All about Ultra Vans and their variants
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A Quick Overview
by Owen Strawn
David G. Peterson hand-built a Corvair-engined house car in Oakland CA during the last three months of 1960. People who saw it liked it so much that he formed the Ultra Van Mfg. Co. in August 1961 to begin construction of a production prototype, a motorhome, and a commercial/utility van.
Prescolite Manufacturing Corporation took delivery of the commercial van in Spring 1963, at which point they took over production. Prescolite’s Motor Coach Division constructed 7 coaches and shut down again in February 1964. At least four of these coaches were originally called Travalons.
Peterson re-started production (still in Oakland), completing 10 more coaches before licensing the rights to Jack Tillotson in August 1965. Three additional drivable but incomplete coaches were transferred to Tillotson for finishing.
Tillotson’s Ultra, Inc. produced 346 Ultra Vans in Hutchinson KS from January 1966 to June 1970. The last of these were V8 Ultra Vans, as developed by head engineer Chuck Burgess. Burgess also developed the front wheel drive Tiara motorhome. Ultra, Inc. produced 14 Tiaras, and 28 more were produced by BELCO after Ultra, Inc. closed.
Tillotson transferred the last three incomplete V8 coaches to Peterson in 1970. Peterson also developed the Toronado conversion and installed it on 17 existing coaches in 1970 and 1971.
In 1972 Peterson built a prototype for an all-new design, serial #601. #602 was sold as parts or a kit and never completed, although it is still owned by original owner. #603 & 604 were commissioned builds that were eventually finished by Roger Dillan’s short-lived Ultra Van Corporation in 1973. #605 was left unfinished when the Sonoma factory closed in 1974.
Peterson tinkered with another design in his back yard from 1982-1998. Ultra Van #700 was also never completed.
The first two coaches didn’t originally have sequential serial numbers; they are now known as #001 and #200. The third is serial #103 and the fourth is serial #4.
Prescolite serial numbers are odd; five of the seven have been identified: S63 104, S163006, S-163102, S-163103(?), and S-264105. Actual sequence is ambiguous.
When Peterson restarted production in 1964 he skipped ahead to serial #201, and at this point serial numbers continued sequentially (with a few unexplained oddities) until Ultra, Inc. delivered #556.
The last three uncompleted Hutchinson coaches currently show serial numbers TU-100, #558, and #559.
#601-605 and #700 were identified above.
Tiaras generally have a 20xx identification number (though the earliest production seems to have had separate seven-digit serial numbers). 28 of the 42 coaches have been identified to date: the prototype, 2002-2006, 2010-2022, 2025, 2027, 2028, 2034, 2036, 2038, 2040, 2077, and Seattle’s Medic One mobile intensive/coronary care unit.
Ultra Van Statistics
There are currently believed to have been 376 Ultra Vans built:
320 were equipped with Corvair engines (1-11, 201-509)
49 were equipped with 307 cid Chevy V8 engines (510-556, 558-559)
1 was equipped with a 455 cid Olds V8 engine (TU-100)
3 were equipped with 350 cid Olds V8 engines (601, 603, 604)
1 was equipped with a 1.6 liter Chevette inline-4 engine (700)
2 were unpowered (602, 605)
357 were 22′ long (163006, 202-207, 209-411, 413-559)
3 were 23′ long (601, 602, 605)
9 were 24′ long (001, 200, 103, 4, 63104, 163102, 163103, 201, 412)
3 were 25’ long (264105, 603, 604)
2 were 27′ long (208, 700)
Note, #700 has alternately been reported at 20’ long. #221, 267, 430, 445, and 559 have since been stretched to 23′; #602 has since been stretched to 26′. #605 is currently being stretched to 26′.
16 used the teardrop-shaped Ford Econoline headlight trims (200, 103, 4, 63104, 163006, 163102, 163103, 201, 202, 203, 205, 206, 208, 209, 20, 211)
Four have never yet been completed (559, 602, 605, 700). One was owner-finished (558).
All except #700 used windshields from the Union City Chevy/GMC round front stepvan.
This web page shows an overview of the 1960-1965 Oakland-built Ultra Vans
This gallery shows 271 different Ultra Vans (every one that I have ever found a picture of)