Saturday, January 24, 2015

Claymobile: Stolen Custom 1965 Corvair Corsa linked to Muhammad Ali, the whole story

Claymobile in 2008, in a state of disrepair, and at a 1977 Eastwood Mall car show with Claymobile in purple metallic paint.

The Claymobile almost got me arrested. I had no idea that the mysterious, custom car, with a rumored, legendary ownership, would eventually be stolen. The Claymobile story fueled my journey from junk yards to Junkyard Life and is the reason I continue to document automotive history, one junkyard dream at a time.
  Finally, the story comes home.

The Claymobile facts
  The Claymobile, previously owned by retired pilot and Corvair enthusiast, Orville Lippert, is a highly-customized 1965 Corvair Corsa convertible. The car is reportedly linked to boxing great Muhammad Ali (previously known as Cassius Clay).
  Legend has it that GM presented Cassius Clay with the modified Corvair in 1964. Hence the name “Clay”-mobile. Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964. Skeptics are quick to note that the raised white lettering on the tires reads “CLAYMOBILE CORVAIR 1965,” and that Ali would not have accepted the Corvair with his “slave name” attached.  
  The Claymobile was stolen six months after I “uncovered” the custom Corvair and published a story about it online. I’m still searching for the truth and the Claymobile.

Lead on Mystery Car
9:04 a.m. – December 6, 2008

  “You’ve never seen a car like this!”
  My brother-from-another-mother, Michael Reeder, had been feeding me a tale about acres of Corvairs surrounding a mystery machine in a field. He was convinced that one of the cars had to be a George Barris custom hot rod.
  “Looks like a home-built ‘Speed Racer’ car.”
  I was determined to lay eyes on the mystery car myself on a blustery, cold Saturday in December 2008. Three children tucked into the backseat of my battered, silver, Mazda 626. Reeder and I drove toward an overgrown triangle of land in Cullman County, Alabama. Armed with a camera and a box of Pop Tarts, we were ready for anything.
  “Are we there, yet?”

Legend has it that the car was presented to Muhammad Ali when new.
A mysterious, custom car, seemingly abandoned. The Claymobile!

First look: The Claymobile
10:13 a.m. – December 6, 2008

  “What the heck?”
  The Bermuda Triangle of oddball cars sits along a 55 MPH stretch of two-lane highway. A gray and black 1965 Fitch “Sprint” Corvair was planted a few feet from the road and served as our landmark. The location was desolate and surrounded only by farmland and swift traffic along the land bordering the highway.
  Hesitantly, our daddy daycare brood toured the abandoned car collection disguised as a junk yard. A line of four Corvair wagons, fighting a losing battle with the unrelenting hedgerow, caught our attention first. Stepping gently through the briar-laden property, with kids in tow, Reeder and I eye-balled dozens of complete, restorable cars. Almost all were mid-to-late 1960s-era. Mostly Corvairs. They were scattered among several vandalized and heavily damaged buildings, including a cinder block garage and single-wide mobile home.
  Cast-off parts, including doors, hoods and wheels, were piled, strewn and stacked in weeds. Bags of trash and pockets of decay resembling a garbage dump and war zone were sprinkled around the property for good measure.
Centered among the chaos sat the CLAYMOBILE!

The car was complete except for the paint being stripped away in preparation for a restoration.
Check out the smooth curve on the top edge of the frameless windshield and dramatic swoop along the top edge of the Claymobile’s eight-inch-thick doors.

10:24 a.m. – December 6, 2008

  An open air cockpit, tail fins and long snout? Really, I had never seen anything like it. Long and low with an exaggerated set of tail fins and enormous diamond-shaped exhaust ports. Movie set rocket ships of the late 1950s had nothing on this car.
  A closer look revealed a rear-mounted, flat-six, multi-carb Corvair engine and a Corsa emblem on the glove box. All clues to Corvair origins. Raised, white letter tires proudly displayed “CLAYMOBILE CORVAIR 1965” around the vintage ET II wheels.
  Was this a home-built tribute to the “Speed Racer” car of cartoon fame? Could it really be a George Barris custom hot rod? Why was it sitting in a field next to a destroyed, single-wide trailer?
  It was time to ask the nearest neighbor about the place.

