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Thread: All About Kellison Sports GT Fiberglass cars of 1958-1968

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    DBA BOMONSTER's Avatar
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    All About Kellison Sports GT Fiberglass cars of 1958-1968

    There was a time when the best performance sports cars came in two flavors: sleek European styling or raw American horsepower. In the late 50s one man saw a way to have both and created a line of body styles that still have the power to fuel car guy’s dreams.

    There’s not a lot out there on this interesting brand and after I bought one, I tried to find out what I could. I’m interested in seeing and hearing more if you can help fill in the blanks. If I got any facts wrong and you’re someone who really knows, please correct me. But this is what I think I know…


    Jim Kellison 1932-2004

    Jim Kellison was a fighter pilot during the Korean War, a lifelong inventor and successful entrepreneur until his passing in 2004. He creatively adapted the sexy shapes of Italian designed cars like Maserati, Ermini and Ferrari onto a race-inspired chassis with American power. American Scarabs, Devins, Cheetahs and later Cobras were all created with the same idea in mind but Kellison was unique in that he went on to produce multiple models based on his original 1958 model design.

    These same design influences can still be found on Jaguars, Vipers, ‘Vettes, Opel GTs and Zs decades later.

    Jim Kellison’s dream to build his own line of sports cars was hatched while he was in the Air Force and he discovered the lightweight and strength qualities found in a new material – fiberglass. After he was honorably discharged he set up shop in Folsom, California and then later moved to Lincoln near Sacramento, His early attempts in 1957 used a chopper gun technique and were so flimsy that in the following year more refinements were needed before going to market. He added inner fender panels, firewalls, dashboards, assembled doors and other small improvements and introduced the J-4 in 1958. It sat on a Chuck Manning-designed box tube frame using beam axles on both ends and were powered by GM V-8s. The original plan was to build the cars in conjunction with GM’s racing division (like Ford did years later with Carroll Shelby) but GM soon pulled out and after he and Chuck Manning parted ways, Kellison continued selling his fiberglass bodies available with his own X-frame design utilizing Corvette suspension at both ends.


    Kellison J-4

    In the late 1960s a fire destroyed his company records and later Jim Kellison estimated the most he ever sold of any of his designs were around 500. The J-4 was sold in 1958-1959 and he estimates around 300 were sold. Wheelbase: 98”, Length: 165”, Width: 67”, Height: Coupe: 39” (Roadster: 37”), Orig Price: $640 with chassis and suspension. During those years he also produced 50 racing bodies stripped of a floor, firewall and inner fender panels reducing the weight to 160lbs.


    Kellison J-5

    In 1960-61 Kellison introduced the J-5. Still a two seater but with a stretched wheelbase now up to 102" offering a little more room inside. The J-5 also had dual headlights and recessed taillight openings. The doors were lengthened 5" to make entering and exiting easier and the roof was raised two inches for more headroom. The J-5 was offered to the public at a price of only $700. Length: 176”, Width: 67”, Height: 39”. Number of bodies made: 300 (50 racing bodies).


    Kellison J-6 Panther

    In 1962-1963 the J-6 Panther featured a 2” taller roofline and added a trunk deck lid in the rear. It was sold as a body only and was designed to fit onto a 1953-1962 Corvette chassis. Wheelbase 104”, Length: 167”, Width: 66’, Height: 42”. Number of bodies made: 550


    Kellison Astra X300GT

    For 1964-68, the last of the Sports GT series was the Astra X300GT. Designed by new company President Allen Max Germaine, the Astra was designed to ride on a Corvette C-2 chassis with the engine set back 16”. The X-Frame was still offered and needed Corvette suspension to make it complete. Wheelbase was reduced to 96”, Length: 165”, Width: 66”, Height; 41.5”. Number of bodies made: 500.

    Although the total number of bodies sold were limited - and far fewer actually got built - the Kellison became the sports car / dream car of a new generation of hot rodders who envisioned American V-8 power under a sleek GT shape.
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    General (Admin) John Joyo's Avatar
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    EXCELLENT Thread! We were just drooling over these at DOGFIGHT world headquarters.

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    Not exactly a "kit car."

    Before there was ever a term “kit car,” Jim Kellison styled swoopy fast roadster bodies to sit on Austin-Healy, Sprite, MG, Triumph, Renault and Crosley frames. He was an early pioneer in the “inexpensive replicars for the masses” business introducing fiberglass T-bucket roadsters and Ford GT-40s to sit on VW bug pans and may have been the first to knock off Carroll Shelby's British-styled Cobra with his version called a “Stallion.”

