Retro RVs from Ford and Chevy go to great lengths for your attention
What’s old is new again. Both the vanlife movement and maker culture have done a fantastic job of spreading awareness of (and demand for) recreational vehicles (RVs).
With these specialized forms of transport comes a rejuvenation in the skilled trades that keep those big wheels a-rollin’. Whether it’s plumbing, electrical, woodworking, or interior design, trades that many of us feared would disappear forever have indeed persisted.
RVs are hot once more, but does that mean museum-quality examples of these specialized vehicles can fetch big bucks?
We may have an answer rather soon. We recently came across two such examples from decades past, and both are bound for the auction block: a 1965 GMC custom motorhome headed to Mecum’s Kissimmee sale in mid-January, and a 1974 Ford C-750 cabover with a Camelot trailer that’s currently up for bidding on Bring a Trailer.
Apples-to-oranges comparisons have little weight with actual buyers with actual needs, but if you’re theoretically looking for an RV that puts your average Class A rig to shame, both examples make a compelling argument.
Which company did all-out RV better, and which motorhome will fetch more money when the auctions end?
Yes, we put Chevy in the title, and yes, this is a GMC bus. But a Ford vs. Chevy rivalry could and should extend into the rarified air of bespoke, vintage motorhomes currently on the market. And Chevy GMC fans can rejoice, as their entry is arguably a much better-engineered solution. It’s almost a level-headed answer to a question that nobody asked.
Well, almost nobody, as the seller reportedly saved a discarded Army passenger bus from a certain death with the vision of making an “absolutely peerless motorhome, a bespoke coach unlike any other ever conceived.”
Indeed, the wood (i.e., not particle board) cabinetry appears to be of the high-grade variety, while electronic upgrades range from aircraft-grade wiring to Bose audio, solar charging, and two flatscreen televisions. The owner turned the bus into a proper RV complete with a wet bar, stove, fridge, ice maker, air conditioning system, insulated Peninsula side glass, and even a central vacuuming system.
Clearly this isn’t some hack job, bargain-basement Class A motorhome, but there’s so much more to this ex-Army GMC product.
That’s because the owner also installed a thoroughly modern Cummins diesel ISL engine weighing in at a robust 8.9 liters. An Allison six-speed automatic transmission is likely just as important to the enhanced performance of this restomod GMC bus, while a full restoration of the rest of the drivetrain, suspension, chassis, brakes, and steering brings the rest of the driving experience back up to snuff. Rolling stock comes from Alcoa wheels with Michelin rubber, and the seller acquired a host of receipts over the course of 50,000 miles of use.
To say this GMC motorhome is the best of old and new is an understatement. While the later GMC motorhome was indeed a front-wheel-drive wonder, that creation still used a thirsty gasoline engine without the benefit of an overdrive gearbox. BaT’s is clearly the GMC to have if you’re gonna put down the miles and care about every dollar spent while ramblin’ about the country.
That’s the “Chevy” in our little retro RV comparo. What about the Ford?
This one lacks the subtlety of a restomodded powertrain or other technological upgrades. The cabover Ford C-series was intended for tractor use in a tractor-trailer combo, and even the uninitiated among us might recall it from TV and movie appearances of the era (most notably on TV shows like CHiPs). The Ford C-750 is not a comfortable bus; it’s likely more of a penalty box at higher speeds and longer distances because of the limitations of a “cab over” passenger compartment.
And there’s no free flow between the C-750 truck and the enclosed “Camelot Cruiser” trailer behind it, as passengers must go outside to switch between spaces. But what happens when you leave the cramped cab, hopping off the purely vintage, FE-derived 391-cubic-inch V-8 under the floorboards?
What awaits you is a similarly vintage experience within a Gerstenslager trailer, fully kitted out by Edler & Company to become the aforementioned rolling tribute to Camelot. The degree of preservation is what makes this combo special, as this motorhome is anything but a restomod.
The “1970s Colonial Revival” interior present in the Camelot Cruiser is almost too magnificent to process. You got the dark wood pillars and Colonial throwback cabinets/furniture, all underpinned by proper avocado green carpeting. While the two matching snowmobiles seem a bit out of place for large swaths of the American countryside, and while design types love to rattle on and on about the more popular midcentury modernism, the appeal of a rolling tribute to Colonial Revival can’t be understated. Ditch the snowmobile storage for a conversation pit, and you’d have the most 1970s thing to ever grace the highways.
More to the point, as previously discussed in the EMC Starfire article, the 1970s was a golden era of the motorhome industry, just as the 1950s diner scene was for Chevrolet and the Tri-Five. But ’70s RVs were (and still are) normally crafted on an integrated body, not assembled in tractor-trailer fashion; finding a parking spot for this Ford might be challenging. And rest stops will be needed, after all those hours behind the wheel of a vintage cabover truck. Not to mention the size of the fuel bill relative to the modern powerplant in the GMC.
Picking a winner in this battle is easy if you don’t care about fuel bills and parking, as the Ford tractor/trailer is simply stunning. I’d never drive it outside of an interstate highway ... but I digress.
Let’s answer our initial question: You better believe that museum-quality examples of the breed can fetch big bucks. Case in point: this Ford sold for $42,000 last year. At the time of writing, bidding for the Ford combo has already reached $120,000 with 5 days left. Wow.
Even with an impressive list of repairs (mostly fuel system and suspension refreshing) performed by the current owner, this is likely to be a helluva return on investment when the auction ends. And considering the price of this Ford and front-wheel-drive GMCs that went to market before it, there’s little doubt that the Cummins-powered GMC bus will net a similarly high hammer price.
