The GMC motorhome, like the example seen in this report which was found right here in Calgary, is a real interesting beast. It’s a futuristic home on wheels built in the 1970s that amazingly looks quite up to date even today. Popular with retro-RV enthusiasts there are a surprising number of them still on the road, where they continue to turn heads and astound people with their advanced and innovative design. This one appears to have been recently reconditioned and is almost flawless. It’s a real beauty! All shiny and glowing in the late day sun.
It may seem strange that an automobile company would produce a complete RV in-house, but that’s just what GM did. More often a company like that would supply a chassis to an outside firm who would then add the body and interior. Not so here.
In production from 1973-1978, almost thirteen thousand of them were made. They were assembled in Pontiac Michigan at the GMC truck factory.
These motorhomes are rather odd in that they’re front wheel drive. This unorthodox arrangement, at least on big vehicles like this, allowed them to have a much lower profile then any of their competitors. This low wide stance also offered superior handling. The two pairs of trailing wheels are independent on each side and have no cross axle, another feature that helped in regards to usable living space. It seems like GM spend a good deal of time thinking this project out.
Powering the motorhome is an Oldsmobile V8 engine mated to an automatic transmission. Given the vehicle’s excellent aerodynamics I understand they get reasonable gas millage and are not bad performers.
In spite of being out of production for well over thirty five years, it’s estimated that more then half of them are still on the road today. Not bad at all! In spite of their age, they don’t seem all that dated in appearance. They hold up well.
As mentioned the entire vehicle was produced in-house at GM, drivetrain, body, interior fittings and all. Some however were sold as empty shells to be completed by custom coach companies. A few were also configured as buses, limos, mobile shops or command centres.
The GMC motorhome was offered in two lengths, seven or eight metres (23 and 26 feet respectively). The latter is the more common variant, by quite a percentage.
At the time these were made most motorhomes were boxy affairs built atop truck chassis. The GMC motorhome in comparison seemed very futuristic, and in fact it was. It was so different from any of its competitors, in design, appearance and construction. None the less, GM did not sell enough of these to keep them in production long.
The body of the motorhome is a comprised of an aluminium frame work attached to the chassis, with a mix of formed aluminium and molded fibreglass body panels. Most motorhomes of the day used wood framing with flat or fluted sheets of metal for siding. Other makes were clunky with their slab sides and looked old fashioned in comparison.
Given their robust well built and thought out design, these motorhomes typically last longer than others of the era. When was the last time you saw another make, on the road, that was built in the 1970s? None, probably. Since they can be easily fixed up (parts and add-ons are readily available) they can be rebuilt time and again. This example appears to have just come out of the shop and as such is likely good for many years to come. It looks stunning!
This design caused many RV manufacturers to stand up and take notice and as such it influenced new and more advanced design motorhomes from GM’s competitors. Afterwards many makers moved away from the traditional truck undercarriage and instead built atop low profile specialized chassis made expressly for this purpose. The GMC also prompted other makers to adopt more aerodynamic stylings. Funny thing, the GMC design is still more slippery than most others, even RVs made today.
It’d be hard to confuse the GMC with any other home on wheels. It’s a pretty distinctive and unique beast. If there were one that came to mind however, it would be the Vixen motorhome. It follows a similar design philosophy and borrows much from the GMC (it’s maker even said to). It’s low and sleek, but rear engined and rear wheel driven. Vixens were built in the mid to late 1980s and we managed to stumble across one recently. They are aptly named and are quite sexy in form.
In our travels, I’d guess we’ve spotted perhaps several dozen of these GMC motorhomes over the years. If you are an owner, there is are many devoted clubs and groups who can offer you support and guidance. I’m sure we’ll be seeing on the road for many years to come.
To see some other interesting motorhomes and RVs, go here…
Mystery Machine – Green Machine – Strange homemade RV.
The Big Green Motorhome.
The Big Pink Trailer.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.