Missing but not Lost: The Strange Story of Ed Roth’s Orbitron
One guy who understood weirdness well was Ed Roth. A god amongst California hot rodders, he gained fame in the 50s and 60s for his drawings of grotesque creatures driving customized vehicles. His outlook on life was not unlike that of Charles Addams, creator of the Addams Family, which started out as a series of illustrations before it was made into a TV show. Roth was also a custom car builder, and in 1964 he created what was perhaps his crowning achievement: the Orbitron. The vehicle could just as well have been called Frankenstein, because it was assembled from a vast array of parts. These included: A Chevy V8 from the mid-50s. A 1956 Chevy rear end. A Ford front axle. Vintage Ford brakes. A Plexiglas half-bubble on top. A cockpit lined with faux fur. A custom console that included an 11-inch TV. Triple headlamps in red, white, and green, which together looked like a color TV camera from the glory days of broadcasting. RELATED: See Photos of the 2015 Lamborghini Rat Rod Concept
Roth fashioned the chassis in chrome, then covered it with a fiberglass exterior. The final effect was a cobbled-together medley of parts, one that looked like a cross between a classic hot rod and a modern art sculpture chiseled by a near-sighted madman. Still, in its own offbeat way, the Orbitron was coolness defined, a thing of beauty no fully sane person could appreciate.
Roth himself was never too pleased with the vehicle, largely because the fiberglass shell covered up much of the intricate chrome work around the engine. He sold it to fellow custom car builder Darryl Starbird in 1967 for $750. Starbird later traded it to an unnamed party in Texas, who owned it until 1991. At that point, the Orbitron seemingly vanished into thin air.
The Orbitron’s fate remain veiled in mystery until 2007. In that year, famed auto restorer Michael Lightbourn found it sitting in front of an adult bookstore in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The owner was using it as an ad gimmick. It was mostly intact, though the hood, fur lining, TV, and bubble top were long gone. Lightbourn was able to secure possession, after engaging in some intense horse-trading with its owner.
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PHOTOS: See images of the 1964 Orbitron
Upon returning to the USA, the Orbitron was bought by Beau Boeckmann of Galpin Auto Sports. Boeckmann spent a little over three months restoring the Orbitron, which had deteriorated badly over the years. Boeckmann had a new bubble top fashioned, recreated the original “candy blue” paint job, and even replaced the missing TV.
The final result was featured in a 2009 issue of Hot Rod Deluxe. But, if there is any justice in the world, then it will someday find its way to the Smithsonian, or some other institution worthy of its presence. For the Orbitron is more than a car. It’s a work of art in its own wonderfully weird way.
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