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.

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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:

GMC

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.

GMC

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
GMC

 

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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.

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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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Top Dead Center
Top Dead Center
2 months ago

Does the back open like in the movie stripes or is that some movie magic? My ex wife’s grandparents had one of these, did drive it once and it drove better than I expected. Was straight up 70s interior inside, and I’m ok with that. Felt right…

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago

Not stock, but people have made various mods

Top Dead Center
Top Dead Center
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronald Pottol

Thx. I could imagine if it did open it could be a sortof perfect roll up ramp/garage.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago

A narrowbodied 911 would fit in one. I checked once. Fits lengthwise AND width wise.

LarsVargas
LarsVargas
2 months ago

I like everything about this except the dark exterior. It looks great, but it’ll be hot come summer. If I did buy it, I’d have to see about getting a much lighter color from roughly the waist up. And maybe a fun character line to split the colors in a retro orange, to bring back a little of the vintage.

I am 100% not in the market for an RV, and I suspect I never will be.

But if I ever am, I hope something like this is for sale then. Worth every penny. And if this particular one had been for sale for a while, I’ll be 750 $100 US bills will take it home. Or close to it.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
2 months ago

I wish they made one of these that was the size of a Class C. We really want something that can be used for going to events where otherwise you are sitting in the parking lot under a shade and maybe need to spend one night “off grid”. So an RV that can pull into a normal parking spot is key. Class Bs are too big. So you’re stuck with $200k Mercedes Sprinter conversions.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

You’re acting like econolines don’t exist.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
2 months ago

I kind of wish it had a modern vortec or LS engine instead of a big heavy 455

Protodite
Protodite
2 months ago

One time while working my MacBook shit the bed on me and I had to scramble around to find a way to get all my data back since my backup disk died. I wound up finding this guy who repaired Mac’s and things in inland Redondo beach. I drive over and realize it’s this dude who’s got a big adorable dog and drives around the South Bay in an excellent pale yellow 450SL, so we got talking more about cars. I think he maybe went through about an hour discussing the GM motor home he’d been restoring and took me down this rabbit hole with him. I’ve been pretty fascinated with these ever since!

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
2 months ago

What would it cost to get this thing painted like the EM-50?

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

Ziske rates the Russians: “They’re P%$*&!”

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

$4k for a quick and dirty paint job, $10k and up for nicer (sanding and better prep, etc). So, probably $10k I guess?

Jimal
Jimal
2 months ago

The price seem commensurate with its condition, and I’d take one of these over pretty much any contemporary motorhome.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Oh Baby you finally got an RV right up my alley. I certainly need the specs as well appliance brand and years. But unfair to compare to new tiny RVs? Well maybe unfair to the crappy new jewelry boxes because better and cheaper.
I do wonder if the better ride RVs make the drivers poorer drivers. Feels like a van you forget that extra length. The lower floor is great but there must be a reason trucks aren’t lowered.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Yes, FWD isn’t a great choice for trucks, and the floor is only flat where you can see it, the wheels cut into the backs of the cabinetry. Good choice for a motorhome, but not for most truck uses.

Sklooner
Sklooner
2 months ago

Why do people do dark colours on RVs ??? get too hot during summer when you use them most

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 months ago

I almost emailed my wife last night wanting to buy this. Must resist!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

You ain’t got the guts to ask your wife to make tacos for dinner let alone buy this!
Prove me wrong! LOL

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I once bought a house without telling her. Not kidding. Now our marriage might have been hitting a rough patch at the time, but I think I still have some guts. Lol

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

Just having fun as I am sure you got. Thanks. Many people have no sense of humor. But isn’t it better that two people with the same interests can joke as opposed to one person assuming they are 100% the ruler of correctness and attack a fellow human being?
And yeah buying a house without checking you got bigger cojones than me.
Hey how about The Cajones as a car name?

