Finished By Coachmen: 1978 GMC Motorhome Royale

This 1978 GMC Motorhome is a recent trade the selling dealer took in. While claimed to run well when inventoried, the seller has not driven it recently and makes no claims as to its roadworthiness; however, there’s still a lot to like here, with a clean interior, good glass and seemingly undamaged sheetmetal. This is a model finished by Coachmen, earning it the “Royale” moniker. Bidding is approaching $5K with the auction ending on Friday. Find it here on eBay and located in Burleson, Texas.

The GMC Motorhome was a gamechanger in its day, with GM’s Truck and Coach Division taking a gamble on producing the industry’s first motorhome built in-house by a major auto manufacturer. Most of these projects were farmed out to the aftermarket, but GMC employees built the bodies and the interiors. Available in two lengths, the R/V seen here is most likely the longer size – a 26 footer – as the Royale model built by Coachmen Industries utilized the longer body. Anyone recognize the tail lights?

Inside, there’s none of the horrors typically associated with older R/Vs. Cushions and seating surfaces still look entirely usable and presentable, and the wood paneling shows no sign of water damage – a common scenario when a roof-mounted drainage system fails. The seller notes that when they did take the GMC on a test-drive, it drove surprisingly well. If you do find yourself behind the wheel, you may be surprised to learn of another way this Royale was ahead of its time: it’s front wheel drive.

Driver controls are surprisingly simple, and I would venture to say even an amateur R/V owner could pilot this GMC confidently. The seller also recommends that a “…mechanically-inclined buyer” would be best, as the motorhome needs a tune-up and “some restoration.” That’s sort of like saying, “I just want to sort of get married” – nobody’s buying it, and, also, it’s impossible to only go half way. But, the price seems downright reasonable at the moment and the clean condition should inspire some confidence that it isn’t a basketcase.

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Comments

  1. Classic Steel

    I remember my old neighbor having one similar and blocking the view of the whole street as a monstrous blocker for everyone 😗😡

    Like 1
    • Ralph Edelbach

      I bought one that drove and was mechanically OK 20 years ago but it needed an interior update. Started the project and then let it sit for a few years. Engine seized and I sold it for a couple of thousand. Hurt to let it go. Far ahead of its time. Easy to step up into because of low floor level. Self-leveling rear suspension. Aluminum and fiberglass construction. Built like a tank.

      Everything you need to know about buying, restoring and maintaining one of these great machines at http://www.gmccoop.com/ Jim Bounds is a fantastic guy. Lot of enthusiastic owners in US and other parts of the world. Someone converted one into a sport-racer transporter and another put in a slide-out unit. This one looks really good. Hope someone gets to enjoy it for many more years.

      Like 1
  2. Ken Carney

    Hmmm. Looks really familiar to me. Can anyone out there say “Stripes”
    with Bill Murray?

    • Chris

      Urban assault vehicle

      • mike

        ta 50?

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      I’m getting too old for this SSSSHHHHIIIII—-!!!!!

  3. Bultaco

    They had Olds Toronado drive trains with the 455.

    • Richard Fortney

      close, the transmission and differential is a different ratio, allowing it to pull that huge vehicle, I have, in a pinch replaced it with to Toronado, just to get one home

    • Whippeteer

      In ’77 the 455 was no longer being made. So they switched to the 403 for the final two years of construction. It used the Turbo-Hydramatic 425.

  4. jdjonesdr

    I’d love to have this and drive around the U.S. Better if it had a Cummings diesel in it.

    • Scot Douglas

      Cummings? I thing you ghave added a letterg where it doesng’t belong.

      Like 1
    • kevin

      A GM 6.5 would bolt right in. A lot easier than a Cummins 5.9.

      Like 1
  5. Miguel

    It is interesting they used the Oldsmobile engine but a Cadillac steering wheels.

    • ACZ

      Cadillac had the only tilt and telescopic column outside of Corvette. Buick, Cadillac and Olds all used it.

  6. On and On On and On Member

    I always liked these. They looked to be really engineered and designed well. Less boxy looking than most others. Anyone owned one? I’d be interested in hearing about weaknesses and drawbacks.

