The Mohs SafariKar: There’s Nothing Like it (and for Good Reason)
Standing outside in the pouring rain with my cameras getting soaked, a short but freakishly odd looking truck rolled by. Or was it a Rolls Royce beaten senseless with the Ugly Stick and hopped up on steroids? I had no clue, but then I heard someone behind me say, “Hey, there’s a SafariKar! They only made like five or six of them.” I was instantly intrigued; not only was this an extremely unusual looking car, but it was also extremely rare. I sought it out, what I found was well worth the walk in the rain.
Well, as it turned out, the spectator who'd exclaimed earlier that half a dozen of these beasts once existed had given way too much credit to Bruce Baldwin Mohs’ ability to sell some seriously big and ugly cars. In fact, as you will soon learn, Mohs probably didn’t build and sell five or six total cars in his lifetime. Mohs also owned the Mohs Seaplane Corporation and was equally successful at selling seaplanes as he was at selling behemoth-like cars… and motorcycle sidecars that transformed into tiny boats… and gigantic scooters. Mohs would certainly fit into the “mad genius” category along with Milton Reeves.
Previous to creating the Safarikar, Mohs’ first venture into the world of automobile design was his 1967 monstrosity known as the Ostentatienne (pronounced äs t?n'taSH e ?n). Not only does the Ostentatienne hold the distinction of being the only American-made car that needs a pronunciation key, but it was quite possibly the largest “car” ever made at the time. Oh, and it had no doors. You had to crawl to your seat through the trunk. And it was butt ugly. And the price started at $19,600 (the equivalent of over $130,000 today). Would you like to wager how many sold? At least it lived up to its ostentatious name. Ostentatious is exactly what one would expect from someone who not only wrote an autobiography, but named it “The Amazing Mr. Mohs.” Uh, okay.
It would be safest to say that Mohs’ greatest success was the SafariKar, having made three of them. Two of them are still in existence today, and were probably sold to customers. But the question that begs to be asked is, "What the hell is a SafariKar anyway? And what’s its purpose?" Well… being the visionary that he was, Mohs decided that what the world needed was a humongous V8-powered car built on the chassis of an International Travelall.
After all, this is the same man who invented “the world’s largest motor scooter” in 1947, known as the “Mohs King o' the Road Motor Scooter.” He was just as successful with this as he was with his other ventures. Apparently, nobody in 1947 was looking for a scooter on which they could take the entire extended family on an adventure. At least nobody can ever accuse Bruce Mohs of not thinking big!
Mohs was also concerned about safety, although his ideas about safety probably don’t mesh with anyone else’s. For instance, the reason that you needed to enter the Ostentatienne through the rear was because it had no doors. Mohs figured that it would be safer to have solid steel beams inside the “doors;” apparently he wasn’t concerned about rear end collisions, or how anyone could escape in case of such an accident. At least the Safarikar has doors. But not just any doors – in true Bruce Mohs style, the doors are like nothing you’ve ever seen before – and for you, that’s a good thing.
Rather than opening out, or up, they open… well, they slide out on rods – and not very far, for that matter. Why? So that you can shoot animals from the comfort and safety of the car; you simply point the gun out the door and fire. The retractable roof opens via a set of hydraulic lifts. Why? Same reason. The body of the Safarikar is made of aluminum and covered in 40 yards of Naugahyde.
Between the shell and the vinyl covering is a combination of wood and foam. It’s different, no... it’s unique. Surely the three Safarikars ever created are the only three cars ever created with a Naugahyde outer skin (at least, we hope so). The assumption would be that Mohs wanted it to protect the aluminum shell of the car while simultaneously making it easy to clean in the field. After all, he was certain that the African market for this extremely expensive and huge (90” wide, with 119” wheelbase) car would eat up orders like locusts in a wheat field.
After all, this was 1973 and with fuel prices soaring through the roof like never before, everyone was clamoring for a huge gas guzzler built on the chassis of a truck to go rhinoceros hunting. Plus, with the cars being built in America, the question is how Mohs expected to get them to Africa in the first place.
One of the two remaining cars made it to Roscoe Illinois, where, to the delight of rhinoceroses everywhere, it is safely locked inside the Historic Auto Attractions museum. The other found its way all the way to Georgia. It sat in a parking lot, forgotten, fading and alone as the years slowly passed. Even the shoe polish on the window announcing its availability had faded by the time that Mark Zalutko of Forty Fort, PA, in 2009, ran across an old mention of it in the AACA Forums.
Zalutko got in contact with the car’s owner and struck a deal. He had the car hauled to Pennsylvania and got to work on a car that, although complete, was different than practically anything else on the planet. Fortunately, Zalutko, who also owns the only Thrif-T three-wheel car, is accustomed to the unusual. Zalutko finished the car in under four years, including a re-skinning of the Naugahyde vinyl covering, as he explains in the video below. And while the Safarikar may not be for everyone, it is unique and, according to Hagerty Insurance, worth an estimated $67,500!