1-of-376: 1968 Ultra Van

The world of the RV is an interesting one, with some makes being better known than others. The Ultra Van is one of the lesser-known brands, and with only 376 examples ever built, it is one of the rarest. Barn Finder DayDreamBeliever spotted it for us, so I have to say thank you so much for that. It is located in Mishawaka, Indiana, and has been listed for sale here on Facebook. Hand the owner $4,995, and you will be beginning the quest for the freedom of the open roads.

The first prototype of the Ultra Van appeared in 1961 and was the brainchild of David L. Peterson. It seemed that potential buyers liked what they saw, and Mr. Peterson formed a company called the Ultra Van Manufacturing Co. Production commenced in 1961. The vans were initially produced by Peterson’s company but moved across various organizations between 1963 and 1970. When you look at the styling of the Ultra Van, it should be no surprise to learn that it owed a lot of its design to aircraft technology. While it rolled on a steel frame, a significant amount of the body was fabricated in fiberglass and aluminum. That means that rust doesn’t tend to be a significant issue, provided the frame remains intact. That doesn’t appear to be a problem with this one, and the panels also seem to be in decent condition. The good news is that the vehicle is complete. The limited build numbers means that sometimes parts can be hard to source. However, there is a good support network and a fantastic Ultra Van Owner’s Club that seems happy to assist owners searching for parts. The owner has managed to source a new windshield, and this is included in the sale.

The interior of the Van has been dismantled, as the owner intended to update and modernize it. Thankfully, all of the interior fittings and fixtures are still present. Anything that is beyond restoration could potentially be used as a template to hand-make replacement parts. As far as creature comforts are concerned, Ultra Van owners didn’t want for much. The rear of the vehicle features a separate bedroom with a full-sized bed. There is also a bathroom with a toilet and shower, as well as a decent kitchen. That’s all of the comforts of home packed into a vehicle that measures 22′ in total length.

The Ultra Van is a bit of a surprise packet. The use of aluminum and fiberglass means that it tips the scales at around 3,500lbs when fully kitted-out. Most of these RVs were built using a Corvair drivetrain, although a few did feature some impressive V8 power-plants. This one was initially equipped with the 95hp version of the Corvair engine. That would have provided adequate performance, but it wouldn’t have been startling. The engine has been removed, and there is no motor included in the sale price. The buyer might choose to slot something different under the vehicle, but the seller does offer an option that is worth considering. As part of his original intention to restore the Van, the seller sent the Corvair motor off for a rebuild and an upgrade. It now produces more power, but more importantly, considerably more torque. If the buyer wants it, this can be included for an additional $5,995. This is an option that would be well worth considering.

It isn’t clear just how many Ultra Vans exist today, but the owner’s estimate of 100 probably isn’t that far off the mark. These are distinctive and different, and their styling can be considered to be quite funky. It is impossible to place an accurate value on a vehicle like this, but the asking price is probably fair given its relative rarity. If a life on the open road grabs your imagination, then this has to be worth a look. It is said that a man’s home is his castle. A castle with wheels sounds like a fine idea to me.

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Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    Cool, and no, “Grave Digger” won’t crush this one either, just too rare. American Pickers ran across one, and the guy refused to sell. Ambitious restoration, for sure, and while the Corvair motor might be a bit slim, this isn’t meant for interstate travel anyway, even though, you’ll have to take one sooner or later, and that could be a problem. Nice find, but the cost of RV stuff today is staggering, water, electrics, all need replacing but a neater motorhome I doubt you’ll find.

    Like 7
  2. angliagt angliagt Member

    I saw one of these in Hyampom,CA (close to the end of the World)
    a few years back,while on a British car run.

    Like 1
  3. Rick

    Well, no. It’s serial number 396 which also happens to be the VIN. The Ultravan community once boasted 600+ examples, of which about 50 are still on the road. I have #427 in my garage being restored as I have time. There is an active Facebook community as well as a website (ultravan.org) that has for sale coaches and info on the general community. Corvair engines power these semi-reliably – many have 10’s of thousands of miles put on yearly driving cross country to various meets.

    Like 19
    • Bob_in_TN Member

      Again, a rare and obscure vehicle, one I have never heard of let alone seen. Yet a Barn Find participant actually owns one. This amazes me, but it seems to happen regularly.

      Like 12
      • Phlathead Phil

        Bob,

        Forrest Gump said it best:
        “You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get.”

        Apparently this is true here on B.F.’s!!!

        Like 2
    • Owen

      376 is the total production. Serial numbers 12 thru 200 and 560 thru 600 were skipped. Also yours is #437.

      Like 3
      • Rick

        Shows how my memory was this morning.. 😂

        Like 3
  4. Chris

    That’s cool

    Like 3
  5. K

    Is that the owner’s ironing board mounted on the nose?

    Like 4
  6. Elanguy

    More choices here: https://ultravan.org/ultra-vans-for-sale/

    But what I would like to do is mount one on that Chevrolet COE from a while back, https://barnfinds.com/?s=Chevrolet+COE

    I think mounting it backwards would be the ticket.

