The GMC Motorhome Story Of A Classic The GMC Motorhome Story Of A

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The GMC Motorhome Story Of A Classic The GMC Motorhome Story Of A Powered By Docstoc
					Reprinted with permission from the
February, March, and April 2004 issues
Of Family Motor Coaching.

    Story Of A Classic:
    The GMC Motorhome
    Part Part One
         By BILL BRYANT, F65627                                        with new four-cylinder and V-6              coach builders. Each RV manufacturer
                                                                       engines, and downsizing. Cars became        was building its version of what it
        Produced by General Motors                                     smaller, lighter, less powerful, and with   thought a motorhome should be. There
     from 1973 through 1978, the innov-                                increased fuel economy standards            were lots of choices for the motorhome
    ative GMC Motorhome gained a follow-                               mandated by the federal government.         buyer, nearly all of them on a truck
    ing that is still as strong — if not                                  Automobile companies are always          chassis. What if someone offered an
    stronger — today. This three-part                                  searching for ways to gain more sales,      attractive, advanced design on a cus-
    series explores the fascinating history                            to build a greater market share, and to     tom chassis, unique and specifically
    of a motorhome still considered                                    keep their assembly lines flowing.          made for just that purpose?
    by many to have been far ahead of                                  New ideas are constantly evaluated,            One of those niches GM was looking
    its time.                                                          but few see the light of day.               at in 1969-1970 involved ideas for a
                                                                       Occasionally, however, a niche is found     multipurpose vehicle — a vehicle that
                                                                       and a new market is developed.              could be adapted for use not only as a

           ollowing World War II and a                                    Truck chassis were successfully          motorhome, but as an ambulance, a
           lapse of auto production of near-                           marketed to the RV industry in the          small transit bus, an airport shuttle, a
           ly four years, former GIs and the                           1970s by the Big Three. In 1971 Dodge       mobile medical clinic, or a display or
   general public longed for new cars.                                 sold 28,000 chassis to 50 different         service van. Evaluations began at the
   Once the pent-up postwar demand was
   satisfied, auto companies started offer-                              The “pie wagon” or “chicken coop” was used for initial demonstration of the
   ing innovative, attractive new designs                                hardware for the rear tandem suspension. The goal was improved ride and
   in an effort to capture a greater market                              handling over a truck-type suspension.
   share. At auto shows and Motoramas
   we saw Thunderbirds and Edsels,
   Chrysler 300s, Corvettes, GTOs, and
   Eldorados. New V-8 engines were
   everywhere; small blocks, big blocks,
   Hemis; horsepower and cubic inches
   ruled. New styles were longer, lower,
   wider, with chrome everywhere and tail
   fins that soared.
                                               Photo by Ralph Merkle

      Then came the energy crunch in
   October 1973, and it all changed. The
   automotive talk turned to cost and
   availability of fuel, more efficient cars
    58   FEBRUARY 2004 • FMC
GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan.                          motorhome. Since spy photographers
Competing motorhome specifications                           often took pictures of test vehicles
were scrutinized, and floor plans                            driving around the GM Proving
were evaluated. Initially, it was decid-                     Grounds, full fender skirts covered the
ed to go with 20-foot and 24-foot                            wheels to hide the vehicle’s unique
motorhome designs.                                           suspension.
    Relying heavily on interior designs                         The major purpose of this vehicle
by GM’s Frigidaire Division, drawings                        was to demonstrate to GM manage-
of the numerous floor plans under                            ment its superior handling and ride in
evaluation lined the Tech Center’s                           comparison to the truck chassis nor-
walls. A full-scale plywood (fiber-                          mally used for motorhomes. It is
board) seating buck was built in the                         reported that GM management was
Tech Center’s basement to evaluate the                       favorably impressed and approved fur-

                                                                                                        Photo by author
different interior designs. Seating                          ther development of the project.
bucks are used to define a vehicle’s                            Initially, Chevrolet wanted the
requirements for both internal and                           motorhome project, but the GM corpo-
external packaging. Styling must not
violate these requirements if their
designs are to remain true for the final
production version.
    The first chassis built to demon-
strate the unique vehicle design was
                                                                                                                               John Locklin (shown above at a
assembled with the now familiar tan-
                                                                                                                               GMC Motorhomes International
dem-rear wheel assembly incorporat-
                                                                                                                               rally in 1996) was the GMC
ing leading-trailing cast nodular iron
                                                                                                                               employee responsible for
arms at the rear, supported with a
                                                                                                                               motorhome body engineering.
hydro-air spring from the Saginaw
                                                                                                                               He retired in 1977 and was
Division of GM. The power steering
                                                                                                                               presented a 1/6-scale model
                                           Photo by author

pump was used for hydraulic pressure
                                                                                                                               of a GMC motorhome as a gift
for this suspension system. The
                                                                                                                               (shown above and at left).
engine and drivetrain used the
Oldsmobile Toronado front-wheel-
drive unit with its 455-cubic-inch
engine, 425 Hydra-Matic transmis-                            rate guidelines defined vehicles below
sion, and 3.07:1 differential gear ratio                     10,500 pounds gross vehicle weight
from the Toronado trailer-towing                             rating (GVWR) as Chevrolet responsi-
option.                                                      bilities and vehicles above that
    The design of this “development                          weight as GMC responsibilities. The
mule” allowed for a low-profile chassis                      project, therefore, went to GMC. This
with its attendant handling and ride                         decision, however, did not stop the
improvements. The front section of the                       interdivisional rivalry, which contin-
frame made use of the Toronado                               ued throughout the motorhome’s
design and bolted up to the center C-                        production years. Chevrolet was a
channel side rails. The rear frame                           major supplier of truck chassis for the
extension was unique to the                                  RV industry and considered the GMC
motorhome and was “kicked up” to                             Motorhome another competitor.
allow for an adequate departure angle.                       Chevrolet management made sure
A modified van body built by the                             that the motorhome carried all of its
Union City Body Company, of Union                            cost burdens and received no special
                                                                                                       Photo by author