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I really should have said that while I have guts, I also have shit for brains and the two can really synergize into some truly stupid acts. Like buying a house you might not need.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

Don’t denigrate yourself that’s what I’m for. JK. Depends on location a real estate purchase can be profitable and a way to escape the wife for awhile. I am blessed with the ability to have women like my company while being offended at the prospect of getting close to a person they refer to as a great guy that should have no problem getting a girl that isn’t them or anyone they know.
This can be identified as a guy who buys them drinks,helps them move, is there when the bad boy dumps them but they will never sleep with because you don’t sleep with them when they are drunk.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Good man. 🙂

S boser
S boser
2 months ago

I’ve owned a bunch of motorhomes over the years. Starting VW westies to a 33 foot monster. The VW’s were great when I was in college and I could grab a cup of coffee and sit a do homework in the college parking lot. But road trips required knowing where the next rest stop was, because of all the vibration on the road would fill my bladder up and require draining constantly. Larger campers were to big to go to the places I enjoyed. It wasn’t until I would buy a 1980 class B that would be small enough to go anywhere I wanted and be able to park it an a regular placing space. I have zero interest in an expensive to repair sprinter van. I currently own an American Cruiser, 21 feet. Build on a B3500 dodge chassis. And according to the title it’s an SRT!?

S boser
S boser
2 months ago

And yet no one has mentioned the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle?

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
2 months ago

I love these, but not this one. It’s been stripped of all its seventies warmth and charm. Still, my Sisyphean efforts to ensure the Autopian mobile office/party wagon/road trip bus/my personal hell on earth is a GM motorhome continue unabated.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Hard agree. Why buy a vintage moho without the vintage?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

OPF! Other People’s Farts.

Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I think Torch’s influence is rubbing off on Miz M ;). Although he would have prob referred to it as “enfartification of the seats.”

Last edited 2 months ago by Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

I like your suggestion but question your spelling it is flammable or inflammable so fartification or infartification.
I think?

Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Inflatuation.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Okay I like that

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Yeah, I suspect this work was done when when the original look was completely and totally out of vogue and nobody appreciated a restored vintage camper. Oddly, its been long enough since then that the 2000s interior now looks dated, whereas the original 1970s one would just be a fun time capsule

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Who wants shaggy carpet and shifty panels?

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

ME!!!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

As a person who grew up in the decade shaggy carpet in houses and RVs attracts dirt and odors.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Wait.

It’s black, and Adrian DOESN’T like it?!?

I think I need to lie down…

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Needs a Mohawk.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Have you been in my stash again? I’m not sure I would describe the 70’s aesthetic with the words Warmth and Charm. Perhaps Earthy, Unique, Kitschy, Committed.

Did they have split-level homes with dark stained pine trim and foil wallpaper in GB? 😀

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
2 months ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

Good god no I mean it was the decade that taste forgot here as well but you guys took the fucking biscuit.

Last edited 2 months ago by Adrian Clarke
Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

We did indeed! I should try to find a photo of my dad’s old kitchen. The decor was a fucking crime against humanity. Some decorator still high on ludes from the 60’s managed to combine the absolute worst of every cliche imaginable with the of The Tribe. It felt so cramped because of all the dark tones. What made it worse was the exterior was pure southern colonial complete with columns. It made no sense.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Tasteless is the ultimate taste

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago

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.

If I were in the market for such a thing I’d want that ancient 455 swapped out with a much more efficient modern PHEV drivetrain and at least one motor on the back axles too. That PHEV ICE would also make a hell of a generator and heater. It’d be far quieter and more efficient than any RV generator. Also have it set up to run on propane in a pinch.

Add enough batteries to run the whole camper for days at a time. Solar on the roof and maybe the awning to keep the battery topped off as much as possible.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

No motor in the back axles is how they achieved such a low floor height in that thing; the whole design is centered around having no driveshafts or anything back there.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Looking at a better view of the chassis I see your point:

https://sirumvintagegmc.com/the-story-of-the-gmc-motorhome

Still the nice thing about electric motors is they don’t need driveshafts or even differentials. Maybe hub motors would work? They don’t need to be particularly powerful, just enough to provide traction in slip and to help regen braking.

Eslader
Eslader
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Unless you specially insulate it and are prepared to run the furnace 24/7, you shouldn’t be driving it in slippery conditions because slippery conditions happen in below-freezing temperatures, which is how you wreck the plumbing in an in-use motor home. Once the mercury gets close to freezing, it’s time to take it off the road for the season and run antifreeze through all the plumbing lines.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

Nah pipe insulation or electric wrap heat tape solves that.

