Sometimes I love to look back at General Motors’ incredible history of innovation outside of passenger cars. Aside from the handsome Rapid Transit Series bus and iconic New Look bus, the General produced workhorse trucks and even an RV. The GMC Motorhome is one of the most innovative RVs in history, but if you want one today, you’re basically stuck in the 1970s. That is, unless you’re like one GMC Motorhome owner and spend over a half million dollars in turning one into a modern day RV.
If you haven’t noticed, we absolutely adore the GMC Motorhome here at the Autopian. So when I saw this at the RV/MH Hall of Fame during the RV Open House I was drawn in like a mosquito to a bug zapper.
The exterior alone looks like it could have rolled off of a General Motors factory line in 2008, and the interior looks better than most of the far newer rigs that were at the show. The level of craftsmanship put into it is staggering.
As the Family Motor Coach Association’s Family RVing writes, this Motorhome (some GM publications write the name as “MotorHome”) was the creation of Bob and Janet Prince and a designer, Josh Gifford. As the publication writes, the Princes traveled in a 45-foot Prevost coach and decided that they wanted to downsize. But they didn’t want to just go smaller; the Princes wanted the small RV that would replace their Prevost to be just as luxurious. That’s a tall order, as in the RV world you won’t often find small rigs with the hyper-luxury of a big bus.
That’s when the Princes found their candidate. Found next to a dumpster, this 1977 GMC Motorhome sat on flat tires with a rotting awning, peeling paint, some rust, and even current furry residents eating things up. The Princes picked up the broken Motorhome and started brewing up a plan that reminds me of when the Bishop, our own Daydreaming Auto Designer, reimagined the Motorhome. Here’s a quick reminder of why the Motorhome is so important for RV history:
The state of RV design in the early 1970s was crude, even the good ones like Winnebagos: corrugated metal, pink insulation, boxy, curve-less designs on heavy chassis. They were charming, but crude as hell.
GM took a clean-sheet approach, and attempted to make something that was better than driving a giant shed, and at least attempted some degree of aerodynamics. The company took its tidy front-wheel drive V8 powertrain from the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado and plopped it down in a bespoke chassis with a nice low floor, no driveshaft, and plenty of room for fuel, fresh water, and disgusting water tanks, and then dropped on that an extruded aluminum frame covered with fiberglass and aluminum body panels.
The rear had twin axles with independent air suspension, and the result was something roomy and comfortable and not horrible to drive.
Sadly, if you want one of these, the newest ones you’ll find will still be at least 44 years old. Production ended in 1978 after GM ran out of Oldsmobile Unitized Power Packages to mount into the Motorhome. And if you’re not into vintage campers, that means buying something newer. Or, like the Princes, you get on the horn and call your designer acquaintance of several years.
Gifford, the president of Ohio-based Creative Mobile Interiors, specializes in custom vehicle interiors. The company makes all kinds of custom vehicles from mobile offices and rolling retail showrooms to custom RVs. CMI will even build up an RV from just its bare body, which is pretty much where Gifford started with this Motorhome. The Princes called up Gifford right before Thanksgiving 2013 and informed him that the GMC was headed his way.
By the time that the GMC arrived, GMC Motorhome specialists Cinnabar Engineering had gone through and restored the chassis and the entire drivetrain. That left Gifford to build out an interior, and the Princes were looking for something state-of-the-art. The couple let Gifford run free, so long as the finished product had a full-size washer and dryer as well as a bathtub. Gifford offered the Princes some layouts to choose from, they chose one of them, and the project was given the green light.
Given the size of the washer and dryer, Gifford started there, using CAD software to find the optimal spot in the RV. From there, he built out the rest of the rig. Of course, scaling a 45-foot Prevost down to a 26-foot GMC is a pretty huge task, and certainly, something is going to have to get written out of the design. The back of a GMC Motorhome would typically have a bedroom, but that wasn’t going to fit given the laundry and bathroom needs. Thus, the bathroom takes the space where the bedroom would be and the Princes had to settle for a dinette that turns into a bed.
Instead of the wood veneers that you’d normally find in an RV, Gifford opted to give the interior a high-gloss finish. I love this move, because even though this was built over seven years ago, the interior feels like it could have been ripped right out of one of the million-dollar monsters I toured at the show.