City, Indiana, was mounted on the                            corporate advantages.
frame. The chassis had been designed                            Early in these developmental
with only 4 inches of ground clearance.                      stages, GMC Engineering was defin-
    Called the “pie wagon” or “chicken                       ing just what this multipurpose vehi-                        Ralph Merkle (now deceased
coop” by those working on the project,                       cle should be. The GMC styling idea                          but pictured here with his rock
this development mule was outfitted                          was along the lines of the                                   and mineral collection in 1994)
with windows and bus seats, and sand                         Sportscoach motorhome of the peri-                           was the GMC engineer responsible
bags were strategically placed inside to                     od, with styled front and rear fiber-                        for the chassis design.
represent the weight of an equipped                                                      continued
                                                                                                                                FMC • FEBRUARY 2004     59
glass caps, but with straight side-        manufacturers were utilizing that same      more upscale than the early models. A
walls. This type of design allowed for     system during this time period:             bright, young, enthusiastic engineer,
a reasonably attractive appearance,        Revcon, Cortez, Travoy, and Tiara. The      Kurt Stubenvoll, was in charge of prod-
though ordinary, while minimizing          Revcon was the most successful of the       uct development for the motorhome.
tooling and manufacturing costs.           group. Cortez had evolved from the          Ralph Merkle headed up chassis devel-
   The GM Design Center had been at        Clark. Travoy was a Riverside,              opment and was responsible for every-
work for about two years at this point     California, company. And the Tiara          thing from “the frame to the pave-
on various multipurpose vehicle            evolved from the Ultra Van, which had       ment.” Known as “the idea man,”
designs. Not surprisingly, those           originally used the Corvair engine.         Merkle had a number of patents to
designs looked much different from            The individuals responsible for the      prove it. John Locklin came to GM
what GMC had in mind. There were           development of the GMC Motorhome            with an aeronautical degree and had
three-wheeled designs that followed        were members of a group of bright           responsibility for the motorhome
the arc of the sun while parked; panels    young professionals. Martin J. Caserio,     body engineering (he brought new
that extended to add more living space;    General Motors vice president and GMC       assembly methods and ideas to the
and scale models of attractive and         Truck and Coach general manager,            auto industry). Michael Lathers from
futuristic designs, as well as numerous    envisioned      a    “Chevrolet”     of     the Design Center was in charge of
sketches and drawings that were . . .      motorhomes — that is, reasonably            the motorhome styling (it was to
well . . . far out!                        priced with a view toward large-volume      become obvious to all the fine job he
   The use of the Oldsmobile Toronado      sales. Caserio’s replacement in 1973,       did). Many other talented engineers
front-wheel-drive unit should not have     Alex C. Mair, wanted a vehicle more         contributed to what was to become a
been a surprise. Four other motorhome      like the “Cadillac” of motorhomes,          classic as well.

                                             Author Bill Bryant, F65627, has an incredible collection of GMC memorabilia,
                                              including motorhomes produced by HotWheels (he has 50 different ones),
                                                      Frisbees, belt buckles, and hats, among many other items.

                                           ing in. Bill’s interest extends beyond      Motorhome-related FMCA chapters:
                                           the cars themselves and into their his-     GMC       Colonial   Travelers,   GMC
                                           tory and background.                        Motorhomes       International,   GMC
                                               Bill’s interest in GMC Motorhomes       Nor’easters, and GMC Sunshine
                                           began in 1984 when he purchased his         Statesmen. Bill served as president,
                                           first GMC Motorhome, a 1976 Palm            vice president, and alternate national
                                           Beach, which he still drives to this day.   director of GMC Colonial Travelers;
                                           He also owned a 1976 GMC Birchaven.         as Northeast vice president of
                                           His inquiries into GMC Motorhome his-       GMC Motorhomes International;
                                           tory began when he started collecting       and as alternate national direc-
                                           everything in print that dealt with the     tor of GMC Nor’easters. Nita is
                                           subject. He had the good fortune of         currently alternate national
                                           being able to contact and interview a       director of GMC Nor’easters and
                                           number of GMC engineers who were            also has served as secretary of
                                           responsible for the development of          GMC Motorhomes International
                                           the vehicle and now has 32 cassette         and as president of GMC Colonial
                                           tapes filled with interviews. His col-      Travelers.
      About The Author                     lection of GMC Motorhome memorabil-            Bill is a 1952 graduate of the State
                                           ia includes 50 different sales              University of New York at Morrisville,
   Bill Bryant has had a lifelong inter-   brochures, 14 dealer sales films, 60        New York. After graduating from col-
est in wheels and motors. He grew up       different magazine advertisements, 50       lege, he was drafted into the army
on a farm in Lomontville, New York,        different GMC Motorhomes produced           where he spent two years stationed in
and took ownership of his first vehicle    by HotWheels, three different Barbie        Eniwetok, Marshall Islands, as a
when he was about 13. He enjoys            GMC Motorhomes, Hess Training Vans,         wheeled-vehicle technician during the
antique autos, and currently owns a        playing cards, Frisbees, belt buckles,      Korean War. A month after being dis-
1914 Model-T Ford Touring car that         clothing, ballpoint pens, flyswatters,      charged from the military, he began
he’s had since high school, as well as a   and much more.                              working at IBM Corporation. He retired
1965 Corvette Sting Ray convertible            Bill and Nita joined FMCA in 1985       from IBM 37 years later in the position
that he and his wife, Nita, enjoy cruis-   and are members of four GMC                 of advisory engineer.
60   FEBRUARY 2004 • FMC
    On February 7, 1972, GM made offi-             About this time the new vehicle was      as easy to live with on the road as it is
cial what had been rumored in the               known as the TVS-4 (Travel Vehicle          standing still.” “The show place that
industry for some time. The national            Streamlined model 4). Part of the rea-      goes places.” All of these slogans
press reported that GM was to “play a           son this vehicle is so different from       placed great emphasis on the traveling
role in the motorhome market.” By               other motorhomes of the era is that it      aspects of motorhoming and not just
this time, the motorhome’s lengths had          was not conceived as just a “camper,”       how a motorhome functioned while
been identified as 23 and 26 feet. The          but as a vehicle for comfortable travel     parked at the campsite.
increase in length was the result of            as well. Slogans used later in GMC
additional interior content that design-        Motorhome advertisements demon-                    * * * To be continued * * *
ers and salespeople felt was necessary          strated this; for example: “It doesn’t       Next month, Bill discusses the evolu-
for a well-equipped motorhome. GM               ride like a truck, it doesn’t look like a   tion of the classic GMC Motorhome
Sales had identified the need for the 23-       box.” “Our goal was to make getting         through the use of clay scale models.
foot motorhome as a price leader. Prices        there as much fun as being there.” “It’s
were reported to be between $12,000
and $16,000. Major motorhome com-
petitors claimed they were not worried;
still, their stock prices fell several points
the next day. Smaller motorhome com-
panies indicated immediate concern
about the erosion of their market share
with giant GM entering this field.

                           Photos by author

                                                                                                      FMC • FEBRUARY 2004        61
Story Of A Classic:
The GMC Motorhome
Part Two One
       By BILL BRYANT, F65627               ate two different designs at the same      Holes were drilled about one inch apart
                                            time. The final A-scale model, however,    over the fiberglass body, and flush-
   Produced by General Motors from          would be viewed as a completed single      mounted, hollow tubes were installed
1973 through 1978, the innovative           design.                                    and connected to pressure-measure-
GMC Motorhome gained a following                Once these models were completed,      ment devices. Time was purchased at
that is still as strong — if not stronger   evaluated, and approved, full-sized        the Guggenheim wind tunnel facility in
— today. This three-part series             drawings were made using 1⁄4-inch tape     California, and the test was performed.
explores the fascinating history of a       to outline the front, rear, and side       Was the shape clean? You bet! The CD
motorhome still considered by many          designs. These drawings would guide        was .310, better than that era’s
to have been far ahead of its time.         the designers in the next stage: a full-   Corvette, which was .312.
Last month, Part 1, discussed how the       size clay model.                               A great deal of clay is required for a
GMC Motorhome was conceptualized                An important part in developing the    26-foot motorhome, probably the
and developed. This month’s install-        shape of this motorhome was to deter-      largest clay model GM ever made. The
ment covers completion of the design,       mine just how efficient it would be        clay had to be heated in an oven to 150
building of prototypes, and the begin-      moving through the air. While the          degrees Fahrenheit to soften it so that it
ning of testing.                            design looked “clean,” tests would         could be applied to the substrate, which
                                            determine whether in fact it was. GM       in this case was Styrofoam. It was then

