Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Twenty-Second UltraVan

In late 1965, UltraVan #211 was the last Corvair UltraVan to drive away from the wooden warehouse at 366 8th Avenue in Oakland. It was also the last UltraVan with the Ford Econoline headlights, the small (corner) dashboard, and the leading-arm rear suspension. It had wedding cake taillights in the upper location, a small window in the entry door, stove on the right, ethafoam bumpers, double-stripe paint scheme, and a 140 hp Corvair engine. It was the first coach equipped with ULTRAVAN - HUTCHINSON, KANS emblems and 14" wheels, though these were probably added in 1966.

August 1967 - Mr & Mrs Arthur Ludtke
#211 was built up to a drivable stage (no interior installed), then it was loaded with jigs, patterns, and molds, and driven to Kansas by Roger C. Fletcher (Ultra, Inc. Production Manager and employee #002) to support the setup of the new Ultra, Inc. factory in Hutchinson. The Hutchinson News reported in January 1966 that "Peterson and Fletcher practically are living at the plant, cooking meals and sleeping in their Ultra Vans until they can get permanently established." The paper also reported that this coach was almost complete by March 3 1966, and a later article reported a completion/delivery on May 26 1966 that was likely this coach.

July 1966 FMCA convention (left), unknown 1966 (right)

Retired publishing magnate John E. Tillotson senior (known around the Ultra, Inc. factory as Mr. T) was reported to be the original owner of #211, but it seems that the coach was actually operated as a factory demonstrator until the end of 1966. Mr. T displayed the new coach at the third annual Family Motor Coaching Association (FMCA) convention in Glenwood MN, (July 8-10 1966) and the sixth annual National Campers and Hikers Association (NCHA, now known as FCRV) campvention at Lake Kanopolis KS (July 11-15 1966). Mr. T passed away in 1999, his wife Clara in 1991.

The first private owners of #211 were Mr & Mrs H.O. Dickert of Wausau WI, who took delivery around January 10 1967 - but by August of 1967 they had sold the coach to Mr & Mrs Arthur A. Ludtke of Rhinelander WI. The next recorded owners are Chance & Margaret Fitzgerald of Mendota IL and Talladega AL, who acquired the coach after it sat in a Wisconsin cornfield for 11 years.

Chance & Margaret joined the UVMCC in 1972 and remained members until they passed away - Margaret in 1993 and Chance in 2005. They never registered #211 with the Club however - they were registered with #456 from 1972-1979 (when it was destroyed in a fire), #368 from 1981-1984 (although that coach was reported as destroyed in a fire in 1968), and #286 from 1985-1997. Chance was an extraordinarily adept sheet metal fabricator, though he doesn't seem to have made any of his signature modifications to #211.

Walt and Marilyn Davison of Coral Gables FL and Sylacauga AL (better known as owners of #371, #452, & #366) bought #211 from Chance and resold it to William J. "Bill" & Patty Welle of Nokomis FL. Bill & Patty were the first owners to register the coach with the Club (1991-1995), and Bill wrote several articles for the newsletter on his experiences with the coach (notably "How I painted my Ultra Van for $100" and "Love and Hate"). Bill (partially) converted the 140 hp Corvair engine to 110 hp by the simple expedient of replacing the heads and discarding the secondary carburetors.

The next owners were Kay Armstrong and Tony Foresta of Orlando FL, who joined the Club for only 1998. Russ Rinta and Roberta Elftman of Hernando FL had the coach from 2002-2009 (joining the Club for 2003-2004). They successfully drove the coach to their new home in Fayetteville TN, but weren't able to keep it running beyond that, and eventually listed it on eBay. Fred & Sue Marsh of Painted Post NY registered with the Club for 2010-2011, and the coach spent most of 2009-2020 parked beside "Friendly Fred's" auto repair shop on Addison road.

Current owners Tom & Erin Koprevich of Grand Island NY bought the coach from Fred on August 12 2020, and immediately dove into the process of a long overdue complete mechanical restoration. Starting with pulling the engine and gutting the interior, they have already completely refurbished the engine, suspension, brakes, carburetors, and LPG tank; reinforced the front end and added towbar brackets; upgraded the brake master cylinder, alternator, and front engine mount; and converted the 140 distributor to 110 specs. The new engine features a replacement block, an FC cam, and 110 heads which Tom himself heavily upgraded.

Tom & Erin are planning to install a high end interior with all-new wiring, and replace the rear window with an Airstream unit.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Twenty-First UltraVan

The last Corvair-powered UltraVan to be completed in Oakland is yet another cipher, about which we know very little.

