The 1970’s were a great time for RVs and motor homes. So, GMC decided to enter the recreational vehicle market with their own cutting-edge RV. They aimed to create a top-end vehicle that would blow away the competition. How did the GMC motor home fare? Let’s find out if the GMC RV stood up to the competition and if it’s still a viable motor home today.
The GMC Motor Home Design
The most common RV design in the 1970’s was boxy and top-heavy, build onto a truck chassis. So, GMC wanted their motor home to be entirely different. The ad slogan for the GMC motor home was “Doesn’t look like a box or ride like a truck.”
The design work for the GMC RV began in 1970 and it was planned to hit the market in 1973. The GMC motor home had front-wheel drive, rare in cars of the day, and never seen in a motor home. The drivetrain and suspension were taken from the Oldsmobile Toronado design. It had a 455 cubic inch Oldsmobile engine with 265 horsepower.
The engine was attached to a Turbo-Hydramatic 425 transmission with torsion bar suspension. The rear suspension was adapted from the GM bus designs. It used dual swing arms, with one trailing and one leading. Each had a single air spring on each side.
One major difference with the GMC motor home design was that it didn’t use auto body steel in its body. The body was instead made with lightweight aluminum and molded fiberglass-reinforced plastic. These were the same materials used in the Chevy Corvette. It greatly reduced the vehicle weight compared to its contemporary RVs.
These design features all created a very different motor home than others on the market. No other RV at the time had independent swing arm rear suspension or front wheel drive. Also, without a drive shaft or axles underneath the coach, the floor height could be much lower, meaning a lower center of gravity.
The motor home also featured a six-wheel braking system. There were disc brakes on the front and drum brakes on the four rear wheels. This further enhanced the vehicle’s drivability.
These features made the handling of the GMC RV easier than the boxy RVs of the time. It also made for easier entry and exit from the vehicle, reduced wind resistance and rollover risk. It made the GMC motor home far easier to operate and safer for those who had no prior experience driving vehicles larger than a car.
Interior Design Features of the GMC Motor Home
Previous motor home designs focused on the comforts of using the RV as a home away from home at a camping spot or mobile home park. The GMC motor home was targeted a somewhat different type of RV buyer. It was designed to make getting to the destination less cumbersome and easier for the everyday driver. Also, the GMC RV featured a panoramic windshield, making the view of the road superior to pretty much any other motor home at the time.
The GMC motor home was available in 23 foot and 26 foot lengths. This actually was a fairly small RV even at the time. The motor home’s interior was compact and featured no permanent sleeping areas. Beds were converted from sleeping areas when needed. This allowed for better use of interior space.
The fridge was powered by a standard auto battery. While this was fine for short-term use, its power source was only good enough for overnight before it needed recharging. Also, the water heaters were quite effective, using engine coolant loops. Unfortunately, the water could become so hot - with temperature in excess of 200 degrees Fahrenheit, that it could actually represent a scalding hazard. So, you had to be careful.
Thirty different floor plans were available, so there were many different interior options. This wide variety of floor plans allowed you to find a model that fit your specific vacation plans best. So, how would the GMC motor home fare on the open market?
The GMC Motor Home on the Market
The GMC RV prototype debuted at the Transpro ‘72 trade show in May 1972 in Washington, DC. Production began in 19773 with two models. There were the 23-foot Model 230 and the 26-foot Model 260. GMC actually produced motor homes with both finished interiors and unfinished interiors. Those unfinished interiors were sold to Avion and Coachman, who then furnished the RVs with their own interiors before reselling them. On the open market, GMC motor homes were priced between $35,000 and $40,000.
Unfortunately, despite GMC having innovative design for their motor home, they entered the market right before the energy crisis. With fuel prices skyrocketing, many people decided not to buy the larger motor homes any more. To increase fuel efficiency, GMC replaced the Oldsmobile 455 engine with a 185-hp, 403 cubic inch engine. This engine was actually seen in many other Oldsmobiles at the time.
Because of the poor timing at entering the market, the GMC motor home never sold a high volume. After producing 12,921 vehicles, GMC decided to retire their motor home after the 1978 model year and switch to light trucks.
The Collectibility of GMC Motor Homes
The good news for GMC motor homes is that their relative rarity made them instant collectibles almost the moment that production stopped. Fans of the GMC RV created owners’ associations to make getting parts and service for these unusual motor homes fairly easy. In fact, service for these vehicles even became a cottage industry.
In 1992, when GMC decided to scrap all remaining parts and tools for the motor homes, Cinnabar Engineering seized the opportunity to purchase all of the remaining supplies. They also negotiated a deal with GMC to continue providing parts for the GMC motor homes.
That same year, a monthly magazine called GMC Motor Home Marketplace debuted. Two years later, Cinnabar started publishing the quarterly newsletter called GMC Motor Home News. This publication ran through December 2010. GMC Motor Homes became collectible toys, too. Mattel even created more than fifty different diecast GMC Motor Homes models for their Hot Wheels line. In 1977, Mattel even released three toy GMC Motor Homes as a Barbie Doll Star Traveler promo.
The Loyalty of GMC Motor Home Owners
There are still over 8,000 GMC motor homes registered today. Many of them are still worthy of camping trips! There are still plenty of places online to find more information about the GMC Motor Home and find parts and places that will service them. Because of their rarity and popularity, used GMC motor homes still sell north of $10,000 on the open market. Models in top condition can fetch $15,000 or more.
What do you think of the GMC motor home?
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