         esign of the GMC Motorhome         used various methods to determine this     scraped and shaped by the modelers.
         continued to evolve in the two     in its vehicle designs. One method was     The clay buildup continued until the
         main areas of styling and chas-    to put ink spots on a model and place      dimensions of the design were
sis, with the Design Center concentrat-     the model in a wind tunnel to watch the    achieved. This work was done in the
ing on the external and interior            directional flow of the ink. In another    basement of the Tech Center in an area
designs. At one time, there were 12         test method, small ribbons were fas-       without a well-controlled environment,
designers working with sketches and         tened to the surface of a test vehicle     and without air-conditioning. Each
 ⁄8-scale (called A-scale) clay models.     and a camera car was driven alongside      morning the room had to be brought up
Three or four of these clay models were     the vehicle to photograph the direction-   to temperature so that the clay could be
made, each with distinct design charac-     al flow of the ribbons. While either of    worked. Once the shape was complet-
teristics, and each refining its shape      these methods may have been used,          ed, the clay surface was “polished”
closer to the final form.                   what is known is that a 1⁄16-scale model   with a sponge and cold water. This full-
    Since only one side of a model could    was built for the purpose of determin-     size clay model, now identified as RV-
be viewed at a time, the first scale mod-   ing the coefficient of drag, known as      26, was finished with a silver-blue film
els were sculpted with two different        CD. A mahogany block was modeled to        of Di-Noc, replicating the painted sur-
designs, one on each side. Thus, a sin-     the designed shape, and a fiberglass       face of a vehicle.
gle clay model could be used to evalu-      model was then made from this master.          Once the full-size clay model was
70   MARCH 2004 • FMC
completed, plaster casts were made of
it. Dimensional drawings of these casts
were made for tooling and for building
the early fiberglass parts for the first
prototype bodies. The full-sized clay
model existed for only about a month,
after which it began to sag. Since it was
no longer needed, it was destroyed.
    Pictures of the scale models, the
sketches and drawings, and finally the
full-size clay model are most interest-
ing. The evolution from the earliest
designs, with pronounced fender
flares, wraparound rear windows and
taillights, and other eye-pleasing
shapes, drifted toward a still pleasing
but more “manufacturable at reason-
able cost” design in the end.
    Changes made to the clay model
after being “finalized” were the incor-
poration of the parking lights below the
headlights within the headlight bezel
area and the use of four Suburban
(production) taillights. The quad tail-
light idea, however, was quickly dis-
carded as being too cluttered. Designer
Mike Lathers proposed a couple of
other features that didn’t make the cut;
these included a crown (curve) in the
rear window glass, which would have
minimized reflections caused by a large
window surface. Another of Mike’s
novel ideas was to accent the rear sus-
                                                                     During the GMC Motorhome design phase, clay models
pension, instead of hiding it (a pol-
                                                                     were created to test different ideas, among them the 1/8-
ished, plated, and painted suspension
                                                                     scale model above, shown with a full-size tape drawing and
assembly, much like Harley-Davidson
                                                                     various sketches in the background. These led to the pro-
does with a motorcycle). The view of a
                                                                     duction of a full-size clay model, known as RV-26 (pictured
“flashy” suspension in action would
                                                                     top and bottom); note the wraparound taillights and rear
have been an impressive sight. Even
                                                                     window styling of this model.
                                            Photos courtesy of GMC

though some of the suggested features
didn’t materialize, I have yet to meet a
person who doesn’t think that the GMC
Motorhome is arguably the nicest
design to ever come down the RV pike.
When I look at the earliest renderings,
I usually have a big smile on my face,
thinking of what might have been.
    In parallel with the exterior work at
the Tech Center, six designers were
developing the interiors. The plywood
buck mentioned earlier helped to
define space and floor plan require-
ments. An important consideration
was the loading of the vehicle, distrib-
uting the weight as evenly as possible.
Considerable effort was made in evalu-
                                                                                                                FMC • MARCH 2004   71
ating competing interior features. At       make room for the interior furniture                                    The rear tandem-axle hydro-air sus-
one point, it also was suggested that       and appliances. This displeased Ralph,                               pension designed by GM’s Saginaw
the Frigidaire Division might build RV      who had envisioned using many exist-                                 Division had been the key design ele-
appliances, stoves, and refrigerators.      ing GM passenger vehicle components                                  ment for this vehicle. It allowed for the
But with a limited market and very          to keep the motorhome price afford-                                  low floor as well as a measured
competitive pricing, Frigidaire decided     able. Now additional length and weight                               improvement in ride and handling.
there were better business arenas           were going to compromise the use of                                  Another feature was less intrusion into
available.                                  these parts, as well as the front-wheel                              the living area than dual wheels would
   House and Garden magazine was            traction.                                                            have caused. Tooling costs for the
used as a consultant for the interior          Ralph Merkle related a story about                                hydro-air design had come in much
décor and exterior colors. This publica-    the frame design. When the design was                                higher than anticipated, however. A

                                                                                                                    Above is a preproduction GMC
                                                                                                                    Motorhome photographed at
                                                                                                                    the GM Proving Grounds in
                                                                                                                    1972. GMC Motorhome history
                                                                                                                    was made when the first vehicle
                                                                                                                    exited the Gemini Corporation
                                                                                                                    facility after completion of the
                                                                                                                    interior (left). Pictured are GMC
                                                                                        Photos courtesy of GMC

                                                                                                                    executives Bob Stelter, at the
                                                                                                                    wheel, and Earl Maxwell.

tion was the authority on the colors of     nearly completed, Ralph asked John                                   less costly design was requested as a
that era. Ed Cole, GM president, sug-       Locklin for the final body design                                    backup, and work began on a replace-
gested that bright colors should be         details, because frame and body                                      ment.
used. One story — confirmed by sever-       designs had to be coordinated.                                           A full air spring was designed. A
al people — reported that during one        However, the body design was not yet                                 Goodyear model using a long cylindri-
meeting in which colors were dis-           finalized. Since lead times for the frame                            cal (air) spring, one piston, and one
cussed, Ed Cole pointed to the tie of       subcontractors were critical, Ralph was                              bag convolution had been found to
chief engineer Wally Edwards and said,      forced to make his best guess. His                                   have interference problems. A new full
“One of the colors should be like           guess was off by about 2 inches. That                                air spring design was started using the
Wally’s tie.” The tie was adorned with      is why the rear frame cross member                                   rolling lobe principle with two tapered
orange stripes; an orange color (bitter-    sticks out about 2 inches beyond the                                 pistons and a floating air spring
sweet) was offered in 1973-74. Wally        body. The frame was made of 1⁄8-inch-                                between them. The tapered pistons
still has that tie.                         thick steel by Midland.                                              kept the spring centered, and as the
    The chassis design was continuing           Ralph and John enjoyed some good-                                rubber spring rolled up and down the
as well. The engine and drivetrain lay-     natured ribbing during this process.                                 piston surface, the spring rate was
out was progressing rapidly, since it       Ralph kidded John that his frame was                                 changed. The first prototype spring was
required only minor changes to the          holding up John’s body, and John                                     delivered by Firestone in March 1971
existing Oldsmobile Toronado design.        would respond by saying it was his                                   and became the production air spring
Ralph Merkle’s original 24-foot design      body holding up Ralph’s frame. They                                  with only a minor modification (slight-
had been stretched to 26 feet in order to   were probably both right.                                                                          continued
72   MARCH 2004 • FMC
ly larger in diameter and slightly short-   roof. No body stampings were required,                               and they were painted black. Those
er in length).                              thus minimizing tooling and fabrica-                                 reviewing the design liked the black
    In the Experimental Engineering         tion costs. John also had insisted on a                              frames better, and that settled that.
area, five pre-test chassis were being      flat driver’s compartment floor. In driv-                               The large body dies required for the
built. The pre-test bodies would later be   ing a competitor’s motorhome, he                                     SMC (sheet molded compound) fiber-
installed on four of them. The fifth        found that having to squeeze between                                 glass panels were in place at the ven-
chassis would be used for pictures and      the driver’s seat and the engine cover                               dor, Engineered Molding Systems of
display. The completed units would be       was uncomfortable and, in his mind,                                  Lancaster, Ohio. Lumps of SMC
used for various purposes — some for        unnecessary.                                                         “dough” were strategically placed in
testing, some for pictures and shows.           GMC Engineering was attempting to                                the molds, and with heat and pressure,
We will hear more about these later.        build the side window frames out of                                  it took 12 minutes to process each

