Ready For Adventure: 1976 GMC Casa Grande

Finding an oddity to review is often news to me as it is to many of our readers. Granted, it is impossible to know everything about every unusual vehicle ever offered, and there seems to be more and more that crop up with each passing day. As an example, here’s a vehicle that was in my, “Search me fish!” category, a 1976 GMC Jimmy Casa Grande. Let’s take a look at this custom camper. It is located in Fresno, California and is available, here on eBay for a BIN price of $12,500.

I’ll admit, I don’t follow campers closely. I have done my fair share of camping but that was years ago and if there isn’t a Holiday Inn or something similar involved, I’ve lost interest. The Casa Grande camper was offered in 1976 and 1977, and according to Jonathan Lopez, at www.gmauthority.com, there were only about 1,800 produced in those two years. The seller claims a rarity of only 700 units but he may mean the one year, 1976 total. Mr. Lopez continues, “While the GMC Jimmy Casa Grande was offered with a number of optional extras, the base model was still very nicely equipped, and included sleeping accommodations for two adults, seating for four – thanks to the convertible seat bunks, as well as a sink drain, a five-gallon water tank with an electric pump, a two-burner stove, plus an “icebox” and spice rack. However, for those customers requiring something a bit more plush, the Casa Grande could also be specified with options like a heater, a three-way refrigerator, power hookups, and additional sleeping capacity”.

First up, and maybe it’s just me, but this is an awkward-looking vehicle, the camper portion looks as if it’s trying to find the right excuse to slide off of the back of the truck. The overall exterior condition would seem to be sound, truck and camper alike. The desert tan finish is faded but still portrays a strong ’70s vibe. There is some rust starting to show in the driver’s side quarter but it appears to be minimal at this point. Nothing else like damaged or misaligned panels is observed.

Inside, besides the standard GM plaid front seat upholstery, is a basic old-school camper environment with lots of vinyl and faux wood-grained Formica, or some similar material. The bolts that secure the upper privacy canvas are showing signs of rust, so there may be some water intrusion around the upper front window. The interior arrangement looks adequate, certainly for the day; I’m not sure that it would pass muster with today’s demands which are quite a bit changed vs. 44 years ago. Interestingly, there is an asset tag which states that “This insignia is property of the State of Arizona, Division of Building…” and then something else that is illegible. An Arizona residency helps explain that desert faded look.

Ther is no word on how this camper runs and drives. The researched documentation states that the standard engine is a 350 CI V8 but a 400 CI motor was also available. The seller does claim that everything works and the carburetor has been rebuilt so at least the operational status should be as expected for a 44-year-old vehicle with a reported 84K miles. The A/C is good to go too, helpful as summer camping in a can like this can be stifling. Interestingly, this Casa Grande is equipped with four-wheel drive, operating via a three-speed automatic transmission, so getting off of the beaten path should be no worry.

If camping is your thing, here you go. I would debate the price as it seems a bit out there for what this vehicle is. That said, a modern camper, with what is considered de rigueur today, is going to set you back a whole lot more so bang for the buck needs to be considered too. And if going retro is your thing, this may be right up your alley.

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Comments

  1. angliagt angliagt Member

    Are all of these for sale? For a rare vehicle,
    there’s sure a lot of them come up for sale.

    Like 5
  2. Daniel wright

    I have only seen one of these in the wild. In a grocery store parking lot as a kid. Even to my 8 year old self it looked really top heavy

    Like 3
  3. Mitchell Gildea Member

    Take it to Radwood once the Coronavirus dies down!

    Like 2
    • Turbo

      Yes, that would be great. And then on to Burning Man…

      Like 1
      • Steve R

        Burning man is for poseurs. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the week following burning man you see tons of dust covered Mercedes, Land Rover and BMW SUV’s on the road. I had friends that stopped going in the mid-90’s, even then it was starting to get taken over by silicone valley hipsters, they’d had enough and haven’t been back since.

