GMC Paint Scheme Design

EDITOR’S NOTE: I have presented at two GMCMI conventions regarding the principles of GMC paint scheme design. In 2016, I was asked to share this knowledge with the entire GMCMI membership through their magazine “Vintage RVing.” What is presented here is an expansion of that magazine article.

The Basics

Over the brief years of production, the paint schemes of the GMC MotorHome went from a very simple, minimalist design of the early years to the ’77 and ’78 designs of the Kingsley, Palm Beach, and Eleganza II. This standardized design, which I consider to be mature and yet conservative, has proven to stand the test of time. Why? It provides a variety of harmonious colors with its use of appropriately sized striping on a body the size of the GMC. The coloring implements a monochromatic theme with slight exaggeration on the uppermost stripe. The mask around the windows continues the monochromatic look while continuing toward a lighter tint. The basic body color, of course, is the lightest of the colors. It's an implementation that is sturdy with enough contrast to keep it tastefully dynamic.


I am quick to point out that any design should be one that doesn’t tire the eyes easily. That means the design should provide lasting value by obeying some classic yet artistic concepts. Generally speaking, the more conservative the scheme the more sturdy it will be. As with good art, “the fewer strokes the better.” I’ll also hasten to say that fads should be ignored if you wish your investment in new paint to be enduring.

I admit some of the designs I’ve posted on my website aren’t the best; they just exist. However, there are some good ones that are worthy of note because they do adhere to established design criteria.

Think It Out

Here’s what should be kept in mind
when looking for a new scheme. Think “curve”... the predominant feature of the GMC. You’ll not find many sharp angles on the GMC so don’t use them in your designs unless they make some obvious sense or present an obvious reason for being. Also, keep in mind the horizontal nature of the design reinforced by the belt line, the windows and even the wheels. To keep current with the trend in automotive design over the last decade or two, a sense of upward flow toward the rear of the coach may be utilized. Even at this, the more gentle that flow, the more satisfactory it will appear over the long haul (see St. Louis Blues in the GMC Gallery).

What Color

Color isn’t objective when it comes to personal preferences. However, color is subjective when it comes to dealing with more than one. Consider the color wheel: There are a variety of schemes; complementary, triads, tetrads, analogous, and monochromatic. The image (above) can be used as a reference point in determining the difference. Complimentary colors would include a specific color with a color on the opposite side serving as the “complimentary” color. Obviously, a monochromatic system would include a color with lighter or darker tones applied (as demonstrated in the larger hexagons in the sample image). An analogous design would include a central color with the two colors to either side. The triad system is composed of the colors at a 120° angle. Likewise, a scheme utilizing tetrads (more rare) would be colors (and their tints) 90° from each other.

How Many Colors

The general design rule is to use an even number for a sense of balance and an odd number for a sense of dynamism. The trick in understanding this concept has to do with how much of the basic body tone is exposed to view. If there is a great deal then it is permissible to not count this as one of the colors.

Monochromatic or analogous schemes also lend themselves to a satisfactory design with, perhaps, only one accent color that serves as a contrasting element. What is a contrasting element? It can be a simple stripe or a graphic image. What is a contrasting color? It is the color that is opposite (think compliment) of the basic system of colors employed. Whatever it is, it should be of one color or present an overwhelmingly predominant color (see Passion Royale and Hoosier Arrow in the GMC Gallery).

The Cockpit Window

The curious challenge is what to do with the transition from the cockpit window to the other windows. The living area and bedroom windows, as well as the door and exit window, are all of the same height. This has a strong influence on the horizontal nature of the design. The windshield and cockpit window component is different and presented in an equally strong manner. To resolve the issue, I like what GMC stylists did with the early designs; add a smaller stripe under the cockpit area to contrast with a larger stripe running below all the windows. Or, consider what the Pontiac division did on the coach that was used in the TransAm Territory promotion (see Eagle Aerie and Flow Gently in the GMC Gallery). Make the design compliment the transition (see illustration).


The Compound Curve

When painting or adding a vinyl stripe on the GMC body the most difficult task is getting the compound curve optically and geometrically correct. Taking a three-inch stripe around the forward corners and across the hoods just doesn’t work because the top to bottom measurement is different on the nearly vertical sides than on the more angular hood area. Care must be taken to keep the parallel line horizontally accurate so that stripe remains optically correct. This can be done correctly by using a laser level. When not done correctly (using a vinyl stripe with no change in width), either the lower line will shift upward when coming around to the hood or the upper line will shift downward optically. The result is disappointing and something a good paint shop would not do (see illustration).


