Racing RV Rocks at 2013 Bonneville Speed Week
How about a 120 mph Custom RV?
You won’t be complaining about being caught behind this rig!
Words and Pictures by Jim Vogarino
Sitting on the huge expanse of pure white salt, the evil looking all black motorhome looks even bigger than it is. Everything is black…windows, trim, head and tail light covers. It couldn’t be more sinister.
Britt Palmer pulls himself out of the custom racing cockpit, ducking under a complex structure of roll cage. He’s a good sized guy, 6-2, maybe 6-3 and he gives a solid hand shake. You’d never know he is suffering from a debilitating disease that eventually will rob him of all movement. Right now he’s too excited.
“We’re headed home,” he says, slipping off his race togs and giving high fives to people who have gathered around the vehicle in his pit area during Speed Week 2013. “We came to just run for speed and I think we did pretty well.”
Bonneville Speed Week is pretty well known for odd vehicles and the 1977 GMC Kingsley motorhome easily fits that category if only because of its size. Sitting at the start line it is imposing and the starter must climb completely inside in order to run through his standard driver safety protocol, tugging on belts, insuring the driver is tucked into the bright yellow roll cage just right.
“We managed a run of 120.8 mph on a Guinness World Record for street legal motorhomes of 128.62,” Palmer explains. “I think if we could have had a couple more miles we could have made it.”
The motorhome is extremely impressive both on the outside and inside where the roll cage immediately catches your attention. It turns out Palmer has some pretty sophisticated connections to pull this monster together.
“We worked with Dennis McCarthy of Vehicle Effects and custom car builder Luke Richards of Lucra Cars to design and assemble the GMC RV,” Palmer says, “along with quite a bit of help from Applied GMC, which specializes in these vehicles.”
Vehicle Effects is a Sun Valley, California company that has been handling movie cars and transportation needs for over 10 years and has been involved in providing vehicles for such movies as Meet The Fockers, Jarhead, Frost / Nixon, Dreamgirls, Ghost Whisperer, and vehicle driven titles such as Death Race, Fast & Furious Tokyo Drift, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, The Green Hornet, and Total Recall.
As if Dennis needed help… Lucra Cars is located in San Marcos, California and builds completely custom street cars that border on full on race cars. The company was also involved in the development of one of the primary vehicles seen in Fast & Furious 6.
“The motorhome started out as your run-of-the-mill GMC motorhome,” says Palmer. The GMC was built from 1973 to 1978 and is the only motorhome ever manufactured for public purchase by a major automobile manufacturer. “They are cool machines and a natural for this project.”
Which brought us to the number one question that just has to be asked of the guy who just drove this rolling behemoth on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Why?
“In 2010 I was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth disease also known as CMT. CMT is a progressive neurological disorder that slowly deteriorates peripheral nerve function in your arms and legs.”
Palmer is completely upfront at this point about something that would be pretty devastating news for most anyone. “CMT patients slowly lose normal use of their extremities (hands/arms & feet/legs) as nerves no longer stimulate the muscles. Many patients also have some loss of sensory nerve functions. CMT currently effects over 2.6 million people. As my CMT has progressed, the disease has physically ‘slowed me down’. It was also unfortunate to realize that many people do not know about CMT even though it’s the 2nd most common neurological disorder in the country.”
Palmer said he was feeling pretty low at that point and “generally feeling sorry for myself.” He recalled that one evening he was watching the movie, Stripes, staring Bill Murray, and saw the infamous “EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle”, the vehicle Murray used to terrorize the Russians. “I thought to myself, WOW! I like that motorhome,” says Palmer. “So I called some friends and said I’ve just been inspired to build something different and make it go fast!” And this is where the project begins.
Palmer got on the computer, found a used GMC on eBay for a couple thousand dollars and bought it. Enlisting his friends he made the right connections and the machine began to take shape as the biggest, baddest motorhome of all time!
“I wanted to create something that I could use to bring awareness to CMT which is found worldwide and affects all races and ethnic groups. Instead of slowing me down any more, my team and I intend to GO FAST!”
The 600 hp motorhome is powered by a Chevy 502 Ram Jet engine with power transferred through a TH425 transmission. The Chromoly roll cage was fabricated to meet SCTA rules for Bonneville and the entire interior fabricated out of aluminum.
“It’s completely street legal,” Palmer says. “We built it so we could race it but all the components for the interior are also designed so they can be easily removed… the running water, bathroom, seating areas, beds, kitchen… all of them can be installed and it makes the motorhome completely usable.”
“And I intend to use it.” To emphasize his point Palmer points out he’s just about ready to head home and he’s going to drive the GMC back to Englewood, CO where he lives. “It drives perfectly down the road, he says. “It just so happens it’s also capable of going about 130 miles per hour!”
“We’ll make another attempt at the record in 2014,” Palmer says. Until then the GMC will be a rolling billboard to raise awareness for CMT which currently has no cure but can be controlled to a point with physical and occupational therapy and moderate physical activity.
Palmer waves to the crowd gathered near his empty pit area and jumps in the driver’s seat to head for home. He has a serious project ahead, fighting this disease that is attempting to rob him of his mobility. And an evil looking motorhome may be just the thing he needs to win this battle.
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