may suit your needs better.

    Best of luck…

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  11. Mustapha Stokely

    I forgot to mention:

    I think around 200 of these buses were imported into the US by Mercedes-Benz.

    In 1989, I was introduced to a gentleman who worked for Boulevard Motors Mercedes-Benz in St Louis, Missouri, (he was nearing retirement age) and he arranged for the purchase/delivery of 50 units to Washington University (St Louis) and these were then shipped/used in some sort of a project somewhere in Africa.

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  12. Mustapha Stokely

    To my big surprise, while traveling in Kathmandu, Nepal back in 2008, I spotted around 50+ of these omnibuses still earning a living!

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    • mark

      I have a picture of main square Bagdad I clipped from p.12 March 7, 2007 Sunday New York Times taken from on high of at least 7 buses gathered there.

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  13. John Williams

    I have got two D309 that I bought many years ago to convert to a camper. They are in Atlanta Georgia. If you or a colleague have any interest, contact me at:

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    • Mustapha Stokely

      Is one of those busses blue & white? (My second 309 was purchased by a church in Atlanta and was driven from Cape Girardeau, MO to Atlanta, GA without any problems! (Though keeping a starter going on one of these things was always a challenge and so was the starter relay box!) Where can I see pics of your busses? I’m assuming the usual rust is fairly extensive on both units?

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      • John Williams

        One is an antique white with a platinum accent stripe. The seats are blue simulated leather. It is from Virginia. The other needs prep and paint; it is from North Carolina. Both were driven to Georgia and parked. Both are in serviceable condition,

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  14. mark

    Hi, thanks for making contact. I will be 64 soon, not in the market nor know anyone wanting a project, but will make a mental note. I am thinking that if I were looking for one, then I would search for the proper designation which is O309D or search for 309D, and even 309 if considering a project, never D309.

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  15. John Williams

    Thanks for the astute observation.

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  16. Mustapha Stokely

    John, is it possible to get interior, exterior, etc., pictures of the busses?

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  17. Mark Dierking

    Yes I have it, and it is for sale. I have done the maintenance regularly and driven it, too. contact me initially via email. Include your location, and phone number and best time to call if serious and want the particulars.

    Like 1

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