by Pat Ganahl
It’s very interesting that much of Roth’s small book, Whatever Happened to the Beatnik Bandit? is a continuous diatribe against Art Center College of Design in particular, of other automotive design schools in general, and of Detroit designers and their designs. He wrote this book in 1984. But in 1964, he hired Ed “Newt” Newton as an artist to ink shirt designs and ads, and he came right from Art Center. In Bandit? he says, “. . . in 1964 I built a car called the Orbitron. I learned an important lesson from that car. Never draw a picture of a car before you build it. LISTEN UP DETROIT! Anything looks good if an artist draws it. Newton made the picture of that car look like a real machine. It turned out to be a mess. I sold that to some dude in Texas about 1969 and hope it never surfaces again. YECH!”
The truth, according to Newton, was that Roth had already started Orbitron, and was fairly well along in its construction when he hired Newt. Newton did some drawings incorporating wing pods like on the Road Agent, but the brick-like shape had already been established. Ed said, in several places, that the real reason the Orbitron failed was because he put a hood over the chromed Chevy engine (which came out of his ‘55). In any case, Ed declared both the Orbitron and the Wishbone “mistakes.” Revell did not make models of either car. The Orbitron went to some car shows and was featured in the September 1964 Car Craft.
Dirty Doug did much of the work on the Orbitron, and somewhere I have a quote from him saying, “If Ed tells you to put a red, a blue, and a green light there, you better do it.” The point of the three colored lights was that these three primary colors, turned on together, would produce one white beam of light. The major problem with this theory is that green isn’t a primary color.
Larry Watson painted the Orbitron—twice. One account says Roth had the car repainted in pearl to try to improve its appearance. Watson says, “He hurt the Orbitron—got it scratched on the trailer after I painted it candy blue over white pearl. So he came in guilty and said, ‘OK, you do it pearl.’ And that’s when I did the gold Murano with the blue.”
Someone who knew the car went to Texas said the owner cut the front of the body off (and probably the bubble) to make it more like a
T-bucket street rod. The Roth/Thacker book says Mike Lowe from El Paso, Texas, bought it in 1973 and drove it to school. Lowe knew its location and was trying to buy it back. However, it doesn’t say what form or condition the car was in.
As for Ed’s belated tirade against designers, the fact is that, after the Outlaw, he did have someone draw designs for each of his cars, and most of them were schooled or professional artists. He often deviated from these designs, of course.