                                                                                                                    This preproduction GMC
                                                                                                                    Motorhome (left) was built
                                                                                                                    after the “pie wagon”
                                                                                                                    demonstration unit and
                                                                                                                    prior to the final design.
                                                                                                                    Among the prototypes put
                                                                                                                    through bench testing
                                                                                                                    in the early 1970s was a
                                                                                        Photos courtesy of GMC

                                                                                                                    23-foot model called the
                                                                                                                    Cape Cod (above).

    John Locklin, the body engineer,        plastic. While windows with sharp cor-                               panel. This cycle time was reduced
was spending most of his time at G.L.       ners were in vogue at the time, Mike                                 somewhat as experience was gained
Bowen & Co., the job shop that was          Lathers felt this design resulted in                                 with the curing process.
supplying the draftsmen charged with        stresses at the corners that could even-                                At GMC, the first hardware that we
documenting the motorhome body.             tually cause cracks in the body skin.                                would recognize as a GMC Motorhome
Measurements of the plaster casts           The rounded corner design reduced                                    was being assembled. The chassis with
made from the full-size clay model          these stresses and provided a less                                   the Toronado front-wheel-drive assem-
were translated into drawings to be         dated look. The plastic frames couldn’t                              bly was pretty well defined. The rear
used to make the dies, body structure,      be made to work, however, and a                                      suspension was still the tandem-axle
and skin. John’s background as an           multi-piece aluminum frame was put in                                hydro-air suspension, and many com-
aeronautical engineer was showing up        production. A few years ago I asked a                                ponents were still passenger car parts,
in many of the design features — for        GMC engineer why GMC changed to                                      such as the five-bolt wheels and hubs.
example, the light weight of the alu-       Hehr windows in 1976, and he said the                                In viewing the body hardware, things
minum and fiberglass body skin, the         anodizing on the earlier windows did-                                were a little different from how they
all-aluminum body framing, and the          n’t match. He said they couldn’t build                               had appeared in the clay model. The
bonding of body panels with adhesives       them, couldn’t seal them, and couldn’t                               front end was nearly the same, but the
instead of rivets and screws. Another       service them. GMC initially planned for                              sides had become vertical and straight.
important design feature was the use of     the window frames to be “bright.” At                                 This particular vehicle was to become
flat aluminum panels for body surfaces      one of the design reviews, they hadn’t                               known as “straight sides,” not usually
above the belt molding, including the       yet gotten around to plating the frames                                                           continued
74   MARCH 2004 • FMC
uttered in a complimentary tone. It        motorhome of the era. In selling the       Industries. Muntz Corp. had returned
turned out that GMC engineers thought      design to GM management, the point         the most attractive bid, but they were
the upper storage cabinets should be       had been made that anybody could           located in California. GMC officials
able to hold a 12-inch plate, and the      make an ordinary-looking motorhome;        desired someone closer to Pontiac,
tumble home (body side curve) design       what GM needed was “style” to sell.        Michigan. Although its bid was not the
created by Mike Lathers didn’t allow for   And style is what they got. Mike lob-      lowest, PRF Industries received the
that. At the rear of the body, the large   bied for and won the argument to have      nod, since its location was to be 22
removable back panel had not yet been      his design reinstated. That was the last   miles from the Pontiac plant, and fur-
implemented.                               of “straight sides.”
   When Mike Lathers got a look at            GMC had decided to outsource the
straight sides, it is reported that he     interior up-fitting. Bids were received       Plans for the manufacture
“went straight up in the air.” The         from four manufacturers: Open Road,
design looked a lot like any other         Sportscoach, Muntz Corp., and PRF               of the motorhome were
                                                                                            moving along rapidly.
                                                                                            Plant No. 3 in Pontiac,
                                                                                              Michigan, had been
                                                                                          outfitted with equipment
                                                                                          and tooling. This was one
                                                                                         of GM’s older plants, and it
                                                                                         had a split-level floor plan.

                                                                                      ther negotiations brought its bid close
                                                                                      to GMC’s price point.
                                                                                          PRF Industries was owned by Peter
                                                                                      R. Fink, the builder of Travco and
                                                                                      Sightseer motorhomes. A new PRF
                                                                                      division was formed to build the GMC
                                                                                      interiors, Gemini Corp., located in
                                                                                      Mount Clemens, Michigan. Rumor has
                                                                                      it that Peter Fink named the new cor-
                                                                                      poration “Gemini” because it was “GM
                                                                                      & I.” Rumor also has it that his zodiac
                                                                                      sign may have been Gemini; take your
                                                                                      pick on which (or both) you want to
                                                                                          The Gemini facility designed and
                                                                                      built all of the furniture; assembled all
                                                                                      of the modules; applied the Texolite
                                                                                      laminate; and installed everything,
                                                                                      bringing it in through the motorhome
                                                                                      rear access opening. A number of start-
                                                                                      up concerns had to be resolved.
                                                                                      Between the motorhome body manu-
                                                                                      facturing tolerances and the interior
                                                                                      module tolerances, which were affected
                                                                                      by temperature and humidity, changes
                                                                                      had to be implemented to make things
                                                                                      fit. Every wooden part had to have a
                                                                                      drawing and a GM part number. The
                                                                                      complexity of 15 different floor plans
                                                                                      and the many available options con-
                                                                                      tributed to a complicated interior
                                                                                      assembly process as well. Approvals

