Jay’s 1967 UltraVan Adventure: Part 2

Jay's UltraVan

If you missed the first have of Jay’s adventure in his 1967 UltraVan, you can find Part 1 here! Now for the thrilling conclusion of Jay’s journey in his Corvair powered RV! From Jay – Whelp, here we are. After a rather intense ordeal with an engine dead set on punching itself full of holes I can now say I don’t really care where the RV made it that next day, so long as it wasn’t in pieces on the side of the road. That’s fairly handy as some very good friends were near by and had a side yard they were pretty sure was listed as ‘RV Parking’ when they signed those rental papers a decade or two ago. Great, I’ll take it!

UltraVan Peaking Out

‘RV Parking’ apparently meant ‘That Side Yard Where Couches and Lumber Go To Die’. The resulting exodus of relocated stuff made it look like the Egg had simply plowed headlong into the spot like a giant white trash compactor, horfing detritus like a rusty nail prickled tidal wave into the formally tidy back yard.

UltraVan wedged in by the fence

Interestingly enough, the ivy is the only thing holding that fence up. More interestingly is the neighbors have gained a few feet of property line due to the fence leaning inwards. It just took putting a straight edge the size of the RV against the fence to notice the massive bow. It took stuffing the passenger side mirror full up with leaves to get parked. It took a lot of creative name calling and kicking a “rustic” grown over fence to get out because, oh yeah, the only exit door is on that side of the coach.

UltraVan all nestled in

Once the RV was carefully nestled between a petulantly rustic fence and crushing the life out of a small selection of carefully located in the way garden plants I took the chance to clean the worst of LA’s air off the side I was able to reach. That single side would look fantastic for the rest of the trip. I’ll probably even wash the rest of the coach some day.

Washing the UltraVan

A partial decades worth of air settling onto the freshly painted coach left the entire thing caked in gray. The side in the shade had some sort of rusty plant life growing on it but that came off easy enough with a scrub brush and some soap. Pretty sure the paint is single stage without a clear coat. It’s rather thick so that’s nice as some buffing and polish will bring most of the water and dirt stains out of it.

UltraVan the Truck

Eventually the Egg was pulled out with the intention of washing the rest of it. I didn’t. Instead I used it as a pickup truck to go pick up a pair of Mazda Miata bucket seats, a giant stupid spoiler off a Fiero, and a fiberglass hood for a ’94 Chevy pickup I paid $5 for at the Goodguys swap-meet a few months prior but had no way to haul home in a hatchback. It was at this point I realized the interior would become a blender full of fiberglass and bucket seats if I wrecked, so I just stopped thinking about such things. It’s way easier to deal with stress if you just forget about reality.

Stained glass UltraVan

As the RV was parked I had a chance to go through some of the other things that came with it. Amid those was a stained glass miniature of the RV, crafted in loving detail (with the door on the wrong side) by my cousin’s husband 30 some years ago. A couple of the segments are cracked but nothing is missing and otherwise it’s in great shape. Frankly it’s effin’ astounding that it remained in the coach this long. Also inside were the original service manual that my parents had bought. It’s a massive three ring binder about four inches thick that tells you everything you need to know about fixing or modifying every single part on an UltraVan. It’s an astounding tome compiled decades ago. I had intended to utilize a friends workplace collator scanner to make a PDF of it as I’m sure there are no digital versions and the few folks that own these would probably love to have the info. I didn’t get a chance to do that but I still plan to eventually. I’ll probably submit it to that car manual place online or something as well. Edit: I was wrong on this, you can actually *still* get that repair book and they did make a digital copy of it available (talk about a limited market). So, neat, saves me some work. The one for 307 has some added pages and modified data relevant to this coach in particular so it’s still the best one for me to have. Glad it was with it.

