After finalizing the purchase on the 1978 GMC Motorhome Royale, I made arrangements to pick it up from the Florida panhandle the next week. It turns out that from Miami it is much easier to get to Panama City, Panama than to Panama City, FL, but after a plane flight, overnight hotel stay, and three hour bus ride, I was met at the station by the two ladies that were selling the GMC (due mainly to lack of use). They gave me a tour, showed me as much as they could, locked the keys inside once, jimmied open a window to retrieve them, accepted my cashier’s check and then pointed the way out of town. Go South, (not so) young man.
That first trip was an eye opener. As a driver, the disconcerting thing about a motorhome is not the length, but rather the width and inertia. Even with a rebuilt 455, it takes a while to get 12,000 pounds up to speed, longer than you think to stop, and man does it take up a lot of road. Think about sitting in your car and looking at the space between your seat and the passengers. Now make both seats oversized and spread them out another two feet… that’s a motorhome.
Within the first two hours the cruise control made a popping noise and ceased to control the cruise. Shortly after that I was on the phone to the owners asking if there was a trick to understanding the gas gauge because I seemed to be burning it at a prodigious rate. I later determined that the answer was yes, there is a trick, but no, it really does burn a lot of gas if you have a heavy foot. The GMC has two tanks read by one gauge on a toggle switch, and the gauge is neither accurate nor linear. Further, as Jim Bounds of the GMC Coop would later explain, these beasts are very aerodynamic at lower speeds, but above 58 MPH they turn into bricks. I had been averaging over 75 MPH, and was getting maybe 5 MPG on that first tank. Ouch. After each refill I slowed by 5 MPH and eventually learned the idiosyncrasies of filling and more accurately measuring the dual gas tanks and gauge such that things have improved to nearly 8 MPG, but it will never be a Prius.
I stopped in Gainesville to visit my daughter, in her final year at UF, and got a taste of city driving in a motorhome. I did not care for it. Adding to the challenge was the sudden and operatically loud collapse of the dash A/C performance and a distressing problem with sporadic mushy brakes. After dinner with the girl child and a tour of the new RV, I continued on to Tampa for the night, arriving at Bay Bayou RV Resort well after dark. Pro Tip: do not do this on your first RV trip, or ever if you can avoid it. Thankfully, the extremely helpful security and after hours check in man helped get me sorted out, guided me into the spot, and spent 30 minutes supervising my comic attempts to find and hook up power and water. It was one heck of a relief when the roof A/C came on to give me relief from a hot Florida summer night.
The next morning I completed the journey to South East Florida, staying the night at my father-in-law’s before taking her down to the Homestead Air Force Base for storage.