76   MARCH 2004 • FMC
       from the many individual states as well                through a determined number of test         was fixed. The rear crash test resulted
       as from the federal government had to                  cycles. Hot-weather testing was carried     in damage to the frame kick-up area
       be submitted and granted also. Gemini                  out on the “Baker Grade,” an 18-mile-       and spare tire carrier. Changes in this
       had a target of completing the interiors               long hill in the deserts of Southern        area fixed this as well.
       of 32 coaches per day; the best they                   California. This hot-weather testing            A rollover test was also performed.
       achieved was closer to 20 per day.                     resulted in an additional fan blade         The proving grounds had a rollover
          With the prototypes now being                       being added; use of the seven-bladed        ramp designed for just that purpose.
       assembled, and their purposes defined,                 fan was now dictated.                       This worked well for passenger-type
                                                                                                          vehicles, but long wheelbase vehicles
                                                                                                          usually had to be assisted. A forklift
                                                                                                          raised one side of the frame to tip it
                                                                                                          over, 11⁄2 to 2 turns. The damage was
                                                                                                          reported to be not all that serious: a toi-
                                                                                                          let had come loose along with a few
                                                                                                          other interior pieces, and the body was
                                                                                                          distorted to one side.
                                                                                                              Plans for the manufacture of the
                                                                                                          motorhome were moving along rapidly.
                                                                                                          Plant No. 3 in Pontiac, Michigan, had
                                                                                                          been outfitted with equipment and
                                                                                                          tooling. This was one of GM’s older
                                                                                                          plants, and it had a split-level floor
Photo by Ralph Merkle

                                                                                                          plan. At the lower level, the chassis
                                                                                                          frame was collecting various sub-
                                                                                                          assemblies as it proceeded down the
                                                                                                          line: front and rear suspension, tanks,
                        The first public showing of a GMC Motorhome prototype took place in               air lines, electrical wiring, and, finally,
                        May 1972 at Transpo 72, the U.S. International Transportation Expo, in            the engine and drivetrain.
                        Washington, D.C., where it was labeled as a “Multi Purpose Vehicle.”                  The upper level of the plant was
                                                                                                          used for body assembly. Individual alu-
       their activities would begin. The first                    Modified passenger vehicle test cri-    minum pieces of the frame were placed
       public showing would be at Transpo                     teria were used, consisting of proving      in manufacturing jigs, which assem-
       72,      the     U.S.     International                grounds roads for 25,000 miles (regu-       bled and aligned them; the pieces were
       Transportation      Exposition     near                lar durability) and 5,000 miles of          then welded together as a unit. Three
       Washington, D.C. (Dulles), from May                    Belgian blocks (accelerated durability).    unique jigs were used: right side, left
       27 through June 4, 1972. Many GM                       During the “figure 8” road testing, an      side, and the roof assembly. Next, these
       cars and trucks were on display there                  early failure was the five-bolt Toronado    panels were assembled and welded
       as well as a tan-colored 26-foot                       passenger car wheels. They were             together as the body cage. Separately,
       motorhome. The exterior was rather                     replaced with eight-bolt one-ton truck      each of the body panels was very flex-
       plain, with no stripes or trim. In a                   wheels. This also required replacing the    ible. When welded together, they
       brochure it was described as “An                       hubs to match the eight-bolt pattern.       became a strong yet lightweight unit.
       experimental prototype of GMC Truck &                  Another failure was a cracked frame         Aluminum and fiberglass exterior body
       Coach Division’s complete motorhome,                   near the front cross member. The addi-      panels were fastened to this frame with
       to be marketed in early 1973.” The dis-                tion of a diagonal brace fixed this prob-   a 3M adhesive. John Locklin had want-
       play was still labeled as a “Multi                     lem. The front suspension’s lower A-        ed to use an adhesive made by a small
       Purpose Vehicle,” although this term                   frame and lower ball joint were other       company called REM, but GMC wanted
       would not be used again, as all efforts                areas that required upgrades to the         a larger, well-known supplier instead.
       were now focused on developing and                     passenger vehicle parts.                    This assembled body was then cleaned,
       producing a motorhome.                                     Crash tests were performed at 30 to     prepped, and painted.
          Other motorhome prototypes were                     35 mph as well. From Pennsylvania               When completed, the body was low-
       undergoing testing. A 23-foot                          dealers, GM had purchased new Buicks        ered to the main floor, where it was
       motorhome model named “Cape Cod”                       that had been in a flood. The side crash    mated with the assembled chassis.
       was at bench test. Programmed testing                  test aimed the Buick at the
       with replicated Belgian blocks (cobble-                motorhome’s large side window area.                * * * To be continued * * *
       stones) cycled the suspension with                     The Buick’s bumper penetrated the           Next month, Bill describes the
       hydraulic rams. Door latches were                      sidewall and came to rest above the         mass production, marketing, and,
       slammed, windshield wipers were                        floor. New aluminum vertical reinforce-     sadly, the demise of GMC Motorhome
       cycled, brake pedals were pumped, all                  ments were added, and this problem          manufacturing.
       78               MARCH 2004 • FMC
Story Of A Classic:
The GMC Motorhome
Part ThreeOne
      By BILL BRYANT, F65627                3,000 units, and the rate of motorhome        and GMC truck dealerships didn’t auto-
                                            production was about 20 units per day.        matically become GMC Motorhome
    Produced by General Motors from             As might be expected, there were          dealers. The cost of a GMC Motorhome
1973 through 1978, the innovative           some startup problems. A new group-           dealership franchise was reported to
GMC Motorhome gained a following            assembly concept was developed, with          have been $250,000.
that is still as strong — if not stronger   a six-member team responsible for                 The 1973 GMC Motorhome was
— today. This three-part series explores    body and trim upfitting and a three-          available with a choice of four models,
the fascinating history of a motorhome      member team for assembling and upfit-         six exterior colors, 15 floor plans, and
still considered by many to have been       ting the chassis. This team concept           two body lengths. And then there was
far ahead of its time. Part 1, in the       lasted a month or two, but then pro-          the long list of available options. The
February 2004 issue, discussed how          duction reverted to the standard Detroit      “Detroit” mentality of something for
the GMC Motorhome was conceptual-           auto assembly method of individual job        everyone had arrived full force in the
ized and developed. Part 2, last month,     responsibilities.                             RV industry. The first series of
covered completion of the design, build-        With the complexities of a new facil-     motorhomes were named for national
ing of prototypes, and the beginning of     ity, a new workforce, the assembly of a       parks — Canyonlands, Glacier, Painted
testing. This month, the story concludes    totally new vehicle, plus all of the living   Desert, and Sequoia — and the 26-foot
by describing the mass production;          requirements (including the proverbial        and 23-foot coaches used the same
marketing; and, sadly, the phaseout of      kitchen sink), GMC Motorhome pro-             model names. Three of the exterior col-
GMC Motorhome manufacturing.                duction was indeed an ambitious and           ors were standard — white, camel, and
                                            complex undertaking. Alex Mair was            pineapple yellow — and three others —

