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While Ralph Nader may have peered into the rear-engine compartment of the Chevrolet Corvair and seen fire and brimstone, Dave Peterson saw opportunity — and within a year of the Corvair’s 1959 introduction, Peterson had rented a garage, drafted a dream and began selling lightweight machines that, if nothing else, were initially blessed with one of the classic motorhome monickers of all time — the Go-Home — before the designer settled upon Ultra Van.
Drawing on his background as an aircraft designer for Boeing, Peterson infused the odd little Class A coach with then-state-of-the-art aircraft technology. There is no frame or chassis in the Ultra Van; instead, the monocoque design gets its strength from aluminum panels riveted to curved aluminum ribs (the front and rear outer skin was fiberglass). The aluminum water and fuel tanks likewise contributed to vehicle rigidity; running the full length of the coach, they were actually integrated into its structure.
The liberal use of lightweight materials kept the vehicle’s dry weight below 4,000 pounds, which allowed the use of regular 14-inch tires — making emergency replacements as near as the local gas station. The small rolling stock and unusual front-suspension geometry gave Peterson’s machine a tighter (50-degree) turning radius than that enjoyed by most light trucks — not all that surprising, considering it sat on a wheelbase just 22 inches longer than a contemporary Chevy Suburban.
Initially powered by the Corvair’s 80-hp, 140cid engine and two-speed Powerglide transaxle, the only-available-in-white Ultra Van was appointed in rather Spartan fashion — but then again, it only cost $7,000. Peterson sold the rights to the “White Whale” to John Tillotson in 1965; Tillotson moved production from Southern California to Kansas and later experimented with other powertrains — including a small-block Chevy and Corvette independent rear suspension dubbed the Corvette Ultra — before production ceased at 373 total units.