(first posted 5/24/2013. The anonymous yet familiar GM truck Myster Concept reminded me of this, for some reason)
I called GM’s decision to build a giant personal-luxury coupe with front wheel drive a Deadly Sin (here). The dubious advantages hardly outweighed the disadvantages, as well the whole exercise being a case of an expensive misplaced priority. But the silver lining of the Toronado project was that it was instantly recognized by a few forward-looking motor home builders as manna from heaven. At a time when motorhomes weren’t quite the split-level McMansions on wheels today, the Toronado’s Unitary Power Package (“UPP”) offered a way to build them with a superbly-low center of gravity and car-like performance and handling. And that extended to back-yard builders too, like whoever it was that can take credit for building this one.
I was taking an opossum I’d trapped under one of my rental houses for a ride to Alton Baker Park when I saw it from a distance, and instantly recognized it for what it was. The distinctive Toronado wheels and very low stance made that pretty obvious. The fact that it wasn’t just slab sided indicates that the undertaking was more ambitious than average. And here’s the kicker: this is the second home-built Toro-based motorhome I’ve found. How many more are there?
The other one took a rather different approach ( full CC story here). The builder started with a big 1946 Spartan aluminum trailer (CC here), then grafted on the front end of a Chevy COE truck cab, and used a Toronado’s UPP, its front subframe and axle, and its dead rear axles.
That is a big, full-sized motorhome, at least for the times. And a rather flamboyantly-decorated one, too.
With the Blazer conveniently providing a frame of reference, this one obviously is very much smaller. A bit too much so, for the current owner, a homeless person who is staying here in one of Eugene’s many dedicated parking lot campsites for the homeless. She got it from a relative, after it sat for some years, and knows nothing of its origins, except that the title makes some reference to 1970, because that was the date of the most recent major component used in its construction.
It’s too cramped for her and her partner, and she’s rather have a tall, conventional rig. I didn’t even ask to shoot the inside, as it was jammed with personal belongings. She’s also eager to sell it, if anyone is game enough to take on this piece of history. If so, e-mail me at the CC Contact form. But hurry, because her camping permit there is good only for a month.
The donor was obviously an early Toronado, as it still has the dubious drum brakes. That was one of its major shortcomings, and discs became an option in 1967. Given how light this motorhome probably is, and the fact that it has six drum brakes, it presumably has adequate stopping power, unless one were to exploit its full performance potential.
Which was undoubtedly among the very fastest motorhomes in its day, maybe for quite a while. The 425 cubic inch (7 L) V8 was rated at 385 (gross) hp. This one has a performance Holley (?) four-barrel carburetor, but the owner’s partner is eager to find an original Quadrajet, as he indicated it was “over-carbureted”, and not running quite a well as it should.
I took only a quick peek at its underside, to confirm the twin leaf-sprung Toronado rear beam axles, and noted frame rails that were mighty close to the pavement. The ground clearance is very limited; no Niedermeyer-style RV off-roading in this. But the handling potential of was/is probably superb for the genre, with its very low center of gravity.
A 1971 Chevy pickup grille works nicely at the front end. So when was it built?
Almost certainly after the GMC motorhome appeared in 1972, as the basic similarities are all-too obvious.
A side-by-side comparison with the smaller 23′ GMC makes that quite apparent. Twenty-three feet (7.0 m) is almost tiny for today’s standards, although more compact and efficient motor homes are making a bit of a comeback. And the home-built one looks to be even lower than the GMC.
So why build one yourself? The GMC, along with most motorhomes, were quite expensive in their day. And there wasn’t the huge inventory of older used ones on the market like today, that are such a boon to homeless folks. But perhaps most of all, someone wasn’t interested in the usual traditional Winnebago-style RV, and set out to build a much cheaper GMC themselves.
And a rather nice job at that. The riveted body work is of a quite high caliber; the only iffy spot is this difficult corner at both back ends, which looks like a patch, but isn’t. It would be a bit of a shame to not see this one find a loving home. It’s definitely one-of-a-kind, and a tribute to its unknown builder. Anyone out there recognize it, or know its origins?
Looks well made and thought out and could be a copy of the 23 footer, Drum brakes work fine as long as you dont ride the brake pedal, 6 wheeler trucks still use drum brakes at 25 tonnes gross so why not a lightweight RV, Id take it but the postage from Eugene would be the deal breaker Im afraid.
That is true as most HD trucks use a drum brake system employing air as the pressure medium instead of fluid. Heat dissipation is the #1 disadvantage to drum brakes (which according to many tests are actually not an inferior braking force all things being equal) and the superior heat dissipation characteristics was the #1 reason why it was adapted to passenger cars and light trucks. Large vehicles and trucks that use air brakes can employ more sophisticated means of dissipating heat – plus on vehicles like semis and the like the larger the swept area of the drum the less concentrated heat is developed.
