With the rounded edges, big windows, earth-tone colors and plaid upholstery, the GMC motorhomes are a throwback to the 1970s.
But, according to a report in the Rapid City, (S.D.) Journal, fans of the classic motorhome still find them the smoothest riding recreational vehicles on the road – even 27 years after General Motors quit manufacturing motorhomes.
“They are extremely comfortable to drive,” said George Baxter, president of GMC Motorhomes International, the club for owners of the vintage vehicles. Baxter said he has friends who sold their GMC and bought a much larger, newer motorhome. “They tell me they like the space but they miss the ride,” he said.
His 1975 model 26-footer was one of more than 150 vintage vehicles gathered this week at Hart Ranch, a resort in Rapid City, for the GMC Motorhomes International Club’s international rally, which runs through Saturday (Sept. 17).
Baxter, from Vashon Island, Wash., arrived at Hart Ranch several days early aboard his yellow 1975 model, a 26-footer that has most of the original paint and furnishings. He was part of the advance team that arrived early to set up and organize the event.
“Ours rides like a great big Mercedes,” club member Alan Tolle of Fresno, Calif., said of his 1978 GMC.
Lyle Fedt brought his baby blue 1973 model from his East River home in Bryant. He’s a newcomer to the club, and he bought his GMC Motorhome two years ago. “We had another brand, but my wife said it rode rough,” Fedt said.
Between 1973 and 1978, General Motors manufactured 12,921 motorhomes at its Pontiac, Mich., factory.
Each had front-wheel drive, and the early models had 455-cubic-inch Oldsmobile engines and Toranado front-wheel-drive transmissions. They all had an unusual tandem rear-wheel, air-bag suspension system.
About 8,000 of the motorhomes are still on the road, according to the club, which has 1,800 members.
So why did GM stop making them? Members offered varying reasons, but the biggest seemed to be gas prices. The 1970s energy crisis hit the motorhome industry hard.
And in fact, the current energy crisis – after Hurricane Katrina, prices soared to more than $3 per gallon – prompted a few members to stay home this week, Baxter said.
But otherwise, the club members were undaunted. On Tuesday afternoon, the vintage coaches were parked in near rows at Hart Ranch. Hundreds of members walked door-to-door to socialize and tour each other’s motorhomes.
GMC Motorhome owners spend a lot of time restoring and modifying their outfits. Although the stock models came in only two sizes, 23 and 26 feet, Baxter said you can find “stretch” GMCs that are as long as 34 feet.
A few of the models are mostly original, right down to the green shag carpeting and Herculon upholstery fabric. But some of the motorhomes are sporting updates such as microwave ovens, screen doors and retractable canopies.
Members admit that a vintage motorhome is a high-maintenance hobby. Much of the talk Tuesday was about spare parts, repair tricks and modifications.
Dale Ropp, his wife, Jane, and his mother, Maxine, were at the rally in their avocado green 1977 GMC Motorhome. Ropp, from Marysville, Mich., has owned it since 1999. They joined the club, he said, because they really like the people.
But also, he said, “I wanted to find out as much as I could about these things so I can keep mine running.”