January 1979, Frontier Town, El Cajon CA
Dave Peterson's customer list shows that #210 was delivered to Jim Carini of Oakland in October of 1965 (two months after the agreement to transfer production to Kansas had been signed). Noel & Elaine Koller of Bonita CA changed their Club membership from #206 to #210 in 1985 (for one year only). And Floyd & Joyce Sickenberger of Keystone Heights FL changed their Club membership from #473 to #210 in 1987 (again for just the one year).

January 1979, Frontier Town, El Cajon CA
Christy Barden's "First 24 UltraVans" article in the Fall 1992 Whales on Wheels newsletter shows that #210 was a 22 foot long coach that was later converted to use a Dodge engine and chassis. Jim Craig stated in 2011 that Noel Koller had a coach with a steel truck frame under it that he remembers seeing in a RV sales lot in Santa Ana CA in the mid 1980s.

January 1979, Frontier Town, El Cajon CA
Pictures of the January 1979 Frontier Town rally show two Oakland coaches; the first appears to be #205. Since Noel & Elaine Koller attended that rally it is possible that the other could be their #206 (if they had added a front-mounted spare tire, a large driver side mirror, and a blue stripe) or their #210 (if they owned it six years prior to registering it with the Club).

#210 or #206?

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Other Twentieth UltraVan

Lake Cahuilla CA, April 1976
Today's UltraVan is an anomaly that doesn't fit the sequence. It is either an extra coach, unmentioned in any of Dave Peterson's notes, or one of several Oakland-built UltraVans whose identification shifted over the years.

Victor "Jack" and Ethel Darwin of Carlsbad CA were members of the UVMCC from 1972 to 1986, registered as owners of a coach that they identified as UltraVan #209. Ethel rejoined the Club from 1989 to 1993, registering as former owner of #209. During the interim, Jack had passed away (1988) and the coach had been sold. Ethel herself passed away in 1993. Dean Coshow of Valley Center CA is listed in the Registry as the last known owner of the coach, but he never joined the Club and appears to have also passed away in 1993.

Hemet CA, January 1974
Pictures of Darwin's #209 survive in the Ryerson slide collection, showing the coach at the January 1974 rally in Hemet CA and the April 1976 rally at Lake Cahuilla CA. Rally reports also state that the Darwins attended the first ever UVMCC national rally at Henderson AR in October 1973.

The pictures reveal a 2nd generation coach incorporating Econoline headlights with separate turn signals, galley configured with the stove on the left, and taillights in the raised position. By 1974 it featured a unique two tone paint job (cream over chocolate) and bumpers fabricated from welded irrigation pipe. By 1976 a Coleman rooftop air conditioner and an awning rail had been installed. Walt Davison visited the Darwins during his wanderings, and later stated that their coach had the "leading arm" rear suspension (Walt passed away in 2016).

Lake Cahuilla CA, April 1976
The 2nd generation bodystyle and leading arm suspension indicate that Darwin's UltraVan #209 must have been built in Oakland in 1965, but it is definitely not the same coach as Myron Hurd's UltraVan #20 (serial #209); and it also could not be a mis-identified #201, #202, #203, #205, #206, #208, or #211. Records of both #204 and #207 cease at roughly the same time frame as Darwin's #209 appears, and records of #210 are even more sparse - but until one of these coaches reappears it remains impossible to state conclusively how the puzzle fits together.

Lake Cahuilla CA, April 1976

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Twentieth UltraVan

Fetter paint scheme
Although the official registration papers show serial #209, the twentieth UltraVan has always been identified publicly as #20. The coach has been heavily modified over the years, but still retains the hallmarks of an early 2nd generation coach (with the stove on the right and raised taillights).

#20 was built in 1965 for Myron & Lorena Hurd of Bell Gardens CA, who were Club members from 1968-1978. Sonny (V.H.) and Becky Harben of Princeton Fl were the second owners, registering #20 with the Club from 1979 to 1982. They enjoyed several trips in the 15 yr old coach, but parking it in an avocado grove did no favors to the original double-stripe paint scheme, so when they finally sold it on it was in rough shape.

The third owners of #20 were Pat (John) and Margie Fitzgerald of Englewood FL, who joined the Club in January 1983. With help from his brother Chance, Pat restored and modified the coach extensively.

Fitzgerald paint scheme
They replaced the rear window and trunk with a full-length windowless hatch, rebuilt the entry door with an extra large window (and late-model piano-style hinge), constructed a custom screen door, installed a pair of fresh air vents up front, added rain deflectors over the front and rear windows, replaced the driver's side mirror with a 1973-79 Ford pickup mirror, and gave the coach a racy new two-tone paint scheme - cream overall with a chocolate brown window band and tricolor (red-orange-yellow) beltline stripes.

