Restoration of a Relic (Yellow Submarine)

This is the documentation of Restoring the GMC 230 that we purchased as a basket case.

 During the summer of 2004 I had seen a item on the GMC Net mail list about a 230 that was in Arizona for sale at a really cheap price.  After attending the GMC western states Rally in October we toured many of the national parks in Utah and Northern Arizona and as the weather got colder we headed south for a couple of weeks.  As a lark I called to see if the 230 was still available so we could stop by and take a look while we were in the Phoenix area.  As it turned out it was available so we stopped to take a look.  It was a real basket case with an incredible amount of rodent damage, most of the wall coverings and laminates that had been added in a restoration attempt were hanging from the walls where the glue had given up.  The engines, one original and one spare, were on the floor of a storage unit but had sat out in the weather for some time and were a piles of rust.

The name Yellow Submarine is what the previous owner called it.

I am however a sucker for a perceived good deal so against better judgment I made the purchase and hauled the engines and all the parts that had been stored in the coach back to Oregon where I hoped to have one of the engines rebuilt. I was fortunate to be traveling with a friend who tows a Dodge Dakota behind his Foretravel diesel pusher and he loaded the two engines in the back of the Dakota for the trip north.  This was a significant help as it saved renting a trailer and having to drive the toad back to Oregon. It sure is great to have good friends along in situation like this. I made arrangements with the manager of the storage yard to have the interior cleaned, disinfected and fumigated.  In this respect I did not get my moneys worth but some of the mess was taken care of. and the manager provided a lot of other support in the project.

Unfortunately I did not document what the coach looked like when we first looked at it, the first pictures I took were after we had unloaded several 100 lbs of  stuff that had been stored inside, including remanufactured heads, two intake manifolds, lots of engine parts, 10 foot artificial Christmas tree, and lots of other junk.  At this point it almost looked presentable.  Here are some of the first pictures we took and it almost looks presentable.



                 Front                          Back                   Entry            Kitchen & Hall


Rodent Evidence                         Cockpit                    Engine Compartment

After returning home I took the engines to a local rebuilder who thought they had rusted past the point of being rebuildable into a reliable power plants.  I did however have a backup plan as I had salvaged a 455 engine from a Toronado about 10 years prior when I had purchased it to obtain a core for a transmission that I had toasted.

This engine had sat in the back of the shop with the intentions of rebuilding it to replace the 403 in my 26' coach. When I purchased the Toro this engine had run very well so I pulled it out of the shop, added oil to the cylinders, used compressed air to blow out any crud that had collected in the intake manifold and cylinders, filled the block with water, added a starter (This was a starter for an Olds non front wheel drive vehicle which mounts to the block, the front wheel drive starter mounts to the transmission bell housing which was still in AZ), put on the new rebuilt carburetor and the new solid-state distributor that had both come with the 23 and fired it up.  To my amazement it ran like top after the first crank.

Since we go to Arizona each spring for some sunshine I decided to take this engine back down and install it in the 23 without doing anything more then replacing the timing chain and many of the gaskets since it had been leaking a lot of oil. It also got a coat of paint to make it look a little better.  The following picture shows it ready to travel.


At the first of January the engine went back down to Arizona in the back of the same pickup that we had brought all the stuff north in behind our friends diesel pusher.  Later in January we followed it down and met our friends on the desert near Gila bend and then went up to Mesa to see about installing the engine. 

January xx Arived in Mesa, set up residence in xxxx RV Park and then went over to examine our new vehicle.  Removed radiator which showed signs of leaking and took it in to be repaired and ended up Re-coring it to the tune of $269.

January 25 Picked up engine hoist at about 11am and had engine installed by about 3pm.  We removed the water pump but left both exhaust manifolds on the engine and were able to just get it though the down through the hatch.  Thanks to the GMC net and in particular Manny Travco for much advice. that saved many hours of fumbling around


January 26 finished connecting up engine and installing radiator that had come back from shop. But the Weather did low us down a little, This was supposed to be sunny Arizona.  I guess that white stuff on the ground is hard sunshine, in Oregon we get liquid sunshine.

January 27 Fired up engine for first time and it ran great, only had minor exhaust leak at one of the donuts and the heater hose did split and have to be replaced.

January 28 Decided to bleed brakes before leaving lot, Could not get any fluid to come out passenger side front bleeder.  After some investigation found that the hose was bad.  Decided to replace all hydraulic components and rubber lines with the exception of the hoses on the rear bogies since they were not available in a reasonable time frame.  Also my friend had to return to Gila bend to meet some other friends so I was left to proceed with this work on my own.

January 30 Picked up master cylinder and installed it.

January 31- February 1 started collecting rest of parts for the brake system, after about 6 hours of running all over Mesa I had collected most of the parts to do the brakes  but had to go with the 80 mm caliper upgrade since the OEM parts were not available locally and it would take a couple of days to get them.  I was fortunate that the manager of the storage yard had a 4" grinder to modify the calipers and also remove some material on the knuckle.  Installed all parts that afternoon and into late evening, however one of the steel lines on a back bogie was frozen to the nut and had to be cut off necessitating a new line. Of course I could not find a pre-made line of the right length so had to wait until the next day to get a replacement made.

