Many people call interested in purchasing and using a GMC to cart around their family, go to ball games and generally have a “big thing” to use around town but are concerned about all of the “horror” stories they read and hear about mishaps on the road and all of the things that go wrong with the GMC. For sure there are many “stories of woe” out there– all I can say is people love sensationalism. If there are 50 tales from the dark side of owning a GMC, there are 10 times that of stories you may never hear of fantastic journeys, situations that end up with good endings and generally uplifting stories of how a GMC and its owners had a great memorable experience. Here is one that I feel is indicative of how a superior engineered product made its way from point A to B.
Our story begins with a true beginning for a new GMC owner, actually the story begins before Terry had even touched his new acquisition. Terry Porter lives in the UK, yes across “the pond” and had purchased a 28′ stretch coach through the internet on our web site. In posting a pile of pics, long talks on the phone and Terry and the PO dickering, he wired the funds and became the proud owner of this OASI renovated and modified beauty done in the 80’s. We now needed to float the coach across the water to Terry’s waiting hands. I needed to get the coach to the port in Jacksonville for its seat on a ship to England. The boat leaves in 3 days so time was of the essence. Trying to find a suitable plan, Craig Stanley (AKA Captain Stretch) in that he actually owns 2 stretch GMC’s (Jimmy 1 and 2) pictured here agreed to go with me with his Geo Tracker towd, so the run was set. We left on Saturday night just after dark for a mad dash to J’ville to drop off the coach with a friend of mine to wheel the coach over to the port on Monday (day before the ship sails).
The coach had been sitting for many months waiting for a new owner, not a good thing for a GMC. Things happen when a coach sits, you are far better off driving a coach, at least when something breaks you will know when it happens and you can get it fixed. If they sit, it seems there is a problem every time you crank it up. Without the benefit of knowing what would work and what might fail, I checked the oil and trans fluid, brake fluid and listened to the motor. The tires were up so there was nothing else to do but wire up Craigs towd and hit the road.
In that Craig had 2 stretch GMC’s, I felt good about having him along for the ride. In that I repaired GMC’s every day, Craig said he felt OK about driving a coach that had not been checked out. Truth be known, it was more like 2 guys in a bucket confident in not sinking because each person had 10 fingers each to plug holes! No problem, we have a full tank of gas, its dark and we’re wearing sunglasses– we’re on a mission.
Pulling out of Orlando, Craig took the helm first and noticed the brake pedal went further down than his coaches. Brakes are important on a stretch coach pulling a towd– I mean you’re longer than the soul train and stopping is one of those important things. I told him not to worry after all, it did stop — right? The oil pressure gauge was pegged, Craig was concerned, I told him it was great that the needle moved on the “idiot gauge” which meant there was oil pressure– see its just how you look at things that’s important.
The motor seemed a bit sluggish but I told him with the coach sitting for so long we may have a fouled plug, arcing wire, gummed up carb or maybe a combination of things then I pointed out that we were up to speed with traffic and told him to “hammer down”. The coach was running great.
This coach had many upgrades to include the 4 air bag system, a row of buttons and switches that would confuse an aircraft pilot, visor, wheel flares, side pipes, and a very nice interior. Hey, it is a great coach and here we were in open water heading for a 135 mile journey with a mission, what could be better?
The interstate was packed, it was a Saturday night and with bike week in full swing at Daytona, there was no way we would feel alone out there on the blacktop. Traffic was moving along at the usual above limit speed, Craig was wheeling the stretch not quite to their light speed but rolling along above 65 mph. The added “air compressor on” light was cycling on and off every 10 minutes or so telling us there was some sort of air leak in the tank or something. This coach originally had the “power level” dash valves but had been fitted with a custom electric solenoid system that acted like the later Electro Level system. We had replaced the compressor with one our new direct drive aluminum finned compressors so even with the small air leak, I was not worried. The 4 air bag system was up, the lengthened tail was off the ground and we were sailing high.
The motor was still sluggish but had ample power to keep us up to speed. Sitting around had taken its toll and there would need to be some sort of engine work in the coaches future. Hey, that’s what they make wrenches for and in that Terry had Nigel across the pond (Nigel had purchased a 23′ coach a couple of years before and was pretty handy with diagnostics) I still had no problem with pressing on.
Getting admiring looks from a percentage of cars that passed us, I felt good with our situation, sure we had issues but we were OK, the coach was engineered to work and we were on board working it. About 45 minutes out of Jacksonville, Craig & I had decided to switch. I had sat there enough getting some down time and it was my turn to drive. I noticed that the compressor light had come on a minute before doing its usual cycle thing but had not gone out. Pulling into the rest area I noticed that the right side of the coach was lower than I remembered it. OK capcom, we may have an issue. Hopping out and bending down near the wheel I noticed a familiar “hissssing” sound. Bummer– we have an air leak. OK, lets see, we have no tools (don’t need no stinken tools), its dark and the passenger side of the coach is on the deck– right so now what?
