A couple of days ago, I wrote about a YouTuber who decided to carve something of a tiny house out of a 2010 Chevy Camaro. Given the Camaro’s 155 mph top speed, theoretically, it could take home a record for being the fastest camper. It has some serious competition, like this 1977 GMC Motorhome. This beast features a Chevrolet Ram Jet 502 making 700 horsepower, a 125 shot of nitrous, and a top speed of 122.156 mph. It’s not the absolute fastest RV in the world, but it claims the record for the fastest Class A motorhome. And yes, you can buy it!
Throughout the history of motorized vehicles, there have always been gearheads trying to see how fast they could get a vehicle to go. Landspeed records go back over a century and some of the first records were created by drivers piloting early electric cars. The Jeantaud, a French electric car created by Charles Jeantaud holds the distinction of setting the very first land speed record of 39.24mph in 1898 with Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat behind the controls. Cars didn’t have all of the fun, in 1934, the LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman became the first steam locomotive recorded to hit 100 mph. There have been records set on motorcycles, monster trucks, bumper cars, and even a jet-propelled outhouse.
RV Landspeed Records
Of course, RVs are their own subset of land speed vehicles. The world’s fastest travel trailer tow was set in 2012 when Diesel Power Magazine‘s Associate Editor Jason Sands towed a Carson Kalispell travel trailer to 141.998 mph. The tow vehicle was a modified GMC 2500HD diesel pickup making over 1,000 HP and that figure was before giving it a shot of laughing gas. As of right now, the vehicle that holds the record of the world’s fastest motorhome is a Fiat Doblo camper van that reached 141.3 mph in 2014 with driver Simon Robins behind the wheel. That van had a Fiat Coupe GT28 turbo engine making 337 HP.
That van falls into the Class B camper van designation here in the United States. If you want the fastest of the larger Class A designation, you’re looking right at it. Back in 2016, this 1977 GMC Motorhome rang up 122.156 mph during Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Normally, here’s where I’d go over the history of the GMC Motorhome, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s needed here. So much has changed about this Motorhome that it’s not really a GMC anymore. Unlike the aforementioned Fiat Doblo camper, this land speed camper doesn’t even have an interior.
The important part of GMC Motorhome history to know is that GM’s entry into RVs was revolutionary in its day. Motorhomes of the day were usually blocky and rode high on a truck chassis. They were lumbering, often ugly giants and more than one company introduced designs that tried to make the motorhome a pleasure to look at and drive. GM took its front-wheel-drive Unitized Power Package from the Oldsmobile Toronado and dropped it into the front of a bespoke extruded aluminum frame. This allowed for a flat floor that rode lower to the ground. Add in fiberglass and aluminum body panels forming a somewhat aerodynamic shape. Sold from the 1973 model year to 1978, GMC had the recipe for a camping icon.
A Mission To Raise Awareness
The story of this land speed vehicle begins with Britt Palmer. In June 2010 he was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. It sounds like some sort of dental condition, but it’s far different than that. Palmer’s symptoms began in 2002 when Palmer noticed that his legs were consistently aching and losing muscle. He would hurt after long walks and over time, the pain increased and even spread to his hands. Palmer’s doctors initially thought that it was just aging before they eventually landed on CMT. I’ll let Palmer explain further:
It’s actually named after the three French doctors who discovered this neurological disease back in the 1800’s. It took some time for me to accept that this disease was serious. CMT is a chronic, progressive, and unfortunately incurable neurological disorder that slowly deteriorates peripheral nerve function in your arms and legs. CMT patients can slowly lose normal use of their extremities (hands/arms & feet/legs) as the nerves no longer stimulate the muscles. Many patients have numbness, tingling and a burning pain in their arms and legs while others may just experience some loss of sensory nerve functions (fine motor skills) and/or develop “foot drop” and gait problems.
CMT currently affects over 2.6 million people. According to the CDC, the prevalence of CMT is equal to that of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and 10 times more prevalent than ALS. It was also unfortunate to realize that many people do not know about CMT even though it’s the 2nd most common neurological disorder in the country and the number #1 most commonly “inherited” neuropathy in the world.
