Meet Larry, he has no “other brother”
Larry is a unique Transmode, one of only 12 built for the government and used in the Denver Postal System as a mobile post office, now it has a new duty– to drag me around!
Why do I call it “LARRY”
Yes, the next coach out of the shop is mine, I call him “Larry”. Why? Well, I have Larry through a good friend Larry Coldren who happens to live in Denver Colorado. Larry was driving along a city highway one day, looked over and saw a white GMC with no windows sitting at the postal service maintenance facility. It had a back door and knowing how I love a back door (my last coach had one too and I tell you they are great for loading parts and tools). No, but thats not the only reason for the name on the coach. Larry went by the facility to look at the coach and met Larry, the maintenance super who had actually maintained the coach for over 17 years. Larry C. , through persuasive negotiations made a deal for the coach and contacted me to see if I was interested. I hopped a flight north and within 48 hours was in the drivers seat of this baby. My fist pic of the coach set the name sake Larry (maintenance supervisor to the left) took good care of Larry for 17 years, Larry (to the right) saw Larry sitting alone on the back line at the postal maintenance facility and called me about it). With 48,000 original government documented miles (& I saw the records) I felt like this coach was sitting there in line waiting for me ! This is a once in a lifetime find & I am very appreciative to have it. Follow as I outfit Larry for my special needs.
Larry is a unique vehicle being a commissioned mobile US Post Office during the first chapter of its life He was taken to county fairs to post mark letters and sell commemorative stamps, hung out at malls during Christmas to make it easy to send presents to loved ones and even made the rounds to rest homes to help the elderly do the simple pleasures of life like mail a letter. He was also used to stand in for rural post offices as the real ones were being built or renovated. It was manned (or should I say womaned ) by the same 2 female postal workers during the entire time it spent in Denver, the story goes Larry was retired when they too retired.
The interior was sparse , looking over the counter where the postage machine recessed itself into the desk, the display case to the right probably held stamp samples or maybe that months most wanted pics. The full length bench seats and carpet covered walls were the only interior features– except of course the huge back door. The back bumper wore hits from years of unexpected results. Actually super Larry explained the ladies had a bad habit of not giving the coach time to pump up before they pulled out of the maintenance facility where it was stored, Consequently they grounded themselves of the speed bump and dip at the entry gate many times.
But now this coach is mine, I was excited about that because I had some great ideas for this beauty. A specialty coach deserves some specialty renovation and this coach is perfect for what I have in mind.
Not unlike any other coach, all GMC’s unfortunately suffer from several like afflictions. They are all 25-30 years old at this point which means any parts that have not been replaced in the years since its manufacture are way too old to rely upon– something must be done there if the coach is to give good service. There must be more that a regular maintenance cycle done to renew these older parts. The next opportunity is the simple fact that the coach was outfitted long ago and since that time, new materials, technologies and styling has made our lives better and more comfortable– Larry needs a technology and style update. In that Larry was originally a purpose driven design, its new duties would need other special outfitting and lastly the years had not been totally kind to him so the cob webs will need to be cleaned out and a new face needs to be put on him if he is to again attract attention. All of this sounds like a big job and in fact it is. Just like every coach we renovate, the focus is on transforming the vehicle into something that is today comfortable, reliable and stylish. Its easy to talk about what you want to do with a coach like this, the hard part is to figure out where to stop, what to keep and how to bring the coach back to life keeping the good parts.
The process of redesign and outfitting holds true for this or any GMC and following the process I took to bring Larry up to date may help you understand how to consider renovation ideas for your coach. All coaches need many of the same features– a comprehensive mechanical review and update, an exterior refinish to show off the styling of the coach and an interior fitted to the owners needs and use. Follow how Larry came to life in these 3 areas.
First lets talk a bit about the vision I had for the use of Larry. I was not looking for a “motorhome” in the true sense of the word. Using Larry as a commercial delivery vehicle for the business, I needed him to puck up many, long, heavy packages. Humping raw materials, sticks of trim, boxes of parts even transporting engines to and from the machinist, Larry would be put to work– no rest for this soldier. I also needed Larry to be my flagship to take me, parts and materials to rallies and shows being my transportation heavy weight. He needed to not only be a big transporter van but he also needed to have at least some level of living space while on the road. I don’t need marble floors but I do need some level of comfort. I live in Florida so good air conditioning is a must and the coach must look sharp. For years now, I have been the ugliest duckling at most any rally I went to. Not saying anything about my last flagship coach but its name pretty much summed it up– the “dumpster”. I never had the time or the bucks to go through my own coach the way I do for customer coaches and it was time for me to do something about that. Larry has presented me with an empty white canvas for a beautiful picture– now all that is needed is to just do it!