The 1965 Corvair Claymobile was photographed with three original ET II Wheels and custom Claymobile lettering on the raised white letter tires.
Custom, raised-white-letter tires tell the story, “ Claymobile Corvair 1965,” and dig those ET II mag wheels!

  “Hi! You don’t know me but I’ve got some questions about that land with all the old Corvairs.”
  Initially, the neighboring property owner was reluctant to divulge any details. But the story was just too good to keep secret.
  I learned that Orville Lippert, the owner of the land and all the Corvairs, had passed in 1989. Orville, originally from Michigan, was an airplane mechanic, inspector and pilot. He built his own airplane, the Lippert-Fokker, and established Lippert’s field, a landing strip in Michigan. Orville survived a 1969 airplane crash while practicing touch-and-go landing in his WWI German fighter plane. He moved from Michigan to Florida, then decided to retire and move to  property in Alabama, where he maintained a large collection of Corvairs.
  According to a neighbor, Eric, Orville’s son, had taken up residence on the property but struggled to maintain the place, because he was working in another town. Eventually, Eric moved away and seldom checked on his dad’s old place. Other alleged details from the neighbor, including arrests, drug busts, and a meth lab explosion, seemed plausible considering the condition of the property.

Love it or hate it, the Claymobile challenged you to look find a wilder design on any custom car.
Giant tail fins and large exhaust ports highlight the Claymobile’s rocketship styling.

Retracing my steps, the first Claymobile story
4:00 a.m. – December 9, 2008

  My automotive journalism career, if you can call it that, began in March of 2008. I co-authored a blog on with two like-minded, fellow, newspaper journalists, Chris Tutor and Bill Kimber. We covered the local automotive scene for fun, receiving little recognition for our unpaid pursuits. My first story was about exploring junkyards. I was hooked.
  I posted the first Claymobile story three days after I saw it in that field. It was 4 a.m. and I was anxious to find out more about the mystery car.

2 p.m. – December 9, 2008

  A few hours after the Claymobile story hit the web, Hemmings Motor News posted their own story, complete with my photos and details about the Claymobile. My colleague, Chris Tutor, had sent them word of our Claymobile scoop. The Hemmings story garnered immediate reaction. I watched as the Claymobile story and images spread to automotive websites and forums across the globe. I soon added a brief video, walking viewers around the Claymobile, in response to a comment posted on the Hemmings site.
  A local Corvair club, Vulcan Corvair Enthusiasts, in Birmingham, Alabama reported that the Claymobile was originally painted yellow. A photo from a late 1970s car show at Eastwood Mall shows that the Claymobile was painted purple by 1977. 
  Many theories circulated, none confirmed. Joji Barris, George Barris’s daughter, dispelled the myth that the Claymobile was a Barris creation. “No recollection,” she said.
  Ali Center, the Muhammad Ali museum in Louisville, also had no knowledge of any Claymobile connections to Ali.
  A rumor that the Claymobile appeared in Playboy magazine remains unfounded.
  I did learn that original content, especially automotive unicorns like the Claymobile, will be devoured by the web before you can blink.

The Claymobile was built around and on a 1965 Corvair Corsa. Many parts including the 6-pod gauges were found intact on the Claymobile.
The Claymobile retained many 1965 Corvair Corsa-specific parts, like the Corsa instrument cluster.

