One for the Road: A Little Bit of Motor Home History

Posted on in Blog

Lisa Wehr, our CEO, received an interesting email the other day. It came from a gentleman who had actually been the one behind the body design and concept of our motor home. His story was incredibly interesting, so I thought it might be fun to share a little history of the motor home with you as we prepare to embark on our 5-day tour of the state.


Story Courtesy of Bob Michaluk:

The story starts at a company in Detroit called Aero Detroit. If Livermore Labs is a think tank, Aero was a collaboration tank. Picture a large high school with classrooms the size of gymnasiums. Each classroom was working on a different project primarily for the automotive industry, but the facility encompassed all associated industries that used the same manufacturing processes like furniture, architecture, and building products. It’s how toilet seats got manufactured by the leading steering wheel manufacturer. Companies contracted with Aero to do their projects and Aero hired engineers. Our desks were sheets of aluminum half the size of a car straddling saw horses and we drew with gold wire.

Each room was primarily either for Chrysler, GM or Ford. One room held other projects where I worked, having been brought in from GM Styling to work on the GMC project. There were five of us. I did body design and concept. We had an engine expert from Ford who actually worked with Henry on the Tri-Motor airplane. There was a suspension man from Chrysler who just came back from vacation in England where he crawled under a double-decker bus to see the suspension and was almost killed. Finally we had a chassis man form GM. Our leader was a stress engineer from GMC.

We had one mandate from the head of GMC (who was a former production engineer) to develop a new bus for GMC that was made like they made airplanes. GMC had 90% of the world bus business in 1969 and was looking forward to the next generation of bus design.

All buses were based on steel beams stretching from the front axle to the back axle, with all utilities and storage underneath the beams and people in a cabin above the beam. Airplanes had no beams. For airplanes they fabricate cylinders that attach together to form a fuselage (cabin) with a nose and a tail.

Diving in, I asked a lot of questions about GMC Buses at that time. We found their biggest customer was Greyhound. And we designed a bus that would meet their needs. But it wasn’t designed like an airplane. They gave us a week to fix it.

We knew it was impossible to engineer the bus like they wanted, and that we would be fired, so we reset our parameters and did what we wanted. The maximum length we could make under the airplane format created a long box. Since all the space was for passengers, the drive and engine had to be either in the back or front. The Ford guy said Henry had told him all cars would be front wheel drive eventually so we went front wheel drive (really). Normally with this weight, the rear axle would have to go all across the rear of the cabin, creating a huge bump on the floor. But the fortuitous vacation of our suspension man led us to the bladder side rocking dual wheel suspension of a double-decker bus and no hump on the floor.  Because the structure stresses of an airplane cabin and a bus cabin were so different, I was to put a very big picture window in the wall.  We drew it up and looked at it; it was exactly like you see it today as a GMC Motor Home.

And it’s that motor home that we will be taking on the road as we tour Michigan, offering our online marketing consultations for free. Thanks Bob!

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