Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ultra Van Spotters Guide - Bathrooms

The Ultra Van is equipped with a small bathroom located curbside, between the kitchen and the bedroom. It contains a small sink, a flush toilet, a handheld sprayer for showering, a mirror-door medicine cabinet, a 12v light, and a vented skylight with electric fan. As in most such efficient RVs, there is no separate bathing area - instead the entire room is waterproofed (known as a "wet bathroom").

The bathroom door is cleverly fitted so that it can be swung open and latched onto the far side of the hallway - making the bedroom area completely private from the living area of the coach and forming a small dressing area.

The bathroom design was changed in 1968. Some differences are fairly obvious; the later bathroom (coach #411 and up) is slightly larger than the earlier version, the later sink is a smaller corner unit, and the toilet and sink positions were reversed. Since the bathroom was expanded towards the center of the coach, the resulting hallway is 5 inches narrower - forcing the bathroom door to be cut down 5 inches to fit.

Less obvious are the major changes to the coach tha
t were the real reason behind the redesign. To reduce weight, the coach was originally equipped with a greywater system which uses recycled shower and sink drainwater instead of fresh potable water for toilet flushing. This reduces the total demand for fresh water - allowing for smaller 30 gallon tanks.

However, to make all this work required a total of five electric pumps - including one mounted in the base of the toilet to pump the waste into the holding tank. This particular "Ultra Pump" (more commonly known these days as a macerator pump) demanded regular maintenance, or subsequent messy and unpleasant repair.

In order to eliminate this issue, the toilet was moved forward to a position directly over the holding tank, the greywater system was eliminated, the tanks were expanded to 50 gallons, and three of the pumps were removed.

Photo Credits:
Early bathroom: from 1966 Ultra Inc. sales brocure
(coach owner unknown)

#489 bathroom: Ronnie Large
(coach owned by John Howell)

Floor plans: adapted from 1966 Ultra Inc. sales brochure

Ultra Pump ad: from Family Motor Coaching magazine, September 1966

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ultra Van Spotters Guide - Headlights

The prototype Ultra Van (#101) was built by Dave Peterson in a rented garage in Alameda California (1961) using 1960 Corvair headlights with integrated turn signals.
24 more early Ultra Vans were built in Oakland California (1962-1966, although the last four of them were eventually transferred to the Hutchinson factory for finishing and delivery to customers). At least 19 of them used Ford Econoline van headlights, with a variety of turn signal arrangements.
Several of the Oakland coaches were built under license by the Prescolite Lighting Corporation (1963-1964). During this period, Prescolite built at least one "improved" version which they called the Travalon (#s-264105). This coach had a modified body with a unique headlight and turn signal arrangement.

Ultra Vans built by the Ultra Inc. factory in Hutchinson KS (1966-1970) used J.C. Whitney "chromed eyebrow" headlights. (#388 shown)
As with the Oakland coaches, the earliest of the Hutchinson UltraVans (up thru #216 at least) used a separate molded fiberglass fairing between the fender and the headlight. Coaches #222 and later had this part integrally molded into the fender.
The J.C. Whitney headlights were castings made of pot metal which corrodes easily, resulting in pitting or even flaking of the chrome. As a result many of these headlights have been painted, or replaced with aftermarket round headlights.

Square quad headlights were added to Ultra Van #370 by its owner.

The body of Ultra Van # 275 was heavily modified so that 1996 Ford F-150 headlights could be molded into the front.

Photo credits:

#101: Jim Davis
(coach owned by Lane Motor Museum)

#106: Joal Olson
(coach owned by Harlan and Joal Olson)

#163: Zach Kaplan
(coach owned by Brian and Kelly Goldin)

#202: Graham Dell
(last known owner: Ken Morrison)

#020: Chuck Fetter
(coach owned by Chuck Fetter)

#s-264015: Walt Davison
(coach believed destroyed)
(last known owner: James C. Farrar)

#388: Denny Sharp
(coach owned by Jim and Roy Davis)

#215: Dan Kling
(coach owned by Doug and Margaret Bell)

#216: Graham Dell
(coach owned by Jim Howell)
(coach owned by Jeff Williams, California Corvairs)

#370: Lance Fontello
(coach ownerd by Dale Smith)

#275: Graham Dell
(last known owner: William Panzer)

Ultra Van Spotters Guide - Kitchen Windows

Ultra Vans thru #352 (with some exceptions) had "full length" kitchen windows, and those after #358 had "shortie" kitchen windows.