As Palmer explains, he wasn’t about to let CMT slow him down, so he decided to embark on a journey. He scrolled through Craigslist and found a 1977 Kingsley GMC Motorhome.
This brought up memories of the movie Stripes and its EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, another GMC Motorhome. Palmer initially thought about using the camper as, well, a camper, but learned that a GMC Motorhome set a World Land Speed Record of 102.7 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2006.
As any gearhead would, Palmer decided that he wanted to beat that record and raise awareness for CMT along the way. The GMC LSR Motorhome “MoHo” was born and the builder chosen for the task was Dennis McCarthy, owner of Vehicle Effects who is known for being the vehicle builder for the Fast & Furious franchise since The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Building A Land Speed Motorhome
McCarthy and his team gutted the interior of the Motorhome, removing absolutely everything that would stand in the way of the fastest possible speed. The Motorhome lost everything from its wood floors and cabinets to its camper wiring and appliances. Once the camper was gutted and the few remaining parts replaced with aluminum and fiberglass, the Motorhome got a full-length chromoly roll cage.
They didn’t stop there, either, as the old suspension system was replaced with a modern quad rear air bag suspension, disc brakes for all six wheels, front and rear stabilizer bars, and Fox shocks. The team also tossed in new A-arms and upgraded steering components. Other upgrades include a Smartwire System, a Racepak IQ3 dashboard, a Stroud fire suppression system, and an SCTA-certified race cockpit.
In the builders’ quest for more speed, they even redesigned the front end for better aero and replaced the glass windows with flush acrylic windows.
Perhaps the pièce de résistance of this build is what can be found under the hood. The team scooped up a Chevrolet Ram Jet 502 V8 and connected it to the TH-425 that drives the front wheels through a chain drive system. It’s been built and dyno tested, where it’s been verified to make 700 horses.
This camper comes with a mod list that’s ridiculously long and includes a Nitrous Express wet nitrous system (125 Shot), a limited-slip with 3.07 gearing, a 360-degree camera, military spec wiring, aluminum interior paneling, and it has even retained a road legal lighting system.
The MoHo reached 120.8 mph during the 2013 Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats, smashing the previous record set by a GMC Motorhome but falling short the 128.6 mph record held by a Hymer AG camper van and the 137.9 mph set by a Mercedes-Benz Westfalia Viano camper van.
The team at Palmer Designs would return to the flats again and edge speed up higher, reaching 122.156 mph in 2016.
The team at Palmer Designs destroyed their original target, but couldn’t beat the smaller camper vans. Still, getting a beast like a GMC Motorhome to 122.156 mph is an incredible feat. As the aforementioned team that reached 141.998 mph while towing a travel trailer figured out, it takes a ton of horsepower to ram a camper that’s shaped like a brick through the air. The smoother and smaller camper vans have the advantage there. Still, in reaching 122.156 mph, the Palmer Designs team claims the record for the World’s Fastest Class A RV, which is pretty awesome.
That 2016 season is also close to Palmer Designs’ hearts because it was the year that the team brought on Steve Snow, a veteran fighter pilot who lost a five-year-old daughter to CMT. He drove the land speed MoHo in its mission to spread awareness. That year, the team was able to raise $12,000 for the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association for research.
You Can Buy It
Your mission, should you choose it, would be to carry on the legacy of this awesome GMC Motorhome. Since it’s road legal, this is a GMC Motorhome that could both serve as a land speed vehicle and could be converted back into a camper if you desire. Or, you could keep cranking up the power and see if you can set your own records. The Palmers note that the interior is still empty, so it’s a blank slate. Perhaps you could place some minimal camping equipment in there to make it a land speed motorhome that you can sleep in.
The Palmers are asking $95,000 for it and the Motorhome is located in Englewood, Colorado. Hopefully, someone buys this GMC Motorhome and continues driving it fast.
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