I know, you've never heard of a Kellison. I hadn't either until proud owner Jim LoCodo, of Walnut Creek, sent me information about his very unusual car and asked if I wanted to see it. It's a "kit" car.
In the days before emission and safety laws, kit cars were more popular than they are today. Mechanically inclined people could have an eye-catching sports car without having to pay a snazzy sports car price. For LoCodo, "It was the lines of the Kellison J-6 in 1962 that first got my attention and made me fall in love with the design. The design was inspired by the most beautiful race car ever made, the Jaguar Model D.
"I first met Jim Kellison in 1962 at his shop in Sacramento. I was interested in a J-5 model, which I had just seen, but he suggested I wait a few months until his new J-6 model was available. I waited and bought one of the first J-6 bodies made with the 1961 Corvette frame."
LoCodo was just 19 years old and had his Kellison J-6 licensed and street-legal a year later. The kit, which cost him $1,080 (about $8,300 in today's dollars) included the fiberglass body, hood, trunk and doors, (total weight 200 pounds) plus a Corvette frame with just the front suspension.
The term "some assembly required" understates this project, as it was a combination of a 10,000-plus piece puzzle and a worldwide scavenger hunt to find the right puzzle pieces. LoCodo did almost all the labor and searching himself.
"There was a lot more work involved than I was told," the owner said. "Nothing fit. I tried to put the doors on with the help of a body shop, and it took over a week-and-a-half. As soon as we made one part to line up the door, the other door had a large gap. When the doors finally fit, the hood didn't fit, and then the trunk didn't fit. It took hours and hours of fitting because the body wasn't made to the standards of a car manufacturer."
Then there was the problem of finding the other puzzle pieces. LoCodo used a windshield from a 1952 Studebaker, door hinges from a 1953 Plymouth, door latches from a 1961 Ford, hood hinges from an Austin-Healey, trunk hinges from a Renault hood, trunk and hood locks from VW bus gas doors, and the list goes on.
He had to buy everything: headlights, taillights, radiator, wiring, distributor cap and gauges. The first engine was a 327 c.i. Chevy V8 with a four-speed manual transmission, but that was replaced with a 350 c.i. Chevy V8 with an automatic transmission in the 1980s.
The 102-inch wheelbase car only weighs 2,200 pounds and is lightning-fast.
It easily burns rubber, which I learned firsthand as my body was embedded in the back of the passenger seat. LoCodo claims the car, which is very aerodynamic, is capable of speeds up to 180 mph and has driven it 155 mph, but the location and date are considered privileged information.
The car has a very low, racy profile. The interior is spartan with no heater or roll-down windows. The side windows are detachable with a 3-inch diameter hole cut in the Plexiglas for air circulation and to allow one to open the door using a rope latch release inside. There are no outside door handles. Sitting in the Porsche-like passenger seat, my head touches the roof, and my legs are almost straight out. A little uncomfortable if I was going, say, to Chicago.
The total investment in this Kellison J-6 is not known, and I don't think the owner wants to know. He estimates the current market value to be about $50,000. If this project sounds like a nightmare to you, it wasn't for LoCodo. He has been an inventor and holds several patents.
"I think the kit car allowed me a source of never-ending problems that I had to solve. I've always enjoyed solving problems," he said.
LoCodo got interested in speed and race cars when he built his first soap box derby car as a youth living on the Peninsula. After the race, he thought it would be cool if it had an engine. After begging his dad, he got a nonrunning Cushman motor scooter engine. Not surprisingly, the engine was soon running and installed in the soap box derby car.
According to a usually reliable source, about that same time, a boy was seen driving a soap box derby car on the streets of that same Peninsula town, much to the frustration of the local constabulary. On at least one occasion, the police pursued the derby car only to lose it as its driver maneuvered through alleys, vacant lots and backyards.
The driver of that vehicle remains unknown to this day.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com