Oh yes, I also wanted something sporty. How do you call a 26′ long 12,000 lb. vehicle sporty? Hey, these coaches sport a 455 CID true died in the wool big block engine just waiting for hypo goodies. The entire coach was designed by the best engineers in their field. Boeing had a hand in the body, the drive train was a tried and true performance winner coming from the wild Toronado and the frame was purpose built for this vehicle alone. I see my job was one of complimenting these attributes and add new technologies to them. Many laugh at the bumper sticker but it can be true– at least I wanted one.
Where to start? As in any renovation, no matter how pretty it is, if it won’t go its a looser so mechanicals is always the first consideration. You want to check the oil, fill it with fuel and hit the highway. The only way to achieve this it to touch every part, update it all and renew the whole 9 yards.
Mechanical Larry had less than 50K on the odometer when I met him which means it sat for many years, that can be both good and bad. Good in that he has been exposed to fewer pot holes, road gators and tall curbs, bad in that all of the rubber products (belts, hoses, gaskets, seals, lines, wires, clips, etc) must be considered or just replaced to bring it to a reliable driving state. The 6 snow tires had to go, Larry sounded like a utility boom truck with its aggressive tread sneakers and lets not even mention the rough ride! After the 2000 mile drive home, I formed a new opinion of snow tires.
Not having the funds to go out and plunk down over $2000 for 16″ aluminum rims and tires, I opted to buy new 16.5″ tires using 2 of the 12″ rims I had for the front. A 12″ wide tire overlaps the footprint of the front and rear tire which many feel aid in stability, I’m not smart enough to make a definitive decision on that– all I can agree on is they look pretty cool. Is that important to me– you betcha!
Brakes, bearings, seals and suspension was all checked and replaced if needed. I did cut some corners (I mean the plumbers pipes always seem to leak more) but having a shop, the issues I left were calculated and can be monitored.
Being a 74 chassis, the motor sported a point style dist. and the carb looked like turn of the century. Remember I want a sports car so I looked what was available out there to pump up the power of this low mileage motor. Direct port fuel injection is where I went .You betcha big bucks but — well you know— you just gotta figure out just whats important! I like sports cars — I may have a GMC Transmode but that doesn’t mean I can’t make the coach feel like a sports car. Remember this is a true performance big block lurking in my basement just waiting to eat everything on the road. All the performance goodies Olds car nuts have run with by rights fit your 455. Remember though, you are not trying to build a high revving tire burner– no, we are building a low RPM, high torque mill and in many ways can be as performance conscious as a tire burning Toronado or W30.
So I’ve always wanted a fuel injected big block so now I have it. Direct port fuel injection is the true idea of what a pure fuel injected motor should act like. Fast start, completely variable ignition timing and tuning, efficient, economical power– and I mean power! Let me explain what I mean:
I have 33″ tall, 12″ wide off road tires on the front,
I have 3.55 gears and an Allison converter.
I can spool up & lay 2 patches of rubber 24′
I have no carb. to adjust on,
Life is good!
Not meaning to sound silly, I do enjoy the performance of an American big block and all of the fun that comes with its ownership. I can do anything I want to my performance motor, maintain and attend to it just the way I would if I had a Trans Am, Mustang, or Cobra, mine just happens to be a bit bigger.
What other mechanical stuff? How bout the 4 air bag rear suspension modification? Exactly— It’s safer, its cheaper and easier to maintain, it makes your coach handle like a sports car but besides all of that– it looks cool. ,Go to Parts Preview for more on that kit.
There are many other performance goodies I could go with but remember we need to keep focused. I want a sporty multi use unit and I do have a pretty tight budget.
I installed the vacuum reservoir system for the brake booster– a must if you want to stop this rocket if the motor fails. This simple system holds a reserve of vacuum to give you 4-5 hits on your brake before you loose the PB feature. Then some good tires and a set of 16.5″ hub caps and we’re off to the races.
Now if all your stuff is under the skin, how can others appreciate your baby? Done in (sporty) black, you’ve got it all. A movable console for the lap top, cups and stuff and of course reclining bucket seats with pump lumber. The cluster view is very good I have added vacuum and trans temp to the original instrument compliment. The 18′ brushed nickel and leather steering wheel is lowered 1.5 inches to put it in a more usable position. The radio is simple but complete with a DIN radio with remote & inputs, a volt meter (chassis) JR Slatens dash valves and a kick butt stand alone dash AC system (I mean you are in Florida and cold air is sometimes a hard thing to find! I wish I had the new carbon fiber dash bezel available when I built this, Oh man would that have looked good! Everything matches– of course it does– its all black! Remember the “sports car” direction for the coach– how’d we do?
