Rick Dobbertin was your typical hot rod show car builder until he was punched by a kangaroo in Australia. After that, he became a raving lunatic…the kind I can’t help but to admire and hope to emulate.
Rick Dobbertin got this hairbrained idea to circumanvigate the globe. While this wasn’t all that hairbrained in the late 20th century (unlike, say, the late 15th century), it was his method that was a bit whacked out. Rather than drive across continents and take ships across oceans, he would do it all with one vehicle.
The Surface Obiter began with the carcass of a Heil stainless steel trailer designed for carrying milk from dairy to processor. Working his connections, Mr. Dobbertin was able to get a 6.5L turbodiesel V8 from GM and had it built up for marine duty. A Hydramatic transmission was installed to transfer the big diesel’s power to two of the three axles. A 22-inch propeller provided the motive force on the water.
It took Dobbertin 4.5 years and over 14,000 man-hours of labor to get the vehicle ready. A route was chosen that would take the Dobbertins from their home in New York to Miami where they would launch then head down through the Panama Canal and out to the Pacific Ocean.
They never made it that far. It floated, but it was prone to failures, including internal fuel leaks, and the air conditioner didn’t work well. Hot, frustrated, arguing and being chased by the DEA and Colombian guerrillas, the Dobbertins turned north after passing through the Panama Canal and drove back home.
Shortly after their return, Karen Dobbertin filed for divorce. Neither one was unable to buy out the other’s ownership in the Surface Orbiter, so it was put up for sale in 1999 with a $200,000 asking price.
The most impressive feat of all this? Not the labor to build such a crazy vehicle. Not the fact that it actually proved to be a decent land and sea mode of transportation. Nope. It was the fact that he convinced his wife that this was a good idea.
[Ed. Special thanks to TiberiusWise for bringing this magnificent beast up during a Facebook discussion this morning. What sparked said discussion? On my way to work this morning, I decided I want to drive around the world. Maybe not in a custom-built milk tanker, but in my Jeep. Now, I just need to convince Mrs. engineerd™ that this is a Good Idea™.]
[Image Credit: Dobbertin Enterprises]