I have driven many drum brakes equipped cars even large ones we used to have a 67 Buick Wildcat continuous light application of the pedal is more detrimental than shorter harder bursts and then a release. We would often punch holes in the backing plates and even drill holes in the front of the drums (not where the lining meets) which would all but eliminate fade – you just have to stay away from water. Also, we would make a 3×3 hole in the front fender liner and install a tube that ran from the hole to the front grille area that picked up air and flowed it directly the wheel well area.
Drum brakes only got a bad rep because the automakers were too cheap to install ones of the correct size needed. They always fit the smallest ones they could get away with
Sometimes, but part of the problem was that it was a function of design limitations on cars. Semis, buses, and the like are not constrained as much by practicality and aesthetics. It would have been difficult to install 14″ drums on the 66 Toronado. It was much talked about in the 1970s. The disc brake system was the easiest way to eliminate the problem.
Of course even disc brake technology has changed considerably with the use of ceramic and synthetic friction material instead of asbestos and natural metal. High performance brakes on newer vehicles, especially with ceramics, operate often at a much higher temperature than they did 20 years ago.
Even the biggest drums on American cars were easily overwhelmed in the FWD Toronado and Eldorado. We covered that here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/1967-cadillac-eldorado-vs-renault-r-10-an-unfair-comparison-thanks-to-a-gm-deadly-sin/
Keep in mind that big trucks don’t head down long steep grades in high gear(unlike most car drivers)! They have to rely on engine braking; it’s legally mandated, at least in the West on long steep grades.
In the old days, most car driver knew how to use engine braking on longer grades too. It’s the key to driving a drum-braked car or truck in hilly and mountainous areas.
Disc brakes are able to dissipate much more heat. Why do you think discs were adopted on airplanes so early?
Many individuals tend to be rather conservative and this also seems to go with drum brakes. I can well remember customers in our shop extolling the virtues of drum brakes and calling for their return. This is, of course, utter madness. Disks dissipate heat far more effectively, shed water better and are actually easier to service. I don’t see anyone calling for their return.
Yeah heavy trucks have exhauts or Jacobs style engine brakes to slow on hills so really the foot braking system is rarely used but I drive a drum braked 54yr old car in modern traffic with no issues, depends on whether you know how to drive or not,
Of course you are correct, Bryce, but in my experience the driving public cares little about such things. I have seen smoke pouring from brakes down some of British Columbia’s steep grades and that on modern cars like the Dodge Caravan.
I don’t see much of a retrofit business to replace disks to drums, but there is one for drums to disks!
I can remember Dad driving down steep hills in second to keep his speed legal, with the exhaust popping and banging while other drivers swept past unconcerned at their speed. He used to get some strange looks though.
I see that “hats off to home-builders” week continues. This is a very impressive piece of work, and I am betting on someone with some history in either the aviation or RV industries. I was about to suggest someone who took a wrecked GMC and put a new body on top, but the spacing between the rear wheels looks different. I could also see this as a prototype that someone planned to build, but who perhaps gave up when it was learned that GMC was going to do one of their own.
A fascinating find.
Yes, the chassis underneath this is made up of Toronado axles. The GMC had unique air-suspension. One peek underneath made it clear this was homebuilt. The Toronado frame is evident, although it was of course extended in the rear. Using it also resulted in an extremely limited ground clearance.
I didn’t think much of this idea when it was new. Some things just improve with age.
Did the factory variants come with a diesel option. For some reason that got stuck in my head from somewhere.
No, just the gas engine. The Olds 350 diesel would have been pretty overwhelmed by the motorhome. It had enough challenges as it was.
The Olds 350 wasn’t even in production during any of the time that the motorhome was. I do not think GM even had an engine capable of being installed in the motorhome (at least in the front) since everything I know that was in production then was for buses and trains.
We used to see a few of these per year periodically at the dealer mainly from people who owned one and also owned a regular Oldsmobile since of course the powertrain was lifted from the Toronado. There were not a whole lot of RV dealers around here back then, at least capable of servicing these type of vehicles. Seems like most people were pulling trailers back then. Most people had to take them to the commercial garages for anything that could not be serviced standing on the ground not only because of physical space limitations but the lifts could not support them.
Gas vs. Diesel is always sort of a big debate seems like in the RV community that never seems to get resolved. I suppose it all comes down to what your priorities are.
Craig, did I not say “would have”, as in hypothetically?
