Build Your Own EM-50: 1976 GMC Motorhome

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Every once in a while, General Motors hits a bases-loaded home run.  From the small block V-8 and the Tri-Five Chevies to the C-8 Corvette, when GM gets something right it makes history.  Take for example the brief period when GM was in the motorhome business.  If you are looking for an RV with a legendary look that you can customize to make your own, then the perfect vehicle is waiting for you.  Take a look at this 1976 GMC motorhome project for sale on craigslist in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Stripped down inside, but running, is this the right motorhome to make your own at a $6,500 asking price?  Thanks to Pat L. for the tip!

The GM of today would never take a risk like this.  To understand why GM would make this move back then, you have to first understand what GM was in this period.  In the decade preceding the decision to enter the motorhome market, GM was a colossus of a corporation.  It was the largest corporation in the world, the world’s largest automaker with a huge percentage of the market both here and abroad, and there were constant rumors that the company was under the scrutiny of the US Justice Department.  The word “monopoly” was being bandied around.  Critics were pushing to have the company broken up, as the Bell System was in 1982.

So, flush with decades of cash, the automaker decided to enter a new market.  With their Unified Powerplant Package, which was the engine and transmission unit most famously used in the Cadillac El Dorado and Oldsmobile Toronado, designers got to work on completing a design and preparing for production in this new market.  While GM was frequently called upon to provide drivetrains and frames for RV manufacturers, this was their first foray into a top-to-bottom product of their own.  They would also provide stripped-down models for the manufacturers to complete.

The front-wheel drive layout made it possible to offer a lower vehicle with a comparable interior height to other RVs.  GM also was able to use off-the-shelf components like 8-track players, brakes, and all of the little parts and pieces that would cost a small manufacturer a fortune to make.  Add to that GM’s inherent knowledge in composite body construction, manufacturing efficiency, and their incredible styling department.  In all, 12,921 of these innovative vehicles were sold.  A customized version even appeared in a U.S. Army documentary movie called “Stripes.”  It chronicled four brave soldiers using the prototype vehicle on a rescue mission behind enemy lines.  Unfortunately, even this incredible event couldn’t save the EM-50 from government accountants.

Fast forward 47 years after the day the motorhome you see here rolled off the assembly line, the desire for these vehicles remains strong.  Most of the motorhomes produced by other manufacturers in the seventies have long been regulated to junkyards, scrap piles, and backyards to return to the earth.  Not so for most of these GMC motorhomes.  There is an entire cottage industry that rebuilds these vehicles from top to bottom.  Owners can select from options just as if they were purchasing a new, high-end motorhome.  Some of these motorhomes are on their second or third rebuild, destined to live on forever it seems.

This 1976 version has hit the market at the point it is as ready for conversion as it can get.  Most of the interior has been gutted, save the captain’s chairs up front and some of the interior panels.  We don’t receive much from the seller beyond the fact that it is powered by an Oldsmobile 455 cubic inch V-8, and this is one of the rarer 23-foot models.  Most were built as 26-footers.  The seller tells us that the engine starts and runs very well.  While it is advertised as drivable, the braking is a bit in question.  The seller suggests that the vehicle be towed to the buyer’s final destination to be on the safe side.

There is no end to the possibilities for this motorhome.  You could have it trucked to one of the many restorers and renovators of these unique RVs, or you could take on the project yourself.  It could be a high dollar, state-of-the-art resto mod of sorts, or it could be a family project.  Since you can now buy flamethrowers legally (small ones), then this could be a great basis for an EM-50 recreation.  General Barnicke would certainly approve of a go-getter like you bringing his project back to life.

So what would you do with this cool motorhome?  Let us know in the comments.


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  1. TomP

    Darn, another gutted RV in which someone with big dreams bit off more than they could chew. The ad says it can be restored to its former glory. The only problem is that there’s nothing to use as as templates since it was all thrown out. This RV is junk now.