10:45 a.m. – June 28, 2009

  “I need to talk to you, now!”
The Claymobile was stolen six months after I unveiled it to the world wide web.
Eric Lippert, the understandably shaken owner of the Claymobile, reached out to me in a desperate attempt to locate his one-of-a-kind custom Corvair.
  “I don’t have any paperwork or VIN information on the car,” Lippert said. “Did you take a photo of the VIN?”
  Unfortunately, I did not.
  The car was Eric’s family treasure. He inherited the car from his father, Orville Lippert, in 1989, and had plans of restoring the car to its former glory. He planned to sell the car, for what he hoped would be a huge profit, to fund his daughter's education and his own retirement.
  Lippert, now living in a distant city, rarely visited the Claymobile property. As soon as the Claymobile was discovered missing, Lippert notified the sheriff’s office and reported the theft. The authorities were unable to offer assistance without photos, paperwork or VIN information.

Long hood, low slung and rear engine gave the Claymobile balance to handle twisting roads.
I gave the car's shark nose front end a firm tap. It responded with the dull thud of lead or Bondo. It must have been molded solid.

Blame game
  Lippert looked to the web for help. He Googled “Claymobile,” and Boom! my photos appeared.
  Mystery solved.
  Lippert sought my help –– after deciding not to press charges against me for trespassing.
  I received a phone call from the sheriff’s office and my employer’s legal team were involved. Luckily, I kept my job. My boss allowed me to continue posting content, that did not involve the police or lawyers, to

2nd Story Plea
11:00 p.m. – June 28, 2009

  I wanted to help Lippert find his Claymobile. The car was more than the sum of Corvair parts molded into a custom hot rod. It represented the family’s dreams. Lippert, convinced that the Claymobile once belonged to Ali, planned to complete the car’s restoration in hopes that it would garner the family a windfall. The same day I found out about the theft, I posted a new story alerting readers of the news. It included Lippert’s contact information.

Piles of leaves and sticks landed in the interior of the Claymobile’s the open air cockpit during its years parked outdoors.
The Claymobile was stolen from an overgrown triangle of land in Alabama where it had been stashed for many years, uncovered.

5+ year Claymobile update
  Still missing. Lippert has no leads on the Claymobile.
  “Maybe it will show up one day?,” Lippert said. “If they didn’t sink it in a lake.”
More vehicles went missing from his Cullman property after the Claymobile vanished.
  Lippert had enough.
  “I got tired of everyone stealing everything,” said Lippert.
Eric decided to scrap the remaining cars and sold the land. His father’s Corvair collection is no more.
  The Claymobile, and the Cassius Clay connection, a distant memory.

What did I learn?
  The story beneath the rust has value. Original content is king and everybody wanted a piece of the Claymobile for their website. Before I brought this story to light, few had ever seen the car or knew details about the mystery surrounding its existence.
  The photos I took and excerpts from my stories can be found on blogs and forums across the web. The mystery of Muhammad Ali and the Claymobile created quite a stir and led me to tell my tales on Junkyard Life.
  I continue to dig for dream cars on the cheap and will tell the stories of the people who held the keys.

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life

The Claymobile’s fins and exhaust outlets mimic the rocket age of design. I suspect the large exhausts were designed with the Corvair’s rear engine in mind.
Fins from the 1950s and imaginative design helped to make the Claymobile a one-of-a-kind custom that will never be recreated.

A sporty stick shift in a custom convertible was the hot ticket in the 1960s.
Small pillars support the windshield. High-backed bucket seats. Seat belts? No.

Distinctive styling points the Claymobile as a George Barris creation. Not so.
What was a custom Corvair built for Cassius Clay doing in a field?

A wood, three-spoked steering wheel, full compliment of analog gauges and bucket seats complete the Claymobile’s interior.
Power locks or power window switch on the door panel of the neglected interior?

Considered a $500,000 car by the owners, the Claymobile was stolen from an unfenced field.
Imagine rowing through the gears in the open cockpit. Did the legendary Muhammad Ali once hold the Claymobile’s steering wheel?

The Claymobile’s engine had been stripped of several parts. I spotted only a 2 carburetor set-up, unusual if this was built on a Corsa chasis.
Multi-carb, rear-mounted flat six Corvair engine powered the Claymobile.

