Recreational vehicles are big business in America, yet none of the major automakers ever offered a factory-fresh Detroit family home on wheels. That all changed with the 1973 to 1978 GMC Motorhome.
This RV is an example of “they don’t make them how they used to” while also being a cartoon icon for a generation of kids. We’re talking about Ben 10 and the original Rust Bucket.
Ben 10 was released in 2005, so it feels like it’s too soon to call it a classic. However, the original series, created by Man of Action Studios, received numerous accolades, including 3 Emmy awards. It’s earned a massive $6 billion (with a B) and with a run of 15 years, this is the longest-lasting franchise in Cartoon Network history.
As with most things in the entertainment industry, the first version was the best. A 10-year-old boy named Ben Tennyson is on a family vacation with his cousin Gwen and their grandpa Max. The kid finds a mysterious watch that allows him to turn into 10 different alien life forms.
Grandpa Max is a major character as well, like a mentor/guiding figure. Later, it’s revealed that he’s part of a secret intergalactic organization called the Plumbers. And their beat-up RV nicknamed the Rust Bucket turns out to be full of alien rockets, guns, and propulsion systems.
Rust Bucket is heavily based on the GMC Motorhome
There are multiple versions of the Rust Bucket, both because Ben 10 changed animation styles, but also because they wanted to sell lots of toys. However, the first one is the most famous and it’s heavily based on the GMC Motorhome, though this is never officially acknowledged.
We just spotted a 1977 Royale 260 version for sale with a California dealer called Driven. And it looks exactly like the Rust Bucket, down to the stripes. It doesn’t have any rust on the sides, but I’m not sure these can even rust if the bodywork is fiberglass.
However, the GMC Motorhome has a huge historic significance that goes way beyond some cartoon shows. It’s the only recreational vehicle ever to be produced by a major manufacturer and it looks better than even its modern counterparts.
Just look up a 1970s Winnebago and see how square and ugly it looks. It also rode badly because it was based on a truck or bus chassis. However, GMC was given a lot of money from General Motors and developed a bespoke frame onto which an aluminum spaceframe rested.
The aluminum ribs were then wrapped up in a futuristic, aerodynamic body, made up of aluminum and fiberglass. In the 1970s, this basically looked like a NASA rocket. And yes, we know that the actual astronaut transfer shuttle was an Airstream.
The GMC Motorhome was very curved, which made it look more expensive than other RVs. At the front, the massive windshield was divided into two pieces of glass which were both raked and curved. Engineers also worked hard to push the body closer to the ground and give it a good center of gravity for handling and access. The rear had two separate wheels instead of a dually design which was much more common. Each side had an independent air suspension system as well. There were no axles in the middle, which greatly increased cabin space.
For the power, the GMC Motorhome relied on a big V8 and 3-speed taken straight out of an Oldsmobile Toronado. For 1977 and 1978, displacement came down a little from the 455 Rocket V8 (7.5-liter) to a 403 (6.6-liter).
This particular model that’s for sale is the 260, which means it’s the 26-foot long model with the deluxe features. The interior is typical of the flamboyance in that era. It’s equipped with a kitchen and a shower/bathtub. You’d hate seeing those beige fiberglass tubs in a house that’s for sale, but in a 1977 GMC RV… instant nostalgia.
The price? $44,750, which is more than this thing cost back in the 1970s. But of the 12,000 units that were built, around 8,000 are still on the road, which shows just how popular the GMC Motorhome has become.