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A '68 Ultra Van Sighting

We had the pleasure of spotting a 1968 Ultra Van out and about in San Diego this past week. What a fun and iconic machine this is! Also fun, was researching and reading up on the history behind how these cool early motorhomes came to be, enjoy!

Motor camping is by no means a recent innovation; there are articles in the early years of this century covering motor camping. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs regularly camped together in motorized vehicles from the early teens until the twenties. 

The latest old vehicle collectibles are early motorhomes. S ome, like early Ultra Vans, may even qualify for historic vehicle tags. Its interesting to look back on these unique vehicles, to see how they began and what has happened to them since. 

Back in the fifties, what did one do when you had both trailer and boat to tow? That’s the dilemma Dave Peterson faced every time he wanted to go on vacation with both his Spartan trailer and boat at the same time. Peterson an aircraft designer, at Beech and Boeing, dreamed of motorizing the trailer, so he could tow his boat. The idea was to put the motor in the rear under the bed, design it low to the ground with a flat floor, have an unobstructed forward view with seating for four and insulate it well for winter use. A true, Class “A” rig, just 22 feet long, over 8 feet wide with more than 6 feet of headroom. In this rig you can really rise from the seat and walk into the living area in a standing position, one of the true tests of a Class ‘A’ motorhome. 

When General Motors announced the Corvair in 1959, the power-package was just what Peterson needed for his dream. Living in California, in the fall of 1960 (a year after the Corvair was introduced), he rented a large garage and four months later, the “Go-Home” as the first Ultras were named, rolled out with its 80 horsepower, 140 cubic inch engine. Soon he was asked if he could build more. Using a unique technical school apprentice program, Peterson and his students built around 15 early Ultra Vans which were advertised for under $7,000. 

The original prototype (#101) was recovered in 1990 and is now being restored in southern California by a number of Ultra Van enthusiasts under the direction of Jim Craig, Vice President of the Ultra Van Motor Coach Club (UVMCC). The Prescolite Corporation saw the Ultra as an ideal lightweight mobile showroom weighing only 3,420 pounds dry. They were licensed in 1963 and offered eleven configurations. Called the Travalon, it is believed they built eight of which at least three survive.. 

During 1964, John Tillotson, a Kansas publisher noticed the Ultra Van and made enquiries about getting the rights to build this unique vehicle. In 1965, Tillotson negotiated a license with Peterson and then formed Ultra Incorporated, at the World War II Naval Air Base near Hutchinson, Kansas, home of many skilled workers, who built thousands of military aircraft during the war in the Wichita area. Peterson was retained as a consultant. 



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