    Like 3
  7. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    Talk about a money pit. But look at the bright side; rare, cool looking, open to owners choice of upgrades. Sort of reminds me of the city buses from the forties that once roamed the streets of my home town. I’ve been down the road of attempting to restore an older motor home. Wiring is a nightmare. So I pass. Hope someone with a lot of patience and skill gets this. Perhaps someday it will be rolling down the highways once again.
    God bless America

    Like 3
    • Phlathead Phil

      J~

      Wiring becomes simple once you approach it logically. I learned this on my ‘50 Crown, and also on my 1999 ALJO, which had suffered a wiring 🔥 before I got it.

      Trailers and Coaches use two different systems.

      On trailers, a “CONVERTER” box is used. It SEPARATES A/C from D/C. You CANNOT mix the two!!! Keep the wires isolated from each other. This is a “two system” concept. Coaches Borrow D/C off of the alternator and can charge both Marine and Car batteries at the same time.

      Just make sure you use a shunt if you add a solar charger. E-Trailer sells New Converter boxes and controllers for any set up.

      An inverter takes 12v and turns it into 120v. A converter takes 120 shore power and changes (separates) it into 12v/ regulated 120v.

      Don’t forget to solder all 12v connections.

      Trailer wires are an endless nightmare until you solder all connections tight.

      Like 2
  8. Greg Millard Member

    Elanguy’s suggestion of running it backward actually occurred when Bentley started using a wind tunnel(Vickers) to evaluate their designs.
    One of the things they tested was the 4 dr saloon body reversed – it showed to have lower drag and over 5mph higher theoretical top speed! :-) Greg

    Like 4
    • Greg Millard Member

      This was early 1930s

      Like 1
  9. Owen

    There are probably between 50-75 on the road, but well over 200 still exist. Easy to find a project, but hard to find a runner.

    FWIW, there is no steel frame underneath, the structure is semi-monocoque (unibody). The rear control arms are steel, and the front upper control arms, and parts of the drivetrain, steering, etc. The rest is fiberglass or aluminum.

    376 is the total number produced. Serial numbers skipped around a lot. There are only 10 coaches below #200, none between 559 and 601, etc.

    Like 1
  10. Larry Creech

    How many folks can say they actually hand laid the big fiberglass pieces when these were built. The overhead crown outside, headlight panels, taillight panels were the big items I did a lot of itching over at Stuckey Marine in Hutchinson, Ks in 1966/67. We did hand laying and later the contract went to some place elsewhere that had a chopper gun. Don’t know which was stronger over time but know the chopper had to have been faster lol. These are still really cool.

    Like 7
  11. JagManBill

    As opposed to the Corvair engine, how about a Subie 2.2 or 2.5 4 cam. That would wake this up and for a lot less money. Yeah I know the Subie is water cooled, but people put them in VW’s all the time.

    Like 5
    • Rick

      Not enough torque. I had considered that for mine and did the number crunching. I wound up with a supercharged 3.8L Buick mounted to a 4L65e and a Corvette differential – inverted! The coach will retain the rear engine – rear wheel drive configuration. One owner has dropped a VW diesel engine in his complete with the FWD components.

      Like 3
      • JagManBill

        from stock did they run the Corvair transaxle as well?

        Like 2
  12. Owen

    There is no steel frame under these, they are semi-monocoque (unibody). The rear control arms and the front upper control arms are steel, also parts of the drivetrain and most of the steering, but the rest is aluminum and fiberglass.

    Like 1
  13. Vince H

    I can build a Corvair engine for a lot less than 6 grand.

    Like 3
    • Hank Kaczmarek

      All Depends on how far you want to go in doing it correctly.
      Corvair Crank with rods and mains is 500.00. Using forged pistons and rebored/honed cylinders, new cam and lifters/pushrods, between 1100 and 1700 for head work,
      gaskets. carb work—You’re EASILY at 5-6000.
      Of course if you’re one of those “Frugal” Corvair People, you can hack a POS engine together. No reliability, but you can do it cheaper, and to many Corvair people that’s all that matters.
      They’re dying off though. Seen hundreds in the 33 years I’ve had Corvairs.

  14. FastEddie/OldEddie: pick one

    Vince H, you are not alone.

    Like 2
  15. Ward William

    It is sweet but when you compare it to the GM motorhome also shown here today, the GM is a no brainer. This Ultra is unique and will be beautiful, but only after you throw a crapload or money at it.

  16. Alan Muller

    Very cool item.

    A Corvair engine properly built could be reliable enough, but noisy. (Oil leaks are mainly a matter of the pushrod tube seals and there are modern elastomers that can take the heat.)

    But what about the rest of the drive train. Swing axles like an early Corvair? With the high CG it might need very careful driving. And what sort of transmission?

    Like 1
    • Ward William

      If you are going to go that route, why not just a Subaru boxer and be done with it.

  17. Alan Muller

    I know about subaru transplants into VW vans. But in my experience engine swaps always turn out to be a lot more complex than anticipated. Still, a 3 litre 6 cylinder subaru would have more torque than a Corvair, and maybe the whole drive train could be swapped in….?

  18. chrlsful

    only a special population owns the whale
    This one they make U buy the motor separate @ a greater cost than the fish itself

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