13 Great Centennial RVs – 2 of 13
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Low floors, high ceilings, aerodynamically designed fiberglass front and rear end caps, good handling and ride quality, airy interiors — it’s hard to imagine a time when these most basic of modern motorhome amenities didn’t exist. Prior to the GMC, however, motorhomes were unwieldy, dimly lit tubes.
Arguably the first vehicle built as a motorhome from the tires up, the 1973-’78 GMC quite literally brought the industry out of the Dark Ages.
Some of this was by design. Literally. Freed from the constraints of a traditional drivetrain — the GMC was among the first to use the Oldsmobile 455cid/front-wheel-drive package — designers were able to dramatically lower the floor height in the GMC to just 15 inches off the ground. That, in turn, allowed them to raise ceiling height to a respectable 6 feet, 4 inches while still maintaining a low center of gravity. Tandem rear wheels were mounted independently on the outside of the extrawide chassis; using simple leading and trailing arms and air springs between each pair of rear wheels, the configuration channeled road oscillations between the wheels rather than upward to the coach.
And what a coach it was. Built like the fuselage of an aircraft, the coach used heavy-gauge curved aluminum ribs affixed to the ladder-type steel chassis hung with panels of fiberglass, aluminum and lots of tempered glass; ringed by 15 individual windows, including a panoramic 32-square-foot two-piece windshield, the GMC was a virtual atrium on wheels. It also weighed in at 2,000-3,000 pounds less than most of its contemporaries, which helped it attain 8-10 mpg.
Unfortunately, the GMC had the bad fortune to be introduced in the midst of America’s first fuel shortage, which impacted sales. In production for six years, just 12,921 GMCs were built.