    Like 12
  2. Grant

    The real reality of these is where do you park them? Make your front yard ugly or your driveway blocked? Then when you decide to take it somewhere, you better like commercial campgrounds because anywhere else, even a Walmart parking lot is off limits. RV commercials show you parked all alone in some pristine wilderness, but that is a lie unless you own said wilderness. The cops get involved if you trespass. Friends of mine found that out very quickly after buying one. Then think about driving one on a narrow winding road or with high winds. Not as nice as driving your old minivan I am sure, plus about a quarter of the gas use, if you are lucky. Just stay in a nice hotel with a soft bed, warm shower, and a great restaurant . You won’t regret your choice not to buy, and your bank account will thank you. (so will your wife, because it means a vacation where she is not expected to cook)

    Like 11
    • David Moore

      Only the arrogant and self-righteous b!@+& about people wanting campers and motor homes. If all you’re going to do is hole up in a motel or hotel, what does it matter to you if someone buys a motor home and goes to a “commercial campground?” If your friends ran into trouble, it is likely because they are like you, arrogant and didn’t care about LEARNING or following the rules. I don’t know about your area but in my state you can camp on any state land so long as you follow a few rules. Not meant to be specific, 100% accurate or even 100% complete, but just a few of those rules are
      1) First come, first served.
      2)NO littering
      3) NO destruction or altering of the landscape or nature
      4) Register IN ADVANCE and know where you are going to camp

      Other than that, you are free to go just about anywhere you can reach without ripping up the fields and fauna. So if you find a nice place overlooking a small lake, if there is a two track or seasonal road nearby and you can make it to your “camping spot,” you are free to do so. Of course there are state park campgrounds, state forest campgrounds and private campgrounds galore. But, the bottom line is, you MUST follow the rules, not do whatever Grant pleases.

      Go ahead, stay in your hotel and let those who enjoy the camping lifestyle enjoy it. Without you there, I am pretty sure they enjoy it a lot more.
      P.S. I own a camping trailer and I spend time in hotels. It all depends on what I am doing and where I am going and why. Please be considerate of others and allow them to enjoy their hobbies as they see fit. They aren’t harming you.

      Like 27
      • Grant

        When we were much younger, the wife and I did a lot of camping, but it involved much hiking and a pup tent. If you enjoy a camper, I am happy for you, but we feel that the initial purchase price, upkeep, great fuel costs, insurance, and at least some campground fees, far exceed what we pay for nice hotels. And we travel, a lot. My wife is looking over my shoulder as I write this and she wishes to stress the part about her not having to cook. She asks for your opinion about that, plus the fact that our Miata is so much more fun to drive then an RV or truck/camper. She also notes that it is much easier to find a parking space in a small town when you stop for some lunch. Also, we travel to many different cities, and being able to navigate and park in many of them (esp on the east coast) would be almost impossible with a large vehicle. She also notes that there is so much variety in the types of places you can stay at, unlike being in the same old camper. Okay, now she is off to bed so I can again say, I am glad you like your camper, it is just not for us.

        Like 10
      • ken

        Not to mention the bed bugs, ultraviolet stains, and your car left unattended in some parking lot.

        Like 5
    • HoA Howard AMember

      Seeing where this is going, and my demeanor, I’ve got to get in on this one too. ( I know, going for #9) While I tend to side with Grant, David makes some good points too. Grants observations are spot on. David merely supporting his cause, he makes it work and that’s okay, just not for everyone. I live in the Rocky Mountains, and am appalled by what some folks call “camping”. They destroy the roads dragging their 30 foot slideouts up paths made for Jeeps, spinning all 6 wheels of the diesel pickup spewing fumes. once “there”, slideout the sides, and tune in Wendy Williams. Oh, can’t forget the 2 ATVs to further enhance the experience. While the “1st come” thing does apply, people simply forget, there’s a LOT of people that want to do this, cost no object, apparently, and with that, feel, THEY have a right to these pristine areas, a fold out tent camper, who is clearly there for the outdoors, gets shoved away. And these people aren’t regular courteous church goers either, you like barking dogs, beer bashes and loud music, THAT’S what camping has become, more of a getaway from their home lives. Btw, while a motel may seem like a happy escape from the camper(?), motels are the absolute worst for travel, and I’d stay in the back seat before I pay $300/night to hear doors slamming and what not. Bottom line, travelling, of ANY kind, sucks today.