Strictly speaking, you’re not right. The last MY for the GMC motorhome was 1978, which was also the first year of the Olds 350 diesel.
Anyway, I’m finding this repeated tit-for-tat game of you trying to find holes and errors in everything I say is starting to get quite old. And then I feel forced to defend what I say. Tedious. Could you just relax a little, and back off some? This isn’t some competition.
Indeed, the point of CC is for everyone to have fun.
The 350 diesel was a total slug and there is no way it could have handled the size and weight of a motor home with 205 fl/lb of torque.
In some alternate universe, I imagine they would have downsized the motorhome to use the new 1979-85 E-body unit? That could have had a diesel.
I wonder if something like that even got to the design stage?
I would love to finda an original interior low mile GMC Motorhome with a swantastic green and yellow interior.
Good question, Carmine, there is really no reason why the E-body 368 Cadillac powertrain couldn’t be used but for some reason, nobody ever did it. Perhaps Cadillac didn’t want their engines in a motor home, while Oldsmobile didn’t share that concern.
Carmine: the trend in motorhomes was in them getting much larger, especially in the price bracket the GMC was playing in. In fact, I think that’s what killed it: bigger and cheaper motorhomes offering more space and storage for the buck.
A downsized E-Body based GMC motorhome would have gone the other direction. It would have been an interesting product to imagine, but I can’t see how it would have sold, except for even worse.
Small, high-tech and high-end motorhomes have not ever fared well; many unique and advanced designs have come and gone, but the motorhome buyer is intrinsically a conservative one.
Small, high-tech and high-end motorhome: a sports car, luggage and a credit card.
Plus I imagine that a big P-chassis/step-van motohome would be cheaper to build than the unique GMC FWD MH with the tandem rear wheels.
My curiosity is how they did it. I have seen a lot of car work in my years but the biggest obstacle I see is lifting this up. It might not be that heavy in gross mass, but proportionally its tall and well might have to have scaffolding or something to work the upper pieces. That is a lot for a home brew exercise. I have been to van plants and the Freightliner plant here nearby it is a pretty extensive operation to handle huge pieces of sheet metal.
The overall size and shape of this unit makes me wonder if it was actually built from a salvaged GMC motorhome chassis……….
It clearly wasn’t, from a quick glance underneath. Toronado frame and axles. The GMC had a unique body structure and suspension.
As much as I like this motor home, I can’t help dreaming about a DIVCO milk van camper conversion. However, I’d be happy with a lime green GMC too.
Nice homebuilt, I have no use for it, but nice homebuilt.
I don’t get it. I assume the 6-wheeled chassis started life in a GMC motorhome or the cargo version whose name I don’t recall, so why ditch that nice body? Or conversely, if you started with a Toronado and added length and two wheels, then adapted an RV body to place atop it, wouldn’t it have been cheaper and much easier to just buy a used GMC motorhome?
I obviously didn’t thoroughly read the main article 3 years ago….
This isn’t a bad looking rig, IMHO it’s let down by the paint colors, looks like 2 shades of primer.
As was pointed out, ground clearance over taller speed bumps looks dicey, and it would be cramped for more than 1 person. But still, as a home away from home, for a shortish period…not too shabby, from what the pictures show.
Too bad there were no interior shots, that might have been interesting.
Could also be scary. I’d leave that rock alone, especially considering the story that goes with where it was.
I’m always staggered at the amount of work a person would do to construct something like this. Who has that much time? Clearly I’m doing something wrong.
Speaking of doing something wrong, congratulations on your successful possum trapping program. My raccoon trapping program this summer got me only one of the three raccoons, a lecture from the annoyed landowner who appeared out of nowhere as I set the critter free, and a skunk. After letting the skunk out without getting sprayed I suspended the program… 🙁
And there’d be quite a bit of metalworking skills involved, like shaping the curves for the ‘corners’. Whoever built it certainly cared about the looks (to a degree) – no right angle corners and sharp edges here.
If your tenant is bothered with ticks, leave that ‘possum where it is. Possums love ticks and people concerned about tick bites, love possums!
It looks like the EM50-armored urban assault vehicle from the movie ‘Stripes’ with Bill Murray and Warren Oates.
Makes sense- the Stripes vehicle was a modified GMC motorhome.
I wonder if Poor Man’s GMC didn’t start with something more than a couple of common had-been Toros?
…it’s equipped with actual RV wheels, rather than common passenger car rims. There’s a spring equalizer arrangement, per engineered tandem suspension, visible between the rear tires. Also, Poor Man’s track appears to be wider than that of a common Toronto.
