We have Richard Brown to thank for today’s story. Richard recently updated us on his sport custom find – the 1953 Porter Pegasus. Click here to review that story. Today’s story is about another rare car Richard researched and found – a Dune Buggy with legendary history – the Super Safari. Dune Buggies were the craze from the mid 1960s thru the mid 1970s and while we may think of them as all of similar design – they were not. Some designs such as in today’s story definitely stand out among others.
Let’s turn it over to Richard and learn more about this special limited production design. Take it away Richard 🙂
Let’s Talk About the Super Safari
By Richard Brown
For the longest time, in the designer fiberglass dune buggy world, there was a mythological car of legend and folklore. It was a pedigree Dune Buggy from 1968. Its body was made to fit on a cut down, VW Beetle chassis (80 inch wheelbase) and was advertised in the late 60’s as an exciting new sport buggy to hit the scene. It was proudly touted as being designed by the famous Tom Daniel, known for dreaming up those fun, wacky model kits and Hot Wheels we all grew up with.
This buggy was also revered as a prototype built by Dick Dean, a renowned kustom car builder. As George Barris’ shop foreman for decades, Dean built numerous tv and movie cars like the Batmobile and the Munster Koach. This buggy was a product from Safari Enterprises, called the “Super Safari”. Now I say mythological, because the problem is, this buggy had never actually been seen in person by those looking for it.
The small community of auto enthusiasts that were aware of this car, believed it was never actually built. All of the advertisements for it only featured artist renderings from Daniel. The only other evidence of it, was a model kit produced by Revell. Even the images of a metallic gold buggy on the model box, were drawings from Revell’s own art department. Amongst the car’s fans, it’s been said many times, “I wish they actually made the Super Safari”.
So being a collector of rare, designer dune buggies, finding a Super Safari is in the top five. Then unexpectedly, about ten years back at a big VW car show and swap meet in Los Angeles, a real Super Safari appeared. It was for sale and the seller had no idea what it was. It didn’t matter, I knew what it was, and I wasn’t leaving without it. It was in pretty rough shape, but all complete. It sported Ansen slot mags, with vintage “Pos-a-Traction” redline tires.
It was poorly painted red with black naugahyde bucket seats, and a metal “Safari” badge on the nose. It made its way home, to await in a long line, behind other projects. Ultimately, the plan was to research this discovery, and find who the people behind Safari Enterprises we’re. Not to mention, contact Dick Dean, and Tom Daniel, to find out what they knew of the car. After sadly hearing the passing of Dick Dean in 2008, I decided I should diligently get started on the research, and contact Tom Daniel.
Tom certainly remembered the Super Safari, yet didn’t have much information on it. He was hired by Safari Enterprises to draw up a new sporty designed buggy to be different than everything else on the road. He was quite fond of it and proud of the design, but didn’t know how many were built. Tom didn’t have any contact information for the people at Safari Enterprises, either. The trail went cold.
Further in the quest of finding other Super Safaris out there, I scoured the internet and spent countless hours on the phone talking to other collectors. Then one day Eureka!.. another Super Safari appeared! A grainy photo of a super safari, built as an off-road race car, the photo was found on a car racing website. It was pictured with a collection of other similar dune buggy photos, all looked to be from the late 60’s. As I recall, there wasn’t any pertinent information that accompanied the photo. It was yellow, and jacked up ready for battle. Fitted with rollbars, and Gates Commando XT off-road tires. So it was evident now, that at least two were known to have existed. More about this one later.
In the meantime, the restoration on the red Super Safari had started. When detaching the body from the VW chassis, It was found to be extremely heavy. A quality dune buggy body, like a Meyers Manx, weighs in at around 150 lbs. this thing felt like 300 lbs. Under further investigation we found plywood inside the flat sections of the body, as well as some other places where the fiberglass was an inch thick. When picking away at some of the newer red paint, some of the original metallic gold color revealed itself from underneath.
It actually looked like the same gold color as the model kit. It was becoming clear, that there was something special about this particular car. It had the characteristics of being a prototype. At this point, I thought the car needed a forensic investigation, to help determine what it was we moved forward and contacted Keith Dean – the son of Dick Dean. He worked alongside his dad at Southend Kustoms, from his teens, until Dicks passing in ‘08.