Don’t think of me as narrow minded and car crazy enough to try and make the coach all go and no show– we added many other features specifically directed at making Larry useful for me as a work vehicle and a travel/live in unit as well. The dash AC systems were notoriously bad, even updating the early systems to the style 2 design, you could loose weight sweating if you depended on the dash AC to keep you cool while driving. Note the under dash evaporator/blower unit under the dash. This system runs parallel off of the engine compressor and will blow ice cubes at you. I can drive Larry on a hot, humid Florida summer day and stay cool and comfortable up front– can you say that about your dash AC system? It’s black so it blends right in, I have plans to build a console surround to style it up a bit but for now I’m happy to have it and working.
Tired of sun baking the side of your face while driving? I’ve seen everything from window tint to baby blankets trying to keep the sun and heat out from these windows. How about a slider blind to stop all of that trouble? I have no windows so this blind can disappear behind the wall when open.
I don’t know what model they used to design the steering wheel to seat dimensions but whoever it was had a weird shape. Most have the tilt always down to try and get to a comfortable position. I dropped the column to give the tilt feature a more usable range. In low position the 18″ leather wheel all but touches the seat , bringing the wheel up gives you a selection of diving styles all the way to “bus like”. A great improvement on the original dynamics.
BTW, don’t mind the wires under the dash, I do not use a lower dash close out because I am in the dash so much trying new things (you know the phrase– the plumbers pipes).
Most people employ a console of some sort between the seats. Some have TV’s in them while others may resemble a huge catch all bucket. I too wanted something to put things on but I wanted it to do more This is much more than a catch all table and cup holder– I set my lap top there for a really good GPS map and fuel injection monitor screen, not nailed down, it can be turned around and slid next to either seat as a arm rest or table and even a 3rd seat for those brave enough to sit up front on a movable seat . It can also swing around and be a seat when stopped.
I’m not here telling you this is the way we build all of our interiors, quite the contrary– we design and build interiors based on the owners use. All of this may no fit you at all and that would be fine. This, again, is what fits me and my style of use. The driver front area of Larry gives you a sporty comfortable road vehicle feel. I am not driving a motorhome, I am driving my “antique hot rod— with plumbing”. What would you like included in your coach interior?
Lets see, we have no windows, no interior cabinets, no bathroom, no walls at all and only foam pads along the walls —- cool! We say we have nothing but we also say we can have ANYTHING too! Lets build something in here that is comfortable to camp in, travel in and useful in the business as a parts runner. The huge back door open up many possibilities. This coach will not be like most, I will use it to move boxes, long bulk materials, tools, engines, tires and even the occasional cooking grill. I want to drive to rallies, bring parts & tools, have a comfortable fun ride doing it and maybe even sleep in there too. This is a tall order especially without a trailer hitch.
OK, here we go on the interior:
It’s already stripped, lets use that to our benefit, afterall it would take a great deal of work to turn a regular motorhome into a raw core like this one. I am not installing any new windows, I will not have to build the interior around the windows this way– anything can go. I want as much floor space as possible for hauling, one of the benefits will be that the interior of the coach will have a very open feel. Very open feel indeed, and it will not be an illusion. There will be a front to back open area, Janie says she wants enough room to dance– OK, that’s a good way to put it.
What are the featured needed?
- We need some sort of bathroom, not a shower. We will need to wash hands and — well– have a place to poop! This space will need to be “dual use” in that I do not want to give up space for the bathroom alone.
- We need some sort of food preparation and storage area (galley). We’re not going to bake a cake or Thanksgiving dinner, there are too many Taco Bells out there to devote space to a dedicated full kitchen be it would be good to have a place to keep the beer cold and nuke a can of beans or something. We need a microwave (small one) and a frig (small one), a food storage area and a table to prepare stuff on. This area also needs to be “dual use”.
- There needs to be 3 distinct living areas along with the “open floor plan”. Sound contradictory but I have found it important that everyone traveling have their “little area” to have their stuff arranged. George Carlin says when we travel, we bring with us things that remind us of home and make us feel comfortable. We need to have privacy for the bathroom area, we need the same for the sleeping area as well.
- We need a dedicated bedroom area with twin beds, an area that could be closed off and left set up as a bedroom when needed. It’s hard to sleep on your dining room table, you are always moving things. In this case, if the coach is being used as a true live in vehicle or as a travel vehicle, there must be an area for someone to slip away and take a nap.
- There must be a central gathering or entertainment area. Somewhere that has seating for several people to watch videos, listen to music, read, talk or whatever. It cannot be part of the bedroom, it must have identity of its own.
