The Vixen RV and its campy promo video has gone viral. But, really, the Vixen was a miserable lump and an almost complete failure. The GMC motorhome, however, was the ultimate in RV luxury and technology, a shagadelic masterpiece of late ’70s style. It’s one of the most advanced motorhomes ever devised, featuring fully independent suspension, front wheel drive and a great, big torquey V8. Custom murals optional.
The GMC Motorhome is special. It was (and is) the only motorhome to be designed and built by an automotive manufacturer. GMC built the chassis, engine, bodies and in most cases interiors of these monsters. Nobody does that. It usually works like this: A manufacturer like GMC will assemble a chassis, then ship it off to a coach builder like Bounder to finish the job. GMC approached their motorhome like any other car or truck in their line. They designed it from the ground up and built the whole thing in house. It was bonkers. Motorhomes are low-volume specialty vehicles. Any major automaker would be insane to build one.
But this was GM in the ’70s, which by all reports was totally batshit. So in the early ’70s they got a bunch of GM geniuses in a room and asked, “What’s the perfect motorhome?”
The result was, really, spectacular. The team devised a steel ladder chassis with self-adjusting, fully independent suspension and disc brakes. Then they dropped in the massive 455 cubic-inch V8 and transmission from a Oldsmobile Toronado. They designed a properly ’70s-tastic futuristic body to put on top of it all. Finally, they built a full-scale, 26-foot clay model—likely in a Hunter S. Thompson-esque drug-addled haze. It was the biggest clay model GM ever built.
The motorhome went into production in 1972. Its body was made of aluminum and fiberglass. The floor, marine plywood. It had massive windows, air conditioning, an 8-track stereo and cruise control. It made moustaches and chest hair everywhere tingle with delight.
The GMC motorhome was produced until 1978 in 23 and 26-foot varieties. Many survive today due to their stout, rust-proof construction and have a cult-like following. It’s easy to see why. The motorhome still looks futuristic and definitely has charm. One can imagine piloting it across the country like some giant beige shuttlecraft, seeking out new life and civilizations. Boldly going where no one wearing a gold chain and Hawaiian shirt has gone before.