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The GMC Motorhome (1973-1978 Model Years)

GMC Motorhome front Say what you will about RVs. Some folks think they are modern, luxurious castles on wheels, while others blame them for all traffic gridlock, fuel shortages, and bad weather. The guys across the big pond at TopGear UK absolutely loathe them, and have presented their disgust on several hilarious occasions.

But let's time-travel again to, say, 1972, just before the first Arab Oil Embargo hit the Unites States. Recreational vehicle sales were booming, gas could be had for about twenty cents a gallon, and it was extremely plentiful. Large vehicles were the rule of the day, and many people thought that driving a small car was an unnecessary safety risk.

GMC Motorhome cutaway Built beginning in the 1972 calendar year, General Motors introduced what may be their most original, brilliant, and beautiful technical achievement of all time... and that's not a simple thing to say. While other motorhomes were just manufactured bodies dropped onto an existing truck frame, the GMC was designed from the ground up to act as a single component. Also unlike other RVs, this vehicle was not just built to be lived in, it was also designed to be driven.

The styling of the GMC Motorhome was and is elegant and futuristic. I think it has withstood the test of time and still looks good today. Maybe the grille area is a bit dated, but the body's organic curved shapes, like a Porsche 928, should never go out of style. Many of the design elements of the GMC Motorhome were used later in the production of the Vixen, but that beauty is another story and probably deserves a post of its own.

GMC_Motorhome_Chassis The Motorhome was powered by an Oldsmobile 455 CID V-8 (Later, a 403 CID V-8) with the Cadillac Eldorado/Oldsmobile Toronado automatic transaxle, which moved the front wheels. The GMC was not the first front-wheel-drive RV, but this setup was still a breakthrough at the time. However, the early driveshafts/halfshafts proved too weak for such a bohemoth, and many broke. This problem would be soon corrected, and older models were upgraded.

This chassis design also gave the engineers freedom to lower the floor height, an element Chrysler repeated about 10 years later on its first minivan series. So the mammoth GMC's floor height was only 14 inches above the pavement... again, brilliant! Two 25-gallon fuel tanks were fitted, 30 gallons of fresh water was available, and there was a 30-gallon collector tank for the nasties.

GMC_motorhome_body-drop The bodies are aluminum up top and fiberglass on the bottom, all over an aluminum frame. This means they have held up well over the years and won't rot as most RVs can. They came in either 23- or 26-foot lengths, the difference being between the front and rear wheels, and are 8 feet wide and 9 feet tall, including the roof air conditioners. The 26-foot Motorhome weighs about 12,500 pounds; expect 9-11 mpg.

The tandem rear wheels give the Motorhome a look of 18-wheeler massivity, and no axles intrude into the interior space. They have drum brakes, but can be upgraded to discs. Also they are suspended by airbags, which may be this RV's Achilles heel as original parts availability is getting scarce. Luckily, some other-brand airbags can be fitted so the aft end won't sag like many of today's teenagers' pants.

Gmc_motorhome_int The interior of one of these in the 1970s was a sight to behold. Components were specifically crafted for this motorhome, not picked from generic parts that fit all RVs. You had several floorplans to choose from; most had a side bath, but a rear bath was an option. A rear bedroom was a possibility, as were bunk beds located around the cabin.

OK, let's say it now... that bright green trim would never make it in today's market. Nor would that lady vacuum the place wearing pearls like June Cleaver. But this was a modern motorhome, and used the colors and plaid styles of the era, which were a bit tame by the time Disco came around and jolted our fashion senses for years.

It might be noted that RV slide-outs had not yet come along when these were built. Maybe one could be retro-fitted, but I'd prefer to leave this body structure intact.

Most of the original exterior colors seem to be tan, white, orange, and light blue. But today, with this vehicle's newfound popularity, folks are now painting them with attractive color schemes and reupholstering the cushions and replacing the carpets with, shall we say, more-restrained fabric patterns than these "Brady Bunch" colors.

GMC_Motorhome-Classic_Model Prices for these are all over the spectrum lately. It seems you can pick up a decent one starting around $7,000, and pay as much as you want for a newly-restored one. I've been in the market for an RV for a while, and those figures have caught my eye. The trouble is, as usual, the ones I want to look at are several states away.

Is the GMC Motorhome a sports car? No, but it sure can tow one. Just drive your Motorhome to your favorite spot, park the vehicle, hook up its lines, and release the roadster. Then you may have the best of all possible vehicular worlds.