        Steve R

        Like 6
  4. Russell Cook

    According to the ebay description this is claimed to be a ’76, totally stock, less then 700 made. No offense to the person at ‘GM Authority,’ but did he actually look at this auction listing? What we have here is Casa Grande #1799 (the last 4 digits on the rectangle plate with the rusted rivits by the back door is the serial number), built in 12/76, but it is clearly a 1977 model year rig as indicated by the ’77 year-only yellow striped stainless steel trim on the Jimmy with its ’77 year-specific color combo along with the ’77 striping on the camper unit and its ’77 model year fake burl wood cabinet facings. In addition to that, the rig is NOT totally stock, the fiberglass roof has been repainted an incorrect color and altered so that its outer edges overlap the walls which the Chinook factory roofs did not. The back door has been, at a minimum, also repainted in an incorrect color, while the factory front spare tire carrier has been significantly altered to accept those plastic containers.

    As the current caretaker of the very old blazer chalet.com website and former owner of Chalet #1747, who’s been tracking these rigs since 2005 via assorted sale ads and via owners alerting me to their rigs, I can also say this one was last seen for sale in an early October 2019 Facebook Marketplace listing where the published sale price was $8700. Is a rebuilt carburetor worth the $3800 price hike? I doubt it, and I thought the $8700 purchase price (if that was genuine) was quite a score for the buyer since the basically unrestored barn finds of these I’ve seen over the last 5 or so years tended to go for $2-$3k less.

    Regarding production figures, a GMC factory rep confirmed for me that that GM’s official build tally for the Chevy Blazer Chalet version was 1,555 total for the two years of production, but they had no records they could find for the Casa Grande two-year total. The editor of the California “Treasure Search” magazine stated in a 1979 article (2nd paragraph here http://brochures.slosh.com/chalet/treasuresearch-52.jpg ) about his own rig that the total production for both versions was 1,780. He didn’t name a source for that, my educated guess is that perhaps a Chinook worker told him that. Thus if that figure is accurate and the Chalet figure of 1,555 is subtracted from it, it means only 225 Casa Grandes were made for both years.

    Like 1
  5. local_sheriff

    Yeah, it’s almost shocking how many of these low prod figures Chalets/ Casas keep popping up. I’d like to see way more pics of the vehicle itself and also know which of the engines it came with/currently has. Judging by the Dymo on the lower dash in the 2nd last pic its engine has been replaced at some point.

    The good about these is their beefier parts to support the added weight and they probably weren’t abused as regular K5s were. As a Blazerholic to me the biggest highlight is the unmolested beautiful/ fugly seat covers though it seems the pipings are starting to crack. Still I don’t think it’ll sell at BIN, but if someone missed out on a regular K5 this might be something to consider to re-Blazerize as it doesn’t look crusty (but the hood lip of course…).

    Anybody else see the 1st gen K5 in the background…?

    Like 2
    • PJH

      I see a bronco in the background.
      Unless you’re referring to something on the ebay site?
      Didn’t look there yet.

  6. Russell C

    This is Casa Grande #1799 (the last 4 digits on the rectangle plate with the rusted rivits by the back door is the serial number), built in 12/76, and it is a 1977 model year rig, indicated by the ’77 year-only yellow striped stainless steel trim on the Jimmy / ’77 year-specific color combo / ’77 striping on the camper unit / ’77 model year-specific fake burl wood cabinet facings. The fiberglass roof has been repainted a non factory-original color and was altered so that its outer edges overlap the walls which the Chinook factory roofs did not. The back door has been, at a minimum, also repainted in an incorrect color, while the factory front spare tire carrier has been significantly altered to accept those plastic containers.

    Regarding production figures, a GMC factory rep confirmed for me that that GM’s official build tally for the Chevy Blazer Chalet version was 1,555 total for the two years of production, but they had no records they could find for the Casa Grande two-year total. The editor of the California “Treasure Search” magazine stated in a 1979 article (2nd paragraph here http://brochures.slosh.com/chalet/treasuresearch-52.jpg ) about his own rig that the total production for both versions was 1,780. He didn’t name a source for that, my educated guess is that perhaps a Chinook worker told him that. Thus if that figure is accurate and the Chalet figure of 1,555 is subtracted from it, it means only 225 Casa Grandes were made for both years.

    I am, by the way, the current caretaker of the very old blazer chalet.com website and former owner of Chalet #1747, who’s been tracking these rigs since 2005 via assorted sale ads and via owners alerting me to their rigs.

