This is the first installment of a 2 part series of articles on the 1975 Mechanix Illustrated Urba Car. Here is the link to the second part of this story:
I’m learning about this car along the way.
I came across it on eBay a few years ago. When I showed it to Rick D’Louhy – the other half of “Forgotten Fiberglass” – he thought it was intriguing. In fact, he thought it looked like one of the cars in the movie “Total Recall.” Might we have another movie car here? You never know…
Someone has to save the lost fiberglass cars and their history – even if it’s just one by one. We’re all in this together gang. So..off to Maryland we were to pick up our little gem. But we didn’t know what it was, so research would be needed.
Rick and Geoff’s Excellent Adventure:
It was late in 2008, but we started planning the trip. We were going to take one of our research trips to meet many of the founders and families of those who produced fiberglass cars. We planned to show up in Maryland on December 31st, 2008 – and we did. Snow was just starting to fall.
Rick was in his parka and myself in just a sweatshirt. I had plenty of extra insulation at the time (I’m still working on losing that – down to 239 lbs from 285lbs as of today – yea!). So we picked up our prize along with some very strange looking parts, and headed back to Florida – where we hoped it would be warm.
Marshall Foxworthy To The Rescue!
Everyone should have a secret weapon. Mine is good friend Marshall Foxworthy. Marshall pondered over the pictures for quite a bit of time and dug into “research mode.” Several days later, I heard back from his with great news. “Geoff….what you have here is known as an “Urba Car”. And…it was on the front cover of Mechanix Illustrated back in April, 1975.”
Marshall is a magician when it comes to sleuthing the real history of cars. I know him best for his work around researching the history of the Falcon showcars that Chrysler, Plymouth, and DeSoto made back in the day. And he was successful again – as I knew he would be – in finding out the history of what we now knew as the “Urba Car.”
Mechanix Illustrated: April 1975:
Back in April 1975, an article appeared in Mechanix Illustrated titled “An About-Town Car You Can Build for $1400.” I was 13 years old then and remember the gas crisis at about that time. In my home town of Buffalo Grove, Illinois there were gas shortages – just like everywhere else. But our local gas station came up with an idea – gas by appointment. I remember my parents having to phone in a few days in advance and showing up to pump fuel at a specific day and time – just like you would show up for a doctor’s appointment. How funny it seems now.
This was the mood about the economy in the mid 1970’s and Robert Riley and good friend David Carey were “spot on” with their assessment of a need for a small around-town go-getter car. Their Urba Car would fit the bill for the average consumer – and you could build it yourself too. Who could ask for more?
Based on the article, we dug into the history of the car a bit more and tracked down Robert Q. Riley – one half of the original “Quincy Lynn” company – to learn more about the history of Urba Car (also spelled as one word Urbacar.) Robert was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with me earlier this week. Let’s review what I learned.
Robert Riley Recalls the Urba Car:
The Urba Car Rick and I found was made from a set of plans available from Mechanix Illustrated for $15. But that was the “public” side of what was presented to the readers. The actual designers and builders of the original Urba Car were Robert Quincy Riley and David Lynn Carey who formed the company (based on their middle names) Quincy-Lynn. It took them about a year to design and build the car.
Robert and David’s first taste of building a vehicle and offering plan sets to the public started with the magazine Popular Mechanics in April 1969. This was a plan set for a recumbent bicycle called the “Ground Hugger” and was quite successful in terms of overall plan sales. An updated version of this bicycle is still offered today by Riley. Click here to see the “Ground Hugger XR2.”
Robert and David’s relationship with Popular Mechanics was going well and in 1973 they approached the editor of Popular Mechanics about building a car from a set of plans that they could sell. During the meeting they discussed the car and told the editor that it would take a year to design and build the finished car – which they would be willing to do.
However, Popular Mechanics had to commit to running the car on the cover of their magazine. It would take dedicated time and resources to make this car and the set of plans a reality, so the agreement seemed fair to both parties, and Riley and Carey moved forward.