Note how the lower edge of the earlier window aligns with the door and bedroom windows, extending below the surface of the kitchen counter.

The later window is easily distinguished, providing somewhat improved privacy.

Photo credits:
#276 exterior: Jennifer K
#276 interior: Steve Schwartz
(coach owned by Chris Hykes)

#379 exterior: Randy Coburn
#379 interior: Don Richards
(coach owned by Randy Coburn)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Flat Glass - Legacy of the Tin Tent

Ultra Van #366 (Tin Tent) has seen a lot of changes in its time. After all, you don't get a motorhome that will beat 20 seconds in the quarter mile by accident. But most obvious - and perhaps most radical - is the flat glass windshield.

In 2004, when many UltraVanners were wondering if replacement windshield scarcity be would be the Achilles' heel that finally forced their beloved coaches off the road, 30-year UltraVeteran Walt Davison decided to see if it would be possible to fabricate a custom windshield out of cheap and readily available flat-plate laminated safety glass.

Walt wanted the largest span of flat glass that would fit into his Ultra without irreversibly altering the structure. He also felt that the main section should be rectangular to permit easy repair while traveling away from home.

He found that he could fit a 76.5" x 22" sheet of glass in place if it were set back from the original center section by 5 inches at the bottom and 2 inches at the top. This left the glass nearly flush with the body at the outboard corners.

Careful layout was required to generate two irregular smaller glass pieces to fill in at each side.

The original Ultra Van windshield installation used a simple H-section rubber seal that slipped over the glass on one side and the body sheet metal on the other. This technique was typical for the time, and it works adequately as long as the windshield curvature matches the body contour. It does tend to develop leaks easily though, and requires frequent seal maintenance.

Current practice, however, is to take advantage of modern sealant technology and bond the glass in place. For this you need structure to overlap the glass, so Walt and his assistant constructed support angles out of 0.040" aluminum sheet and sealed & riveted them to the existing Ultra Van structure. Because of the large inset of the lower main glass, they also installed additional supports underneath.

The glass panels were set into place with small rubber pads behind them, and quarter-inch wood shims underneath them, to create spaces which were then filled with transparent silicone RTV. The seams between the window facets were also filled with the clear sealant. After this cured, the wood shims were removed and the resulting gaps were filled with more of the RTV.

Once the glass was securely installed, the aerodynamically shaped fairings had to be created out of urethane foam, e-glass cloth, and polyester resin. After shaping, glassing, filling, sanding, more filling, and copious additional sanding, the fairings were painted to match the coach and bonded into place using clear RTV and white 3M 4200 sealer.

The final touches included modifying the windshield wiper arm to fit the new configuration, and installing interior panels to give a finished appearance. Walt is a professional pilot (retired), and has always been fanatical about weight reduction, so his interior treatment is somewhat unique.

Because they can be so hard to find, many Ultra Van owners buy extra OEM windshields whenever they find them available, and store them against future need. These can cost anywhere from $1000 on up to whatever the market will bear, and in the event of an accident away from home, the panels have to be shipped to the coach location - delaying an already painful repair job.

Though Walts flat glass project took well over 60 hours of skilled labor to complete, the glass itself only cost $100 for the large section and $25 each for the four smaller pieces - making them quick, cheap, and easy to replace literally anwhere in the country.

Walt was quite pleased with the finished product, though he acknowledges it would not be right for everyone. As long as the OEM glass continues to be available, it is undoubtedly an easier solution.

Walt retired from Ultra Van ownership in 2007, but he is still an active member of the Ultra community, and is more than happy to answer questions and give advice backed by his 32 years operating four different Ultras (#371, #452, #286, and #366). He can be reached easily through the Ultra Van message board at Yahoo! Groups.