Eslader
Eslader
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Insulation only slows down the rate at which heat is lost which is why we have to have furnaces in our homes rather than just using the heat we absorbed during the summer to get us through the winter.

Heat tape works great, but it’s kind of a PITA to get every waterline in the whole rig protected.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

True but I didn’t say it would be easy. I find the tube noodle pipe insulation slides after putting it on. Also just need it above freezing and like our abodes opening the Fawcett to drip helps. And with the interior of the RV being heated I think it might work. But maybe stay off the Ice Road in winter. LOL

Eslader
Eslader
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

It really depends on the RV whether or not it will work. Many of the pipes aren’t in the heated portion, but in the “basement.” If the basement doesn’t have a furnace duct going to it, and insulation, then just keeping the heat on won’t work because none of it will get to where the pipes are.

And if the RV isn’t specially insulated for winter, you can go through an entire propane tank in one night trying to keep the thing warm enough for people, much less the basement pipes. I had that happen when a freak spring temperature drop that hadn’t been forecast caught up to me in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. The furnace ran wide open all night and it still burst a basement pipe.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

Well nothing teaches like experience so I will accept your knowledge

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Actually, if the water pipes are in the cabinetry, above the floor, it will be fine. It’s even better if the water tank and pump are above the floor.

Like the others, an LSX type motor, 6.2 would help. It’s too bad no one has figured out how to bolt a 4L80 trans into the transfer system. A custom oil pan could probably be fashioned to allow the existing trans halfshaft to go through like the original.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

In my plan the “furnace” would be part of the ICE cooling system which is already full of antifreeze. If a situation cold enough to freeze THAT happens and other shelter options aren’t available I think the combination of battery and hybrid ICE heat would be much better than burning gas in a 455.

If such cold is a regular thing then harnessing the exhaust heat is also an option. Best to get every erg out of it you can.

Eslader
Eslader
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

It’s not the furnace ducts that freeze, it’s the water pipes. You can’t have car antifreeze in the water pipes because you drink and bathe in that water. You have to use RV antifreeze, which is formulated so that if some is inadvertently left over after you flush it out in the spring, you won’t die when you drink it. But it’s still a bad idea to drink it intentionally, so you can’t leave it in there for winter camping (and even if you did, it’s expensive as hell and you only run enough to fill the pipes, so you’d still have to hook up to water to get any use out of the system, at which point you’ve now got freezing water in there again).

Motor homes usually have separate furnaces that run on propane because they spend most of their time parked, and like you said you don’t want to run the engine 24/7. They’re divided into two systems, the vehicle and the house. The vehicle engine is only for moving it from camp site to camp site. After that, the house systems take over and run on propane, stored/shore/solar electricity or electricity from a generator.

It’s not a matter of finding shelter. You can always stay warm in a camper just by getting under enough covers. It’s all about keeping those water pipes from bursting, which not only sucks because you have to replace them which is a pain in the ass to do, but also because if it’s a small burst that you don’t catch, the leak can rot the (usually wood) floor and framing of the motor home, which then gets you into a situation where it’s often more than the thing’s worth to repair it.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

Ah, I was unclear you were talking about the fresh water, not the cooling system. Thank you for clarifying.

A furnace’s job is to turn chemical energy into heat. That is also the job of an ICE, but also to turn as much of that heat into work as possible. Even in the most efficient hybrid ICE at least 60% of the energy of the fuel when parked is made into heat, the rest into electricity.

Given even most home central heating systems were realistically maybe 50% efficient (the rest of the heat was lost in the exhaust) when this camper was built I’d think a modern hybrid drivetrain could do the job must fine, maybe better since the plumbing can be both wrapped in heating tape and kept from freezing by a combination of battery and waste heat with a heat exchanger in the cooling and/or exhaust systems (also used to keep the living space warm). Such heat exchangers are fairly compact so plumbing it in shouldn’t be a challenge. When I crunched the numbers a few months ago it looked like even a small Prius ICE running on all cylinders put out enough waste heat to keep a 1600 sqft home nice and warm during a Minnesota winter. So it should be plenty fine as an RV furnace. In my propsed scenario cylinder deactivation and/or hit and miss operation could maximize efficient use of fuel.

