Dennis "Lil Daddy" Roth, one of Roth's five sons, says most of the time the cars were shaped while "Big Daddy" was out of town at shows. Dennis and brother "Reno" would mix the plaster and Dirty Doug would sculpt with a body grinder, "staying as close as he could to the approved drawing Newt did for Mom and Dad," says Dennis.
Roth friend Larry Watson painted the Orbitron twice. Says Watson, "I always begged Ed to do a car with pearl in the candy but he was stubborn-he always wanted candy over white pearl. So we did the Road Agent in candy raspberry over white pearl, the Mysterion in candy lemon over white pearl, and the Orbitron in candy blue over white pearl. Then the paint got messed up, so after Dirt fixed it and spotted in the primer, Ed brought it over, threw his hands up in the air, and said, 'You want to do pearl-go ahead,' so that's why I did it the second time in candy blue with pearl, and he loved it. He told me he regretted not doing his other cars like this because you have those beautiful highlights that the pearl brings out."
Roth had a deal with Revell Model Company to replicate all of his show cars in scale, but not the Orbitron. It was turned down for reasons no one remembers. Newt feels this was the start of Roth's negative feelings about the Orbitron. His next car, the Surfite, coming right on the heels of the Orbitron didn't help.
"Ed was high on the car, but his enthusiasm started to go down after the Surfite was out," remembers Newt. The Surfite was the little Morris Minor-powered car with the surfboard that was the next car chosen by Revell for model glory. So the Orbitron soon made way for the attention paid the Surfite. In Tony Thacker's book Hot Rods by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Roth says only, "I sold the Orbitron to some dude in Texas."
Pressed over the years to clarify, I remember him saying he sold it to a college student in Texas and that people had reported seeing it on the street. But this was never verified, so we're not sure what happened between its mid-1960s show days and the early 1970s.
John Attel was a 16-year-old teen in El Paso, Texas, in 1972 when the Orbitron magically appeared in his cousin's garage. His cousin was partners with a local bail bondsman, and the Orbitron was bail collateral. "I was excited about this being an actual Ed Roth car, and (the possibility of) driving it to school, but we never got it running well," says John. With help from John's brother the two tried many times to get the car running-first tinkering, then pulling it around with a chain wrapped around the axle with his father's produce truck.
On one try the wiring shorted out and John was trapped inside the Orbitron. "My brother was laughing but I was pounding on the bubble trying to get out. I finally had him pry it open which broke the bubble," remembers John. "If you look at pictures after it was discovered, the right axle looks bent-I think we did that. And one time the chain got wrapped around the nose which broke it."
By 1975 the brothers Attel went on to other projects, and the car was placed outside with a "for sale" sign asking $1,500. To this point John says the car was in nice condition, "like in a Starbird show or something." But sitting outside for over a year took its toll. "The paint started cracking and peeling and the chrome went to hell-it looked pretty bad," says John.
One prospective buyer from Oklahoma City looking for the perfect salad bar for one of his restaurants told Attel he could have a custom salad bowl made to fit the interior, and cut round holes into the body for the salad dressing containers-perfect! He offered $1,000 but Attel's cousin held firm to the original asking price.
A few months later a buyer came forward from Juarez, Mexico, purchasing the Orbitron for an amusement park attraction. Paying full price and hauling it away, it was the last time Attel ever saw the car.