        he first few motorhomes moved       holding “design school” with the engi-        bittersweet, sky blue, and parrot green
        slowly down the assembly line       neers each morning at 7:30 to address         — were optional for an additional $34.
        during the fourth quarter of        any concerns or problems and to               A horizontal accent color stripe
1972, and by the second week of             review progress. He often would walk          wrapped around the front of the body;
November the first two dozen had been       through the plant to discuss the day’s        continuing the stripe down the sides of
built. The first 100 were finished before   activities with line employees.               the coach was an $86 option.
the end of January 1973, and more               By June 1973 GMC had 64 dealers               The total of 15 floor plans was split
than 1,750 orders were received by          signed up to sell and service GMC             between the two body lengths, 11 for
mid-February. In March 1973, Alex           Motorhomes. Company officials had             the 26-foot coach and four for the 23-
Mair, general manager of GMC Truck &        hoped to have 200 dealers by the end          footer. Any floor plan was available in
Coach, reported, “The initial response      of 1973 but decided not to sign up any        any of the four models. The model
has surpassed even our most optimistic      more until adequate supplies were             names defined the interior décor, col-
expectations.” It was reported in June      available. GMC Motorhome dealerships          ors, and upholstery patterns and not
of that year that back orders totaled       were separate, stand-alone entities,          the floor plan.
74   APRIL 2004 • FMC
    Manufacturer’s suggested retail base      ly in front of the grandstand, and was to   well as three more from a TV program
price was $14,569.06 for the 26-foot          open the door, wave at the crowd, and       of the time, “Holiday on Wheels.”
motorhome and $13,569.06 for the 23-          then drive off. All went well until the         In late 1973, the 1974 models were
foot motorhome. Almost everything             door latch jammed and the door could        introduced with little fanfare. They
was available as an option. Possibilities     not be opened. Alex’s quick thinking        were a continuation of the previous
included auto air, $482; AM-FM radio,         saved the day, however. He hopped back      year’s models, incorporating running
$217; chrome bumpers, $75; wheel              in the driver’s seat, honked the horn,      changes made to correct deficiencies in
covers (7), $52.50; suspension power-         waved to the crowd, and drove off. That     the early designs. Many of these
leveler, $85; built-in vacuum cleaner,        was not the last of the problems associ-    changes and corrections can be found
$210; roof air, $525; auxiliary 6-kw          ated with the latch manufactured by         in the GMC Motorhome Service
generator, $1,675; factory-delivery           Lake Center Industries, which was used      Bulletins and other publications. One
drive-away prep, $32; or customer             in the 1973 motorhomes.                     change for the better with the 1974
drive-away prep, $105.                            Dolly Cole, wife of GM president Ed     models, in my opinion, was the discon-
    A number of RV shows and demon-           Cole, and friends went to a charity ball    tinuance of the parrot green color.
strations were used around the country        one evening at the Detroit Orchestra            The GMC plant was operating at one
to exhibit the features of the new GMC        Hall. They chose to arrive in the new       shift while the Gemini plant was at two
Motorhome. GMC even displayed the             GMC Motorhome to show it off. The           shifts. The motorhome’s body and
motorhome at a truck show in                  driver pulled the coach up in front to      chassis were being assembled more
Frankfurt, Germany — the Germans              discharge the passengers, and the door      rapidly than the interior upfitting at
loved it! During one of the most              latch jammed again. The passengers          Gemini. An early problem at the Gemini
impressive demonstrations, a GMC              disembarked with great difficulty,          facility was plant layout: parts and
Motorhome was driven over 4-inch-             which the press attending the event         assemblies were not properly placed for
by-4-inch timbers spaced a few feet           duly noted in the morning papers.           efficient manufacturing flow given the
apart. It was followed by a different         Early that next morning motorhome           relatively large build volumes. Gemini
brand of motorhome, which was fitted          engineers were called into Alex Mair’s      plant personnel experience had been
with a cover to obscure its manufactur-       office and told in no uncertain terms to    based on the one-at-a-time build prac-
er’s name. This demonstrated the dif-         fix the problem, immediately. That is       tices at Travco. Employees from the
ference in suspension abilities. The          why you see a stainless-steel patch         GMC plant were able to provide assis-
GMC handled the timbers with ease; its        with the replacement latch on 1973          tance with this problem, thanks to their
tires danced over the obstacles with the      GMC Motorhome doors up to approxi-          extensive background in large-volume
body barely bouncing. The covered             mately serial number 3V101850.              manufacturing.
motorhome with leaf-spring suspen-                Starting in 1973 and continuing             The parking lot at the Gemini facili-
sion on a competitor’s chassis had its        through 1977, a number of films were        ty in Mount Clemens was usually full of
tires leaving the ground and appeared         produced to promote the GMC. Walking        motorhomes        awaiting     interiors.
to be leaping in the air after the third or   into a GMC Motorhome dealership             Completed coaches were shipped from
fourth timber was crossed — much to           showroom, you might see what looked         this location to dealers as well.
the crowd’s delight.                          like a small TV with a number of film           The GMC Motorhome assembly
    Alex Birch, foreman of the                cassettes. GM called these units “Mini-     operations were shut down in early
Experimental Engineering shop, was the        Theaters,” and films showing the many       December 1973. The official reason
driver of the GMC in many of these            features of the motorhome could be          was “to bring inventories in line with
demonstrations. At one demonstration,         viewed on one of these self-contained       retail sales.” However, the gasoline
he completed the pass, pulled up smart-       units. Fourteen films were produced, as                                   continued

                                                                                                                    Photos courtesy of General Motors
A bird’s-eye view of the GMC Motorhome chassis.
                                                                                                          FMC • APRIL 2004             75
shortage had begun to seriously affect    get the “sheer courage award” and had         model names were announced;
the RV industry.                          “corporate guts” to propose an economy        Eleganza II and Palm Beach replaced
   In Las Vegas in January 1974, GMC      run on a 23-foot motorhome during the         the previous models. New, better-qual-
announced a new series of vehicles for    gas crisis. Over a 264-mile test from Los     ity woven fabrics supplanted the print-
commercial, medical, and general          Angeles to Las Vegas, which included          ed fabrics that had been used in earlier
transportation purposes, and nine         the well-known Baker Grade, which             coaches, and Flexsteel seating was
Transmode concept vehicles were           peaks at 4,751 feet, the reported             installed. Assembly of interiors at
shown to the press. An Eleganza SE        mileage was 10.2 mpg using cruise con-        Gemini was discontinued, and all of the
(RPO#696) “featuring customized inte-     trol most of the way. The return trip         interior upfitting was brought in-house
riors much more luxurious than those      provided an 11.2-mpg average, since           at the Pontiac plant (none of the
in current models” was displayed as       this direction was slightly more down-        Gemini employees were picked up by
well. This was the start of Alex Mair’s   hill. Evidently, GMC was trying hard to       GMC for the in-house assembly).
plan to make the GMC Motorhome the        revive sales during this period of            Grand Rapids Furniture Co. was now
“Cadillac of motorhomes.” He had          gas shortages.                                building the interior modules, and
made the comment at one point that            In March 1974 GMC announced that          dovetail joints replaced glue and sta-
the GMC Motorhome was to GMC what         it had suspended production once              ples. While the quality of the interior
the Corvette was to Chevrolet, its halo   again due to a lack of orders. Gemini         fittings improved measurably, heavier
(image) vehicle.                          still had a backlog of shells to upfit, but   weight and higher cost of the furniture
   GMC, now offering a motorhome          scaled back to a one-shift operation.         was the downside. Exterior changes
rental program, conducted a fuel econo-   Sales began picking up over the next          included new colors and stripes; exteri-
my run with press representatives from    couple of months, and by midyear              or paint was now urethane (Imron)
Automotive News, Motor Trend, and         inventories were depleted and produc-         instead of the previously used synthet-
Trailer Life magazines. A motorhome       tion was resumed.                             ic enamel; raised “GMC” letters
economy run could be very risky, and          The 1975 model year brought many          replaced vinyl decals on the
some reporters noted that GM should       changes to the GMC Motorhome. New             motorhomes; and the fit and function