An optional 180-hp turbocharged, 164-cu. inch engine was available on the Corvair Corsa.
A TV was installed in the glovebox of the heavily customized Claymobile when the car was first completed. Note the Corsa emblem.

The Claymobile was originally painted Yellow but underwent a color change in the 1970 to a bright purple.
The headlight trim and mouth-like grill were created in the use-what-you-have school of design. Notice the purple paint under layers of primer?

Headrest padded occupants heads from hitting the raised cove behind occupants.
The Claymobile’s seats included headrests.
The white lettering on the Silvertown tires looks deceivingly like a factory built tire.
Vintage ET II mag wheels were wrapped with Silvertown tires lettered with "Claymobile Corvair 1965."

The ad mentioned the Claymobile available fro purchase in South Carolina.
The Claymobile was advertised in Hemmings in the late-1970s.

The Clymobile was purple in 1977 in this Vulcan Corvair Club photo.
Claymobile in 1977 at an Eastwood Mall Corvair show – Birmingham, Alabama.

Decades of neglect sealed the fate of the Claymobile. The prized car with a rumored legendary pedigree was stolen and hasn't been found.
Surprised at how good the Claymobile looks in 1977? What a difference 30 years can make when parked out in the elements.

Send Claymobile information, photos, money, junkyard tips and stories to Junkyard Life!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Making waves, junkyard-style, in a vintage Glastron Carlson boat

Junkyard boat detour. This new thing we discovered leads to questions. The questions lead to answers, and the answers lead us wanting to buy this boat. Right? Isn’t that simple? I get it. When we think of cool, vintage cars, we think of design victories and groundbreaking, body styles. Well, imagine that cool thing (insert car of your choice), pulling this cool thing!

  Behold! A 1982
Glastron Carlson! These neat-o boats are so cool! We stumbled upon this one, and after a closer examination, found ourselves in love with this glittery refugee of 1970’s styling. So, we began thinking... and that never gets our tribe anywhere logical, and always far from ‘normal.’ The thought began with picturing this boat (above) being pulled behind my 1972 Oldmobile Vista Cruiser. That alone, is enough reason to buy it, right?

A closer look
  The original-owner gave us the 50-cent tour of his C512 Glastron boat. During the first ten years-or-so, it was on the water a lot. The lakes, the rivers, and maybe even a trip to the coast. He shared a scrapbook of outings with the boat and the good times it provided. Judging from the pictures, the five-passenger boat was usually filled to capacity. Smiling faces, of the captain and several shapely women, made up the bulk of the photos. 
  “Did the Glastron come standard with the pretty women,” I asked, “or did you have to pay extra?” 
  “Oh, I paid alright,” he replied. “Boy, did I.” 

Volvo power
  This Carlson boat is powered by a Volvo 4 cylinder engine. Our research has uncovered several engine options that changed with the times rather than the hull size or model. 
  Further evidence that this boat was made for us? Dig the trailer! The aluminum slotted mags on the trailer were factory equipment. Be still, our hot rod hearts. Did we have a relative at Carlson? The excessive metal flake paint was perfect for the body. The glittery seats just sealed our fate, even though they need re-working.

  The formative years for the Carlson Glastron were the same years we here at Junkyard Life adore from automobile industry. Mainly, from 1969 through the early 1980s, where they, like us, apparently found themselves stuck in the 1970s. Speaking of 1970’s – these guys also built a model called a Scimitar that had a roof design emulating the very fad and hip T-Tops!

  This cool boat is as close to a floating Trans Am as I have ever seen. This boat begs to be pulled by a Trans Am – like a black and gold Special Edition or a Nocturn Blue, WS6 or a Silver Anniversary – just to name a random few, for no specific reason. Any resemblance to cars we, at Junkyard Life, may own is pure coincidence. For all we know, there may have been a law in the late 1970’s – if you owned a Trans Am and were in the market for a boat – you had to look at these. 

  It may have been a law that I just made up, but you don’t want us to be law breakers, do you?