But please don't clog the traffic getting there, or Jeremy, The Hamster, and Captain Slow will "get you."

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

Image Credits: The first photo is from GawkerAssets.com. The cutaway image is from BDub.net. The chassis photo, body drop image, and some technical information are from Wikipedia. The interior image is from AutoSavant.com. The last glamour shot is from Motor-Caravan.com.

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While I do agree with you that the styling still looks good today, if I owned one I'd be sorely tempted to paint "Galileo" on the side in red cursive script.

Wonderful post. My heart started racing when I saw the picture on top. These things were cool, and I can tell you that my sister had and now my niece has an old Barbie motor home that is styled exactly like one of these. It is even that ugly yellow color you always see them in.

My wife and I are kinda/sortof/maybe in the market for a RV.
I'd love a new Mercedes-based van, but at $115k....well, not so fast.
I've always liked the looks of these. They even looked great in the comedy Stripes. A freind in the Studebaker drivers Club has had one and pointed me in the direction of a website devoted to the things.
I'd love one but the old gas engine is not a great idea today. Now it it were deisel, then we might be talking.

You're right about them being out there, I saw a pretty rough unrestored/un-updated one at a classic car auction last year. It was tempting, but since I know less about plumbing/sewer/HVAC/ and wiring than I do anciient Caddy repair I gave it a miss.
If only i were Tim "the tool man" Taylor or Bob Villa, then I'd be much braver.

Just this week I saw a restored one in the parking lot of a fancy resort in Montana. it had been updated and looked great.
Now if I could find a restored/updated one for $50k....with a diesel...

Actually what got me to start liking these was the "EM-50" that was featured in the movie "Stripes" (hard to believe you guys didn't mention that one, what article on these is complete without it?). What looked like a meek run-of-the-mill GMC Motorhome was actually "one hell of a recreational urban-assault vehicle", as Bill Murray's character so aptly put it.

Gotta wonder why no one else has done a motorhome like this. I know there have been pale imitations (the VW motorhome based on their minivan several years ago comes to mind), but it seems like such a simple sound idea I just wonder why it hasn't been done again (just like why they won't put the Cummins/Powerstroke/Duramax diesels in the RVs either, staggers the imagination).

Due to the Hot Wheels post, it jogged my memory that Hot Wheels had released one of these.

I stumbled upon this pic:
http://www.gmcmi.com/mem-pages/threehotwheels.html

I believe this website has most of 'em, if not all of 'em, listed. BTW I didn't go and check them all:
http://www.southtexasdiecast.com/hwguide/gmcmotorhome.html


They were wrong, er, front-wheel-drive? That took me by surprise. So did the 455ci engine, but to a more pleasing degree. One can tune those engines, especially if one's been around Oldsmobiles. A tuned GMC Motorhome would give the term "Fast With Class" a whole new meaning (OK, that's from Buick, but still...)!!!
Wonder how much power can the upgraded drive/halfshafts.

The GMC Motorhome also stars as the least annoying character of this stupid cartoon series/live-action TV movie:
http://ben10.wikia.com/wiki/Rust_Bucket

Somewhat per request, here's a listing of everything the GMC Motorhome has starred in:

http://www.imcdb.org/vehicles.php?make=GMC&model=Motorhome

I love these. Love love love love love love love these.

Awesome! My favorite RV!

Buy one, you will enjoy it. Parts are easy, only about 6 items are not readily available. Several professional shops support these vehicles. Google "GMCnet" and follow the fun on the forum. GMC made about 12,700 of these, and the GMC clubs know where are who owns abut 7,000 of these wonderful beasts. New un-listed ones are found almost every month.
An individual in Canada did a beautiful slide out to his, and a guy from Holland did a beautiful diesel installation in his GMC. There are several others GMC's with diesel conversions. Others have installed the Cadillac 500 CU. IN V-8, one with twin turbo-chargers.
No RV rides as well as the GMC. The GMC holds the world speed record run (RV Class A) at the Salt Flats, 106 miles per hour.
Talk to someone who owns one they will talk your ear off.
1975 GMC AVION owner

It is also the only motorhome with a Registry that so far has tracked down 8400 of the 12921 produced between 1973-1978. I bought my 1st GMC in early '76 and spent 1977 touring the lower 48. In 1993 I moved up to a '77 model (LOL!) and it has accumulated over 640k miles on 2 (gas) engines, a 403 and a 455 to date. Happy Trails!
gmcmotorhomeregistry at gmail dot com

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