Home » Why This $90,000 GMC Motorhome Is Better And Cheaper Than Buying A New Camper Van

Why This $90,000 GMC Motorhome Is Better And Cheaper Than Buying A New Camper Van

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If you go shopping for a new camper van, you’ll be disgusted that seemingly all of them want to put you into a 20-foot box for well over $100,000. Many Class B vans even exceed that, soaring above $200,000. But you don’t need to spend that much money to get a cool and compact RV. Why spend $200,000 when for $90,000, you can get a classy and fully-restored icon, this 1976 GMC Eleganza II motorhome. It’s still a lot of money, but this one looks like it’s worth it, take a look.

Recently, I opined that some of the coolest RVs are the ones that look old, but have new bones. That way, you don’t have to deal with 50-year-old appliances and other parts that may be far past their prime. It also means you don’t have to deal with old engine technology, vintage generators, or a dated electrical system. One way you can get a retro-modern RV is by taking an old design, improving it, and building a new RV out of it. Or, you can take an old RV and restore it to something new.

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We’re looking at the second option with this GMC Eleganza II, a model of the iconic GMC Motorhome. We love the GMC Motorhome here at the Autopian, so you can only guess how excited I was to see a restored example that’s so elegant.

Still Ahead Of Its Time

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Before we take a look at this restoration job, here’s a reminder of the incredible impact of the GMC Motorhome. In 1969 and 1970, General Motors was looking to get into a niche. What if it designed a multipurpose vehicle that could serve a number of roles? This vehicle could be a motorhome, an ambulance, a transit bus, a mobile health clinic, or a vehicle for various businesses. Research began at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. Existing RVs were torn apart and evaluated. To help develop the GMC Motorhome’s trick rear suspension, the “pie wagon” test mule was built, which looked like a lowrider step van.


We’ve already told you much of this story before, so you probably already know what’s coming up. GM wasn’t satisfied with the day’s RVs with high floors and bad driving dynamics, so it took a new and revolutionary path. I’ll let one of my retrospectives do the talking:


Perhaps the biggest change made by GM was to build the MotorHome on a new platform propelled by a front-wheel-drive automotive drivetrain. GM wasn’t the first to do this; the Clark Forklift Company used front-wheel-drive transaxles to make shorter RVs. Revcon, Travoy, and Tiara all also built RVs with front-wheel-drive. But GM’s effort would become the most memorable example. As Hagerty notes, this platform and the drivetrain required two GM divisions to work together. The Truck & Coach Division was responsible for the chassis while the drivetrain came from an unlikely source. Powering the MotorHome was Oldsmobile’s Unitized Power Package.

This system compacted the entirety of a vehicle’s powertrain into one unit and was famously used on the Oldsmobile Toronado. In the UPP you got a longitudinally mounted 265 HP 7.5-liter Rocket V8 and a TurboHydramatic 425 three-speed automatic. Later MotorHomes would get the 185 HP 6.6-liter Oldsmobile V8 after the former engine’s discontinuation in 1977. The system meant that the MotorHome could do without a long driveshaft or rear differentials. As a result, the floor was a low 14-inches above the road, making for a short vehicle that was easy to climb into. As GMC MotorHome resource GMC Motorhomes International notes, a 1/16th scale model was built then put into the Guggenheim wind tunnel in California to find its drag coefficient. The numbers were good. The scale model came in at a CD of 0.310, cleaner than the period Corvette’s 0.503. The production MotorHome maintained the profile, getting a drag coefficient of 0.39.


The MotorHome’s body was also something special. An aluminum body frame extruded from the steel ladder frame. From it, fiberglass panels made up the lower portion while more aluminum was up top. All of this rode on front independent torsion bars with double A-arms. In back were trailing arms with an air spring on each side between the tandem axles.

Production GMC Motorhomes were built in 23-foot and 26-foot lengths with twin 25-gallon fuel tanks. Despite GMC proving that motorhomes can be cool and don’t have to drive like trucks, GMC’s halo product remained unique. Most motorhomes of today are still built on top of truck chassis and drive more like a bus than a low-slung van.

This GMC Motorhome

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The downside of the GMC Motorhome is that the newest examples come from 1978. That’s 46 years of road trips, someone else’s farts, and equipment becoming obsolete. Thankfully, GMC Motorhomes are such beloved coaches that there are companies dedicated to restoring and keeping them on the road. So, older Motorhomes can be made new again, or at the very least, more modern.

One of these companies is Cinnabar Engineering. This is a company that specializes in the manufacturing of GMC Motorhome parts and the company’s so dedicated to the GMC Motorhome that it’ll even perform ground-up restoration jobs. Remember that half-million dollar GMC Motorhome I wrote about long ago? That RV was also a Cinnabar Engineering restoration piece. The seller says this particular 26-foot GMC Eleganza II variant was restored to the tune of $180,000. Thankfully, this one won’t cost you that much money, either.


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This coach started life as an Eleganza II. Now, if you’re confused, don’t worry, I have you covered. After the Motorhome’s 1973 launch, GMC started giving its Motorhomes model names like Palm Beach, Eleganza, Glenbrook, Kingsley, and so on. The model names denoted interior and exterior motifs. The bones were the same, but the styles were different.