In 1986 Pat and Margie acquired UltraVan #448, and sold #20 to Roy & Geraldine Neal of Ballston Spa NY. The Neals maintained their Club membership from 1986 until 2006, but they sold the coach in 2004 to Chuck Fetter of Galway NY. With a twenty year old paint job on a forty year old coach, and significant body damage in the right rear corner to repair, Chuck set his sights on a complete rebuild.

Chuck completely gutted the coach, stripped the old paint, repaired the crushed rear corner, had the the engine and transmission rebuilt, constructed a new fuel tank, replaced the water & waste tanks with large plastic tanks (adding aluminum bracing to support the floors), and added an outdoor shower.

Modified left rear suspension
He relocated the windshield wipers, converted to disk brakes in front, added a trailer hitch in the rear, and modified the leading-arm rear suspension by reversing it and adding side braces (while retaining the lower strut rods and fixed-length driveshafts).

A completely scratch-built interior for #20 was created, with all new wiring, insulation, plumbing, cabinets, flooring, and upholstery. Chuck retained the original loose bench seats but omitted the refrigerator and furnace - choosing instead to use a picnic cooler and a space heater.

Upholstery in shades of brown nicely complements the new cherry paneling, and miniblinds and vinyl flooring are used instead of curtains and carpeting. The floorplan is conventional, but the full-width aluminum dashboard is completely unique, featuring a custom instrument panel with all new gauges and a "Marvin the Martian" ray gun shifter.

Chuck painted the coach a striking metallic silver overall and installed new windshields, new driving mirrors on both sides, and a roof air conditioner. He added identification lights (the triple light clusters above the windshield and above the hatch), a porch light, and underbody lights; and modified the "wedding cake" taillights to use 1959 Buick "stinger" lenses.

To complete the new look, he added reproduction "ULTRAVAN - OAKLAND, CALIF" emblems, whitewall tires, baby-moon hubcaps, and personalized "FRM MARS" license plates.

Chuck joined the Club for 2005-2006, completed the restoration in late 2011, and proceeded to enjoy many regional car shows and tailgate parties with the coach. But all good things come to an end and in early 2019 he sold the coach to Corvair guru Jeff Stonesifer of Gettysburg PA (proprietor of the famous Corvair Ranch).

Jeff had a mission in mind for his new acquisition, so he performed a complete mechanical inspection, repaired the traces of nearly ten years of wear, fabricated a custom towbar, and installed 1980 Z-28 Camaro wheels.

By August 8th the coach was ready for the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MPVA) Convention, afterward joining the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA) Centennial Tour commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the First Transcontinental Motor Convoy.

Jeff and his daughter Abigail followed the Centennial Tour west from York PA to Carson City NV, turning back just in time to return to Kearney NV for the 2019 UltraWeek rally. They had some overheating concerns with the 140 hp Corvair engine in NV, and judged it wiser to complete the trip east under tow behind a rented U-Haul box van.

Photos from the 2018 UltraWeek rally in Kearney NE can be seen here:

Dedicated albums of Jeff and Abigail's transcontinental journey can be seen here:
And here:

Many photos of the LHA 2019 Military Convoy Centennial Tour can be seen here:

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Nineteenth UltraVan

The nineteenth UltraVan was the longest UltraVan ever, at 27 feet. It was specially built in 1965, purportedly for a man that had a wife and a girlfriend that all wanted to travel together. Their plan doesn't seem to have worked out very well though, because the coach was offered for resale the following summer, with an asking price of $9,950.

Other than the stretch, #208 appears to have all the hallmarks of a typical 2nd generation coach - vertical front corner panels, narrow front windows, squared off rear windows, ethafoam bumpers, wedding cake taillights (in the raised position), and double stripe paint scheme. The entry door is equipped with a small square window, which became standard equipment from here until sometime in 1967. It also had 13 inch wheels and turbine wheelcovers - just like all other 1961-65 coaches (although swing-arm suspensions used 4 bolt wheels and leading arm suspensions used 5 bolt wheels).

The extra five feet of length appears to be added entirely between the wheels, with the entry door, galley window, and picture window moved about a foot to the rear of the usual location. The exterior venting and access panels show that the stove is on the right, the on-demand water heater is in the usual location immediately ahead of the bedroom window, and the furnace is in an intermediate position. No photos survive to help us visualize the undoubtedly unique interior layout.

The original owner was Eleanor Younger of Oakland CA, followed by Vernon & Ilabelle Sandel of Glendale CA. The Sandels were a family of five that wanted a coach to use for traveling in Mexico. They were founding members of the UVMCC in 1967, identifying their coach as #108 until 1970, and as #208 thereafter. They dropped out of the Club in 1973 when Vernon passed away. No later owners are known to the Club.