He remembered when his dad worked at Safari, so he was familiar with the buggy. I thought he may be the most qualified person out there to identify his dad’s work. He was excited to hear of the discovery of it and was happy to be involved. When he first saw it, he quietly crawled around it, looking over, and under it, and inspected every nook and cranny. He stood back up, pulled off his glasses, and stated..”yeah, this is my dad’s work…this IS the first prototype”.
One dead giveaway, was its fuel tank was an aftermarket “spare tire” gas container attached under the nose. A solution his dad had used before. Second, he identified the gold paint as “Crescent Gold”, which is a powdered gold pigment added to paint, that gives it that shimmering look of gold leaf. It was the same way Dick painted “Dragula”, the coffin show car from the TV show, “The Munsters”. Discovering that this was Dick Dean’s prototype was great news, yet it also meant a greater responsibility. This was a hand-built, full scale model from the hands of a legendary car builder. So, it was left with Keith at his facility to do the proper restoration.
Keith continued to keep his dads legacy going, and builds 100 point custom cars as well as museum quality replicas of famous TV and Movie cars, so I believed it was in good hands. The Super Safari was put on the list, patiently behind a couple other clients jobs. In one conversation, I mentioned the photos of the other yellow mystery Safari I had seen. That sounded familiar to Keith, so he started digging in his dads archives. There it was, he found a different photo, but of the same race car, as well as a business card from Safari Enterprises, with “Dick Dean” real big in the center. Some more pieces to the puzzle… but what is it with this yellow Safari racer?
One day, in the Fall of 2019, there was a phone call from Keith…”you’re not going to believe this”…”check your texts”. He sent a “for sale” ad, from a man in Arizona, with another Super Safari. To me, it kinda looked like the race car from those old photos. He found it on a VW only, Internet classifieds, by total surprise. The buggy was bought, and brought back to Keith’s shop. He was proud of it, and rightly so…for he had found his very own Super Safari. Now in his possession, he fully inspected this new member to the family, and turns out, it is in fact, the race car we saw in those earlier photos. Excellent, the mystery behind the photo was solved. Little did we know there was more to the story.
Looking through several different off-road racing programs, it was discovered that this car was entered into the NORRA 1968 Mexican 1000. The off-road desert race that runs 1000 miles down the Baja peninsula, in Mexico. The Safari was #220, with the names “K.E. Fountain”, and “R.M. McKinley“ attached. After doing some serious sleuthing, the family of K.E. Fountain had been located. Randy Fountain, the grandson of The late Mr. Ken Fountain, knew the entire story. (Incidentally, Randy was the one who originally posted those photos of the yellow Safari, on that racing website)
Randy stated that after his grandpa raced in the 1967 Mexican 1000, with a rudimentary home-built pipe dune buggy, he wanted to build a new car to compete in the upcoming 1968 race taking place in November. In the summer of ‘68, he saw an advertisement of the “new Super Safari” and decided that’s the body for him.
He contacted Safari Enterprises with his request, and after some qualifying correspondence, the buggy firm granted him a body. It was built into the race car pictured and off to Baja it went. After the competition, the racing Safari stayed in Ken Fountains possession for a couple years, until it ultimately changed ownership. From then, until it’s discovery in Arizona, the story of its travels are unknown.
The intentions for this one, is to restore it back to its original racing livery, of that ‘68 race. Keith, now even more enthusiastic to have a Super Safari of his own, decided he should have a model kit of the buggy, as well. He went to look on eBay, and there is one model kit for sale. In the description, the seller stated that he obtained the model back in the 60’s, when Revell gave them a crate of model kits, as part of the deal, for using his dad’s dune buggy at Safari Enterprises.
What?!?…was this a family member linked to the business?