February 2 Picked up new brake lines at noon and installed it, spent several hours bleeding the systems.  Then tried our first drive, Transmission was acting strange, taking a long time to engage, especially into reverse.  Not fluid showing on stick so added 2 quarts of fluid which helped the problem but did not totally alleviate the problem added another two quarts and all problems went away.  We just made it to  America's Discount Tire before closing to get a new set of 16.5 tires installed.  Approx $100 each

February 3 Got up at 5am to head south and west to meet up with our friends at Gila bend.  Wife wanted to leave really early to avoid traffic since she would be driving our coach with the TOAD behind and I was going to be driving the 23 for its first trip of any length.  Little did we know that in the Phoenix area rush hour starts at 5, there was a considerable amount of panic in her voice as we got on the onramp in bumper to bumper traffic.  She did survive her initiation by fire and we made it to Gila Bend with no mishaps and the 23 with the old 455 performed very well with the exception of a very noisy power steering pump and no temperature gauge.

Over the next several weeks while parked on the desert and between rain storms I worked on various projects with help from my friends, mainly trying to get it ready for a Mexican paint job.  This included some body work and trying to replace the Power Steering pump.

The body work included replacing some missing body panel back of the passenger front wheel (see body panel repair) and some minor damage in other places..  Also replaced all the screws around the rear hatch since the originals were so rusted that they did not even look like Philip head screws (see Back Hatch screw Replacement)

  Also worked at replacing a power steering pump which proved to be a real challenge in a small town.  Ended up getting one at AutoZone in Tucson when we went in for a Doctors appointment.  Unfortunately the new pump did not fit when we went to install it. After many calls I came to the conclusion that the part I had purchased was correct based on part number but the unit that was in the box was not the correct one.  The closest AutoZone that had another unit was 60miles away so made a long drive.  The new pump with the same part number as the first was the right one, seems the rebuilder got the wrong part number on the rebuilt units.

We were scheduled to go to Mexico at Rocky Point with the Saguaro Jetsetters GMC club rally and were hoping that the Yellow Submarine would be ready to go.  However with the power steering pump fiasco it was not ready so off we went leaving the Yellow Submarine parked in the desert.  We did have a great time with the Jetsetters, meeting many new friends and some old ones from up north.  We were able to get some estimates on a paint job but the quotes were higher then we expected based on previous reports.  The final figure was in the $3500 range.

We did return from the rally early to see if we could get the Yellow submarine completed down to be painted but decided that we would be pushing our time limits for heading back north.  We had been warned that we should not be in a hurry since the Mexicans do not adhere to schedules, not that I can say a lot about punctuality from the paint shop I used in the US on our 26.

Spent another couple of weeks enjoying the Gila bend area and then headed home with my wife driving the yellow submarine.  She really liked the new vehicle as it drove more like a van then a motorhome. Work here at home has been almost as slow as down on the desert due to other projects that needed to be done.  Also have messed up a knee and will be going in for a little repair work later in the month.

March 1, 5  started removing all interior parts and literally hosing out all the rodent refuse and spraying the whole inside of the coach down with disinfectant.  When done this coach should be a germ free and clean as a newly disinfected operating room. Found that mice or more probably pack rats had chewed access holes though Propane Cabinet sides so new fiberglass enclosure will be built for propane cabinet.  Also found that Generator cabinet was wood rather then sheet metal as in our 78 GMC.  This cabinet will be replaced with sheet metal for better fire protection.

March to May removed generator, and wheel well liners.  Wheel well liners were plastic not fiberglass and they were cracked beyond the point that I thought they could be repaired.  Contemplated building new glass ones from scratch but was able to buy some glass ones from a burned out coach where I only had to rebuild the front portion of one and add a few layers of glass to the front of the other.

June, had new sheet metal generator compartment built, cleaned and reinstalled generator, (This is not the original Onan that came with the GMC but is a different model that was adapted to the power drawer but since it is not designed for the power drawer not all components are accessible when the drawer is pulled out which required a hatch be put in the top of the new box to provide access to the air cleaner and fuel pump.  Set up arm assembly to keep gas hose and electrical connections from jamming up the drawer when it is opened and closed.  Also cut sprayed in foam insulation down 1/2 inch below ribs and added 1/2 inch of foil backed urethane foam board in all cavities. Started sanding and doing more body work.

July - August doing more body work and installing wheel well liners, started sanding down all exterior paint.  It turned out that the paint had thousands of little pock marks and blisters so the majority of the paint had to be sanded off.  When I thought I was done I always found more to do.

Sep-October Started the actual painting process.  The original plan had called for painting it outside but after spraying on the first primers it became obvious that this was not practical with dust and bugs.  Even when it got cold bugs were a terrible problem, There were hundreds of little gnats that I never new existed until they started landing in the paint. I also found that it was not going to be possible to paint the top while standing on it or from a ladder.  These discoveries set me back a while, I built a spray booth in my shop complete with a traveling platform that would go over the top of the coach so I could paint the top without being on it. Paint job consisted of one coat of epoxy primer, one coat of sanding primer, a sealer primer, 2 coats of the base coat and 2 coats of each of the 2 graphics colors, and two coats of clear coat. 

November started putting on the base coats but started fighting weather, the base coat needed to be sprayed at 50 degrees or more and temperatures had gotten below that, plus since I was painting each side on a different day and the front and back on a different day I had to chose days where the weather was about the same for temperature and humidity so the paint would look about the same on sides painted on different days.

December, Last side painted and coach in its new colors saw the light of day.