The Royale Challenge

Coachmen, probably the most significant upfitter of the GMC Motorhome, provided a variety of layouts but not much design sense on the exterior of the coach. Chief among these is the Royale’s immature striping scheme compounded by the challenge of window placement. For instance, the bedroom windows on the rear bath Royale were placed over the rear tires. To add insult to injury, the side bath models have two windows and a large expanse of solid area on the street side but four windows on the curb side. What a headache! No two sides are alike. I believe Great Lakes Eagle, customized for GMCer Ray Erspamer, meets the challenge quite well (see illustration).

The side kitchen Royale (by Coachman) presents a challenge in that the driver side has one less
window than the traditional GMC and the passenger side has one more. An existing design
was altered for this purpose. Ray was so pleased with the design and the paint
job by Topeka Graphics that a design for the motorcycle trailer was commissioned.

A More Contemporary Look

One of the elements of my designs has been the use of a gentle sweep from the front of the coach to the rear. After getting past the cockpit window, that sweep may continue in some fashion or continue horizontally as a mask to the rear (see St. Louis Blues in the GMC Gallery).

Larry Erd contacted me about doing a derivation of this style for the GMC he was reworking. Larry had gutted the interior of his unit and was installing a custom interior of his own design. This plan was to remove the rear window and replace it with a solid piece of fiberglass. He had developed a pull-down bed that would cover that space from the inside and would render the window as useless (when the bed is up a desk area is available for use). Larry also wanted the more obvious sweep toward the rear but did want to retain a good balance of white. The image below illustrates what was proposed for the sides as well as the rear.


A Stretched Coach

As many are aware, GMC only produced 23-foot and 26-foot models; referred to as 230 and 260 in the first years of production. Plans and drawings were developed to produce a 29-foot version. A fellow named Buskirk modified some 26-foot units by adding the three feet as GMC had designed (moving the rear suspension back with a balance of one foot added behind the wheels and two feet forward of the bogies). Other individuals added to the lengths of their 26-foot models by merely adding to the rear of the coach which negatively modified the visual balance of the unit taking it beyond the “golden rule” of thirds. At any rate, a stretch done as GMC specified meant having more room between the door/kitchen window and the bedroom window. Below is a design I developed for such a stretched conversion (see Parallel Zee in the illustration below). This still implements the gentle upward sweep I've implemented in my basic design (see St. Louis Blues) while modifying the “raccoon look” originally utilized by Larry Bontrager at Topeka Graphics. Of course, with an increased amount of space, there are other things that can be done to decorate that area since the number of opportunities is increased with the extra length.


What Would GMC Have Done

Unfortunately, a new VP for GMC was appointed in late 1977. As the stories go, he never liked the idea of GMC producing a motorhome so he went about looking for ways to halt production. Though the oil embargo of 1974-75 was in the rear-view mirror and tooling and development costs had been recouped, he managed to stop production in 1978 with the first step being the release of the interior group. He struck a deal with Coachmen to receive shells (chassis and body, aka TransMode) and finish off production with the Royale completed by Coachmen.

According to a designer, Paul Deesen (with whom I have had discussions), the groundwork had begun on other paint schemes. For instance, striping was to be moved to the lower part of the body in varying widths to replicate a transition in color since paint methods at that time had not been developed to do gradients. The mask across the windows was to remain with pin striping above and below the mask. This and other sketches never saw the light of day as the designs were destroyed when production ceased. One can only speculate on how they may have appeared unless, of course, they looked similar to the designs of two GMCers; Bob de Kryuff and Bill Bryant (the GMC historian in our midst).

Then, there is this design based on a sketch by Paul Deesen. The paint scheme uses the technique described above. The purpose is to create a transition in color going down the side of the body from the waist to the top of the wheel wells. The coach used in this theme is a rear bath Royale by Coachman. By using a ’77 or ’78 model, the transition strip on the body side can be masked easily with a paintable transition strip.


In Closing

There you have it; the basic things to consider in designing a paint scheme for the GMC MotorHome. From an understanding of artistic concepts to the engineering challenges of inherent shape, there are several issues and other cues just waiting to be successfully acted on. Hopefully, this article will assist you in having a better appreciation for the timeless look of our favorite vintage RV and ways to add to its everlasting appeal with a freshened paint scheme.

GMC Glacier 230 with Back