Although hundreds of kit car companies have cranked out fabulous fiberglass flyers over the years, only a fraction of them built more than a handful of cars before slipping into oblivion. One of the few companies to leave a mark on the industry was Kellison Engineering, started in 1958 by former Air Force pilot Jim Kellison, who built the handsome J-4 coupe. Kellison made a staggering number of models, some of which he designed, some he bought from other manufacturers.
Kellison passed away in 2004, leaving behind thousands of wonderful kit cars to carry on his name. Over the years, the cars were sold by Kellison Engineering, Kellison Inc., Allied Fiberglass (under the Astra name), and Lincoln Industries. All four companies were located in California in the '60s and '70s. There were many variations on Kellison bodies, with alternate grilles and trim commonplace.
In 1970, Kellison shut down Kellison Inc., and opened a successful book store. But he couldn't stay away from the aroma of curing fiberglass, so in 1976 he started building the Stallion, one of the first-generation of Cobra replicas, before trading in the kit car industry for the jewelry business in 1980.
Here is a list of all the Kellison models we know of, but be aware that the model designations changed from time to time to suit which models were in production. Also, the Astra model designations were not always the same as the ones Kellison used.
J-1: A small coupe designed to fit on Austin-Healey Sprite and Crosley chassis. It had a "double-bubble" top like some Fiat-Abarth models and Zagato-bodied Ferrari's.
J-2: An attractive roadster from the late-'50s, the J-2 was scaled to fit a 102-inch wheelbase, was 169 inches long, and sold for $380 in 1959. It was a longer, open version of the J-4 coupe.
J-3: Visually similar to the J-2 roadster, but shorter, and intended for a 98-inch wheelbase. The retail price was $400. These bodies were also used on a small number of racing cars in the '50s.
J-4 Grand Turismo: Kellison's first production kit, this handsome coupe had a 98-inch wheelbase and was sold in kit and turnkey form. The basic kits started at $365, and a completed car was $6,700 in 1960. This had a tubular steel frame and was powered by a Chevy 283ci V-8 with a four-speed transmission. In addition to a fully decked-out interior, it came with a three-piece set of fitted luggage. The J-4 body was also used on many road racers, dragsters, show cars, and Bonneville cars. A customized version of this body was used on a show car built by Frank Collingwood, which won the International Show Car Association Championship in 1966. Although normal production bodies had inner panels, firewalls and extra reinforcement, Kellison also made lightweight Competition Bodies with no inner structure. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of J-4 bodies were sold, and are the most common Kellisons found today.
J-5: A version of the J-4 with quad headlights and a 102-inch wheelbase that came out in the mid-'60s. The roof was raised 1-inch for more clearance, and the doors were extended. In 1966, the Hardcastle and Beattie racing team built a J-5-bodied dragster powered by a blown Hemi, which ran an impressive 10.02 quarter-mile at 143.85 mph.
J-6 Panther: Later versions of the J-4 with angular grille, a more pointed tail, trunk lid, higher roofline, and other detail differences. It could be easily attached to a '53-62 Corvette chassis.
K-2: A shorter roadster with an 86- to 88-inch wheelbase intended to fit smaller foreign sports car chassis like the Triumph TR-3 or VW. It looked like a smaller J-3.
K-3: A smaller coupe for the same chassis size as the K-2. It had a family resemblance to the J-4, but had a "double-bubble" roof. These bodies were fitted to several Bonneville cars due to their reduced frontal profiles, although this usually meant flaring the fenders to cover the tires. In 1966, Bonneville regular Nolan White built a K-3-bodied sports car with a supercharged 376ci Chevy, which held many class records at over 220 mph.
Kellison/Astra Chassis: Simple ladder frames to fit the J-series bodies. The first one was designed by Chuck Manning, a respected race car builder, and had beam axles at both ends. Later, Kellison came out with another chassis that used independent front suspension. It could be fitted with Chevy sedan, Corvair, or Plymouth Valiant front suspension, with a live axle in back. Many were sold and J-4s and J-3s with factory chassis are highly prized by vintage racers today.
Astra X-300GT: By the mid-'60s, most of the Kellison bodies were being sold by Allied Fiberglass under the Astra name. They came out with the X-300GT, a J-4 variant featuring a higher roof line to gain head room in the interior. It also had an oval grille, while many J-series bodies had squared-off grilles.
SR-100: Kellison picked up this lovely sports car body that had been originally sold in the early-'50s by Jim Byers, then later, LaDawri. The SR-100 sold for $395 and fit 99- to 101-inch wheelbases.
Class G: In the '60s, Kellison had a working relationship with famed West Coast race car builder, Huffaker Engineering, and in the mid-'60s, Kellison adapted the fiberglass body from the Huffaker Genie Mk4 sports-racing car to fit on a standard VW floorpan. The result was an inexpensive autocross car that looked a lot faster and more expensive than it was. The kit sold for $400 and required a lot of fabrication to install.
VSR: In the late-'60s, Kellison replaced the Class G with an exciting race car body also developed to fit on a modified VW chassis. Although it looked like a modern mid-engined sports racer, underneath the skin, the VSR was still a rear-engined VW. It was a cheap way to turn a VW into a professional-looking autocross, hillclimb, or road-racing car.
Shark: A wild-looking kit that was a cross between a dune buggy and a sports car, it fit on a shortened VW chassis and used a Sting Ray windshield with a one-piece molded interior. A one-piece body shell sold for $595 in the mid-'60s, and a complete kit was $795. This kit was first sold by Lincoln Industries and later by Kellison.