Keith contacted the seller, and it turned out to be Cameron De Smidt, the son of the owner of the Safari company. We couldn’t believe the chance, and timing, of stumbling upon this information. Cameron stated he never really sells on eBay, but for some reason decided to sell a model kit, and reveal the family ties in the description. This was at the only time Keith decided to look for a model kit. So it was quite serendipitous. Turns out Cameron lived close to Keith, so a meeting was arranged, between Cameron, Keith, and myself. Cameron arrived, and was all smiles. He couldn’t believe that the long lost Safari’s he worked on at his father’s company, over 50 years ago, had been found. He arrived with some old factory literature and brochures as gifts.
When asked about his dad, Cameron stated his father was Richard De Smidt, a WW II veteran that was on the design team to develop a silent running submarine for the military. He was a businessman of many talents and entrepreneur. He ventured into the Dune Buggy business in 1967 and Safari Enterprises was created. De Smidt sold conventional, Manx style dune buggies, in the Los Angeles area. Since numerous other companies we’re offering the same basic body style, ultimately, a new body design exclusive to Safari Enterprises, was desired. Cameron stated that this is when his father commissioned Tom Daniel to draw up this new design.
Then shortly after, Dick Dean joined the company to create it. It was discussed that Dick had hand built and shaped an aluminum buck of the Super Safari body to make the molds. Derived from some of the dates on original Safari literature, the 1st fiberglass prototype body was completed in August of 1968.
This #1 car was experimental, so it had wood used for some of the body, and for bracing. Accompanied with an extra thick, tooling grade gelcoat outer shell, it explained why the body was as heavy as it was. This prototype was made fully operational, and became the company’s demonstrator. It was promoted at many auto events, including the 1969 Chicago Auto Show, as well as a trade show at the Orange County International Raceway. With the car making the rounds, rubbing elbows with the big boys, De Smidt makes friends, with some of the big names in the business.
One being Mickey Thompson. After he approached Mickey to exclusively use his brand of “Pos-a-Traction” tires, for the buggies they built, Mickey saw the glimmering gold buggy and fell in love. Cameron stated “Mickey wanted that gold Safari, and always bugged my dad to buy it”. Apparently the Revell model company thought it was special, too. Cameron remembers the Revell team coming over to take photos and measurements, to eagerly start producing scale 1/25 model kits of the buggy.
When asked how many of the Super Safaris were produced, Cameron replied “only two… the gold showcar, and the Baja racecar”. When asked why only 2, he really didn’t know exactly why. He was a teenager at the time, laying up the fiberglass bodies of the other models, and didn’t know the business end of it, too much. He stated one reason, might be because of the delay of getting the body design patented.
By the time the patent was approved, the dune buggy craze was start to slow down. He did mention, though that in the middle of the company moving to a different location, the molds were kept at a storage lot, and when they went to retrieve them, they discovered that they had been stolen. When asked if he knew whatever ultimately happened to the two Supers…he stated that he saw the yellow Baja Safari get built, and go off with Ken Fountain for the race, and didn’t see it again…and when his dad decided to end the Dune Buggy business, he finally sold the gold prototype to Mickey Thompson.
Hearing this was an unexpected surprise, so I had to ask again, just to be clear… “Mickey Thompson was the original owner of the gold Super Safari?”…and Cameron confirmed it…”yeah, he sold that thing to Mickey, and it ticked me off… I wanted that car!”.
Well that was some intriguing news. So during its development, it seems these stylish new sport buggy’s that never left the launchpad, had quite a lineage of automotive legends, to leave their fingerprints on it. And the list is still growing as both cars are in the hands of Keith Dean to get restored back to their former glory. Tom Daniel has been in contact during the restoration, to help with any questions as they arise.
So the two surviving Super Safari’s have come full circle, and are back in the hearts and minds of the descendants that help put them in motion. From the designer, the sculptor, the manufacturer, and the racer, the band has been put back together!
Great thanks to Richard Brown for sharing the story – the hunt, research, and those he involved. It takes time and effort to research lost cars and Richard is one of the Undiscovered Classics aficionados that does this best. Great job Richard and excellent story.
Richard has promised to share more stories with us – not just on the restoration of this car but many other of his adventures, acquisitions and more. You can see all of Richard Brown’s stories here on Undiscovered Class by clicking on the following link:
Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…
The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.