76   APRIL 2004 • FMC
of exterior panels and doors were
improved, as was the floor substruc-
ture. Stronger frame cross members
                                                   GMC Motorhome Production Totals
were added; new Hehr side windows                               Model Year Production:
were installed; an HEI ignition system                         1973       1974        1975      1976*        1977      1978
was added; and polybutylene (plastic)                  23’      461        168          ~          ~           ~         ~
plumbing replaced copper. Gross vehi-                  26’     1,598      1,496       1,195      2,413       1,695      689
cle weight ratings were increased to         Transmode 23’       ~          ~           36        549         253       178
11,700 pounds, and many other                Transmode 26’       ~          ~          425        298         455      1,012
changes and improvements were incor-                 Total     2,059      1,664       1,656      3,260       2,403     1,879
porated as well.                                                                                   *peak production year
   The Transmode, an “empty
motorhome” for those who wanted to
build their own interiors, was available   Foretravel, and Winnebago, plus a few       continued to be offered. The Edgemont
from 1975 through 1978. GMC no             others with very low build quantities.      was replaced by a new twin bed/dry
longer offered the 23-foot unit as a          Transmode upfitters for commercial       bath floor plan in the Eleganza II. Other
motorhome, although it could still be      purposes were many. These GMCs were         changes included a redesigned dash,
purchased as a Transmode and upfitted      used as ambulances/emergency vehi-          which relocated the AC/heater outlets
by others.                                 cles, bookmobiles, mobile banks, air-       and moved the Electro Level controls to
   Many companies were upfitting the       port shuttle buses, mobile showrooms,       the left of the driver; a new Freedom
new Transmode as motorhomes and for        on-location radio broadcast centers,        battery; an entrance door rain cap; and
commercial applications. Some of the       hearses, courtesy coaches for beer and      an assist handle.
motorhome upfitters were Avion,            soda distributors, and much more.               Another model, the Coca-Cola, was
Coachmen, Carriage, LRP, Midas, Norris,       The 1976 GMC Motorhome models            built in two versions. The first was
Hughes, Landau, Roll-a-long, El Dorado,    arrived with few changes from the pre-      the “standard” model, offered in
                                           vious year. Two new models were intro-      cameo white with a red horizontal
                                           duced in addition to the Eleganza II and    stripe, the same pattern as other GMC
                                           Palm Beach carryovers: the Glenbrook        Motorhomes. It is believed these
                                           and Edgemont. The Edgemont was the          motorhomes were used primarily by
                                           price leader with a base price about        Coca-Cola bottlers and distributors as
                 Motorhomes were           $1,000 below the other three models.        courtesy coaches and at public events.
                 conveyed sideways         Running changes continued to be             The second Coca-Cola model was
                 on dollies along the      made, most starting with serial number      dubbed the GadAbout and equipped
                 interior finishing line   6V100878. They added an entry door          with all the bells and whistles. The
                 (left and below);         strap; relocated the air compressor and     exterior paint was white with a
                 these particular          solenoid valves to an inside compart-       sweeping wedge of Coca-Cola red up
                 photos were taken         ment (Electro Level); and added a           the sides that blended to a yellow
                 in 1975.                  glass-lined hot water tank, cab floor       near the top rear of the coach. The
                                           support (stamping), radial tires/wheels,    GadAbout name appeared near the
                                           and body side rub molding (with adhe-       front, and a bottle-cap-shaped spare
                                           sive replacing stainless).                  tire cover was at the rear.
                                              In 1977 the Kingsley model debuted,          Inside, the Coca-Cola red upholstery
                                           replacing the previous year’s Glenbrook     was the same in both coaches. In the
                                           model. The Eleganza II and Palm Beach       GadAbout, refrigerator door graphics
                                                                                       made the appliance look like a soda-
                                                                                       dispensing machine — very impres-
                                                                                       sive! Other extras were a Coca-Cola
                                                                                       logo entry floor mat, clock, and mir-
                                                                                       rored picture, as well as a rear table
                                                                                       with a Coke checkerboard pattern. On
                                                                                       the dash above the glove box was an
                                                                                       attractive pewter plaque with a
                                                                                       GadAbout motorhome in profile and
                                                                                       the slogan, “Coke adds life to . . .
                                                                                       cruisin’ in a GadAbout.”
                                                                                           Five GadAbouts were given away to
                                                                                       first-prize winners of a Coca-Cola
                                                                                                       FMC • APRIL 2004     77
                                        GMC Motorhome Phaseout
                          A press release datelined Pontiac, Michigan, November 11, 1977, read as follows:

         GMC Truck & Coach Division of General Motors plans to             The GMC van program has already added about 1,000
     discontinue producing luxury Motorhomes and similar               jobs in Pontiac, and another 1,200 new jobs could result
     Transmode multipurpose vehicles and convert those plant           within a year, Truxell said.
     facilities to expand truck operations, a GM vice president            A high percentage of GMC’s chopped van output
     said today. Robert W. Truxell, general manager of GMC             is utilized for recreation vehicle applications with
     Truck & Coach said, “As a result of this action, GMC will be      special bodies, such as mini-motorhomes, installed by
     able to utilize production facilities more effectively for ser-   independent companies. “While it is regrettable that
     vicing growing truck demands. The long-term outlook for           luxury Motorhome and Transmode production will be dis-
     greater truck activity is extremely bright and GMC produc-        continued, the action will assist GMC in serving
     tion operations will be realigned to help meet expanding          other parts of the recreation vehicle business to a
     customer needs,” he said.                                         greater extent and help meet growing truck demands,”
         “GMC will continue offering a wide range of trucks which      Truxell explained.
     are designed to meet a variety of recreational vehicle appli-         He said industry truck sales in the United States in the
     cations,” Truxell emphasized.                                     1978 model year should reach 3,750,000 units, and antici-
         He described the planned facility conversion program as       pates the growth trend will continue.
     “a continuation of major steps taken recently at GMC Truck            GMC Motorhomes have been built in Pontiac since their
     & Coach facilities in Pontiac in response to growing truck        introduction in early 1973. Parts, service, and warranty pro-
     needs. Van production will be doubled to more than 250 a          visions will continue through existing GMC Motorhome
     day on two-shift operations, starting this month.                 dealerships, Truxell said.
         “With a continuation of strong sales, GMC van operations          Termination of Motorhome production will be accom-
     will be expanded throughout the 1978 model year,” Truxell         plished gradually and it is expected that approximately
     pointed out. He said another van production increase is antic-    325 persons currently involved in Motorhome activities will
     ipated in the spring of 1978 and facilities are being expanded    be transferred to other GMC Truck & Coach operations,
     to begin van interior installation operations in the spring.      Truxell said.