Setting back off in the UltraVan

After a week of tinkering with the inside of the RV, a bunch of preliminary cleaning, and a whole bunch of putting off more major repairs that would, ya know, probably be fine….I said farewell till next time to my friends in the area and set out for Oregon. I’m not completely sure how large the fuel tank on this thing is but I can tell you it’s at least 20 gallons and if you don’t stop the fuel pump fast enough it will completely fill the tank, then fill the tank breather line all the way to the top which will result in it barfing gasoline. You’ll notice I’m casually standing a distance away to take a picture (while things air out). That breather runs up into the door pillar where the door hinge is so you can imagine my surprise when suddenly my door hinge was spurting gasoline like an automotive stigmata. I’m rather sure this is not a DOT approved vehicle design. If I’m to understand this correctly when the tank somehow catches on fire (you die) the fire could literally be inside the frame of the only actual door into the coach (and you die). Did I mention the fuel tank is 20(ish) gallons worth of petrol contained in one wafer thin (mint) layer of fiberglass that rides 8 inches or so above the ground? Remember what I said about ignoring reality? Speed bumps have become a much more terrifying thing since I began owning this RV. I discovered there’s like 20 of the damn things on the road to my friends place. Mountainview city planning can kiss my stress puckered white butt

UltraVan Back on the road

So hey, now we’re on the road, look at that! it’s really hard to describe with pictures and text how gorgeous the view out of this big ol’ Egg actually is. There’s nearly nothing in the way of your field of view as you drive. You can see the entire landscape ahead and to the sides. It’s outstanding. Rear visibility is akin to trying to parallel park a drunk water buffalo, but man that forward view is to die for! Literally. The front crumple zones are your knees. Probably your ankles. Defiantly femurs.

UltraVan's mirrors

The view out of the RVs mirrors is somewhat iffy. They’re mostly plastic and mounted to thin aluminum skin with a single contact point. They wobble like a fat lady on one of those 1920’s weight loss machines that’s just a giant electric motor and belt that tries to literally shake the fat clear off your body. I’m noticing in this picture the sky is hazing over. The closer I got to The Great Northwet the more cloudy and gray things became. I figured now was a good time to check my wipers to make sure they still worked, so I pulled over and promptly forgot to check the wipers till I was back on the road getting rained on.

Fueling the UltraVan

Overall the gas stops were somewhat infrequent. I tended to stop more simply because the fuel gauge was…spotty. It also fogged over at altitude on the passes so I just sorta assumed there was fuel in there. I forget what the total was for fuel but I went on a full tank from Weed California (at the top edge) over the Siskiyou Pass which peaks at 4,310 ft above ocean and to Portland Oregon and still have gas in the tank. I would find out once home that something rather important was massively out of adjustment and my fuel mileage could have probably been a lot better.

UltraVan Caught in traffic

Back on the road and up to tackle that Siskiyou Pass (4,310 ft). Instantly after breaching the summit (hooray!) a massive sea of brake lights on the downhill rose to greet me (drat). Apparently at 7:30 that evening a fully loaded semi truck and trailer had decided to take a nap and laid itself over across both lanes, disgorging it’s trailers contents in every direction. I’m not sure what it was full of but they had a bobcat loader driving in and out of the sideways box scooping all the stuff out into a massive pile to lighten it up so it could be flipped back over. It’s pretty safe to assume everything in that truck was a total loss. I ended up shutting off the engine, it hated stop and go and wouldn’t stay running right anyway (that was the engine thing I found out about later). I coasted down the hill for miles before I had finally passed everything and needed to restart the engine. Also, if you see there’s miles of traffic merged into one lane, and you rush all the way to the front, you suck. You suck a lot and I will make every effort to crowd your shiny new SUV and bass boat into the guard rail. Don’t be THAT guy.

HWY 214 in the UltraVan

By the time I got through the slow slog downhill it was getting remarkably late. I put in another hour or two of driving once in Oregon and pulled over at a rest area to curl up and sleep atop the toasty engine warmed bed. It had been a long day.

No Overnight Camping!

Well, it’s a good thing I blocked that Overnight Camping Prohibited sign with the RV when I camped there overnight. Turns out I camped at the Applegate Trail rest area and white guilt kiosk. The structure was neat looking and had a bunch of signs in it telling about the hardships of the Indians and the Trail of Tears. The best place for an informational memorial remembering your hardships is clearly a rest area with concrete bathrooms and toilets that don’t trust you enough to flush them yourself.