RV antifreeze is expensive as Hell? Its $4/gal at Tractor Supply.

https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/traveller-rv-multi-purpose-antifreeze-1-gal

That’s less than what gas costs around here and I guarantee your RV will drink a lot more of THAT.

FYI You can recycle the used antifreeze by mixing it with Borax to make a highly effective, nontoxic (to mammals and birds) wood preservative. Spray it on and let it draw itself throughout the wood. As long as the wood stays reasonably dry it’s protected for life against wood eating insects and fungal rot. It’s even somewhat fire resistant. You may need to add in a water soluble dye to indicate the treatment as it’s invisible otherwise.

You can also paint the treated wood for weather protection, just make sure its fully dry first. And keep it dry or painted as this treatment will leech out if the bare wood is left to the elements or soaked in water.

Eslader
Eslader
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

A lot to unpack here.

  • ICE heating: Multiple problems here. You don’t want to run a gas engine all night. Even running a generator all night is problematic for health and noise reasons. The furnace runs on propane, which is quiet, burns cleaner and is less likely to be unpleasant or unhealthful for you and people camping near you.
  • I’m not really clear on why you’re trying to reinvent the wheel with RV heating systems. A furnace works well, is optimized for its mission, is quiet, has less toxic exhaust, is much simpler (it’s a fire and a fan, vs all the complexities of a 4-cycle ICE). The problem is not in the heating source, the problem is that the heat is directed toward the interior while the water pipes are closer to the exterior. The entire problem is pipe bursts, not cold people.
  • $4/gallon RV antifreeze. RVs have up to 100 gallons of fresh water storage on board, so depending on the RV you could be spending $400 minimum to drink bad-tasting stuff that’s bad for you.
  • The heat tape works great until it doesn’t and your pipes freeze. It’s a common solution for RV pipes, but it’s really best for getting you through a short-term cold snap or as a backup to a fully-winterized coach, not camping for any extended length of time. Winter-package RVs insulate the basement and then run a furnace duct to it so you aren’t relying 100% on heat tape.

The bottom line is that unless your camper is specifically built to be operational in below-freezing weather, you have to winterize and stop using it when the temperature drops below freezing, regardless of whatever Rube-Goldberg contraption you come up with to generate heat.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

I already mentioned propane in my original proposal:

Also have it set up to run on propane in a pinch.

Toyota already makes hybrids that are designed to run on NG and there are cars that can switch between gasoline/NG/propane have been around for decades so those parts exist. Truck stops also sell CNG.

I also question whether a modern hybrid with modern emission controls running for optimum efficiency is really any worse on emissions than a furnace burning propane. If so then retune the engine for emissions rather than efficiency on “generator mode”. It will still be far cleaner and probably at least twice as efficient as a standard generator. Those are typically only 15% thermally efficient.

I’m not really clear on why you’re trying to reinvent the wheel with RV heating systems.

Its not reinventing, its simply harness something that is already there taking up valuable room when not in use to eliminate other things also taking up valuable room when not in use.

I appreciate efficiency and I think eliminating the furnace and generator will help both fuel use and space efficiency AND reduce overall complexity.

The furnace and the generator occupy space along with their assorted ducting that can be replaced by simply using the ICE that will always be there anyway – a smaller ICE drivetrain I believe than the existing 455 and transmission. I really doubt you could fit THAT in a Prius engine bay. The battery does take up room but that can go almost anywhere.

The ICE engine will also be much quieter than the usual generator. I’ve been woken up many times by RV jerks who have no appreciation for quiet hours. That would not be such a problem with a properly muffled hybrid ICE.

If shore power is available then use that to heat the pipes both by the tape and with a block heater which should be there anyway. Same with the cabin using the heat pump at mild chill and resistance heating for colder weather at least until it gets cold enough to justify the ICE turning on.

When set up to do so ICE can be run on gasoline, propane, or NG, whatever is available which a furnace cannot do without adding emissions controls. If you run out of propane you can switch to gasoline. Flexibility has value too.

The heat tape works great until it doesn’t and your pipes freeze.

Which is why you very slowly run cold but not that close to freezing water through the lines heated just enough by the heat exchanger. The heating tape also allows you to install thermocouples to monitor the temp at key points on the system.

The bottom line is…

Again all this is only needed by folks using the camper in very cold weather. Otherwise park and winterize it.

