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"Of the Week" Issue #6, Featuring Rick Dobbertin

Rick Dobbertin was born in Madison, Wisconsin on October 4, 1952. His father, Bruce worked for GMAC, and his mother, Jan, was a homemaker. Due to his father’s line of work, the family was transferred several times – Madison and West Allis WI, Ho-Ho-Kus and Glen Rock NJ, Pittsburgh PA, Annandale VA and finally Syracuse NY. He has one sister residing in the Chicago area

Rick’s parents decided to wait until he was a full nine weeks old before exposing him to the world of automotive design. At the age of ten, Rick tried his hand at modifying a bicycle and ended up with a hand-powered, rear wheel steering version. High-speed stability proved to be a concern – as did low-speed stability. This project did not end well…

Rick’s first racecar was built at the age of eleven, utilizing such high-tech materials as masonite and plywood for its construction. The car raced in New Jersey and won several heats before retiring.

Rick’s first custom project car was a 1966 Corvair. The car was turbocharged and equipped with a "Fitch Sprint" fastback roof and racing suspension.

Never able to leave things alone, in the early seventies Rick modified a 1967 Corvette coupe with wheel well flares, different taillights, engine modifications, doing his part to help make today’s factory stock Corvettes even more valuable.

Other projects included a 1978 Chevy Monza "Sleeper" equipped with a turbocharged 350 Chevy, a racing automatic transmission and "V-6" emblems. "This was probably the most fun car I ever owned – it looked like a complete stocker, but would easily run low 12’s in the quarter mile."

From 1975 to 1978, Rick owned a sandblasting business, blasting everything from water towers to automotive components. From 1979 to 1987 he owned AA/Speed and Custom in Springfield VA specializing in turbocharging, supercharging and nitrous oxide injection, quickly gaining the reputation as one of the country’s top custom car innovators and fabricators.

For the past three plus decades, Rick Dobbertin has dedicated much of his life to the design and fabrication of innovative, one-of-a-kind vehicles. Every component that went into their construction was hand selected by Rick and there was never a compromise on quality or workmanship. (Well… almost never.)

One of Rick’s more publicized automotive endeavors began with a ground-breaking twin-turboed, 6-71 supercharged 1965 Nova SS, which was awarded Hot Rod Magazine’s 1982 Street Machine of the Year and won the 1982 and 1983 Car Craft Street Machine Nationals.

Rick chose the ’65 Nova body due to its "boxy" shape and widespread appeal amongst hot rodders. The car was bought from the original owner with only 21,000 miles, so it made the perfect starting point.

A few years later, Rick began plans for an even more radical Pro-Streeter. He decided to begin with an extremely narrow and small body as a starting point to better accentuate the engine, wheel and tire modifications. Due to its small size, Rick decided that the starting point would be a 1985 Pontiac J-2000, which was then fitted with a stainless steel frame, 24" wide tires and a twin-turboed, twin supercharged, nitrous injected small block Chevy mated to a 4-speed Lenco transmission.

The car was awarded Hot Rod Magazine’s prestigious 1986 Hot Rod of the Year and went on to win all four of the major national magazine sponsored shows in 1986 – The Hot Rod Supernationals, The Popular Hot Rodding Super Street Meet, The Car Craft Street Machine Nationals and the Hot Rod Super Cruise.

In Hot Rod Magazine’s 50th Anniversary issue, (January 1998) the J-2000 was called "The Ultimate Evolution of Pro Street" by the editorial staff. Ten years later, in their 60th Anniversary issue, (January 2008) it was listed as #41 in their list of "The 100 Most Influential Hot Rods of all Time."

Always looking for a challenge, Rick’s next project would be a thirty-two foot long amphibious craft, The Dobbertin Surface Orbiter. The Orbiter began life as a 1959 Heil milk tank trailer. Rick decided this would make a suitable starting point for an amphibian, surmising that if it was designed to keep the milk inside – it should also work pretty well at keeping the water outside.

The idea behind 'Project Earth-Trek' was to circumnavigate the Earth, over land and sea without any type of support vessel. The craft was powered by a 250-hp GM 6.5Liter turbo diesel that was converted to marine use by Peninsular Diesel.

The trip, which covered 30,000 miles on land and 3,000 miles at sea, traveling through 28-countries and 38-states fell short of the original goal, mainly due to the lack of funding. But, it did make a record as the first amphibious vehicle to pass through the Panama Canal. (The last two photos.)

During the expedition, the Orbiter encountered everything on land from the smooth, well-kept highways of the United States to the pot-holed, wash-boarded dirt paths in the frontier of Colombia.

While on the water, the Orbiter encountered every sea condition from the dead-calm waters in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York to eighteen-foot seas in the Caribbean’s Mona Passage on a crossing from The Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico.

Throughout the Orbiter's trip, Rick was amazed by the interest generated by the Orbiter and decided the next project would be another amphibious craft.

So, after nearly two years on the drawing board, Rick began fabrication on a full-scale prototype of The Dobbertin HydroCar. The craft is powered by a 762-hp 572 Chevy, which runs through a GM 4-L80E automatic transmission to a front axle for the road – or an Arneson Surface Drive for the water.

The Dobbertin HydroCar is unlike any other amphibian on the planet. On land the side sponsons are raised up and act as the vehicle's fenders. On the water the sponsons are pneumatically forced down to transform the craft into a tunnel-hulled watercraft.

Since the last two projects, Rick has been concentrating on mid engined vehicles, including a 1979 Manta Mirage kit car, and a 1994 Chevy S-10. Rick is also offering suspension kits for the "do it yourself builder".

These state-of-the-art kits and Corvette components are not only a fraction of the cost of many IRS conversions, but also make it simple enough for the average builder to complete the installation himself or herself, in a moderatly equipped home-based shop - therefore bringing the cost down even further, by saving the labor costs for a reputable shop to do the work.

Dobbertin Performance Innovation's heavy-duty, heat treated, cast aluminum adapters take all the guesswork out of the C5 or C6 IRS installations and make this all-aluminum Corvette IRS conversion much simpler to install than a conventional ladder-bar, 4-link or leaf spring system – because the every suspension component is incorporated into one complete, easy to install, Suspension Module.

There are no brackets to weld on the frame, there is no panhard rod or watts-linkage to keep the rear axle centered and no spring or shock mounts to install.

In fact, the IRS system can be completely assembled, including the tires, then raised up to the frame and moved forward and backward along the rails, to make sure that the tires are positioned correctly within the wheel wells, before mounting it. This way it's mounted exactly where you want it the first time – every time.

Our kits can make just about every 'backyard' project look like a high-tech professional conversion and give the DIY builder the sense of accomplishment that goes right along with a job well done! More info can be found on

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