Old Payphones

I had no idea they had a museum here! This is way cooler than the old tractors at Casa De Fruta! Man, I remember when these public urinals were all over the place. Remember collect calls? “Will you accept charges from…’MOMPICKMEUPNOW!’? It’s sad really. There have been times when I really really needed a public phone and absolutely could not find one. I wonder when these were last in service. Surprised the unit is even still this complete.

Roadwork Ahead

So somewhere in here like 100 miles of construction started. I don’t know what they were doing but my best guess is breaking up every smooth road surface to better resemble a kicked over bucket of legos. The RV is at the very maximum of legal width for a street vehicle. It’s tires are too wide to fit on a car trailer or a tow behind car hauler dolly and as a result these sections with ‘abrupt edges’ were very white knuckle. It felt like miles at a time where only half of a tire was on the ground at one time, the other half hanging over the edge on the verge of grabbing the steering wheel and yanking the coach around. Adventure. Always adventure. As a result of all of the bouncing I began to notice more and different noises coming from under the front end of the Egg. Something sounded broken and it was starting to concern me so I finally pulled off the road to have a look.

UltraVan at a Masonic Cemetery

Pulling over to poke and prod under the RV landed me square in an episode of Scooby Doo. Jinkies. Well Scoob, best check it out I guess.

UltraVan's Spring and Shock

Crawling around under the front end of the RV luckily didn’t net me any hauntings or obvious mechanical breakage. As best I can guess the out of balance tires vibrating for thousands of miles did a number on the shocks, which finally gave up the ghost. The shock rams were dirty with oil so they had lost their seal and leaked down. I think part of the constant wheel vibration is due to the springs rapidly bouncing up and down with every little road bump and the out of balance tires vibrating making it worse. Without the shocks working correctly to dampen that it translates up into the cabin. I mean ya sit right on top of the wheel well so you’d feel and hear it inside if a shock were wore out and clunking around in it’s mounts. Pretty sure that’s what was up. Eventually new shocks will be on the list of replaced parts. Satisfied nothing larger than a bolt would fall out once back on the road I hightailed to the other side of the parking lot. Not because of graveyard ghosts but because the flappy toothed dudes drinking 40’s at the nearby bus stop at 7 AM were trying to start up conversations.

 

UltraVan Vs Tour Bus

While I was leaving I spotted a typical large tour bus in the lot. I figured it would be a good chance to park the UltraVan beside it for a comparison of size. The larger tour coaches are some of the most massive road going vehicles around in popular use. There are actually some motor homes of this size though you don’t tend to see many in one place unless you’re at a major NASCAR event.

UltraVan Vs Tour Bus SBS

This is probably the best overall comparison of size. The Ultra would actually get smaller if it were parked about four foot closer to the BFB (Big Flippin Bus). I couldn’t do that as I needed the side door to get out.

UltraVan Vs Tour Bus Height

The overall height of the RV compared to the bus is dramatic. The UltraVan is only a bit over 8ft tall and would almost seemingly fit under the passenger compartment floor of a full sized travel coach like this one.

UltraVan's Rear

The unique rear end of an Ultra was literally pulled from the Spartan camp trailers of the 40’s and 50’s. The first UltraVan, #101, was a direct copy of a Spartan. The later ones as I understand it were built with fiberglass molds copied and slightly modified from the camp trailers but with pointy little light stalks and a few other changes built in for a rear access hatch and a different rear window. Also, the art deco look is cool. The bus is just a big UPS box of a thing.

UltraVan wheel comparo

I’m not sure I could actually put a full set of wheels from the bus inside the UltraVan without the bottom falling out. The original #101 UltraVan used 13 inch Corvair wheels and tires. That is the same size as was used on the later Geo Metro. Quite a tiny tire for a 22ft long RV. They worked okayish owing to how light the coaches actually are with all that aluminum but cornering and traction would likely be an issue. A size or two larger wheel and wider tire helps with grip and over all ride feel and is a very common upgrade to the Ultras still running around.