  We really like these boats, now. Remember the famous 1973 James Bond “Live and Let Die” movie and the boat-jumps-everything-scene? That was with a Glastron Carlson! That doesn’t help our logic at all. It is an indication that all safety-minded boaters should stay off the waterways until Ron, Anthony, and Jody figure out that the poor boat cannot actually do this.


In green? That is so perfect for us Junkyard Life weirdos.
This beautiful baby, whose color resembles Sunset Orange Metallic was sold recently. Lucky, new owners, we envy you.


This 1979 Model CVX-18 seats five, runs great and promises a ton of fun.

New plan

  So, now that we are
Glastron Carlson crazy, I have a new plan. Rescue one of these (hopefully this one), pull it with something cool and vintage, and hit the water. The history, the design, and lines of these Carlsons are made for us. I must make one more mention of the trailers with aluminum slotted wheels. 
  It was Carlson over-excitement for me. If we got your attention, check them out. I found a lot of friendly forums and a wealth of information from like-minded, vintage boat junkies. 
  If you walk into the Junkyard Life shop and see 1970’s Pontiacs, and other street machines, then spy a boat in the midst. Before you ask yourself, “which of these is not like the other?” Look again, that boat may fit in perfectly.

Ron Kidd
(The Water Roaming Car Guy)
— Junkyard Life

Ron Kidd loves green on everything with an engine.

T-top glory in a 1981 Glastron-Carlson Scimitar advertisement. A Trans Am on the water!

This concludes the boating portion of Junkyard Life.

Know a junkyard that we need to visit? Got a car story?  
Send emails to Jody at or Ron at

Friday, November 21, 2014

Barn Find: 1932 Buick uncovers original 1969 Camaro Z28 DZ 302 engine, Corvette rear end

Rust-free 1932 Buick sedan barn find with DZ 302 parked for 39 years in Alabama

Monster of a barn find. Heard this one before? A Ford guy walks into a local, Alabama feed store for his morning cup of coffee and winds up buying a 1969 Camaro DZ 302 engine bolted to a 1932 Buick sedan with a Corvette rear end.
  It wasn’t that easy, but the facts are simple. This beefed-up, barn find Buick had been tucked away since 1975. Now, the family wanted it gone. That’s where Jerry Weber got some hot coffee and a lead on this monster in the barn!

Complete DZ 302 engine sitting between the frame rails of a mothballed 1932 Buick. Holley carb, Winters intake, and finned valve covers all correct ’69 issue.

Are you kidding me?
  As unbelievable as it sounds, this Franken-Buick received a DZ 302-V8 heart transplant, 43 years ago. A resourceful, north Georgia, hot rodder scored the engine from a junkyard in 1971. He managed to yank a complete, DZ-stamped engine from a totaled, Daytona Yellow, 1969 Camaro Z28. To complete the 1932 Franken-Buick make-over, he added a Turbo 400 transmission, Rocket brand wheels, and a complete, independent rear end, including disc brakes, out of a 1965 Corvette. Hurst motor/frame mounts were also used.

Jody Potter, Ron Kidd, and Keith Lively check out the 1965 Corvette rear end, disc brakes under the 1932 Buick.

Really, it hits the fan
  As it turns out, this Georgia, junkyard super hero was building the hot rod for his sons. Somewhere along the way, between 1971 and 1975, he moved his family moved from Georgia to Alabama with the ’32 project in tow. The Buick was road worthy for a couple of years before the sons lost interest and went away to college, around 1975. 
  In the name of hot rodding, or busting knuckles, so to speak, the fan blades hit the radiator. Despite successfully grafting parts onto the Buick, including a Mustang II front end, a destroyed radiator spelled doom.
  That unfortunate event parked the project for the next 39 years. Blame the flex fan, if you must, but that sacrificial radiator helped preserve a low-mile, original DZ 302 engine. The body on the ’32 is also rust-free.

