J.R. Slaten considers his 1978 GMC motorhome a classic.
“It’s like a 26-foot street rod with plumbing,” said the Louisville, Ky. resident.
The motorhomes are ablaze in color and style reminiscent of the mid-1970s. These harvest gold, avocado green and dark brown and tan 23- and 26-foot coaches came styled for the times with thick shag carpet, plaid furniture, and burnt orange decor.
And about 130 of these classics rolled into Dothan, Ala., late last week for the GMC Motorhomes International spring rally, a week-long event at the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds, according to the Dothan Eagle.
Pulling small Isuzus and Geo Trackers into the campgrounds, many of the coaches have been restored, some to their original grandeur, while others have been upscaled with stainless steel appliances and yacht decking.
John Nicholls of Cantonment, Fla., talked about his home Sunday (March 22), saying he is still in the interior restoration phase. The retired civil engineer purchased a 1973 GMC in 2000 and hits the road to rally with his wife whenever they can. “It’s like any other classic car cult,” he says of the mystique. “You get involved in it and meet a nice bunch of people.”
License plates reveal the motorcoach owners’ home bases. They come from as far away as California and Nova Scotia, Texas and Michigan, New York and Ohio. They come to swap ideas and repair and renovation tips, but mostly they meet for the camaraderie.
“I love it. We meet new friends,” said Luther McConnell, a former machinist in St. Louis.
“We always explore the communities where we attend rallies,” his wife, Wanda, said.
The motorhomes are not only classic, but they are limited editions. GMC manufactured 12,921 of them between 1973 and 1978, just prior to the explosion of the customized van market. Enthusiasts estimate up to 9,000 of these coaches still travel the highways of America, Canada, Europe and beyond.
Built during an era of cheap gasoline, the front-wheel-drive motorhomes were originally manufactured with the same engine as the Oldsmobile Toronado – a 455-cubic-inch V8. They have rear air suspension and low ride height.
Slaten’s eyes widen and his hands move about as he talks about the advanced styling and the aerodynamics of these traveling homes – the only motorhomes ever designed and built by a major automobile manufacturer.
Slaten says he and his wife, Jeanne, have logged more than 300,000 miles. “We spend about 10 months of the year on the road,” he said.
The McConnells, of Bridgeton, Mo., purchased a 1977 model on e-Bay for $13,500. The coaches have maintained, even sometimes doubled in value. Roger Black of Burns, Tenn., said a fixer-upper could possibly be found for $5,000. A restored and upgraded coach could sell from $25,000 up to $100,000.
The purchase price new would have been about $29,000, Luther estimates.
But as much as the machine, it is the lifestyle which attracts most owners.
“The motorhome is pretty. It is small enough that it is easier to manipulate and for those of us who like to turn wrenches, we can still do it on these,” Nicholls said.