UltraVan Vs Winnebago

One more comparison to a far more typical in the United States style of motor home. I dunno, I sure like the art deco Egg look over a big box on wheels. Americans ate up the giant truck framed and far cheaper to produce Winnebago style RV’s that came out around the same time. They were huge, heavy, square, and sucked gas like you were flushing a toilet. In other words, they were American ( ‘Murica! Woo!) so they sold in vast numbers. They sold in huge numbers compared to the far more advanced Ultras. Like many things they were way ahead of a time when people actually wanted lighter more efficient vehicles.

UltraVan finally home!

After several more hours of driving i5 I made it home. The last few miles of back country roads were a bit odd. Very familiar to me, but very different to drive in such an unusual vehicle. The place has history with me, as does the UltraVan, but this was the first time those two things had met. It was a unique experience and a very nice day once I got home. All puffy white clouds and blue sky. That engine issue I mentioned turned out to be the distributor retainer bolt having worked loose so the distributor was moving around. The distributor is the thing all the spark plug wires go to. It ‘distributes’ spark to each wire, one at a time so the cylinder can burn the gasoline it sucks up. The distributor can be twisted clockwise or counter clockwise to ‘advance’ or ‘retard’ the timing. Timing is when the spark sets the gas on fire. It’s either ‘advanced’ and lights the gas off before the piston is at the top of the cylinder or ‘retarded’ where it lights the gas off as the piston is starting to go back down again already. Slight adjustments either way will help power or performance or whatnot. Mine was set at “Wherever in the heck it bloody well wants to wibble itself around to” which is a technical way of saying it was all stuffed up and wonky. Luckily it was wonky in the better direction so it stabbed my fuel mileage in the face, but was easier on the engine and less likely to actually damage anything. I had to go slow anyway so no big worries. Now I know what to look for next time.

UltraVan back home

I’ve taken video on the trip, done a bunch of GoPro camera time lapses and took some video while driving and clearing out all the stuff to actually get the thing in the barn where I can start working on it to correct flaws and update some of the infrastructure of the coach. I’ll have to get those up sooner than later but for now wanted to post the pictures for the other half of the trip to return it home. My parents love seeing it again. In most ways it’s like it was when they had it other than the new paint and some interior changes and expected wear from 30 years in L.A. I’d like to thank all those folks that helped me on this trip. It was monumental and has been quite the experience. I’ll update these galleries more as things progress. I expect it will go somewhat slowly. Getting it home was a first step and I imagine it won’t be the last. First of many with any luck. Thanks For Reading!

UltraVan hidding in the grass

What a journey and fantastic read. I want to personally thank Jay for sharing this with us! I edited his original story for length, but if you would like to read the original story in it’s hilarious entirety find it here on imgur. Jay, I have to applaud you for not only making the drive in the Egg, but for documenting the whole thing! Oh and to the rest of you, Barn Finds in no way condones photographing while driving or making treacherous journeys in egg shaped RVs (if you do, please share photos only after the completion of the trip)! Again our thanks to Jay and we look forward to seeing future updates!

Update 8/21/15 – Jay just shared a special video clip with me! Look how eager his UltraVan is to get back out on the open road!

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Josh Staff

    Well done Jay, but I keep coming back to one question, what is happening in your friend’s yard? Why are there so many hockey sticks everywhere? Are they used for battling the house panther if it breaks lose? (If you don’t get that reference, please take a look at his full story.)
    If you happen to have more photos, please send them to me so I can add them to the post! Best of luck at Burning Man and please let us know how the Egg does on the trip!

    • jaygryph

      That’s a heck of a nice edit job you did to shorten up the story and still get it across. I was quite pleased reading back through it. Well done man!

      My friends old place had a roomate that was quite into hockey (and quite good at it as well!) Neat guy, and rather adept at breaking hockey sticks or sending pucks over the fence into the ravine behind it. They’re going to be finding those things in a 1000 years when the aliens excavate San Jose. :P

      I’ve been taking pictures and such as I go along with repairs, and will see about sending some along to you shortly.