An overview of the Urba Car Story appears in their literature as follows:
“Urba Car Story: Development
Urba Car is the result of adapting available and time tested drive train components to a four wheel street vehicle. The Urba Car package will provide you with the stability of four wheels, the comfort and protection of a fully enclosed body, and the economy of a motorcycle.
Urba Car was almost two years in research and development. The original prototype was completed in June of 1974, and spent the following four months undergoing rigorous field-tests in the hot Arizona desert.”
The Urba Car Debuts: April 1975
By early 1975, the car and set of plans were ready to go. However, Popular Mechanics was not. In fact, while the editor was honorable and wanted to move forward with the car on the cover and an article inside, the remaining “powers” at Popular Mechanics didn’t agree. In fact, they felt there were too many “How-To” articles on the cover of their magazine so they deep-sixed the dedicated cover for the Urba Car.
This did not sit well with Robert, David, or the editor of the magazine.
Undaunted, the editor of Popular Mechanics talked with his peer at Mechanix Illustrated, and the deal made originally with Popular Mechanics was now struck with Mechanix Illustrated. The Urba Car would be on the cover of their magazine, and it would debut in April 1975 – six years to the exact date of the debut of Riley and Carey’s “Ground Hugger” in Popular Mechanics. The relationship with Mechanix Illustrated magazine would continue for approximately another decade with both parties receiving mutual recognition and benefit.
The Urba Car Design:
Riley and Carey were quite innovative in their design and build of the Urba Car. Here’s what they had to say in the article about building the Urba Car body:
“If you like to work with fiberglass, you have the option of modifying the body shape to suit your fancy. The one inch foam panels are assembled on the chassis with glue and then fiberglassed to create a one-piece body-frame. The result is a strong, well-insulated enclosure with molded-in color that’s quick and easy to build.
Construction time should come to about 8 to 10 hours, cutting the foam panels to shape, gluing them together, and rounding the corners with sandpaper. Fiberglassing takes another 15 to 20 hours. No mold is required.”
Anyone ready to build an Urba Car gang? The approach to using flat one-inch foam panels was an interesting – and easy way – for people to build the body shell of their car. And…for only being composed of simple flat surfaces, the Urba Car was fairly stylish too. Nice job Quincy-Lynn!
Introducing….The Urba Kit Car:
Cars based on plans are just one step away from building a car based on a body that you purchase (think Victress, Glasspar, Grantham Stardust, Maverick, etc…) so it was natural as the Urba Car received acclaim, that Quincy-Lynn would come out with a kit car version of the car you could build and assemble yourself (rather than build everything yourself).
Robert commented to me in January 2011 about the Urbacar Kit Car as follows:
“Geoff…Just noticed that the lowermost right image is of the brochure for the kit version. If the “2 or 2-1/2 years” statement is in that brochure, that’s why. From the time we began on the plan-built car until we had kits available, it probably was 2 or 2-1/2 years. MI did an article on the kit version too – perhaps a year after the original article. The Urba car that went to Kitchener (Ontario) used the body from that kit. So the Kitchener car happened after the kits became available. Bob”
Many such kits were sold, but not enough to keep the car / kit in production so they took the kit out of production after about a year on the market. About 20 Urba Car kits were sold during this time. The kit was very close to the design of the car you could build yourself, and Quincy-Lynn did a masterful job of making something that was easy to assemble. You can see pictures of the assembled kit – and instructions on how to assemble it – in the gallery of photos below.
The “Quincy-Lynn” Company Formalized:
The staff at Mechanix Illustrated loved the little car – and they branded it “theirs”. The plans available at the time were available only from Mechanix Illustrated, and their name was firmly in place on the cover of the Urba Car plan set. Robert and David did include their names in the introduction of the plan set as follows:
“Rights to these plans and to this vehicle design are co-owned by Robert Q. Riley and David L. Carey. Although the plans entitle the builder to build this vehicle for his or her personal use, no vehicle or vehicle components based on these plans may be manufactured or sold to the public without written agreement from the above mentioned co-owners.”
