A long time ago in a far, far away place I saved my first fiberglass vehicle – a 1962 Shark Roadster. It was a memorable experience and had a lifelong impact on my interest in cars.
Fast forward 25+ years and Rick D’Louhy and I went from this:
But…we still loved cars and in 2006 were about to embark on a set of new adventures – the history of fiberglass sports cars in America. But sometimes as Rick will attest, I can get off track as I did a bit with my pursuit of a special vehicle – part fiberglass, part aluminum, creative design, and one of just around 300 built. I had to save it – it was something special. It was my first….”Ultravan.”
Setting The Stage:
It was an exciting time for Rick and me in 2007. After a 25 year quest, I had found the Covington Tiburon coupe and purchased it in 2005, and by mid-2006 Rick and I were beginning our research into fiberglass cars with new – and now good friend – Jon Greuel. Rick and I had hooked up again to learn more about two cars we recently had found – an Eric Irwin Lancer that Rick had found and a Grantham Stardust that I was interested in.
I was primed to reach out and learn as much as I could about these lost and special fiberglass cars (both since saved) – and it was late in 2006 that I found out that an Ultravan was available for “free” in Florida – about 3 hours from my home. The catch? You had to save it from the terrible wrath of a Florida swamp.
I must be deranged…..”What a deal!” I thought to myself. And thus became the start of fiber-adventure number two: Saving an Ultravan from certain doom that had been abandoned on the edge of a Florida swamp.
Saving Ultravan #377:
About 300 Ultravans were made over a 10 year period from around 1960 to about 1970. Fairly rare vehicles built from aluminum and fiberglass – and neat looking too.
In 2006 when Rick and I started our research into fiberglass cars, I couldn’t choose so I thought I would do “both” – that is research vintage fiber cars and Ultravans. After all, who couldn’t love a name like “Ultravan.” And by the time our first appearance with vintage fiberglass sports cars at Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance came along – March, 2007 – where we showed our restored 1957 LaDawri Conquest, I had also rescued our first Ultravan from the depths of a swamp near Sebring, Florida. Actually both events occurred mere hours between them.
My rescue of Ultravan #377 was noticed, and in April, 2007 a short article with photos appeared in the national (international) publication on Ultravans called “Whales on Wheels.”
The story ended with the following short note – a harbinger of things to come in my life:
“The pictures tell the story of the rescue of #377 from the palmetto swamps of Florida after two hurricanes could not make her give up. Geoff Hacker, the new owner and a new member of UVMCC is the third from left in the next to last picture.
A man of more courage than I”
Here are some more photos of us digging out and moving the Ultravan from its near fatal spot near the swamp to the roadway for later pickup:
The Ultravan is Delivered:
And by a strange quirk of coincidence, Merrill and Gerianne Powell of Victress fame had come to Florida to join us at the 2007 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Having arrived the previous day, I invited them to join me on a trip to Fiberglass Farms and to witness the arrival of the Ultravan.
You see, after the rescue we arranged to have it picked up and delivered to the fledgling “Fiberglass Farms” and this was occurring just a few days before our trip to Amelia Island.
So after we rescued the Ultravan, I arranged to have it delivered to the restaurant that Merrill, Gerianne, Nancy, and I were eating at in Zephyhills, Florida – nearby the secret location of Fiberglass Farms. That way, I could “spot” it – the Ultravan – when it arrived, and lead our caravan to its new home among the fiberglass. It turned out that the Ultravan was not too hard to “miss.”
Pictures of the Ultravan arriving at the restaurant are shown below.
So on that early day in March, 2007, Merrill Powell, his wife Gerianne, Nancy Kent – mistress of Fiberglass Farms, and myself arranged to wash down the Ultravan and give it a good home at the budding location of fiberglass farms. I think we just had two fiber cars there back then at “The Farms.” My how things would change.
And I’m glad to say that we made it to Amelia Island with our 1957 LaDawri Conquest just a few days later from our fiber-rescue of the Ultravan. Proof you say? Shown below is famed customizer George Barris with our 1957 LaDawri Conquest – at Amelia in 2007:
And …by June, 2007 – just 3 months after our first appearance at Amelia – the story of our rescuing the Ultravan appeared in Classic and Sports Car – the UK magazine – penned by editor Mick Walsh. It included a small photo of the Ultravan in front of the restaurant in which we were eating when it arrived. Here are some of the key parts of the article for you to enjoy:
“When I heard the subject of Ultravans being discussed among the owners of another inspired class – glassfibre American sports cars – my ears pricked up. While preparing his LaDawri Conquest for its show debut, Geoff Hacker got word about an Ultravan that urgently needed saving or it would be scrapped. “It’d been stuck in the woods for 18 years and took three trips to get it free.” Said Hacker, savior of all types of arcane automotive Americana.
“The sugar sand had seized all the brakes and we had to dig holes to put on new tyres. Local Corvair enthusiasts helped with the rescue and after pressure washing it looked pretty sound. It’s such an interesting design it had to be saved. Hopefully someone will restore it. Maybe even me.”
Mick Walsh: Classic & Sports Car (UK) June, 2007
And…this first article heralded a flurry of articles on early postwar fiberglass sports cars that Rick D’Louhy and I would continue to research and find – fiberglass, aluminum, and steel – stories that continue to appear in magazines today.
So now you know “the rest of the story” or at least how Forgotten Fiberglass got its start. The Forgotten Fiberglass enterprise – research, restorations, rescues and a series of adventures – all started with the actions of rescuing one little tiny Ultravan – and maybe a ’62 Shark some years before.
And it didn’t stop with this Ultravan gang. I ended up selling #377 to a friend for what I had in it. And then I went out and saved two other Ultravans over the next 3 years – including the very last Ultravan ever made. I sold the last one around 2009 and Rick D’Louhy has been a happy guy ever since.
Note: The following part is NOT for Rick D’Louhy’s eyes
But guess what? I was recently contacted by the Ultravan club and was informed that another Ultravan needs saving and it’s in Florida too. Don’t tell Rick but I think there may be another fiber-adventure in store for us before the end of 2014. Anyone want to join in?
Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember gang…
The adventure continues here at Forgotten Fiberglass.