Franken-Buick was hauled to his new home in as-found condition. The hood, grill shell, and other parts were removed 39 years ago when the project went on hold.
New owner gets coffee, more
  Back to the guy who wanted some coffee. Somehow, things ran off the track when the Ford guy, Jerry Weber, was told a 1940 Ford coupe would soon be for sale. Weber left the feed store, with a phone number, ready to meet the owners and make a deal on the 1940 Ford. 
  Weber found out that the family, who owned the ’40 Ford, was planning an estate sale to liquidate the assets of the man who built the 1932 Franken-Buick. The family wanted to quickly clear out all the buildings, including structures that housed cars that had been untouched since 1975. 

Love at first sight
  The ’32 Buick Model 57 caught Weber’s eye. The owners, more concerned with preparing for an estate sale, knew it was once a hot rod. They confirmed that they knew it was a 302-V8.
   Without batting an eye, Weber and his son-in-law, Keith Lively, were loading up a 1940 Ford and the 1932 Buick sedan with the DZ 302 engine. 
  A second lease on life for two, great American classics!

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life

Send photos, money, junkyard tips and stories to Junkyard Life

1932 Buick Model 57 barn find features a body by Fisher with wood and steel.
Much has changed on this 1932 Buick Model 57 except the 114-inch wheelbase.
1965 Corvette independent rear suspension, disc brakes found under the 1932 Buick
1965 Corvette independent rear suspension, disc brakes and differential casting #3830303 found under the 1932 Buick.

Original 1932 Buick rat rod, from 1975. Evidence that art imitates life.

1932 Buick barn find still has original body trim tag, Model 57S
1932 Buick body tag details.

Much of the interior of this 1932 Buick barn find has changed except the wood dash.
The interior of the ’32 Buick has undergone some modifications. Wood dash is original.

Fisher was known to build quality cariiages and eventually automobiles. A lot of wood in these 1932 Buicks.
Fisher Body construction utilized wood and steel on 1932 Buicks.

Low mile 1969 DZ 302 Z28 engine rescued in barn find 1932 Buick
Must be less that 30,000 miles on this DZ 302 engine since it was rescued from a wrecked Z28 in 1971 and parked. The engine spun over freely and looked free of gunk.

Scallops on center of 1932 Buick fenders make me wish modern cars had this attention to detail.
Beautiful detail on the 1932 Buick fenders — and rust-free.

Flex fan fiasco parked the 1932 Buick and preserved this ride.
A Mustang II front end made its way under the 1932 Buick between 1974 and 1975.

Close watch of the gauges when you have a DZ 302 engine under the hood.
A tilt steering column and aftermarket gauges were added to the hot rod 1932 Buick.

Front air scoop also opens at front of 1932 Buick hood.
Large vents including front air scoop opens on redesigned 1932 Buick hood.

DZ 302 engines featured a Winters aluminum high-rise intake with their snowflake logo.
DZ 302 engines featured a Winters aluminum high-rise intake with their snowflake logo.

Wood panel support center section of 1932 Buick roof.
Wood panel supports center section of 1932 Buick Model 57 roof.

1932 Buick barn find features Delta tires and Rocket 5-spoke wheels
Rocket wheels and Delta 60 tires, rear, Delta 70, front.

Straight 8 power propelled Buicks in 1932.
An inline 8-cylinder powered Model 57 Buicks in 1932. That’s 230-cu. inches – a Buick favorite.

A DZ 302 engine found its way between the frame rails of this 1932 Buick in 1971.
After spending decades in locked away, the 1932 Buick is moved, to you guessed it – a barn.

Delta raised white letter tires spread the Hot Rod word on 5-spoke Rocket wheels.
Delta 60, raised, white letter tires spread the hot rod mojo on 5-spoke Rocket wheels.

Camaro Z28 fans speak reverently of the DZ 302 and know it packs a 350-400 hp punch
Camaro Z28 fans speak reverently of the DZ 302 engine, knowing it packs a 350-400HP punch, not the underated 290HP advertised.

1932 Buick barn find monster or Franken-Buick lives again!
1932 Buick barn find monster or Franken-Buick lives again!

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