In 1967-68, Sandel's van had a motorscooter on a rack below the windshield, a TV antenna dome on the roof, and a spare tire mounted on the roof above the rear window. By 1971 an extra pair of turn signals had been added to the front, and the motor scooter rack removed, but the spare tire was still on the rear roof. Later the spare was moved to the front of the coach.

Surviving photos show the stretch coach outside the factory in Oakland CA (1965), at the Knotts Berry Farm rally in Buena Park CA (1967), at the Santa Cruz county fairgrounds rally in Watsonville CA (1968), at a service visit to the factory in Hutchinson KS (1968), at the Lion Country Safari rally in Irvine CA (1971), and at an RV park near the Salton Sea in CA (2007).

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Eighteenth UltraVan

September 1968, Lake Elsinore CA
Another lost coach, almost everything that we know about #207 is what is found in the customer records:
#18 was built for Lee C. McDonald of Vallejo CA.
#18 was registered with the Club by George & Effie Seay of Arleta CA from 1968-1971.*
#207 was registered with the Club by William J. & Ida L. Miller of Stockton CA in 1969.
#207 was owned by C. J. Olsen of Escondido CA sometime prior to 6/19/73.

September 1968, Lake Elsinore CA

*Notice the ownership overlap between Seay and Miller. One possible explanation is that the Seays sold the coach after 1968 but maintained their membership in the Club until 1971.

Because of an article in the March 1969 Trailer Life, we also know that George & Effie Seay attended the Lake Elsinore Military Academy rally in September 1968. Slides from this rally were previously shown here.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Seventeenth UltraVan

In August 1965, Dave Peterson reached an agreement to license UltraVan production to Jack Tillotson of Kansas City. Tillotson was a magazine publishing magnate, so one of the first things he started planning was the printed promotional material. And the first thing he needed for that was a model for his color brochure.

The seventeenth UltraVan had recently rolled out of Peterson's Oakland shop, featuring all the latest upgrades - including the distinctive new double stripe trim scheme and the relocated taillights (in a higher position than on previous coaches). The proud new owners were amenable to lending their acquisition to the proceedings, and the resulting images would be used in magazine articles, advertisements, and four different versions of the color brochure (1965-36 pgs, 1966-36 pgs, 1968-24 pgs, and 1970-24 pgs).

Ironically, these iconic photos depict a coach with several prominent features that were never found on any coach produced by Tillotson's operation: Ford Econoline headlight bezels, 13" wheels with turbine wheelcovers, a windowless entry door, and no coffee bar below the windshield. The leading-arm rear suspension was of course less prominent, but no less incongruous.

There are also a few features worth pointing out in the interior: In the bedroom, the cabinet above the rear hatch was omitted - giving the area a uniquely sleek and roomy appearance.

In the galley, the upper cabinet has sliding, not hinged doors (common in early factory coaches); and the smaller refrigerator and deeper drawer above it become more obvious with the stove on the right.

In the cockpit, notice the three binnacle instruments mounted above the windshield, the pictures mounted to the upper cabinet doors, and how the windshield drapery rod extends well beyond the upper canopy.

This coach was built for Irving C. (Pete) & Edna Dodge of Temple City CA. Pete & Edna were founding members  in 1967 of the UltraVan Motor Coach Clubs, Inc., registering their coach as #65. They were active in the club until 1972. Eventually #65 passed into the hands of Scott & Eva Johnson of Boulevard CA, who joined the Club from 1976-1977.
Noel & Elaine Koller of Bonita CA attended their first Club Rally in January 1979, at Frontier Town in El Cajon CA. They registered with the Club as owners of UltraVan #206 in 1979, offered it for sale in several 1984 newsletters, switched to #210 in 1985-1987, and remained associate members of the Club from 1988-1996.

Because of the registration number switch, when Jim & Marlene Craig of San Diego CA (already owners of #232) bought the coach with no engine in November 1984, they were unaware that they were buying Pete Dodge's old #65 - until they recognized the pictures on the upper cockpit cabinet doors and the binnacle instruments. In December 1986 they sold #232 to focus on restoring #206. Jim installed a new engine and test drove the coach, but in February 1987 they acquired #202, and in May 1988 they moved to Joshua Tree CA - leaving #206 behind in the care of Jack Martin of Chula Vista.

Jack doesn't seem to have ever finished the restoration, because as late as 1992 it was still inoperative, parked beside his house. Royce Hildreth of the San Diego Corvair Club remembers seeing it there in 2001-2002. Jack moved to Texas around 2003-2004, again leaving #206 behind. We don't know the names of the last owners, but Jim Craig reports that he heard it was stolen from them and never recovered.