contest held in December 1977.                      On November 11, 1977, Robert W.           midbody stripe distinguished the 1978
Twenty-five second-prize winners each           Truxell, general manager of GMC Truck         models from other years. A number of
received the use of a GMC Motorhome             and Coach, announced the phaseout of          features that were options in previous
for two weeks along with $3,000 in              GMC Motorhome and Transmode pro-              years were now standard, and many
cash. GMC records indicate that a total         duction (see the accompanying sidebar         features were improved. Improvements
of 55 Coca-Cola models were built, most         for the text of the announcement).            included the Electro Level II, a larger
in 1977 and a few in 1978. It was orig-         According to the GMC engineers I have         bathroom skylight, a 36-gallon holding
inally believed that only five of the total     spoken with, no advance warning was           tank, integral refrigerator vents, new
were GadAbouts; however, more have              given to the employees, and they were         solid cupboard doors, new countertops,
been discovered lately, and as many as          surprised at the news. In all probability,    and woven window blinds. Chrome
nine or 10 may have been built.                 it should not have been too surprising.       bumpers were finally standard. Among
   The 403-cid engine replaced the              Carrying too much burden and overhead         the new options were a glass and spice
455-cid engine by the end of January            and never reaching the volumes needed         rack, a microwave oven, an overhead
1977 and was used for all remaining             to achieve real profitability, GM saw bet-    rear cabinet, a six-speaker sound sys-
motorhome production. GM’s downsiz-             ter ways to use its resources and achieve     tem, a lighted visor vanity mirror, and a
ing had started and would soon have             greater return on its investment.             lockable overhead front cabinet.
severe      implications       for     the          The 1978 model year began with                On the Transmode, urethane foam
GMC Motorhome.                                  three models of GMC Motorhome inte-           floor insulation, previously an option,
   Plant No. 3 in Pontiac, Michigan,            riors: Eleganza II, Palm Beach, and           was now standard. The steering wheel,
had been the site of GMC Motorhome              Kingsley. Production of the Transmode         column, and hand brake were now
production from the beginning in late           continued as well, with many upfitters        saddle-colored, and the front-end GMC
1972 through mid-1977. In August                participating. The major upfitter was         logo was now displayed in raised let-
1977 production was moved to Plant              Coachmen Industries (Jimmy Motors),           tering instead of a decal.
No. 29, also in Pontiac. This site pro-         producing the Royale (26-foot) and                With the end of production
vided a more efficient production facil-        Birchaven (23-foot).                          approaching, plans had to be made to
ity and was used through the end of                 New GMC Motorhome two-tone                phase out production in as orderly a
production in 1978.                             body colors and a three-color horizontal      manner as possible. Build-out plans
78     APRIL 2004 • FMC
were made, i.e. matching parts inven-     the center, similar to the RTS bus            GMC attempted to sell the GMC
tories to dealer/customer orders. One     design, was proposed. Apparently,          Motorhome assets for a reputed
example of this was the sale of surplus   one operational prototype of a trans-      $7 million to another manufacturer
transmissions and final drives by GM      verse front engine/front-wheel-drive       that would continue production.
to an Ohio GMC Motorhome dealer who       motorhome was built. None of these         AM General, a Division of American
purchased 1,361 units. These were ini-    redesigns would support a business         Motors, took a look and built five pro-
tially offered at a sale price of $495    case. Motorhome build quantities           totypes using a 454-cid engine, with
each (the suggested list prices were      were just too small to end up with         a transfer case to turn the drive back
identified as $1,375 for the transmis-    positive results and, finally, the deci-   to the new front axle, much like
sion and $675 for the final drive).       sion to terminate production ended all     Revcon actually did in subsequent
When the inventory got down to 500        further development efforts.               years. On the inside, the front steps to
units, the sale price was reduced to         GM announced additional details         the driving compartment had to be
$475. In 1983 the price was reduced       over the next few weeks. The GMC           modified to allow additional room for
again to $295, at which time the          Motorhome Club, supported by GM,           the transfer case. This was as far as it
remaining inventory was sold. GMC         was discontinued, and in its place a new   went for AM General. After some test-
Motorhome and Transmode production        organization, GMC Motorhome Owners         ing, company officials decided not to
ended in July 1978.                       Association (GMC MOA) was formed.          pursue the purchase of the GMC
    That being said, the rest of the      GM noted that it was independent and       Motorhome.
story is as follows. An important con-    separate from GMC Truck & Coach.              Eventually Donald Wheat pur-
sideration should be that Alex Mair, a                                               chased the motorhome manufacturing
very strong advocate for the GMC                                                                                  continued
Motorhome, had gone to the Pontiac
Division, and there was no one will-
ing to fight for the program. There
were, of course, other serious and
obvious concerns with the program
that needed to be resolved. The
Oldsmobile engine and drivetrain
would soon be gone from the
Oldsmobile lineup due to GM’s down-
sizing efforts. GMC would either have
to build this unit on its own or design
a new one involving new tooling and
development expenses. Sketches of a
rear engine/rear drive and front
engine/front-wheel drive (using a
transfer case) exist. A front suspen-
sion using a solid front axle and sin-
gle leaf springs with an air spring at

At right, the cover of a 1978 GMC
Motorhome sales brochure. The Royale
and Birchaven were Transmode models upfitted
by Coachmen Industries (Jimmy Motors). Above, a typical interior from
the second series of GMC Motorhomes, produced from 1975 to 1978.
                                                                                                     FMC • APRIL 2004    79
Literature from a 1974 press release package showed cutaway views
of the GMC Motorhome and highlighted noteworthy features.

rights and tooling. Mr. Wheat orga-      model and retail for about $60,000.       assume that the GMC Motorhome
nized the Wheat Motor Company            The difficult and expensive redesign of   would have faded away by now, not
(WMC) and several ex-GM officials        a new engine and drivetrain by a com-     to be heard from again. That is
served as corporate officers. The com-   pany with fewer resources than GM         not the case; allow me to give a
pany was to be based in Rancho           doomed the effort, and no actual pro-     few examples.
Cucamonga, California. It was reported   duction took place.                           • There are currently 22 FMCA
initially that the use of a GM 454-cid      The end? More than 25 years            chapters devoted to GMC Motorhomes.
engine was planned; that later           have elapsed since GMC announced              • Parts are readily available, both
changed to a Ford 460-cid engine. The    the phaseout of motorhome produc-         OEM and aftermarket. A large variety
WMC Motorhome was to be a 1986           tion. It would seem reasonable to         of new, improved, never-before-offered
                                                                                   parts and tools are available as well. A
                                                                                   few examples: fuel injection, rear disc
                                                                                   brakes, carbon metallic pads/shoes,
                                                                                   alloy wheels, many new suspension
                                                                                   upgrades, new fiberglass body parts,
                                                                                   new dash panels, new final drive
                                                                                   ratios, better shock absorbers, special
                                                                                   tools, etc.
                                                                                       • The Internet is abuzz with vast
                                                                                   amounts of technical information,
                                                                                   helpful assists, “how to” tips, sources
                                                                                   for parts and service, and more.
                                                                                       • Current owners have restored,
                                                                                   modified (built slideouts, driver doors,
                                                                                   converted to diesel), stretched (typical-
                                                                                   ly 2 to 5 feet), or just maintained and
                                                                                   enjoyed their coaches.
                                                                                       • Mattel has been making its
                                                                                   HotWheels die-cast GMC Motorhome
                                                                                   since 1977, in about 50 different ver-
                                                                                   sions to date. What is most interesting
                                                                                   is that over the past couple of years, 10
                                                                                   new GMC Motorhome models have
                                                                                   been issued.
                                                                                       Twenty-five years ago, it is unlikely
                                                                                   that any of us would have conceived
                                                                                   that any of the above would likely hap-
                                                                                   pen. I believe this is a strong indicator
                                                                                   of the interest and longevity of this
                                                                                   classic motorhome.
                                                                                       Long live the GMC Motorhome!
80   APRIL 2004 • FMC

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