Not much is known about its early days in Juarez, but by the mid-1980s it was sitting on a main street in front of a sex shop being used as a trash can-and only six blocks from the bridge connecting Juarez to El Paso, Texas.
Victor, the sex shop owner, was told his uncle built the "dune buggy" in the 1960s. To him it was a family heirloom. Because he lacked the means to store it, the fairly complete Orbitron amazingly sat outside unmolested for over two decades, the only abuse resulting from periodic bald tires, beer cans, or trash dropped into the now bubble-less interior. That it's common for aluminum and copper to be sold for cash makes it unbelievable that components like the intake manifold, valve covers, and radiator remained with the car.
A lot of collectible cars have ended up in Mexico and American collectors use different means scouring the country to bring them back across the border. Michael Lightborn is one of those people. His method is to give disposable cameras to scouts who take pictures around Juarez and return them to Michael. If something looks interesting, he'll travel across the border to buy it.
One of his good friends is El Paso hot rodder Jorge Zaragoza, who for years told stories of seeing Roth's Beatnik Bandit in Juarez. Jorge has a fleet of Brizio-built hot rods, including Tom McMullen's restored highboy roadster. Michael didn't know what Jorge had seen, so a few years ago he looked into Roth car histories and found the Beatnik Bandit was alive and well, but both the Mysterion and Orbitron were missing. There was an outside chance one of these cars was what Jorge had seen, but other immediate quests left no time to track it down.
Now it's 2006 and the strange "dune buggy" shows up in a scout's photos. "When these pictures appeared I knew it was a Roth car-it was the one that Jorge kept telling me about all these years," says Michael. "I must have passed that car 1,000 times but it blended in with the cars and buildings around it." The Orbitron was in amazingly complete shape. The nose was missing, as was the bubble and one rear wheel, but even things like the steering wheel, complete engine, three wheels and tires were there.
He wanted to get it out of Mexico and visited the sex shop the next day, but the owner told Michael about its sentimental value and not being for sale. Michael offered him $500, which was turned down flat.
Over the next month Michael made daily trips offering a little more each time. "Some days he was pissed off that I kept bugging him, and would get angry," says Michael. After a month of daily visits the weary owner told him to bring $5,000 and if Michael was crazy enough to pay that price, he'd sell the car. Michael was crazy, his friends even said so.
His plans were to restore it, but after much consideration figured it would take more than he wanted to spend. "So in 2007 I sent a few pictures to some people and within 24 hours they were all over the Internet," says Michael. That's how he met Dave Shutten, who ultimately restored the Orbitron, and also Beau Boeckmann. "I don't know why but Beau's number was the only one I kept," says Michael. "We talked on the phone and then met at the SEMA show in 2007, and soon after I told him he was the one that would end up with the car." Beau picked it up in February 2008-44 years after first being conceived by the two Eds.
"I've been a big fan of Ed Roth and have collected a lot of memorabilia and Ed's Globe Hopper, Great Speckled Bird, and more. I love the Orbitron and wanted to see it restored to honor Ed and his legacy," says Beau. His plan was to make it as close to the way Ed built the car, with the best original talent he could find. Says Beau, "I was hopeful that we would find a lot of the people that worked on the car, and have been pleased we were able to do it."