Most of the bits not covered in the high-gloss finish got cushy, fine leather.
Even parts of the ceiling are leather. Gifford seemingly made sure that any piece that you could look or touch felt like a quality piece. Aside from the small bathtub and laundry equipment, the Motorhome includes a wine refrigerator and LED lighting. HVAC is controlled by a smart thermostat, and the TV, satellite, lighting, HVAC, and generator can be controlled from an iPad, just like a modern rig. It even has a heated floor.
Outside, the GMC was also modernized. Up front, Gifford grafted on front end bits from a 2008 Silverado.
Cadillac parts bring up the rear. Gifford says that to fit the smaller front end of a Silverado on the Motorhome, he had to widen the Silverado’s fascia by eight inches. Gifford then made custom end caps and fairings to further build out the design.
Rounding out the exterior are mostly-flush windows, new awnings, and a killer paint job. The Princes decided on a paint scheme featuring a metallic black that shines like glass. The paint is accompanied with some graphics. To me, it really does look like a GMC Motorhome built in 2008.
The build reportedly took over two years, and despite the challenges, Josh Gifford calls the GMC build a dream job. After touring it myself and witnessing the quality of this machine, I think you can tell that he really put his heart in it. This Motorhome has a fit and finish better than many million-dollar houses that I’ve toured.
The Princes apparently spent over a half million dollars on it, and $100,000 alone went to the exterior paint. Honestly, this is one of those few instances where I think you could track where every dollar went. That’s how good it’s built. Unfortunately, while Gifford’s work was awesome, the GMC didn’t ride as comfortably as the Princes expected. And instead of selling it, they just donated it to the museum. Now, RV enthusiasts on their way through Elkhart, Indiana get to see this incredible work in person.
I love the GMC Motorhome so much – amazing work on par with the new C8 Corvette from GM. This is horrific. Did the “designer” really think that a pickup truck front-end was an improvement???? It is hideous and ruins the original design in so many ways. It looks like it is tipping over from its own ungainly weight and the weird roof treatment to hide the ends of the awnings is gross. Cadillac rear end pieces? Where? JC Whitney’s Cadillac replacement parts? UGH.
I really hope some of the younger car folks discover the GMC RV lifestyle. There are so many GMC’s out there that need saving. They are a wonderful platform that can be hot-rodded and modded in very rewarding ways. I discovered them late in life and WOW, I really missed out. Technology such as lithium batteries, inverters, small appliances, small generators and new quality light weight materials mean its a great for that kind’a project. I do all my own work in my driveway with hand tools, a harbor freight jack and some good stands.
You haven’t lived a full life until you taken a nap in the back room of a GMC between sessions at a race track only to be woken up by the sound of a race engine firing and the call of your group number over the PA.
You haven’t lived until you’ve camped out at the beach, and fell asleep with the windows open to the sound of the ocean and the sea breeze on your face.
You haven’t lived until you set yourself to rest with your head on a pillow on a clear night and peered up at the heavens though the curved back and looked with a great sense of wonder into the cosmos. Because you’re remote camping far from cell, wifi or even TV / radio signals and there is nothing left to do but just be.
This is how you do a GMC. Clean and low weight.
I have to say this units has been ruined. They went too far. These work as light weight modest camper vans with modest furnishings. All those custom furnishing put too much weight up too high. I’m sure its ponderous. GM went to great lengths to get the weight down and low in the chassis and they go, kind’a stop, and handle very very well as built. This owner wanted the look and features of a luxury bus RV and the GMC doesn’t have the chassis for that. I took about 1000 Lbs out of mine by replacing the generator, replacing the A/C with newer, lighter units, using lithium batteries and replaced some iron engine parts with aluminum, that’s a much better direction for these coaches.