I dunno about where you live but in my area campers are being used more and more as year round low income housing. I think its just a matter of time before that spreads to colder climates.

Eslader
Eslader
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Why are you talking about thermal efficiency regarding a furnace? You want it to be “thermally inefficient” by ICE standards because the goal is to produce heat, not move the vehicle.

If you want to produce heat, then moving a bunch of heavy pistons up and down with explosions 900 times per minute is vastly more inefficient than heating the air with straight fire. Otherwise we’d all have V8s in our basements heating our houses instead of natural gas furnaces.

As to people using them for low income housing, yeah, that happens here too, but they shower at the Y, use the bathroom at work and fill jugs of water somewhere else. The RV’s water systems are turned off because even if their RV is properly insulated, it still uses a crapton of propane to keep it warm enough to matter and plus, unless you’re in a campground with access to fresh, potable water you can tap into, you’re going to go through the onboard tanks in a few days, max and then what?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

Why are you talking about thermal efficiency regarding a furnace? You want it to be “thermally inefficient” by ICE standards because the goal is to produce heat, not move the vehicle.

AFUE stands for annual fuel utilization efficiency. AFUE ratings measure how efficiently furnaces convert the fuel’s energy into useful heat, e.g. thermal efficiency:

https://thefurnaceoutlet.com/blogs/hvac-tips/afue-rating-explained-understanding-furnace-efficiency

In the late 1960s/early 70s when this RV was built many gas home furnaces had an AFUE rating of 55. I can’t imagine an RV furnace besting a home furnace so an AFUE of <50 is probably about right. Gas was cheap and emissions were tomorrows problem so nobody cared much.

If you want to produce heat, then moving a bunch of heavy pistons up and down with explosions 900 times per minute is vastly more inefficient than heating the air with straight fire. Otherwise we’d all have V8s in our basements heating our houses instead of natural gas furnaces.

The difference is your hypothetical house is on a basement, not wheels.

An RV by definition is a vehicle. So it’s going to need something to make it move anyway. Most houses aren’t built to move, thus they don’t need an engine.

An ICE by definition and function is a heat engine. Practically ALL the energy of the fuel burned whether in a furnace or in an ICE makes heat eventually. Even the trivial amount going into into making nitrates, soot and whatnot are burned up in the catalytic converter to make heat.

The question is where that heat goes. The purpose of an ICE is to harness some of that heat to make mechanical energy. In a hybrid up to 100% of that mechanical energy is converted to electrical energy, e.g. a generator. RVs tend to have generators, right? They also have – as we already covered – engines or motors? Well a hybrid is literally both of those things. Thanks to the waste heat it can be a furnace too.

Between the electricity, hot water and exhaust heat you can get a lot more energy per gallon from an ICE hybrid than an old furnace. In a modern hybrid ~40% of the energy goes to electricity and the rest is about equally split between the coolant and the exhaust. Both of those can be harnessed to heat water and the cabin with heat exchangers, ala the radiator.

Now about that basement V8. You absolutely could have a generator in your basement running on natural gas to make electriciy and heat. Such a system would be good for off grid use to compliment a solar system.

You don’t need a V8 though. A Prius engine running on all cylinders puts out enough total waste BTUs to keep a 1600 sqft home in Minnesota comfy during winter so it could be way overkill for milder climates.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Holy shit I am just saying you guys wrote a lot of words but you’re both wrong, chinese diesel heaters are far cheaper to run than propane, easier to fill, super tiny, and cost like $100.

Agree with all the points about plumbing in an RV during winter. Unless your heat is ‘on’ 24-7, or can kick on whenver it’s below freezing outside, keeping the pipes safe is a really challenging issue.

IF you did solar, AND you made the solar panels tiltable to shed snow, AND you had heat tape/insulation on all the pipes, AND you could somehow wire that tape to ‘turn on’ for a few minutes every hour whenever it was below freezing, you might be okay. Maybe.

It’s a huge challenge and I passed on an RV and bought a pop up a-frame instead. Fresh water tank is not used, neither is the drain.