    • Joe

      I worked on them back In the day. They are my favorite old motorhome.
      The biggest problem we saw was with the rear air suspension. They are air bags made by Firestone. And the mpg is poor as you would expect.

      • Keith T

        There are numerous replacement systems not relying on those bags now, one is even a “quad bag” system with two on each side providing redundancy, you can limp to the shop on one bag or at least get off the interstate if necessary rather than being stranded with one side practically sitting on the ground.

  7. MFerrell

    Wow, that couch is bigger than the one in my house!

  8. Derek

    Nice to see anything that recent with a V’d split windshield.

  9. Del

    That Dude from Breakin Bad needs a new motor home……..

  10. BOB pinkerton

    Gmc motor drive real good,gas mileage 10 miles to gal .40 gal tank with 10 gal res.if you doing long distance this great.no junk parts in building it.

  11. Derek

    Hell, at that price, it’d make a cool bachelor pad for those times when the wife throws you out the house – even if it doesn’t run. Might even make it all worthwhile.

  12. Vin_in_NJ

    Dash panel has definitely been reworked. Strange that they didn’t include A/C ducts for the driver. I’d relocate those rocker switches and put in a nice size GPS screen

  13. Wayne

    My father bought one and loved it. (But I had to work on it!) It was one of the earlier production models with many problems. (as noted above the air ride rear suspension, graphite impregnated cloth rear control arm bushings, rear frame twist at the control arm mount areas and super brittle interior plastic trim) The newer models were much better. It rides and handles well until the rear suspension issues arise. Then the back end wants to steer it’s self. It was one of the happiest and worst days of my life. When my father sold it. Yea!, Woohoo! But my father in-law bought it from him. BOOO!
    I have a company down the road from me that rebuilds theses. (It looks like 3 in process right now) So they must have some value in very good condition. I was always surprised that they did not use the Buick 455 or the 500 Caddy engine, as they both had at lot more torque than the Olds engine. The front differential is not the stock one from an Eldo., or Toro. It is a beefed up one.
    I have a soft spot in my head for these for the good times with both “fathers” But I would never own one. (Particularly an early production one.)

  14. EHide Behind

    Wifes Michigan relatives worked buildin these; one was even dumb enough to buy one and drove it out here.
    It only took a tranny replacement and front drive bearing replacement plus damn near a tanker truck of gas to get here and home again
    Back then the 50 year Old boomers were into awakening of how wealthy they were and litteraly putt putted them to death, when not parked, until last vacations gas credit card was paid off.
    Motor and trannys overheated daily.

  15. Ron

    It probably doesn’t make much difference, but the first paragraph indicates it is the Royale model then the second paragraph says it’s probably the short unit since the Royale is the longer unit… Also if memory serves me correctly, the sheetmetal referred to is actually fiberglass. The taillights are the same as used on the Chevy and GMC vans of the era. These do still have quite a following, and many of them have been restored / restomoded to better than original.

    • Joe

      You are correct about the body being fiberglass, and the tail lights are from the GM vans.

    • Whippeteer

      The body is actually a mix of fiberglass and aluminum panels.

      • Joe

        Whippeteer, refresh my memory. What panels are aluminum. The compartment doors?

        Thanks

      • Whippeteer

        According to what the websites say, fiberglass lowers with aluminum upper panels and roof.

  16. Chris Londish Member

    Saw one of these in the GM heritage collection in Detroit pretty impressive nothing like this in Australia although motor homes are more truck based or converted coaches

    • Scot Douglas

      I have seen the same one. The Heritage center is pretty nice. :)

    • Keith T

      There are at least six GMC motorhomes in Australia, imported by the owners. Some have even converted them to right hand drive as well as moving the door to the opposite side. They have rallies, think they’re even on FaceBook.

      Like 1
  17. chuck

    The rounded design minimizes the interior space for storage. Same issue with AirStream. You pay for the Good Looks!

    • Concinnity

      Except the rounded edges give much better aerodynamics, so you save on gas. With a drag coefficient, Cd) of 0.31 and the lower frontal area from the FWD and low floor, (no driveshaft to clear under the floor) the fuel consumption is lower than a ‘standard’ motorhome on a truck chassis. The GMC motorhome had the lowest Cd of any American vehicle at the time. The fuel saving over the same engine in truck based motorhome due to the better aero is about 20% nearly every time you drive it.