I don’t get it. This thing is the best motorhome ever made. Why would you do this to it? Take an original, gut the interior and re-do it with ultra high end finishes and change some things that aren’t necessary any longer (for example, induction cooking makes having gas burners rather irrelevant). Then look at all the original paint jobs they put on these and pick the best one, and make it better than new. Refurbish the drivetrain, increase the power a little bit and you’d have something that didn’t cost nearly as much, looks better, and has a bed. And it would be comfortable to ride in…
These are small RV’s and as such can go to all the small national parks and state parks, that’s where the peace and true beauty is. Most of these places have no electric or water so you’re on your own AKA “Boondocking” This is where propane cooking, heating is real important. I have a GMC and have boon docked for days on propane, batteries and some generator time. An induction cook top would mean constantly running the genset which is loud and noisy. Cooking / heating with propane is really important for boondockers. YMMV
Check this one out. This is how you do it.
Solar and lithium batteries mean no need for propane stoves or a Genset.
Heat can be taken care of by diesel or a heat pump.
Rich people are weird AF.
Imagine having $500,000 to throw at a custom RV and coming up with THAT. Imagine having a full washer-dryer but having to sleep on a thin mattress where your dinette goes. Imagine spending that money and getting floor tile that look like $1/sf VCT tiles from Lowes. Imagine taking a dump next to a shitty table lamp. Imagine having $100,000 to paint the damn thing and not doing an amazing retro paint job.
This thing sucks so hard.
I’ve never understood RV’s without a fixed normal bed. When we bought ours that was a #1 requirement. After 6 months of work getting it ready we have been on the road for 2 1/2 months. No regrets.
I do love any kind of weird or interesting RV and I think the complete goofiness of this rig is pure awesome. FWIW, the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum is a *VERY* worthwhile roadtrip stop. So many weird and awesome campers. Cadillacs, house cars, all sorts of stuff. Its absolutely better than you expect.
Smaller RV’s (and I’m including “almost everything in Europe” there) can’t afford to sacrifice that much living space for a permanent bed.
American RV’s are huge because everything is big there & fuel is cheap, try touring Europe in something the size of a rock & roll tour bus and see how much fun that is.
NOW, I know what HOT GARBAGE looks like.
They took the body.. and smacked it with all new parts and running gear. THEN THEY TOOK ALL OF THE SHIT INSIDE.. and layers the slop ERR leather ALL OVER IT. So the veneer of shitball is everywhere. The front end is a traffic accident, while the rear is one waiting to happen.
I dont care how much they spent.. and they didnt widen / stretch it, or re-engineer it?
They used the same shit.. with more hoity toity.
I like this Okey Phanokie-ness as it is.. but dont tell me its snowing when its clearly sunny out! They went from a PREVOST… err a TOP END SHIP for 2022.. down to the MAURETANIA.. from 1908! This thing LOOKS AWFUL!
Yeah somehow they took possibly the greatest RV design of all time and spent half a million dollars to make it objectively worse.
Google all the crazy customs made from these. Shorties. Extended wheelbases. Driver’s doors. Slide-outs. These are an inspiring canvas.
I dunno, if I wanted unique luxury in an RV, I would have modernized a Vixen and gone with a real bed.
It looks dated already, and not in the eye-poppingly retro way the original interior would’ve (especially if green), but it sounded like they started with one that had a trashed interior anyway.
Love that they look lowered in their natural ride height lol! Just need the sick camber for the stanced crowd. Or they could have used those aluminum brodozer dually wheels that look stock but they a upsized
>>many million-dollar houses that I’ve toured.<<
HOW many million-dollar houses have you toured?
I respect the idea but requiring a full size washer/drier and a tub in something of that size is a really dumb decision IMO, especially since that tub doesn’t look big or deep enough for anyone to really be able to enjoy it. The exterior looks great though, I love what they did with the front end.
I have wanted one of these but have gotten used to the vast amount of storage a basement model has, I would have to tow a trailer to carry the bbq, games, dog accessories, inflatable canoe, lawn chairs, and spare parts I normally carry
$100k for paint!!??!!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!??!
A lot of it.
prep/sanding/primer/sanding/more sanding/top coat/sanding/clearcoat/cut and buffing.
You know, I want to build one of these so bad, but this is what I’d do:
– diesel swap. Cummins? Ford 7.3? Idk, something torquey and diesely.
– Ditch the oddball 16.5″ wheels, go to 16s with all terrains
– Air suspension all around, like stock, but maybe taller bags for more clearance?
– Gotta stay that Hi-C bright ass orange, it looks sick
– The rear shell cap is fiberglass. Modify that to be a rear fold down door, or swing open with a ramp.