For many more photos of Ultra Van #366, please see Scott Pilkington's photo album: Walt Davison's 366, Innovation and thought at every turn

Photo Credits:
Tin Tent in Almond Grove
Tin Tent in Big Sky Country
by Walt Davison

2nd image from top
by Flickr user erikogan

Interior photo
by Dan Kling (owner, UV #299)

All other images
by Scott Pilkington (owner, UV #350)

Most of the information in this post, and several of the photos were taken from the following newsletter articles:
Whales on Wheels Vol XXV #4 (2004, Jim Isbell editor)
"New Flat Windshield From Walt 'lite' Davison"

Whales on Wheels Vol XXVI #1 (2005, Jim Isbell editor)
"A Solution to a broken windshield, the Flat windshield"
by Walt Davison

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ultra Van Windshield Solutions

Fifty years after the first Ultra Van was created, it seems like there are almost as many different variations in windshield installations as there are Ultra Vans. But it turns out that there was remarkably little variation in the original installations - especially considering the almost bewildering number of different Ultra Van configurations.

All Ultra Van, Ultra Coach, "Go-Home", and Travalon coaches - excepting only the #700 prototype - use the large two-piece laminated safety glass windshield that Union City Body Co. developed for their 1951 round-front delivery van, known best as the 1958-1967 Chevrolet Dubl-Duti Step-Van.

Due to the extra width of the Ultra Van, a third section of flat glass was required to make the curved windshield pieces work. The stock step van pieces have generously rounded corners and a slight "bow" to the inboard ends of the glass; so in order to make a smoother transition to the flat center section, roughly seven inches were originally cut off of each step van piece and the flat section extended to fill.

Windshields are secured to the Ultra Van body using rubber edge channels, and up through 1970 the seams between the glass sections were filled with rubber gaskets. These were covered by aluminum strips bolted thru the gaskets. A slightly different technique was used for the five 600 series coaches built from 1971-1973. They used the same rubber edge channels, but the seams were simply filled with transparent sealant. This gives the coach a much cleaner look, but it requires more care and skill to achieve a weathertight seal. Either technique can be applied to any Ultra Van however.

In the years since production ceased, step van windshields have become harder to find, more expensive, and more difficult to cut. As a result, many Ultravanners have found ways to use the original stock windshields without cutting them. For those who have access to a skilled glass worker, a remarkably clean installation can be achieved this way.

Or, for a more vintage look, a little bit of extra sheet metal work can make the fitting of the center flat section much easier.

In order to save an expensive new windshield section that had developed a disfiguring crack across nearly half its length, one restorer cut off almost all of the flat section of the stock pieces and filled the center with a vast 46" wide section of flat glass. This installation appears to put the seam rather close to the driver's view forward, but with careful fitting and filling the distortion is minimized.

Inspired by this last installation, and fed up with the scarcity and expense of step van glass, another audacious experimenter decided to get rid of the curved glass entirely and install a panoramic 76.5" wide plate glass center section.

The result looks a bit unorthodox, and the installation took a great deal of hand fitting to provide the support for the glass. But in the event that a repair is needed, the replacement glass will cost approximately 1/10 what a step van windshield would cost and is readily available at any auto glass shop around the country. And the view is unparalleled!

Photo credits:
#101: David Peterson
(coach owned by Lane Motor Museum)

(coach owned by Fred Marsh)

#601: David Peterson (from promotional flyer)
(coach owned by Joe G.)

Step van (right): Granville Historical Society

(coach owned by Randy Coburn)

(coach owned by Spence and Margaret Duffey)

#215: Doug Bell
(coach owned by Doug and Margaret Bell)

#404: Murray Lycan
(coach owned by Bob and Kathy Gilbert)

#486: Ed Jeffries
(coach owned by Dave and Judy Fox)

#473: Bob Brown
(coach owned by Ray and Mary Lou Fuenzalida)

(last known owner: Bob and Margaret Ross, 1973)

#389: AutoBlog
(coach owned by Paul Piche)

#366: Walt Davison
(coach owned by Ron Scott)