GT-40K MKIII: One of the first Ford GT replicas to hit the market in the '60s. The fiberglass body was fairly accurate and could be had in two forms. One fit a VW floorpan, while an upmarket version had a simple ladder frame designed to accept Ford, Chevy or Chrysler V-8 engines with a Huffaker-built BMC transaxle (this was a four-speed racing transaxle with T-10 internals). Later, the chassis was redesigned to take a Chevy V-8 with a Corvair transaxle. The body alone was $795, the body and chassis kit was $1,500, and turnkeys were offered as well.
Can Am/Group 7: In the late-'60s, designer Skeet Kerr penned an attractive body for a one-off Can-Am car built by Hans Adam. Kellison later offered this body for $595. It had a built-in rollbar cover and fit 92- to 96-inch wheelbases. Kellison advertised Huffaker suspension parts to build a chassis for this body, but it is unlikely any chassis were sold.
Sand Piper SP-1: Kellison came out with a dune buggy soon after the legendary Meyers' Manx appeared, leading to legal action that was eventually settled in Kellison's favor. The Sand Piper was a conventional design that fit on shortened VW chassis. There were two versions: a conventional roadster, and a pickup model with a small storage bed in the back. The pickup could also be ordered to fit on a full-length VW pan. Retail price was $395 and an estimated 1,000 were built.
Super "T": A dune buggy design with a cut-down Ford Model T-type nose and running boards. It vaguely resembled the Berry Mini-T dune buggy kit. It was one of the last models introduced before Kellison closed down in 1970.
Formula Vee: In 1968, Kellison announced a new division, Grand Prix Sports and Racing, to sell road-racing cars. Although Kellison intended to build a variety of formula cars, the only one that made it to production was the Formula Vee, which used VW running gear. It was a conventional car for the very popular SCCA F-V class. We don't know how many were built, but a few have survived and are currently running in vintage racing events.
Formula II: An imaginary car that is often referred to in Kellison lore. The wooden-chassis racer was actually built by Huffaker, and later sponsored by Kellison. Huffaker, not Kellison, built the one-off car.
Sandpiper XP-1: An upgraded and restyled dune buggy introduced in 1968. It also fit on a shortened VW floorpan.
Grasshopper: A utilitarian dune buggy kit that used a Model T roadster body with cycle fenders and a spare tire mounted in the hood area. It was cheap at $170, but no beauty.
T-Roadster: An inexpensive hot-rod kit based on the '23 Ford Model T. It included a fiberglass body ($250) and a simple ladder frame ($100). Buyers could choose between roadster and pickup body styles.
Astra VW-GT 2+2: A VW-based kit that vaguely resembled a Ford GT, but appeared to be roughly based on a Fiberfab Aztec. It was made by Allied Fiberglass, but I don't know if Kellison had anything to do with its design or production.
Lotus elite body: The original Lotus Elite was a fiberglass-bodied sports car built in England in the late-'50s. Kellison pulled a mold from one and offered repair parts and a complete body shell configured to fit on a Triumph chassis.
Jaguar D-Type Body: Kellison made a mold for the nose and tail of this famous Jaguar racing car, and sold fiberglass copies to race car builders. The builders had to make their own doors and side panels from sheet aluminum. At least one was made into a dragster.
Jaguar Xke: The popular XKE coupe body was also offered in fiberglass, for repairing originals or building drag racing cars. The complete body was $700.
Sports Car Noses: The Shark custom nose for '58-62 Corvettes featured a smaller grille that jutted forward past the headlights. Kellison also offered a custom nose for earlier Corvettes, and a streamlined nose with recessed headlights for Austin-Healey Sprites.
Dragster chassis: Kellison built a line of fuel rail chassis and bodies in a variety of wheelbase lengths. The chassis cost $700, and the fiberglass bodies $250.
Drag Bodies: In the '60s, many drag racers used lightweight bodies from the Fiat Topolino, Austin Bantam, Model T Ford, Ford Anglia, and Willys. Kellison made fiberglass replicas of these and other bodies for racing use.
Stallion: Jim Kellison shut down his company in 1970, but soon missed the car business. In 1976, he introduced his own version of the Cobra replica, built by his new company, Eagle American Racing (later Red Stallion Ltd.). The Stallion was longer and wider than an original Cobra, and had a very sturdy frame to take the power and weight of a big 429ci Ford engine. The front suspension was based on Ford parts, as was the 9-inch Ford live axle in back. There were three brake options, with one being racing discs all around. The body was subtly massaged, with a "droop" nose, egg-crate grille, and doorbars for more protection. They were sold in kit and turnkey form, with new or rebuilt parts. Eagle built a reported 117 before Kellison sold out to his partner in 1980. Amazingly, Eagle also sold Stallion bodies to fit on uncut VW floorpans. Stallions (with V-8 engines) continued to be built in Texas and California by other companies. West Coast Cobra still sells a kit very similar to the old Stallion.
As you can see, Kellison built a lot of kit cars. By modern standards, they require a lot of fabrication to finish out correctly, but in their day they were considered pretty good. There are still a large number of them out there just waiting for an opportunity to wow the crowds on cruise night or stomp around the track in a vintage race. Keep your eyes open and check out the excellent Kellison Web site (www.kellisoncars.com). Farewell Jim, and thanks for the great cars!