– The interior wheel wells are JUST WIDE ENOUGH to fit a vintage 911 in between them, I’ve measured.
– Build all interior components to fold out of the walls, so that when you’re carrying the 911, they aren’t in the way. Bathroom up front, behind driver’s seat.
– Loft/Bunk bed area above the 911
Yeah I mean I’ve def spent some time pondering this build. 😛
You would convert it to RWD? The old three speed uses an internal chain drive because it is a longitudinaly mounted. Not sure it would hold up to any extra power.
The THM425 was originally developed for the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado and the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado.
Google GMC RV worlds fastest RV. Uses built stock transmission and BigBlock Chevy. The trans is based on the uber strong TH400
A diesel drivetrain swap would be beneficial but if all things were kept the way they are, I don’t know if those drivetrains would handle being FWD.
Instead of a washer and dryer, they should have done an all in one unit to save on space.
That makes me sad the need for a bathtub eliminated the rear bedroom. I’d rather be able to shower, poop, and sleep on a normal bed instead of a rock hard cushion on a table.
Air suspension for the win, you want comfort, you get airbags for something like this.
Imagine spending half a mil on an RV and then donating it to a museum because you didn’t like the ride. Some folks live in a completely different world than I.
To be fair, it’s likely they took a fat tax deduction on something that would never have sold for any substantial portion of their costs.
Who else is going to pony up 6 figures for an RV with no bedroom? They screwed themselves from the jump on resale, so better to cut your losses as best you can.
And if the former Prevost was similarly bespoke ($1-3Mil) this was considered a budget build.
Hundred grand for exterior paint and you paint it black. Maybe they’re in a northern climate but just seems like you’d need to run the AC on max just to sit in it.
Even in Northern Alberta a black RV is a bad idea in summer
They spent half a million restoring it, then donated it because the ride wasn’t what was expected. Maybe they got a half million donation tax write off?
I think it is a great exercise for people with too much money. I applaud this, if you have funds to mess around we get to experience neat stuff. However, there should have been no illusion that a 40 year old motorhome/chasiss with a front wheel drive 3 speed engine would be horrible compared to anything modern. Also, to give up a full bed for a bathroom that will get used for 30 mins a day sealed this vehicle’s fate. Rich people do not want to sleep on dinette fart cushions.
I would love to buy an OG GMC Motorhome, but it boggles me that it has no overdrive. I guess that was less of an issue with a 55 mph national speed limit. But today that just seems miserable.
Given all the work done, you’d think that they could find someone to swap in the drivetrain from a FWD V8 GM vehicle. You’d get better all round performance than the original 403/three speed auto.
The only issue there is that the transmissions on the LS4 GMs weren’t even very durable in a unibody sedan. I can’t imagine how the weight of the Motorhome would affect the longevity of them.
An idea solution might have been something like a 4×4 Duramax drivetrain, locked in 4 hi with no rear driveshaft.
It’s fine. I have one and it goes down the turnpike and sustains 70 MPH no problem. Up to 80MPH passing is very do-able. The older transmissions have very low stall speeds so the converters are very tight. It just works and feels like a 44+ year old motor should. The real issue is the brakes, they need upgrading for modern traffic and that’s not easy to do but way more usefull and practical than an unnecessary trans swap. Myself and many others still drive these thousands of miles per year. I and a few other tow race cars to the track. They’re one of the best things to ever come out of GM.
You have to wonder about some people. Generous but hey if you’re rebuilding a 50 year old vehicle you have to realize some of it is going to stay with it no matter what you do.
how in the hell….what was wrong with the ride that this piece of art sits in a museum?
I wonder if ‘the ride’ is just the cover story, and the real issue is sleeping on that table/bed.
Someone spending $500k isn’t going to be comfortable on a shitty little bed like that. They mad some bad interior design choices on this one.
The bed doesn’t matter. I’m sure it spends most of it’s time in hotel parking lots.
Right? Screw having a bath tub, shower>bathtub=Big normal bed
I got a full size bed in mine but a way smaller bathroom. Rear bed conversions are very popular. Since I spend hours sleeping and only moments in the bathroom it works for me.
I dont think you meant to say…
This piece of art…