      I worked all night last night with my father on the carburetors, tore them completely apart, cleaned, dipped, resealed, adjusted, modified, swapped jets to smaller ones so it would idle, and today finally, FINALLY, got to get it back on the road to test drive it.

      My word did it drive better than when I got it, oh my gawd Becky. Holy heck. It steers straight, stops straight, does not wander, rides MUCH quieter and less bouncy with the new tires…WORLD of difference.

      So we went to run to the DMV to get it sorted aaaaaand it died right out of the driveway, ate the fuel pump (possibly the original from 1967) so after some tinkering and limping it back home with a small electric pump I had with me (it’s like, I’ve done this before or something…) and now it’s back in the driveway with the fuel pump apart and one on order that should be here this evening.

      But man, it drove great till it quit driving :P

      I’ll keep ya posted. Season two should be just as interesting as season one, particularly with the rumored insect infestation going on at BurningMan right now.

      • Josh Staff

        I’m glad you don’t mind my editing work. I was going to leave it as it was, but I decided to shorten it just to keep the page from being so long! Hopefully people will go have a look at the original story as well though, man there are some hilarious parts in there. We also have a pretty wide demographic and I decided some readers might not get the same laugh I may or may not have gotten from the.. um.. rooster hat.

        Ah that makes more sense now. I just kept picturing men in wife-beaters running around hitting each other with hockey sticks, 2x4s, and the lids from all those charcoal grills in an attempt to reenact Gladiator. Roommate being a hockey player was my next guess though!

        Good to hear your making some progress and I can’t wait to see some more recent photos! I’m also glad to hear the UltraVan is still up to it’s old shenanigans. There’s nothing funnier than pulling out into a busy street only to have a fuel pump go out! Good luck getting it running, I’m sure it will be an easy fix once you get the part!

        I wish you even more luck with Burning Man! I’d recommend bringing lots of bug repellent, you might also want to start spraying yourself, the bus, and all your possessions with it now so you have a good coating on everything. Hopefully, they don’t get a taste for eggs or you’ll be in trouble! Good luck and have a fun time!

  2. Luke Fitzgerald

    God almighty. Great story – can’t even imagine how many survived the scrappies

    • jaygryph

      Surprisingly the majority of them are still around, and about half of the survivors are roadworthy. Their weirdness preserved them much better than anyone would have thought, even though things like the windshields are near impossible to get at a reasonable price because they come out of late 50’s chevy step vans and have to be modified to work properly in these with that center section added.

      Corvair engines are quirky, and are closer to motorcycle engines than cars in some ways, and are, for all their weirdness, actually rather tough little engines. The later V8 powered coaches they built when they ran out of Corvair motors didn’t fare nearly so well and a number of those burnt right the heck to the ground.

      Putting a V8, two axels, two driveshafts, a Corvette rear dif, and a boat V drive to connect it all into the back of an ultravan is like putting a Detroit Diesel into an aluminum Cessna airframe. Things come apart, won’t cool, and it’s generally all bad other than being able to tout it as having a V8.

  3. Wiley Robinson

    I think the best part of this story is you spending a whole paragraph explaining what a distributor is and does and how to adjust them. Being”old”, it never dawned on me that there are “car guys” who might not know that.

    Very cool RV and even cooler that you have history with it. Now wash it and go camping.

    • jaygryph

      Sometimes I forget about explaining things that are common knowledge to me, and am reminded by friends staring glassy and dazed at me while I prattle on about car widgets. As a result I’ve gotten into the habit of explaining things as I understand them in as clear a way as possible.

      Honestly I tend to think I don’t know a lot about cars or their workings, but what I know seems to be a lot more than many folks have had experience with.

      I love sharing vehicle and machinery stuff with people, even if their only appreciation for it is the aesthetics (how it looks) or aural aspect (how it sounds)

      Thanks for reading, and happy motoring :)

    • George

      I know the distributor trick well. I had an old VW Bus and I had to do the twist thing and listen by ear for it to run right on a regular basis.