    These days the term “kit car” covers the gambit from Factory Five’s ‘33 Ford roadster replicas to amazingly detailed 356 coupes to fake Rolls Royce bodies sitting on VW bugs to exotic plastic Lamborghini bodies molded onto mid-engine Pontiac Fiero floor pans.

    But the one thing you could not call Jim Kellison’s two-seater Sports GTs from 1958-1968 were “kit cars.” You couldn’t buy a “kit” of parts to assemble. You could only buy a race car body with or without a frame. It was up to the builder to scrounge windows, door hinges, handles, brakes, front suspension, steering column, dash instruments, rear differential, wheels, lights, gas tank, etc from a supplied list of compatible car parts.





    Kellison Astra X300Gt blueprints

    To assemble the Astra X300GT, the five page instruction letter called out the need to utilize a 1951-‘52 Studebaker windshield, 1949 Buick fast back rear glass, a ’57 Chevy station wagon fuel tank, a Triumph tail and stop light unit and gas cap, a ’60 Ford door latch, early Corvette clutch pedal assembly, steering and suspension parts.

    Sample copy from supplied “instruction” sheet reads: “After selecting the type of instruments that are to be used, with a hole saw cut out the proper diameter holes to correspond with the instrument diameter. If you don’t have a hole saw, use a key hole saw or any type of saw.”

    Any type of saw? Considering the amount of work left to finish the electrical and interior most guys would had more success building a “kit” car.
    Last edited by BOMONSTER; 07-22-2010 at 10:21 PM.
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  4. #4
    the 905 car is perfect. I think the Pontiac Solstice might have been influenced a little by the Kellison.

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    Classic Kellison lines

    The J-Body designs were well received and the concept of creating fiberglass bodies to bolt onto existing car frames became Jim Kellison’s primary business plan. In 1969 he took a brief hiatus from the business and later opened a book store which he closed in the mid-1970s. He got back into the car business creating Cobra knockoffs and in 1980 sold that business to a partner and it was moved to Los Angeles. Throughout his career he also created multiple lines of dune buggy bodies, drag boats, Formula Vee race cars and a ton of fiberglass replacement parts. While he was able to put his name on many creations, it was the J-Series of Sports GTs that stand as his most original and memorable.


    Steve Stanford's excellent Kellison concept

    The great car designer Steve Stanford had this to say about Kellison’s creations: “Probably the zoomiest roofline of any car ever. It must have been a bear to see out of, but that’s a small price to pay for stunning looks like these. Later versions of this coupe were called “Astras.” In fact, one very nice one won the ISCA Championship for the 1965-66 show season. Along with LaDawris, Devins and Scarabs these Kellisons were really hot rods as opposed to kit cars, at least in my book. Kellisons are cool.”
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    Kellison goes racing

    The Kellison body shape was designed around a set-back engine placement for 50-50 weight distribution which made them ideal for race competition. So much “hot rod ingenuity” was required to build one that they were mostly built by hot rodders anyway. Many of these inexpensive, aerodynamic bodies saw use as blown and fuel injected gassers at local drag strips, Bonneville speed racers and the Sports GT circuit racing series in the early 60s.



    There is very little information available in the way of Kellison racing records but Kellisons held a number of Bonneville records for years and judging by the rare race pics that show up on the Internet now and then, apparently there were plenty of drag race and road race winners too.


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    The power of advertising

    Great products don’t sell themselves. Word of mouth is the best advertising in the world, but you gotta get the ball rolling in all directions when launching a new brand. If you were addicted to the monthly car magazines throughout the 60s then you no doubt saw a Kellison – and later Allied Fiberglass – ad or two. Many young car enthusiasts fantasized over those ads and a few actually dropped a hard-earned 600 bucks on a new body ($740 with frame) and made the attempt to build one.

    Such was the case with the original owner of my car. Dennis Aikin was in Vietnam during ’67-’68 serving with the Green Berets and flipped through the pages of the car mags his wife sent to him while he was over there. She had her own job and saved all the money he sent home which allowed him to immediately buy an Astra body and a burned out C-2 ‘Vette chassis the minute he got home. 40 years later, when I bought the car he still had a file of his original correspondence with the Kellison company, the original blueprints and instruction sheets plus a number of ads and catalogs. Most of what I’ve found are only small jpegs off the web. I always welcome the chance to see good examples of these vintage marketing efforts. Please post ‘em if you got ‘em.










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  8. #8
    General (Admin) Ryan's Avatar
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    Dearest BAMONSTER,

    I love you.

    Sincerely,

    Ryan

  9. #9
    DBA BOMONSTER's Avatar
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    Funny. But you don't love me. You love my car.

    Bo
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  10. #10
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    KILLER BoMonster, I thought you were just a talented artist. Thanks. Slim

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