Lets deal with it, things will work out– remember they can’t shoot you for breaking down and there are always alternatives. In this case, I could see, and hear, that the air was escaping from a hole rubbed in one of the 2 air bags on the passenger side. Turns out that the modified solenoid air ride system that had been installed somewhere in the past of the coach was a bit too close to a fold in the air bag and after 2 years of rubbing the bag once in a while, a hole was rubbed in the bag. An unexpected result from upgrading the air ride system— whoda thunk! This would never happen to any other coach (no other coach had this custom air ride system). No way to anticipate the issue so we just deal with it— right? Now, if you had an original single air bag per side, we would now need to jack up the coach, pull off a tire (the coach had fixed wheel flares so you could not simply pull off the T skirt) jack the coach up and swap air bags– that is if you had one, the tools to do the job and a jack stand. WE needed to do none of that. The number one reason to have a 4 air bag system is safety and convenience, all we needed to do was pull up the bottom of the wheel flare and shut off the damaged air bag, set the right side control to full raise and pump up the second bag on that side to lift the coach. We would drive in on one air bag on that side. Having 2 bags per side, you can still motivate with one bag out, the coach was still low on the side but the suspension was operating and we were ready to hit the road with a minimal amount of trouble.
Craig was a little worried although one of his stretches also had a 4 air bag system and he had also used it to motivate when he had lost a rear wheel bearing. In his situation, he actually pulled off the wheel and drove to a safe place on 5 wheels. He was not sure about getting back onto the highway and hitting 50 mph sporting 5 down though. I had seen this done and had done it myself so I had problem with it. I do not recommend riding all day like this but hey, we had a major problem at a bad time and we were back on the road without getting greasy or calling “Mr. Hook”.
Listing to the right, we were now getting looks for a different reason than before. We probably looked kinda like a sinking ship and I had the arm down on the seat to keep me in the seat but we were moving safely. The motor was still sluggish and the air ride system was cycling but hey, we’re used to that and afterall we were still on the move. Pulling into Jacksonville, I stopped at a service station to check the good wheel working overtime on the passenger side. It was hotter than the others but the drum was cool (bearing were not heating up) and we were well within a useful heat range on that tire. Only 10 more miles or so to go to Allans shop, I had no doubt we would make the trip– at least concerning this issue. We would have to either replace the damaged air bag with a new one or maybe with a block of wood. Remember the coach had a date with a ship very shortly. A block of wood in place of the wasted bag would get it on board and then I could mail Terry a new air bag next week. Hey, stuff happens and these things can be fixed. The 4 air bag system was our safety valve in this case because without that, we would still be at that rest area.
One more obstacle for our ailing ship, we had to cross over the Hart bridge. This is a very steep bridge spanning a wide area of the St. Johns river. It was right next to the Alltel Stadium where the recent Super Bowl was played (if you saw that). The bridge presented a formidable advisory for our craft but I felt we could make the grade and after that it was literally all down hill. I gave the dash top a rub muttering a couple of encouraging words toward the dash cluster “come on baby, its all about you– we can do this” and with a stomp on the right pedal we started up the bridge. The motor lugged a bit more than was expected, that just meant I needed to press harder on the “go” pedal. Near the crest there came a “pop”, then another, the motor was firing back into the carb. As we topped the bridge I let up on the pedal and the motor settled down, we were heading down the other side now and every so often you could hear another pop or 2. Bummer, sounds like the sluggishness we had first felt leaving Orlando had finally come to a head, seems like we had a burned valve or at least a seat issue. Ole’ “Gray Storm” as we had named the coach during the trip (you may not know it but just like old Chryslers, GMC motorhomes each have their own character, it just takes getting “one” with it to find out its nature) would need some one on one with its heads. As I said before, that’s what wrenches are for and even with this the coach was still a good deal for Terry.
Pulling into Allans ambulance shop (Statline Industries) where I worked with him remounting ambulances before I started the Co-op, Gray Storm pulled into the lot triumphant, we had made the journey, we had gone the distance and we were all safe. Yes, there were some troubles but the coach performed well in the good and in the bad times. The most you can ask of a machine is for it to “fail safe” and give you options to keep you on the road. The GMC was engineered to be worked on and repaired easily and with the modern features available there is no reason to worry– the coach can be fixed easily and will get you there. Things may happen but there will always be options. Have no fear in going on the road with a GMC. Please know your coach, maintain it well to lessen the chance of failure but know that even when problems do happen there will be a superior machine at work with you. We still had 7 good cylinders (isn’t that why God gave us 8) and we could have kept going if needed. We still had 3 good air bags and could have lost another and still kept moving. You cannot expect to never have a problem, we live in an imperfect world– prepare for the worst and the best will always amaze you.
Yes, we had troubles but it was a testament to the quality and engineering that was originally put into the GMC that only minor issues arose even after less that perfect past maintenance and we were able to rise above our infirmity. To those looking to purchase a GMC, be sure to check systems out before you leave and know your coach. For those that own a GMC, maintain your coach well, drive it often and you will have a reliable machine.