And yes, these asking prices could probably get you a superior Class A motorhome if you shopped instead on the modern RV marketplace, but it’s clear that some could care less about modern motoring. Retro RV–ing is clearly a thing, and personally, we’re here for it.
Only one question remains: Is a perfectly preserved Ford tractor trailer or a restomod GMC Army Bus the right retro motorhome for your needs?
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The front wheel drive GMC Motorhome is not “thirsty” compared to the Bus or the 30,000 lb Ford behemoth. I would take it’s 10 mpg over the 4 or 5 the other two would deliver on a good day.
I have a very hard time believing a GMC bus with a modern powertrain including an Allison 6-speed automatic will ever get 4-5mpg…even towing a trailer uphill.
As far as the fuel consumption goes that GMC should easily get between 6 and 8 MPG. I have a much newer 44′ Class A with 3 slides, a Cumins ISC with Allison automatic that gets this mileage at 75-80 MPH! By the way my rig tips the scales at 42K with full fuel and water, so if it gets 4-5 MPG something is seriously wrong when it is shorter and lighter than my unit. My unit is also rated to tow 15K on top of that.
Charles you have to stop making me want a late model Class A pusher for my theoretical road trips to attend 24 Hours of Lemons races across the country. But no doubt I am sold, that sounds amazing.
OMG Ford puts you in a makeshift horse trailer!
Actually a good Diesel pusher will get 12-14 mpg if you keep it under 65 mph. The Cummins, although an affront to a GMC, will deliver that kind of FE.
The real point is these are two now replace the apples and oranges saying. the Ford is completely stuck in the sixties. It is huge and has great under storage but the cab over will only allow three, ride quality is beyond awful, and the 391 will only get 4-5 mpg. The GMC is a modern vehicle just missing the slide outs.
Forget both of them. Get a 4500 series GM based vehicle with one large slide out and the 6.6 L Gen 5 (LT) gas V8. Mine has great power, gets 12 mpg at 62 mph, and will pull a full size trailer.
End of story. Diesel with DEF and sky high fuel costs make them only usable by full time true haulers.
Is it too much to expect you to include some interior pictures, besides the driver’s and passenger seat?
I don’t understand, there are three slideshows with all the photos you are requesting. Click on the arrows to the left and right of the photo to see the slideshows.
Can’ t have passengers in a trailer while moving. (Unless it is a military ‘cattle car “) That limits the Ford.
Very good point. And do remember the cattle cars that held 70, but the DI’s alway packed to the hills (as many as 85 by my count).
It is legal, in some states, to have passengers in a 5th wheel trailer as long as there is a communication system between the driver and the trailer passengers.
Haven spent a goodly part of my working life and millions of miles in semi tractor trailer combos of various sorts I would have to say the bus would be the only consideration if I were to really use either of these.
The short wheel base tractor of the Ford would be a torture chamber of body slams as you wouldn’t even be able to recover from sitting over the steer axle as it tried to lift you into the air from a bump before the rear axle kicked you in the A$$. The relative distance between the steer axle and drive is a big part of ride quality in these types of vehicles. The longer the better for ride quality. I will say that the Ford is more visually stunning but If I had this type of vehicle it would be to use, not sit and look at. I agree that the modern Cummins should easily get into the double digits for fuel mileage and the Ford would be lucky to do 5 mpg.
It would be illegal to ride in the Ford trailer (at least in California). My vote goes to the GM where everyone can relax and socialize while on the road (sans alcohol, of course).
I would go with the bus too. However…
(i) Subdivision (g) does not apply to a trailer coach that is towed with a fifth-wheel device if the trailer coach is equipped with safety glazing materials wherever glazing materials are used in windows or doors, with an audible or visual signaling device that a passenger inside the trailer coach can use to gain the attention of the motor vehicle driver, and with at least one unobstructed exit capable of being opened from both the interior and exterior of the trailer coach.
The Camelot Cruiser with built near me in the Chicago suburbs of Skokie. Pretty cool. That car has the most 70’s color and interior choice around. Now this is a “green” vehicle I can get behind.
The Ford trailer is based on a show-horse hauler. NEIGH!
Sorry, I don’t consider that Ford Semi an RV…you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
I like them both. I’d take the Ford because it seems cooler, or maybe just weirder to me. All this talk about fuel economy doesn’t really matter, the buyer of this kind of stuff isn’t concerned with miles per gallon.
The owner of a Cadillac was once asked, “What kind of MPG does it get”? He answered, “If you can afford a Cadillac, it doesn’t matter”. So, open your wallet and enjoy life.
The Ford unit has one advantage. Once you are parked at a campground or park you can disconnect the tractor and drive for groceries, tour the area, visit friends etc without pulling up stakes by unhooking everything. That’s why I loved my fifth wheel trailer. With a coach you are pretty much stuck where you set up.
Would it be legal for passengers to ride in the Ford’s trailer while underway. I somehow remember a law against that in PA many years ago.
I had a 25 foot Winnebago class A that I pulled a car that I still own with as a “toad”, note I still have the car but the RV is long gone and I do not miss it in the least. That said these were interesting to look at, but a hard pass on both.
Well both are “cool”. But, the later 6 wheel GMC and late 60’s 440 powered Travco and similar Mopars would beat the GMC (stock) shown in the comparison. Those would be vintage enough for the wow collectable factor but modern enough to be somewhat livable. The Ford wins out on the funky factor but …not really practical. I have a friend who has a first gen GMC 6 wheel and it’s super nice and repairable in the puckerbrush as would be the Dodge…the Ford not so much