    Like 2
    • PJH

      Yeah, lots of ppl don’t understand the build date is not the model year. I see that pop up all the time with vintage snowmobiles also.

  7. David G

    This has the identical color scheme of my ’78 GMC C-35 pickup. Buckskin with Santa Fe Tan. Looks great.

    Like 1
  8. Wiley Robinson

    Wow, a friend of mine just found a nearly identical one with 62,000 miles on it. One family, pretty much exactly the same condition color etc. Weird.

    Like 1
    • Russell C

      To the best of my knowledge, every single 1977 Casa Grande only came from the GM/Chinook joint factory effort in this specific color combination (albeit with the matching color tan roofs and rear doors), thus any you find look pretty much like this one, usually in barn find shape. We designate these by the last four digits of what’s stamped into the little rectangular plate riveted near the back door, as seen in this photo composite from my former Blazer Chalet #1747: https://ck5.com/forums/media/77-blazer-chalet-serial-number-plate.21305/full?d=0

      Like 1
  9. M.C.S.

    Every time I see one of these posted, I wonder, “Does the camper come off?”.

    Obviously, the back of the cab would be open like a same vintage Jimmy sans-top would.

    And if the camper isn’t removable, how does one go about changing the truck’s tail light bulbs? Or do those factory tail lights even work?

    Really neat vehicle, either way.

    Like 1
    • Russell C

      The camper unit can indeed be removed (although not intended to by the factory) by unbolting all the bolts and unwiring the spliced-in wiring harness to the truck’s wiring. Then you must figure out a way to lift it off the camper – it does not slide – and put it on a purpose-built framework because the front of the unit is basically not self-supporting; it will ultimately cave inward when no longer supported by the truck cab’s roof.

      I did change a light bulb in my former Chalet #1747, but either it just had a couple of bolts holding it in, or I had to use a specialty Philips head screwdriver with a 90° bend in it. I forget, however.

      Like 1
  10. K. R. V. Member

    I wonder what’s the towing capacity of this beauty? Seems to me like the perfect tow vehicle for a small family with two kids! Get yourself a nice Wolf Pup, 16FQ, thats a fantastic couples trailer, then leave to two brats to sleep in “their own little camper”! I’m gonna work on my wife, I’ve always wanted one of these!

    • Russell C

      Among all the photos I’ve collected from sellers and owners of these rigs since 2005, one I have that indicates how much weight can be towed is of Blazer Chalet #1095 towing a 2-axle trailer carrying an early ’80s Mazda RX-7 race car on it. But the GM factory brakes were a bit inadequate for just the rig by itself, thus these need an upgrade no matter what, especially for towing something. Tips on that are found in the Tech page at the VERY old http://blazerchalet.com/tech.html website, which I’m the current caretaker of. From hearing about too many bad purchase stories, I’d say it is an absolute requirement to see the rigs in person to check for serious undisclosed faults which aren’t readily obvious in photos. Plus, a small handful of purchasers lately are getting burned from not doing research into the prior sales histories of these, to find out what their relative sales values are and whether sellers’ claims about mileage, repairs, etc made check out against previous sales records. I’ve collected quite a pile of Craigslist / eBay printouts on these since 2005, so I can occasionally help with that, and can be contacted via the address in the Contact page at blazerchalet.com

      Like 5
      • JohnSSC

        To your point about not knowing the “real” value based on sales history. I’m not a collector, but it seems to me these ads are written by people trying to snare someone into paying way too much for something that is ultra-rare or is a collectible of seriously appreciating value. I mean this is a cool rig and there is a community for it, but the real target here is an idiot like me who knows bucks about these things and thinks he is buying “value.”

        Like 1
      • JohnSSC

        Edit to my comment…s/b “something portrayed to be ultra-rare…”

        And also that should be “squat,” not “bucks.” Predictive text will doom us all…The first bit was operator error totally.

        Like 1
  11. PJH

    Could be a cool rig all restored, but those colors and seat materials just HAVE to go! Sorry purists!
    $12,500. is a stretch!
    NOT in that condition especially.
    Just trying to capitalize on the boom in buying old square bodies I guess.

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