During the 1950s, post-war America was abuzz with restless individuals eager to exceed the achievements of their parents, driving an economic boom and propelling the growth of the automotive industry.
This societal evolution naturally led to the popular trend of road-trip family vacations, as everyone embarked on journeys to various destinations. However, catering to a particular subset of the public wasn’t straightforward.
Among these discerning few were those seeking both the comforts of home and the liberation of outdoor recreation. The solution was seemingly simple and age-old: the trailer home. Attach it to a powerful V8-powered vehicle, and the problem is solved. Or so it seemed, until the conundrum of bringing personal boats for fishing arose.
This dilemma prompted a question – should one bring the trailer home or the boat on its trailer for vacation? Multiple answers emerged, but one solution stood out as the most fitting.
The most straightforward choice would be to leave the boat behind. However, when the summer break is the only time to fully indulge in aquatic hobbies, that wasn’t satisfactory. Then, there’s the potential family crisis of “take your boat and go without us,” which, while tempting, wasn’t often acted upon.
Enter the motorhome, a harmonizing solution catering to everyone’s desires. It grants comfort to the lady of the house and accommodates the man’s fishing gear. A motorhome could tow a trailer with a small boat, as long as the vehicle possessed sufficient power – more precisely, adequate power-to-weight ratio.
This ingenious idea manifested in the form of a 3,000-pound house-on-wheels powered by a Corvair 140-cubic-inch flat-six engine generating 80 horsepower. The mastermind behind this creation was David Peterson, an aeronautical engineer who utilized his lightweight-fuselage-building experience to craft the ‘Go-Home.’
The project commenced in a rented garage in Alameda, California, on September 1, 1960. By January 2, 1961, the Department of Motor Vehicles issued a license for the ‘1960 housecar’ after David drove the contraption to the DMV’s office.
Progressing a few years, Mr. Peterson began producing his sleek, lightweight motorhomes for regular customers in 1966. His innovative approach caught the attention of GM, and the corporation approved the vehicle in late 1962, even printing a promotional flyer for the ‘Go-Home.’
This inventive creation drew inspiration from aircraft engineering, as seen in the gallery with factory photos of the vans being assembled. The vehicle adopted a monocoque design constructed from aluminum, eliminating the need for a chassis. Named the ‘Ultra Van,’ it featured C-shaped ribs riveted to sheet aluminum panels.
The front and rear sections mostly consisted of molded fiberglass, while cast aluminum “A” frames were situated in the front wheel wells, serving as seat platforms. Unique front-end geometry enabled the inside wheel to turn outward by 50 degrees, resulting in a smaller turning circle than many pickup trucks of that era.
Measuring 22 feet in length with an 8-foot width, the Ultra Van offered generous interior space. Resting on a 152-inch wheelbase, it provided occupants with a headroom of 74 inches.
By 1966, the powertrain saw an upgrade to Corvair’s 165-cubic-inch high-performance flat-six engine, delivering 145 horsepower. GM’s two-speed Powerglide transaxle transmission transferred power to the rear wheels via a Posi-traction 3.56:1 rear differential.
Only 330 Ultra Van motorhomes were equipped with the Corvair powerplant, and only a handful have endured. Some units from the late 1960s featured a small-block Chevy 307-CID V8, but the most coveted were the air-cooled versions. A surviving Ultra Van was recently discovered in a junkyard, part of a collection unveiled by Tom Cotter, Hagerty’s Barn Find Hunter.
While not a traditional barn find, this Corvair Ultra Van stands outdoors and remains in fair condition, exhibiting expected wear from exposure to the elements. The owner plans to restore the motorhome eventually.
A comprehensive brochure attached to this narrative provides insights into the rebellious Ultra Van, offering potential buyers in the 1960s the necessary information to make informed decisions.
The Ultra Van fell within standard passenger car dimensions, eliminating the need for an extra license. Thanks to its lightweight and low center of gravity, it was easy to handle. Dave Peterson strategically positioned the gasoline and water tanks in the floor to maintain balance close to the ground.
With a base price of $8,995 in 1966, the Ultra Van presented a convenient alternative to its motorhome counterparts. Its aircraft-inspired design is evident from the exterior, and its aeronautical solutions extended to the interior living spaces.
Overhead lightweight cabinets were thoughtfully integrated into the curved hull throughout the rear and mid sections, reminiscent of cabin bins in airliners of that era. The Ultra Van also incorporated essential amenities of a mobile home, such as a refrigerator, three-burner stove, air conditioning, **instant water
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