Eslader
Eslader
2 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Yeah, the diesel heaters are cheaper to run than propane, but good luck finding a pre-built motor home with one installed. They’re all the rage in the “I bought a school bus and am gonna make a camper out of it” space, but the turnkey manufacturers won’t touch them because they’re louder and smellier. That’s OK for the van-life crowd, but the people dropping $180k+ on a new Winnebago are not going to be amused.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

They’re not loud at all. The propane furnace in my camper is 10000x louder than my CDH in my van or my bus 😛

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

If “cheap and easy” is your only goal why even bother with that? Just fire up the 455 and huddle around its blasting heater.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
2 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

Depends on how it’s made and insulated. Some are good a but below freezing, and a few are good below zero.

Not sure about the wall insulation on this, but looks like the freshwater tanks are inside. Some antifreeze down the drain would probably keep it good to somewhere in the 20s.

Eslader
Eslader
2 months ago
Reply to  Defenestrator

Yeah, that’s why I said “unless you specially insulate it.” The winter packages ones are good below freezing. The extreme winter packages are good below zero (but you probably still wouldn’t want to risk them in a northern Canada winter or anything).

The vast majority of motor homes out there are not equipped with winter packages. Very few people want to drive a 40 foot vehicle hundreds of miles on icy roads to go camping in the snow. If they camp in the winter, they do it in places that stay warm. Most of the winter packages are really meant for “I live in New York and I’m going camping in the Florida Keys in January and just need to make it a day in the cold before everything thaws out,” not “I’m going camping in northern Ontario in January.”

And you’re right, enough antifreeze down the drain will keep the gray tank liquid. Fresh water tanks, not so much because then you’d have to drink antifreeze. You need heating blankets for fresh tanks, and you also have to make sure the lines going to and from the tanks are heated so you don’t get an ice plug and back things up.

Antifreeze in the black tank is also problematic because you put bacteria in those tanks to keep the smells under control, and that bacteria will happily eat regular RV antifreeze so you have to remember to keep putting more down there. Or you can go with ethanol, which the bacteria won’t eat because it kills them and you will end up with a motor home that smells like shit.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

But motor in the back EV means the middle could still be low floors. An EV motor used as a solar generator and occasionally additional power to the rear wheels? There’s Adrian’s Mohawk. ICE in the Front EV in the back with the ability to come together in perfect harmony Tree huggers.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

You can’t, you’re stuck with the TH425, and a new motor will require extensive modification due to the skirts. Believe me, this has been kicked around the forums endlessly, sure, you can put a Cady motor in, if you want to be different, and you can spend a fortune on something else, but fancy EFI on the 455 and a better cam will match anything else, for far less money. Now, swapping out the final drive for a shorter one, that’s a win, if you have a carb, your fuel mileage will even improve!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronald Pottol

I can’t speak to the skirts and I’m sure people with far more knowledge than mine have already thrown up their hands on this BUT I have faith that the same brand of knuckleheads who can shoehorn a LS into a Miata or a Civic can figure out how to do this on a reasonable budget.

And who knows, as PHEVs become more common perhaps a new, more compatible option might yet present itself.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Go have a look, people with money, time, skill, etc, have tried, and if you’re willing to give up some interior room, you can make other things work, for enough dollars. But nothing ends up noticeably better that good efi, a better cam, and a shorter final drive. https://gmc.mybirdfeeder.net/GMCforum/ for the oldest forum for these.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronald Pottol

But nothing ends up noticeably better that good efi, a better cam, and a shorter final drive. https://gmc.mybirdfeeder.net/GMCforum/ for the oldest forum for these.

If you say so. The very first thing that came up on a search for “hybrid” was this thread where proposals very similar to mine are being kicked around and nobody is calling them fruitless, pointless or stupid:

I think that the best setup would be a Hybrid.

>> Engine that is big enough to go 70 mph on the level and charge batteries.

>> Enough batteries to add power for the longest steepest mountain roads.

>> While camping the engine can keep the batteries charged.

>> 240v and CCS-CHAdeMO fast charging.

>> Get rid of the propane, roof AC, generator and that old 455 and

>> transmission.

>> Add a modern front wheel hybrid drive, two in wheel motors on the front

>> bogie wheels.