- The driving area must feel sporty, I do not want to feel like I’m sitting in a living room while driving— that’s not natural. I want to feel like I’m driving a sports car, well at least something that feels at home on the road. I want heads up information, convenient controls and comfortable contoured seating.
- We need high & low energy use temperature conditioning. We have no windows to open on a warm day so we need a way to control the heat without 110 power. When there is power, we need to have the capability to get cooled off fast and stay that way. We need warmth but not a fire breathing furnace. There will be no LP on board, remember we cannot spare the space for such a single use appliance.
- We need entertainment. Consumer Electronics has made us soft. I all but have forgotten how to play my harmonica. What with FM, CD, DVD, I Pods, Internet and Satellite communications, we NEED to have something to see and hear. We need to have great sound, its an affliction from being involved in the Consumer Electronics business for 20 years. I want a sub woofer set up. I want a DVD player and satellite channels. I want music selection at my fingertips whether I have power from shore, generator or simply by batteries. It’s simple, I want it all and want it all to be the best! Well, we all can’t be “king” so I may have to settle for a bit less but I would rather here the ringing in my ears than bad music so something has to give.
- I need to show off materials and parts I use in building other coaches. I need to incorporate fabrics, seating, components and materials I use day in and day out to show customers our wares. I need to show off metallics as well as earth tone color schemes. Custom build seating and cabinet work, lighting and other stuff cannot be one of a kind. I mean what if someone likes the way something looks and wants it in their coach, I need to be able to do it for them too.
- Remember an original purpose, the coach interior must be convertible into a delivery vehicle, one that can safely carry heavy odd shaped loads without a great deal of fuss. I mean, sure you can toss a box full of greasy parts in the door of your coach but can you walk around it and will it mess up the floor or upholstery of the coach, these are the things I must not have to deal with.
Well, that’s all well and good but the coach also needs to have a professionally finished presence. How can this be when it sounds like what I want is a combination motorhome and cargo van! OK, we know what we want, now how do we build it.
First, the old interior must come out– completely. The walls are really the wrong color but besides that, the material looks old and the panels are drooping. No need to reinvent the wheel here, the basic wall design is fine, we simply need to replace it all with new material. Forget using any part of the old walls– except as patterns. Copy the shapes, recover the panels in a taupe color “pleather” vinyl and add a few detail touches. The living areas will be “earth tones” while the driver area will be metallics. This will help to break up the long interior of the tube into different sections. Taking a clue from driving the coach while the sun bakes your arm, we installed behind the wall slide blinds it block out the sun. This idea is possible in that there are no windows behind the driver, a regular coach could not have this feature (well, maybe with a few modifications!)
We need room dividers, we need to create seperated areas for the “ppopatorium”, bedroom and living center. These walls cannot stay up however, this would limit the use as a carry all. Open, the patricians go away , then with little fanfair, the rooms can be divided out . The area above the sliderail in open to allow the 2 13.5btu low profile roof AC units to move cold or heated air throughout the coach– no cold or hot spots. These opaque woven patricians are not soundproof but hey, what are you doing in there anyway? There are 3 living areas created by these and just as quickly the open area can be achieved.
The bathroom is simple and basic– but it works. An electric “porta potti”. No holding tank needed, this unit has its own small tank and dumping the unit is no big deal. The sink is also basic but useable. A single self contained water pump using a 5 gallon water jug as tank . Its hand wash only so the water hits the grass. The 12 volt “vanity light bar” is more than enough light, we plan on mounting a mirror on the back wall soon. The finished “bathroom” is what you need, may not be some would call refined but it seves us and fits the use of the coach. The cushion doubles as a seat while working in the galley.
The bathroom and galley share space, sound weird but they are across from each other at the rear of the coach, back there with that huge rear door. The fold down table in front of the rear door give a work surface, the bottom shelf holds the microwave, next up is a small frig and then a small overhead cabinet. A 110 volt florescent give great light when you have power, the 3 bulb 12 volt bathroom vanity light give light when dry camping. Storage on the 3 shelves give additional space. Sure its small & I sure would not look to cook a Thanksgiving dinner but hey, it’s just fine for munchies!
As I said at the beginning, this coach is not for everyone but as a combination shop delivery, travel van and living quarters– for us it works just fine. Here are some other pics of interior features. So now you can see the many possilites renovating a GMC offers.
Got a bit “long winded” with this gallery page but what can I say, everyone loves to show off their own stuff and Larry is made for me. May not be your “cup of tea” and he actually could stand a few windows to make riding more pleasant but it’s no problem from the drivers seat! I dare say there will not be that many of you wanting a coach like Larry but he does show the diversity of the GMC and what they can do.