Wheels: GMC Motorhomes | Local Business News | conwaydailysun.com – Conway Daily Sun

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The latest trend in travel is RVs. Recreational vehicles, formerly known as motor homes, range from bare bones conversion vans, generally the realm of van lifers and minimalists, to diesel pushers, so called for their rear engine configuration, much like a coach or tour bus.
Seeing the country and the continent has never been more luxurious or convenient with these latest behemoth homes-on-wheels.
Once parked, leveled and hooked up to utilities, the chase car is unhooked from the mother ship for local transportation. Fittingly, the price tag for a set up like this can run well into six figures, not to mention the cost of the tow vehicle and all the gear necessary to safely travel down the road at high speeds, shuttlecraft in tow.
Like most other trends and fads, the RV life is seeing a resurgence, perhaps due to the COVID or some other societal stress calling those with deep enough pockets to escape their surrounds. Indeed, back in the 1970s, when the populace was discovering the great outdoors and national parks, travel trailers or campers were popping up behind family station wagons and manufactured motorhomes were becoming mainstream. A clan hoping to see the sights could go to their local camping center and pick up a huge shoebox on wheels, fully equipped with a large gas guzzling engine and all the comforts of home.
Motorhome makers chose a bare chassis and drivetrain from one of the big three automakers to use as a base for assembling their product. The “home” portion was often assembled “stick and siding,” like a mobile home high atop the frame with leaf springs, fuel and water tanks, and driveshaft running beneath.
With the exception of polished Airstream and their painted Argosy line, which looked more like a modified rural mailbox, most motor homes were as aerodynamic as a barn on wheels with about as much character. I think Winnebago went out of its way to vie for the ugly award in exterior styling.
It was around this time in the early 1970s, that GMC brainstormed a cutting-edge vehicle, a true motor home rather than a motorized house, despite the looming energy crisis. GMC dubbed the new model the motor home. I guess they spent their creativity on design. It’s important to note that during those times GMs various divisions were allowed some stand alone development rather than just the badge-sharing that’s largely done today.
Engineers at GM’s Truck and Coach Division took the lead hoping to put forth their crown jewel model that would define the brand, like Chevrolet did with their Corvette. This clean sheet motor home would use the UPP or Unitized Power Package that was installed in the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, a torque producing 455-cubic inch V8 mated to an automatic transaxle that would provide front wheel drive. Combined with a self-leveling hydraulic rear suspension mounted outboard of the frame and fed by a power steering pump, the motor home could sit low and keep critical fuel tanks within the safety of the frame rails.
The upper body was constructed of a welded aluminum frame covered with smooth aluminum panels. Below the beltline, panels were molded fiberglass. Curved glass completed the sleek lines and the result was like no motor home seen before manufactured on a large scale, more reminiscent of a aircraft fuselage or some kind of spaceship. Styling was carried out so effectively, they still look distinct half a century later. The overall aerodynamics allowed the GMC Motorhome to achieve double digit gas mileage at a time when some pickups were luck to see those numbers.
The GMC Motorhome was officially introduced in 1972, and on sale for the 1973 model year at the manufacturer’s suggested retail base price for a 26’ unit was $14,569.06 or around $95,350 today accounting for inflation. They were well appointed and decorated with the colors you would expect of that decade with plenty of avocado green, burnt orange, and mustard yellow, wide graphic exterior stripes, and color-matched interiors featuring large floral and striped patterns.
Available in 23-foot and 26-foot overall lengths, some skipped the interior living arrangements and were sold as mobile offices and command centers. One even made an unforgettable appearance in the move “Stripes” as the fictitious EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle.
The GMC Motorhome sold reasonably well for a specialty vehicle with 12,921 manufactured over its model span but in November of 1977, GMC abruptly discontinued production.
The individuality of GM’s divisions spawned the creation of the motor home but also led to its demise. A decision made in the GM Powertrain Division to discontinue the UPP in favor of more fuel efficient engines to power smaller upcoming models effectively killed the motor home by leaving the Truck and Coach Division with no appropriate powerplant. Even today, nearly 50 years after the original GMC Motorhome was penned, the styling still stands out.
Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 26 Portland St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.
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