What makes a GREAT motorhome?

     

...if you are outside looking in for the best choice, consider a GMC. They are plentiful at every price point and every state of repair or restoration. And the support network built by the GMC owners and vendors exceeds that of much newer RVs.

Dave Silva: At the dawn of the automobile age people began putting boxes on the Model T to make the first motorhomes. They called them 'house cars.' In 1910 Pierce Arrow made the first commercial motorhome. It was a box on a truck chassis. For the next 50 years or so not much changed in motorhome design. A box on a truck chassis is OK but it's not ideal.

A motorhome is not a cargo vehicle. It doesn't need to carry a heavy payload over the drive wheels like a rear wheel drive truck. And it doesn't need to be a big box sitting three steps up over a drive train that runs the whole length of the vehicle. Rather, a motorhome should be either front wheel drive, or a rear wheel pusher. Either arrangement allows the living space to be lower.

Unfortunately, the choice of chassis is driven more by economics than good design. Cheap truck chassis roll off assembly lines and train loads of them are sucked up by the RV manufacturers. A little plywood, some cabinetry that's a decade out of style, wrap the whole thing in a stick frame skinned over with very thin aluminum and Viola!; You have a modern RV.

In recent years they've switched to composite material for the skin but the result is the same- a cheap wide box sitting too high on a common truck chassis. They're top-heavy, susceptible to wind and they don't last. But, you're not thinking about that when the smell of fresh formaldehyde soaked plastic fills your nostrils. You're not even thinking about the 84 month payment plan.

But suppose you really want a motorhome that someone put some thought into? There are in my opinion four really well thought out motorhomes; the Clark Cortez, Revcon, FMC and the Classic GMC.

The Clark Cortez, was front wheel drive and built like a tank or a forklift

The Cortez used the Toronado 455 FWD drive train but it was built like a tank, lots of heavy steel. They got lousy mileage back when we didn't care so much about it.

In 1969, John Hall, stepson of Airstream′s Tony Byum took the idea a bit further with the Revcon, also propelled by the Olds Toro 455 but with aluminum skin and frame it was 5,000 lb lighter less than 8k empty.

the absence of a drive shaft allows the coach to sit lower. Mine doesn't even need an entry step

In 1972 the Food Machinery Corporation got into the game with the FMC motorhome. It was Dodge powered rear pusher. They made just over 1000 units. Of the four on my list the FMC was the most expensive at $27-54K.

The FMC was well designed and well built, but with only about 1000 ever made, the surviving support network is limited.

Finally GMC saw what was going on threw their wrench into the mix, the only major automaker to produce a motorhome. In 1973 the first GMC motorhome hit the market. 12,921 units later they gave up the idea and the last one rolled out in 1978. But as I said in another post, that was just the beginning of the story.

It looks impressive going down the road but the typical big Class A doesn't gain any interior standing room over the GMC. The floor sits over the tires. This makes it easy to build the interior (no wheel wells to deal with) And it makes slideouts possible. But given the age of the average owner, those four steps up are going to become a problem sooner or later.

It's a lot like dating, you can't help who you fall in love with. So if you find yourself in possession of a Revcon, FMC, or Cortez, then love it with reckless abandon. But if you are outside looking in for the best choice, consider a GMC. They are plentiful at every price point and every state of repair or restoration. And the support network built by the GMC owners and vendors exceeds that of much newer RVs. Try finding a drive axle for a 1991 Winnebago LeSharo.

The four coaches discussed here are certainly not the whole list. They are the best designed, best built motorhomes under 30 feet. There are plenty of other good options if you look at diesel pushers and bus conversions, but that another conversation.