>> Modern electric heat pump, induction stove.

https://gmc.mybirdfeeder.net/GMCforum/index.php?t=msg&th=45238&prevloaded=1&rid=0&start=0

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
2 months ago

Too large and the ground clearance is too low for the places I go. Also, front wheel drive isn’t the best choice for off-pavement driving. But if I were just the highway cruiser type, sure!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Really? You don’t off-road with your bunker. You park in a comfortable place and off road with the proper toys. I bet you vacation with comic books and women who tell you what to do. Lol

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Something, something glass houses….

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

No woman, no comic books. Poor me

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

So a case of jealousy? Sad!

Man you gotta get out more! Get your own comic books and annoying partner of whatever way you lean who will tell you what to do.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I live/travel/boondock solo full time in a self-converted Express van. Been doing it for eleven years.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Well if I did it for more than a week would need something between this one and yours.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
2 months ago

Very nice rig.

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
2 months ago

I had one briefly in the early naughts. It was easy to drive and had a nice ride I’ll give it that, but it really needs to be looked at as a big Class B. Mine – don’t know about all the configurations – had a rear lounge that you converted into a bed. That’s neither workable or comfortable for more than a night or two.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  Lew Schiller

I threw a real mattress on top, I don’t need the lounge, so I find it to be very nice. The console at the foot end has been removed for a bit more legroom. It’s a full xl now.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
2 months ago

I have been asking myself this question for a long time: why did GM kill Motorhome too soon in 1979 prior to the second oil crisis? GM could have continued with the production through the 1980s and 1990s with cosmetic and technical updates.

I understand that THM425 gearbox was superseded by lighter TM325 in 1979, and the new gearbox wasn’t up to snuff for larger and heavier vehicle. That doesn’t mean GM couldn’t continue producing THM425 in limited quantity for Motorhome.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

Leadership changes, so it no longer had an executive as a champion, and it would have needed extensive redesign to replace the TH425. The various owners over the decades have tried all manner of crazy things, but that you cannot get around, also, the motor fits under a sedan hood, a FWD van drive train is far too tall.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronald Pottol

Sorry, I am having trouble following your rambling, especially the first sentence.

Have you looked at other RV built on rear-wheel-drive chassis from the van, bus, and truck? Many of them have engine hump between the driver and front passenger. How is it different for the GMC Motorhome, which has biggest advantages (lower floor in the living space; smoother ride; etc.) over the RWD RV?

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

Sorry, I’ll try to be clearer. You can’t even run a normal intake on those without a raised hatch, the Toronado is lower than the rwd set ups. Then, the transmission is weird, it has the torque converter on the back of the motor, which drives a chain to the offset transmission, which is tucked under the side and below the engine. One of the drive shafts goes through a notch in the oil pan. So, it’s low, and short, no one seems to be willing to chop up the interior too much to fit anything. So, you could do essentially a new or heavily redesigned front seat area, but it’s going to get awkward to get into the drive and passenger seats with much of a hump, or one that comes very far back.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

But retooled tranny plant means no place to keep producing the old tranny.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Your response is irrelevant as many manufacturers often contract out the small production to the suppliers and specialists. The tooling and equipment for producing TH-425 had been fully amortised, and GM could simply ship them out to the supplier to continue producing in limited number.

Case in point: Mercedes-Benz contracted AM General to build the R-Class for Chinese market for four more years from 2014 to 2017 after the R-Class production in Alabama ended.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

Could be, but the executives who had championed it had moved on, and been replaced by ones who didn’t much care for it, so there was no push to find a solution. It’s not like it made crazy money, it took 6 years to sell 13k of them.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
2 months ago

I love these things but for that price I would want a modern turbo diesel.

David Escargot
David Escargot
2 months ago

Did someone say duramax swap?

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago

Manny was trying to make a go of selling the AM General 6.5 turbo diesel, not that it’s very modern, but I think he gave up. He is THE transmission guy for this application. http://www.mannystransmission.com/projects.html

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
2 months ago

Never owned an RV, but loved these since they came out. Buying one now at this age would scare me because not knowing what still needs replacing, regardless of age, would always be in the back of my mind, limiting how much use it might get.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago

Yes, it’s great, but end of the day it’s still a pretty ancient drivetrain that is rather difficult to find service and parts for. I think the design of these is great; I think at some point someone will develop a nice upgrade that guts all of the toronado stuff.

