The GMC Motorhome (1973-1978 Model Years)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.