To “stretch” the track of a Toro would be a major backyard undertaking; it’d probably still be under construction. 🙂
Here we go again….
No, the wheels (and drum brakes) are straight off a Toronado, not “Actual RV wheels”. What makes you think otherwise?
Why are you assuming it has an “engineered tandem suspension”? I said it had two Toronado beam rear axles suspended from leaf springs.
Widening the rear beam axles would be easy. And widening he front shouldn’t be all that hard either; longer drive shafts, mostly. It’s definitely within the capabilities of someone with a good shop and experience cutting and welding frame and other components. Which is exactly what I believe was done here: frame rails set wider apart.
Anyway, what else but a stock Toronado (or two) would be the source of these components? The legendary wide-track six axle Toronado?
I can see you’re quickly becoming CC’s current “Doubting Thomas”. Which is a PIA for me, because it rather forces me to spend a whole lot more time refuting your assumptions. 🙁
You think that one’s nice, take a look at this local beauty,,, (Not shown is the large external propane tank on the other side. Yikes)
Paul, having things scrutinized is nothing to get sore about, after all, there’s nothing to be learned from yes-men.
Why not just leave a comment to stand on it’s own merits, or lack thereof? Why get micro?
Nothing to get huffy over, isn’t CC all about scrutinizing detail?
That said, it’s tough to keep a reply relevant when the comment which it’s addressing changes significantly while writing a reply to it.
Okay, so with the edited comment I’ll plead no–contest to set aside my width and suspension comments. You closely inspected Poor Man up close, I’m just going by squaring the posted general overall images with my own familiarity with the pieces.
My width observation was based simply by comparing with the known width of the pickup truck front pieces. Obviously I don’t have the advantage of having seen it in captivity
The wheels will be easier, we have several good shots of those. With that, I state emphatically that Poor Man’s wheels are NOT production Toro pieces.
To casual observation Poor Man’s wheels may seem similar to Toro wheels, but to those familiar with them a second look makes it obvious that they are not passenger car wheels.
Let’s have a look at Poor Man’s wheel:
Start at the hub, notice that the wheels show a reinforcement plate over the bolt circle?
No such plate with a passenger car wheel.
Move out towards the rim… notice the drop which allows for the use of a conventional valve stem?
That’s not possible with a production Toronado wheel. In fact, the fit between Toronado’s rim flange and wheel center is so tight that it requires a spacial “flattened tube” inboard located bolt-in valve stem which barely clears the brake drum and is proprietary to the wheel – doesn’t fit any other. If a Toro valve stem were located where Poor Man’s is, it’d land smack into the 15″ tire’s bead.
Which brings us to tire size. From here Poor Man appears to have at least 16″ or better tires. Of course we know that passenger cars used 15″ tires and that the larger GMC MH wheel was of 8-bolts.
Now, with a second look don’t you agree that Poor Man’s wheels are definitely not passenger car wheels?
Where are they from you ask?
The belittling Wide Track 6-Axle type comments aside, I could offer educated speculation but that’s going to open up another tangent and seems like CC management is looking to close out this aged topic.
I apologize for having posted my observations to the dead thread.
Attached below are close ups of two wheels; one from a stock ’66 Toronado that CC’s JPCavanaugh shot, and the other is a crop of the motor home wheel above. I can’t see any difference except for the hub reinforcing that the builder undoubtedly added, and which isn’t exactly rocket science, right? Otherwise, the motorhome wheel looks stock to me. I’m not sure what you’re getting at in terms of the valve stems; both look the same, as they come out of a hole in the wheel.
As to them appearing to be 16″ or bigger, obviously from looking at it that’s not the case, as they are stock, and there’s no bigger gap around the drum. And in my crop, the tire size is clearly visible: 235 75R 15, the stock modern equivalent for a Toronado.
Given your track record here and in other posts, please just keep your wild “educated” speculations as to the origins of these wheels or the the source of the motor home’s origins. I looked at this closely, and underneath. It’s real obvious to me how this was built, starting with a stock Toronado and a cutter and welding rig,
So he put RV wheels on a Toro?
Paul, are you lookin’ to get permanently disbarred here?
That’s just a question, Relax. : )
I can see the “15” now, so obviously my speculation on tire size was wrong.
Now have a look at the Toronado wheel that I had in mind when I replied. See how the bolt-in stem passes through the face to make a right turn into the wheel’s drop? No workable place for a stem to be placed at the outside. To me it looked like the typical center assembled with a larger diameter rim, via deeper drop.
Hi i have a GMC Revcon.
33 foot, front wheel drive,
Tornado, with R 16.5 rims.
Full everything and some. .
Amazing.. Good post. But i still cant find 1 like mine…