The Dobbertin Surface Orbiter – Captain Nemo builds a Corvette
"This thing makes an Indy car look like a homebuilt. Still, there is something wonderful, zany and hopelessly chimerical about the entire project which makes one think of other backyard wizards, like Mickey Thompson and Art Arfons and Bill Rutan, who bolted and welded together other seemingly insane dreams."
"Rick Dobbertin surged onto the custom-car scene in the 1980s after building a pair of prize-winning show cars. His 1965 Nova was named HOT ROD Magazine’s 1982 Street Machine of the Year. Four years later, his 1985 Pontiac J-2000 was anointed as HOT ROD Magazine’s 1986 Hot Rod of the Year. Both have turned up in more than 100 car magazines around the world."Brock Yates – Editor At Large CAR AND DRIVER MAGAZINE – APRIL 1994
"This Just In"
"Along the way, the Surface Orbiter has caused a fair number of "incidents". It nearly provoked an international crisis in the Dominican Republic, where jittery neighboring Haitians thought it was a U.S. amphibious assault vehicle. It got picked up by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which knew it wasn't carrying drugs because it was headed South."John Phillips – Feature Editor CAR AND DRIVER MAGAZINE - NOVEMBER 1994
For Every Moat – There’s A Catapult Or A Surface Orbiter
"At last, the vehicle I most urgently crave, the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter, and who among us wouldn’t? Yates called it Captain Nemo’s Corvette."
"Before running out of cash, it racked up 27,300 land miles and 3,000 ocean miles between December 1993 and June 1996. Better still, the DSO logged the first-ever amphibious transit of the Panama Canal."John Phillips – Feature Editor CAR AND DRIVER MAGAZINE – DECEMBER 1997
The Magellanic Mechanic –
Rick Dobbertin And His Surface Orbiter
"I have to say something about his workmanship, to put it bluntly, if such things were still in fashion, Rick would be burned for a wizard. I’m familiar with metal work on Japanese superbikes, military aircraft and musical instruments. Next to Dobbertin’s work, they all seem like lashed-up stone-aged tools. It’s hard to believe these tubes weren’t all made from one piece.
"An imposing presence on the road, the Surface Orbiter is 7 1/2 ft. wide and over 11 ft. tall for the 4-mile range lights, radio masts and radar domes it sports. The Orbiter can cruise at the speed limit on U.S. highways, though it's not likely to exceed that speed by much.
"Dobbertin built the Orbiter over a period of four years and 14,000 man hours. Previously, he has built custom cars, sometimes described as the only perfect cars in the world."
"Dobbertin’s doing something at the very top of our trade. He’s doing something all of us would like to do, but never will. To be frank, we owe him some support, not just for himself, but for our profession. No fat cats are underwriting the Orbiter."Joe Woods – Feature Editor MOTOR AGE MAGAZINE – MARCH 1994
"We’ve spent the last two and a half years working 12 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, building a vehicle that will go around the world. If we weren’t confident that it would make it, we wouldn’t be setting off, Rick asserted."
"Now, if it was anyone else apart from Rick Dobbertin making these wild claims, you’d think he’d been over-indulging in various recreational substances. Not the case. In the US, this quiet, dry-humored, but deadly serious 41-year-old is King of the Hot-Rod scene."
"For a decade or so, Rick’s handbuilt show cars have been scooping the country’s top Hot-Rod awards. Now he’s transferred those car-building skills to designing and welding together this 11-metre long, 3-metre high, 9,000 kg amphibian…"David Trebett – Editor SOUTH AFRICAN CARS – JUNE 1994
Globe –Trotting Guernsey
"A milk truck with wanderlust, the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter and its crew of two plan to visit every continent on Earth, and most of its islands, too."
"This endeavor sort of reminds one of "The Little Engine That Could"– the childhood story that encourages kids to keep trying no matter what the odds against succeeding. Rick Dobbertin (Is his middle name Perseverance?) must have felt that little story was a way of life, because he tackled the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter (DSO) project in the same manner."Jim Brightly – Feature Editor MotorHome Magazine – November 1995
An Amphibian That Isn't For The Lactose Intolerant
We've all heard stories about the weird ways that genius manifests itself. Legend has it that Mozart would awake in a cold sweat with a new symphony playing in his head (Paul McCartney claimed that this was also how "Yesterday" came to be), and stories abound about how Einstein couldn't even tie his shoe--he'd never bothered to learn trivial things.
However, we have a world-class anecdote about how the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter, a vehicle built for unassisted round-the-world travel, was conceived. Unreliable sources say that Rick Dobbertin, a custom car builder whose honors include "Street Machine of the Year" for his '65 Nova and "Hot Rod of the Year" for his '85 Pontiac 2000, was showing his cars in Australia one year when he took time out to feed a kangaroo. Just like in the cartoons, the kangaroo punched Rick. It's unclear whether he conceived this all-or-none-terrain vehicle before or after the stars cleared (or while cussing those damned cars that brought him to Australia in the first place), but the $10,000 that his wife, Karen, made from submitting the tape of the incident to "Totally Hidden Video" served as seed money to get things rolling.
Project HQ was the Dobbertin's one-car garage in Cazenovia, New York. The structure's cup soon runneth over when Rick returned from a salvage yard with a 1959 Heil stainless-steel tank designed for delivering milk. At approximately 32 x 7 feet, the tank was longer than the Dobbertin's garage. After adding an extra 16 feet onto the structure, Rick reportedly said that the project became "like building a ship model in a bottle, except that you're in the bottle."
With his proven track record on the show circuit, Rick managed to round up a couple of sponsors. GM cut loose with a 6.5L turbo-diesel, which was modified for marine use by Peninsular Marine. Hydramatic came through with a 4L80E automatic trans, and Borg-Warner coughed up a transfer case. A few hundred thousand dollars short of their goal of driving/propelling the Orbiter around the world, Karen worked overtime as an interior decorator and Rick took odd jobs as a welder and car painter in his spare time.
About 11,000 man-hours, 1000 pounds of spare parts, and 775 fabricated pieces of T-304 stainless steel later, the 16,000-pound Orbiter was ready. Its details include a stainless sub frame, a trick suspension, a Lexan windshield, six BFG Mud-Terrain T/As (with six mounted spares), a 20-inch bronze propeller (in homage to James Bond's Lotus in The Spy Who Loved Me?, a life raft, an engine air-intake snorkel, and a retractable radar mast.
Anticipating serious time, the Dobbertins outfitted the galley with leather Recaro seats--on land, Rick drives from the left seat, and Karen captains from the right while in the water. The cockpit also has a global-positioning system, a small sleeping compartment, an onboard welding system, a microwave oven, a sink, a refrigerator, and even a toilet.
Don't ask us how they did it, but the Orbiter is licensed both as a motor vehicle and as a boat. Apparently the lack of a mechanical emergency brake was a DOT issue until Rick successfully claimed that the boat anchor was designed for that purpose--possibly his finest bit of thinking-on-your-feet ingenuity.
Performance-wise, Rick claims that the Orbiter tops out at 65 mph on the tarmac and 8 mph in the water; you'll have to convert that to knots yourself. It's also been tested in five-foot surf (what, life rafts but no onboard longboard?).
In all, the Orbiter is a testament to what a demented mind, inhuman amounts of talent, and $175,000 can accomplish. Last we heard, the Dobbertins were attempting to raise money for their round-the-world trek by selling stickers. Quite honestly, we think they should slap some 66-inch tires under that milk can and see the world via the monster-truck circuit.J.G. Russell - Author OFF ROAD MAGAZINE - April, 1995