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)

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