Poor GMC motorhome. Bullied by rising gasoline prices. Passed over in favor of light trucks. Phased out after six model years. What a shame.
In 1973 General Motors Corp. had become one of the first major automakers to market a motorhome with its name attached to it. But in 1977 the company announced it would discontinue the motorhome and convert its facilities in Pontiac, Mich., to truck production.
Do not grieve for the GMC, though. Like the original Star Trek TV series, it became more popular in post-production years. Following its production halt, GMC motorhome owners organizations popped up. Companies started to offer GMC parts and service. Clubs produced newsletters to satisfy the hunger for GMC information.
About 8,000 GMC motorhomes are still on the road. There might be just as many in boxes, display cases and on shelves. You’d understand this if you saw the GMC memorabilia collection of FMCA member Bill Bryant of Pleasant Valley, N.Y.
Bryant has collected about 40 different Hot Wheels GMC models in their original packaging, and dozens of others. “I built a large wood-framed box with a Plexiglas cover to display them,” he said.
Mattel made – and still makes – many GMC versions in its Hot Wheels line. Designs have included NASCAR, Spiderman, U.S. Army and McDonald’s. A few were named after vintage GMC models, such as the Palm Beach, though the colors and graphics do not match the original’s.
The original GMC had a six-wheel independent suspension that delivered a smooth ride. Its automotive engine and front-wheel drive system gave it a carlike feel. To GMC aficionados, the small Hot Wheels symbolize these and many other respected features. That’s why Bryant continues to collect GMC memorabilia -- to express admiration for a unique classic.
In other display cases, Bryant has mounted GMC cups, key chains, belt buckles, a Frisbee, a fly swatter. Also: magnets, matchbooks, and patches commemorating GMC rallies. His collection includes the three versions of Mattel’s Barbie Doll Star Traveler GMC Motorhomes as well.
Eighteen different GMC-related films are part of his collection. “There were 14 sales films issued by GM called GMC Mini-theater,” he said. “If you walked into a GM dealership in ‘70s you would see a TV-type monitor and a stack of cassettes.”
He has “a really great silent film” showing the development of the GMC from initial concepts through scale models and the final full-size clay model. “It documents every single GMC motorhome event during that time period,” he said. Many factory photos and documents of early designs, including the first prototype, also are part of his collection.
Rounding out his film collection are three copies of the ‘70s TV program called “Holiday on Wheels RV.” Three shows focused on the GMC, he said.
During his search for GMC memorabilia, Bryant has encountered engineers and designers involved with the original GMC motorhome. That’s how he met John Locklin. “John was one of the GMC body engineers who defined how you implement the GMC design into real parts, into a structure.”
When Locklin retired in 1977, GM employees gave him a retirement gift honoring him for his 26 years of service to GMC. It’s a 1/16-scale fiberglass model of an orange GMC motorhome mounted on a walnut base. “It’s a beautiful model, 20 inches long,” Bryant said.
In February 2002, Locklin gave the model to an astonished Bryant. About four of these models exist, presented to other GM retirees, Bryant said.
How it began
Bryant’s GMC collectibles hobby grew from his pension for classic cars. “I’m an old-car guy. I’ve always been interested in more than just the vehicle, in the people and company behind the vehicle. In other words – how did the vehicle become what it was?”
In the late 1980s, a few years after he bought his first GMC motorhome, he started to apply this concept to the GMC motorhome. “Initially I advertised in Family Motor Coaching magazine and antique auto magazines, seeking GMC items,” he said.
With fellow GMC owners spreading the word about his new collection, he began to obtain items here and there. He also acquired mementos at toy dealers, RV shows and Internet ecommerce sites.
Now he has two five-drawer file cabinets full of GMC printed materials. “I have 50 versions of GMC sales literature, the types of things a dealer would break open and show you. It really boggles my mind as to the expanse of this stuff.”
He also has 50 different magazine advertisements in which the GMC appears. “I think the interesting thing is that all of these aren’t old ads. Ads today still use likenesses of the GMC to sell insurance and other RV-related products. This has gone on since ‘70s.”
Bryant is a member of FMCA chapters GMC Colonial Travelers, GMC Motorhomes International, GMC Nor'Easters and GMC Sunshine Statesmen. At GMC rallies and conventions, he often presents a seminar, displays his memorabilia and shows the old GMC films.
Bryant’s collection is valuable. Hot Wheels are in demand at flea markets and in trade publications. But he’s in it for enjoyment, not profits.
He has, at the Internet auction site eBay, sold a couple of items that he has multiples of. “The reason for that,” he said, “is I shouldn’t hog it all. I should let someone else enjoy this hobby, too.”