Eleganza models featured tan exteriors with stripes and a matching interior. There were some engineering changes as well. In 1974, GMC noted improvements in GVWR, which raised from 11,200 pounds to 11,700. This was done by beefing up the Motorhome’s structure with crossmembers that were 50 percent thicker. The coach also got a beefed-up suspension, which was torture-tested around the clock for 45,000 miles to simulate 650,000 highway miles. GMC made a ton of small changes. Listing them out would take me all day, so click here to read all of the improvements for 1974.

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Eleganza Ii Introduction



The Eleganza II boasted hand-sanded cabinetry, a double basin stainless steel sink, a 7.5 cubic foot fridge, an oven with a glass door, and a cutting board that doubled as a drink tray. There was a lot of brown and tan in there, also twin beds in the back. GMC also noted a full-size mirror in the rear bedroom. Groovy.

The Cinnabar Engineering restoration managed to improve on that original design. It’s still tan and brown, but the woodworking gives the coach a 2000s feel rather than 1970s vibes. Here’s the seller’s description of the changes:

Solid cabinetry, Corian tops, custom upholstery and fabric from Quatrine Furniture, all VDO gauges, walnut flooring, new windows on the whole coach, new generator, etc. This unit has a rear bed, two bunks (couch and backrest flips up to be the upper bunk), dinette folds into a bed.

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One of the changes by Cinnabar Engineering was an upgrade to the Oldsmobile 455 V8 front-wheel-drive powertrain. It’s now fed from fuel injection, so you don’t have to worry about fussing around with a carburetor. The seller doesn’t say when the restoration was completed, but the DVD player attached to the ceiling, older air-conditioner units, and older microwave would suggest that this coach was finished perhaps sometime in the early 2010s. Either way, it’s far more modern than the GMC Motorhome was when it was new.

The seller says the GMC Eleganza II had 66,000 miles before restoration and it has driven 17,000 miles since then. It has held up well, with that wood still looking so good. Looking around the motorhome, I spot two air-conditioners, multiple TVs, and lots of leather. I also like how the rear room has a nice big bed. Sadly, we don’t get information about holding tanks or anything like that, but I would expect the tanks to be similar to the original spec of 40 gallons for fresh water and 40 gallons for waste.

Expensive, But Worth It?

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Here’s the hard part to swallow. The seller, located in Holly, Michigan, wants $90,000 for this coach. That’s a lot of cash, but I think it might be worth that price. It’s also been for sale for three years, so maybe you can cut the seller a deal.

A 26-foot GMC Motorhome sold new for $14,569.06, or the equivalent of $109,326 today. So, you could sort of look at it as being able to buy a newer GMC Motorhome years after production ended. Alternatively, I find myself thinking about camper vans. The cheapest Airstream of comparable size is the 24-foot Interstate 24GT, which would set you back $233,700. Even the Ram ProMaster-based Winnebago Travato is still $157,538 and it’s just 21 feet long. Maybe it’s unfair to compare this rig to camper vans. Well, Class C RVs are still way more than this is.


For $90,000, you can pick up this GMC Eleganza II, put some new TVs in it, and have close to the same luxury experience for a fraction of the price. Plus, you’ll be driving a piece of motoring history. Group buy, anyone?

(Images: Facebook Seller, unless otherwise noted.)

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Colin Howe
Colin Howe
1 month ago

Here’s the other good thing, you gotta figure you’re ahead of the depreciation game on this vs something new off the dealership lot. Given these have a cult following, if you take care of it, it’s gonna hold its value pretty well!

1 month ago

@Mercedes, I’d never been an RV nerd, but then I started to read assiduously everything you write. And I even recently went to an RV show when I was in Scottsdale. And my revelation was that the dealer showed absolutely HUGE markdowns. Like 25-30% from list! Is that typical? and if so, when you cite prices in your stories, are you citing list? I genuinely don’t understand. Regardless of the asking price on this classic, restored machine – is it fair to compare the pricing to new list prices? FWIW I left the RV show genuinely piqued by a Ram-based pop top class B in a lovely maroon color for $98k – down from the list of $140k. I’m nowhere near buying stage but the price reductions set me off kilter. Also – we need another Northern Illinois / Southern WI meetup this spring.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bqpqfb
Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
1 month ago
Reply to  Bqpqfb

Prices were crazy high for a while due to the pandemic, then interest rates went insane, and prices cratered.

1 month ago
Reply to  Bqpqfb

20% off retail is pretty typical historically, yeah. With the exception of the pandemic years and a few small direct-sale manufacturers like Escape.

1 month ago
Reply to  Bqpqfb

We bought out RV in 2016, well before the pandemic.
Prices then were often 30% or more off the crazy MSRP listed.Loans at 4% or less for 12-15 years were easy to come by.
We watched during the pandemic when sale prices for the same model RV we have DOUBLED. Yes, doubled in 4-5 years.
We went to an RV show this February, and the same model RV we have has settled out about 35% more expensive than our purchase price. Less demand and high interest rates will do that. However, the same RV has now suffered “shrinkification” along with still higher prices…..counter tops are laminate vs solid surface, things that were standard are now additional cost “options”, etc.
Interestingly, our RV is valued now, eight years later, within a thousand dollars or our purchase price. Of course, those dollars have less buying power now…..but it is odd that we have had very little depreciation if you just look at the $$$.

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