  4. Mark E

    Look forward to hearing how Jay drifts the Ultravan on stink bug goo at burning man! ^_^

    • Scot Carr

      ~!@!~

    • jaygryph

      I’m more concerned about how on earth I’m going to keep them out of that drafting thing if they are indeed infesting the place. Lots and lots of 3M green painters tape I guess. That MIGHT not rip off the hohum repaint the thing got a decade ago. No promises, that was not a real great paintjob. I mean, they sanded the domes off most of the rivets for Petes sake.

  5. JW

    GREAT STORY, I love reading people road trip adventures. Now here is my favorite part and I quote:

    Also, if you see there’s miles of traffic merged into one lane, and you rush all the way to the front, you suck. You suck a lot and I will make every effort to crowd your shiny new SUV and bass boat into the guard rail. Don’t be THAT guy.

    You the man as if there’s a time and a place for unconditional road rage you nailed it. Nothing peeves me more than people who know traffic is merging to the left or right but will floor it to get to the front and expect you to gracefully let them in and more disgusting is the weenies that let them in.

    Now thank you for one heck of a interesting read and I love your little RV and wouldn’t mind owning one myself some day.

    • jaygryph

      I’m not typically one to behave like that, but on that particular stretch there was literal miles and miles of traffic. A semi truck of what looked like electronics had laid over in a corner and was being shoveled out by a bobcat like the boxes of stereos were a load of gravel, it was unreal, and the traffic was awful and down to one very slow lane. I can understand having trouble getting merged with a trailer behind a big truck, but the semi trucks were doing just fine, and even I had managed to get merged correctly, even with a not always working right turn signal (man what a pain, it works now btw) and yet, there went Mr. Shinytruck full speed all the way up to the final merge. Nobody wanted to let the guy in, not even the truckers. Especially the truckers. Some lady in a gray Carolla finally let them in ahead of us, and held up traffic doing it.

      I imagine there was a collective groan from about 10 drivers that could see it happen. I spent a good part of the crawl imagining Mr. Shinytruck stubbing his toe, having poor cel reception, and getting a bug bite in one of those hard to reach places.

      That was probably petty of me, but I at least I was entertained till traffic cleared up.

      It’s also possible I was just caffeine delirious and imagined the whole thing.

      Either way, thanks for reading! Glad ya enjoyed it. :)

  6. rjc Member

    Great read! Thanks for sharing your experience!!
    Dito what JW said.

  7. George

    Reading this, I wish I had done a write up years ago about the Pink Death Trap. I bought a Cortez Kent on eBay located in Jacksonville FL. I sent it to a mechanic that the person had recommended to get it roadworthy. Once there, he tells me that it’s not in the condition that the person claimed. I made it from Jacksonville to somewhere in SC where it threw a rod, and there it sits to this day… Very far from my destination of Saratoga Springs, NY. I won’t even talk about AAA and SC troopers…

  8. Steve

    Great story! Look forward to next installment and progress pictures.

    Also, I’m a wannabe car guy and do enjoy the extra detail you throw into your stories about the mechanics of the problems that you find.

    So, well done and Thanks a bunch!

  9. Mike

    I was watching American Pickers the other night on History Channel, and they had discovered one of these on one of there trips. I did not get to see the show from the beginning, but saw enough to see the RV. I think they tried to buy it not sure.

    • jaygryph

      It’s funny you mention that. I took mine out to dinner last night with dad and the very first person that stopped was astounded they had JUST seen one on TV and now saw one in person. It was news to me about the show since the last one I saw was in Hoarders in the background (which I later ended up seeing in person near Oakland and getting spare parts from, oddly enough).

      I’ll have to watch the show, and I imagine I’ll end up yelling at it. I honestly can’t stand those sorts of shows having dealt with antiques and weird old stuff and a lot of barn finds of my own of various kinds. I’d rather watch something like Antiques Roadshow that’s all the neat weird stuff and values without the reality show drama. Any idea what season / episode it is?

      I’ll give it a look tho, so thanks for the heads up!

  10. John H.

    ne of the best written car pieces I have read in many years. I could not stop until I had finished. Absolutely entertaining. Kudos are in order!

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