  18. ccrvtt

    One of our customers rebuilt one with a high-tech motif a few years ago. His dad built beautiful street rods so the DNA was there. I saw pictures only but it looked like a first class job. He used it to travel to bicycle road races. These were the best looking RVs ever made – a tribute to GM styling.

  19. Cris Carver

    I love theses things! Also, the motorhome ever 100% made by one of the big three.

  20. ATL_Jeff

    I’ve wanted one of these every since I saw Stripes for the first time. Just an all around cool looking RV. And this one looks to be in great shape. Most of the ones I’ve seen around here are gigantic hulks of scrap metal. Swap that Olds engine for a (bio) diesel and you’ll probably double the mpg and the performance. Plus you’ll smell like fries all the time!

  21. John Leyshon Member

    Looks real cozy inside . As long as it can make it to a nice campsite along the river, I’ll toss an anchor and retire !

  22. Rube Goldberg Member

    Maintenance issues aside, I think these were the nicest, most practical motorhomes made. Before motorhomes became the “Ultimate Behemoth”, these rode nice, got reasonable mileage, easy to drive, not like the buses of today. I suppose they would be a hassle to work on, but they all are. And while you are touring, you can take in one of these,( about as fast as a VW bug)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlzLasccanU

    • Garry McGinnis

      Actually the GMC Motorhome ,holds the world record at the Bonneville salt flats, as the worlds fastest motorhome , and is more drag coefficient, then a corvette of that time, and if you ever drove one, they have plenty of power

      Like 1
  23. Whippeteer

    Just about every motorhome of this vintage gets the same mileage. 7 is normal, although some people report up to 10.

    • CanadianSurfer

      I have one and drove it from California to B.C., Canada a couple of times. We get 7 mpg in California & Oregon until just past Portland, when the terrain flattens out, we get 10 mpg.

  24. craig sibert Member

    My uncle had one it had a system that nuked your sewer crap and evaporated it out of a tailpipe of sorts he showed me one time it looked like a dryer vent in the winter,i think its illegal now for some strange reason anyone know bout this system

    • Whippeteer

      Macerator.

      • Keith T

        No, the macerator chops up the waste so it’ll flow out into the dump tank better. The system that sent black tank waste into the tailpipe to basically incinerate it was called a Therasan.

      • On and On On and On Member

        So Keith we’re talking about burning poop here? Mercy.

    • Keith T

      Called a Therasan as I replied above, basically incinerates the black tank waste with tailpipe heat and sends it out the exhaust. Great for getting tailgaters to back off, lol. Not legal on new vehicles for some time now, but if you have a model so equipped OEM it remains legal, at least in some states it does. It won’t incinerate the entire contents of the black tank, I believe it’s up to 1/2 a tank, but if you’re staying a night or two then moving on to the next campground or park, you will only have to deal with dumping the tank once.

  25. chad

    yes, cummind 4 mo power, better MPGs…or, just get the Vixen – it’ll fit in ur garage, is just as long & has the right motor (beemer).

    • Whippeteer

      21 foot for the Vixen.

    • Car nut from Wpg Member

      Someone brings a Vixen every year to the September Garden City show in Winnipeg.

  26. Rich Truesdell

    If you’d like to read a comprehensive history of the GMC Motorhomes, I’d like to point you to this, something I wrote about five years ago.

    https://automotivetraveler.com/magazine/viewer.php?path=2011/04/GMC_Motorhomes

    • Concinnity

      One of the best pictures, (originally from GM), in your great article, showing the construction of these GMCs, and what makes them so much better, still, than ‘standard’ motorhomes. Thanks for the link.

    • On and On On and On Member

      Thank you so much for the link. Really honest and informative.

  27. Canadian Mark S. Eh! Member

    If any of you guys were raising daughters in the 80’s and 90’s you’d know that this is Barbie’s motor home made by Mattel. I got a used one sitting on a neibours garbage can that I took home and repaired then gave it to my daughter. She put on tons of Barbie miles in our living room with that thing. I think it is still in our basement crawl space with all her Barbies.

  28. mars2878

    I like it alot

  29. Alan

    Nice looking RV too bad it’s in the US, if in Canada I would be in on the deal.

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