      Like 0
      • Grant

        Howard, you have the wisdom of the ages. What can I say, but, I am impressed! I agree with your assessment. Wilderness camping is the only way to go these days for any peace and quiet, but alas, I am old and arthritic. The last time I was in Glacier, I sure didn’t need any bear spray, thats for sure. (BTW, what scam that stuff is! I have seen many bears in the wild, have never felt threatened by any of them. The key is to pay them the respect they deserve, after all, you are a visitor there, not them) Ken, I have never gotten bed bugs from a Hotel bed, and I used to stay in many during my working years. Hidden stains that can be seen under a black light? Good for the stain leavers, that means someone else was enjoying life. Love should be shared.. Personally, bothers me not, and I don’t even own a black light. Car left alone? Don’t you go anywhere? The grocery store, to a bar or restaurant? Anything ever happen to your car then? I have stayed at more hotels/motels then I could ever count for both my past jobs and for fun, never has my car ever been assaulted. In a motel parking lot, in Montana, I did have horrible hail damage to a car, but that is just a freak occurance.

        Like 1
  3. NHDave

    “Barnicke?! He owes me money!”

    Like 7
    • PRA4SNW


      Like 1
  4. Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

    “ A customized version even appeared in a U.S. Army documentary movie..”

    A CLASSIC Cold War film, rivaling “Dr. Strangelove” and “Spies Like Us”
    for authenticity!!

    Like 0
  5. Howie

    Clean NV title in my hand, then why does it have CA plates?

    Like 6
  6. Radiohound

    I have one of these, the 26 foot version and it is an awesome vehicle and done with proper maintenance and upgrades.

    The 23 footer is quite sought after for its rarity and its size …but this one … ?

    The saddest ad in the GMC Motorhome World is … vehicle is gutted and the hard work is done you can start with a blank Canvas … but truth be told, they ruined it … the 23 footer had some very specialized interior fittings that would take a skilled craftsman sometime to recreate and reproduce ..

    The mechanicals are available and straightforward … but it’s getting harder every year as the old timers who understood these machines time out.

    Pound for pound, these are awesome machines and a ride, comfort and performance that still put modern motorhomes to shame.

    But enter this one lightly. Unfortunately,

    Like 1
  7. Moit

    Urban assault vehicle

    Like 3
  8. TheOldRanger

    When I was younger, I thought I wanted something like this to travel with wife and family (2 daughters), but the price tag stopped me up front, then thinking about keeping gas in it was another “nope”. Today, I’m fully retired, own an OB with plenty of room to travel, yet spend the night in a nice hotel or motel, park in my kid’s driveway, etc. I like the looks of this one though.

    Like 2
  9. Joe Haska

    I have two friends that had one of these and I got to use both of them. One was very original and in great shape. The other one was a SHOW home it had been redone for going to events like NASCAR or tailgating parties, it seemed like a private jet inside and it could sleep 3 or 4 if necessary. My friend bought it at B/J and we drove it from Phoenix to the L.A. Roadster Show. We were the hit of the Pomona RV Park. It sold at a profit and was shipped to Australia. The other one I borrowed when my daughter was in film school. We took to her shoot and it doubled as office ,kitchen , make up studio and every thing in between ,she was a big hit with all her classmates.

    Like 8
  10. douglas hunt

    at 23 feet it’s not too big…might make an excellent hunting camp rig, build it just the way you want ……

    Like 3
  11. Mountainwoodie

    The double axles in the rear always makes me think of a moon rover. With enough money you obviously can do anything. In my part of SoCal I’ve seen some amazing rigs………practically eighteen wheeler cabbed RV’s. For what it would take to do this up right, I’m thinking the person so inclined would buy one of those big boys.

    Like 0
  12. Perry W. Grile

    Lets see,,,, Cabover, ,, 50’s Era,,, Air dump trailer comes to mind.

    Like 0
  13. John Elbers II

    “Stripes,” a documentary ha. This is a heavily armed recreational vehicle waiting to invade Wisconsin.

    Like 1
    • douglas hunt

      I know, I was thinking the writer had to be being sarcastic….Bill Murray in a documentary , lol

      Like 0
  14. John Norris

    Where would a fella get one of those ( small ) flame throwers? I have 14 acres and a spotty weed problem.

    Like 1
    • Allen Hickman

      Harbor Freight has then, and they work great. Allen

      Like 1

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