They also managed to sneak their “Quincy Lynn” logo on the back of their planset. Good for them
Based on the successful sales of plan sets in 1975 and 1976, they formalized their company in 1977 and called it “Quincy-Lynn.” Robert moved to Arizona in 1978 and “Quincy Lynn” operated from 1977 thru 1985. From 1985 forward, Robert Riley continued on his own.
The arrangement with Mechanix Illustrated worked well for many years, and as “Quincy Lynn” brought out new plansets and cars, the magazine would feature them on their cover. However, an interesting trend started to occur. “Quincy Lynn” got stuck with the name “Urba” for nearly everything they built. The editor of Mechanix Illustrated would tack on the name “Urba” to every design they featured of Quincy Lynn’s in the magazine. Robert has fixed that naming convention today for plansets available on his website, but all “first runs” in the Mechanix Illustrated Magazine refer to “Urba” this and “Urba” that – when talking about Quincy Lynn products.
Urba Car Goes Viral In Canada – Almost
The “Urba” series of plansets were well-received. In fact, so well received that a group in Canada (led by Jim Diesborg) contacted Quincy-Lynn and wanted to take the design to production. How neat! Around late 1976 / early 1977, Robert and David designed and built a prototype of a production version Urba Car and sent it to Kitchener Ontario. Robert informed me that the car went to Canada long before he moved to Phoenix in 1978. Here’s the video of their finished product at speed:
The car is a bit different than the original Urba Car but then, it should be. It received many upgrades in design and performance. Vibration dampeners were perfected, the frame was changed from round to rectangle tubing, chain drive was changed to timing belt, and drive train improvements were made too. Quite a nice little car. The last confirmed sighting of the car was in Canada in 1979. It has not been seen since.
Anyone want to go Urba Car hunting near Kitchener, Ontario gang?
The “Total Recall” Connection:
And….by the way….Rick was right about the connection to this car being in the “Total Recall” movie. Just not this exact car.
The website Internet Movie Cars Database has listed several cars that appeared in the movie “Total Recall.” Click on the following website to review some of these movie cars:
Robert Riley’s website also shows a list of cars that you can build from plans purchased. On this website, several of the cars are shown that appeared in the movie “Total Recall” which include the Centurion, the Trimuter, the Town Car, the Phoenix (small RV/truck), and the Boonie Bug. Here’s the link for your review:
I asked Robert about the connection to “Total Recall” and he mentioned that at the time the movie was being planned, a Production Company sourced cars that were being sold by Robert’s company. In fact, many of his cars – the factory built cars – were bought from Quincy Lynn and then used in the movie. This is evident when watching Total Recall – it’s an homage to the varied and many designs penned over the years by Quincy-Lynn. The movie even shows a “Phoenix” which is an RV type camper with swing-up doors. Gotta love it gang!
That’s the first part of our story, and much thanks goes to Robert Riley for helping us understand a bit more about the history of this cool little car. Part 2 of this story will focus on Paul Brantner who built his Urba Car based on Quincy Lynn’s plans. This story will be featured during the next week on our Forgotten Fiberglass website.
In the meantime, I encourage you to visit the current home of “Urba Car.” That is, Robert Q Riley’s website as follows:
Robert’s latest planset is a car you can build called the XR3 Hybrid. It’s a futuristic and good looking car that would grab attention no matter where it goes. But then again, Robert’s been used to that feeling for nearly four decades – and going strong. Click on the following link to learn more about this car:
And you can review the following video on Robert’s car by clicking on the video below:[vsw id="rZ76z1YAhlY" source="youtube" width="425" height="344" autoplay="no"]
For a terrific interview with Robert, click on the link below:
And…you can review and purchase Robert Riley’s latest book, “Alternative Cars in the 21st Century” by clicking on the link below:
Hope you enjoyed the story, be on the lookout for part 2 of the “Urba Car Story” and until next time…
Glass on gang…
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