76Eldorado
76Eldorado
2 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Parts for this are as easy Rockauto or any parts store. I rebuilt the front end of my Eldorado. With the same front chassis. For less than $1000. That was 4 wheel brakes, bearings, shocks, one bad ball joint and front axles. Which are the same as the front axles on a GMT400. The problem would come if someone put a modern Cummins in it those have shit parts support. I work on them

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

They sold 13k of them, there are multiple specialist around the country that know them, parts are not an issue. If something becomes a problem, someone will pay for a run of parts, you may well pay a pretty penny for them, but still, not that much all things considered.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronald Pottol

You say that, but you cannot just waltz into most repair places and expect people to be familiar with it.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

I didn’t say there were a lot of places. Though the RV part is just an RV, and the motor part is mostly a really old Toronado (though there definitely are some critical differences).

Lardo
Lardo
2 months ago

I like the shorter ones. But the problem is many camp grounds won’t let vehicles this old on the property,

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
2 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

Really? Why not?

I’m not into camping, genuinely curious.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
2 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Elitism. Not campgrounds but RV parks. They want everything looking classy so they can charge top dollar.

Lardo
Lardo
2 months ago

Well it is a crude way to eliminate the possible troublesome customers. I’ve heard with a nice rig like this you can send a pic and get permission. Then there is the place in Breckenridge that won’t any type of pop-up… so it varies.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
2 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

I’ve never enjoyed camping, but adding elitism to the mix takes all the fun out of it:

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
2 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

There are plenty of fuckwads in new rigs.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
2 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

Don’t even need to take a picture. If you show up in a nice clean rig, no park is going to turn you away. (Or, I’m sure there might be some, but they’d be few and far between.)

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago

I’ve heard that as long as your rig looks nice, it’s not a problem. These have a very modern look, throw on five thin coats of floor wax (like mop&glow, just wipe it on), and the paint will gleam.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
2 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

This looks 1000x cleaner than some of the newer crap. Having an old restored motor home in great shape or a well kept survivor is way better than the generic junk.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
2 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

That’s really just a way for them to make an excuse to refuse shitty broken down motorhomes. If your motorhome is clean and nice-looking, no parks care what year it is.

CEVette
CEVette
2 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

National, State, and Local parks don’t have these rules.
We have been to some privately owned parks that do have a 10 year rule, but most will allow older units in good condition.
I asked the owner of one such park why they had that rule.
He listed various reasons, but one that stood out was they had a couple bring an old, barely running RV to the park. The RV engine had overheated on the way there. RV had severe water damage from roof leaks. The couple stayed overnight, and disappeared. They abandoned the RV there vs dealing with it.
It ended up costing the park owner a fair amount to get the thing towed away.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
2 months ago

I will probably never buy an RV – I’m much prefer the versatility of a camper and tow vehicle, so “home” can stay parked at home while I’m exploring around on vacation – but if I were ever to buy one, it will be one of these. I have dreamed of having one ever since I got the Hot Wheels version circa 1981. I might even paint it this shade of green to match the one that is still in a cardboard box somewhere in my parents’ garage.
https://www.southtexasdiecast.com/hwguide/images/1980/1980_9645.jpg

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
2 months ago

For me, it was b/c it appeared a couple of times on the Six Million Dollar Man. Including an episode where Steve Austin and a Soviet Bloc politician drive one cross country!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

So they got an RV and drove from state to state. Did they get to Montana? Did the politician find a round American woman to marry who would raise rabbits and cook them for him? Did he get his pickup truck too?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8JW75Lv25k

Last edited 2 months ago by Cheap Bastard
ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago

My neighbor has one of these, he redid the interior and hired out a refresh of the mechanicals. I observed the progress as Sybbie the Corgi and I walked by each night. It looked a lot more like the one does when remodeling a kitchen or bathroom than the restoration of a vehicle, which I suppose it kind of was.

Anyway, I started reading up on the history of these. Unlike most motorhomes (in my opinion) this one has style and presence. Always enjoy reading about them, and understand why they have a good following to this day.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
2 months ago

As long it doesn’t have a shitcase and you can get a front Window, nice rig.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
2 months ago
Reply to  Arrest-me Red

Yes, you can order a freshly made front windshield. The rest are generally salvage parts, but it’s not like they are a wear item, if there’s a need, someone will make them.

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