My Kellison j4 Story
The adventure started in Malibu, California.
In 1980, when I lived in a small beach house at County line there was a retired man that lived in the cottage next door and he owned a REAL 427 side oiler Cobra. This was my introduction into huge power in a little car and it tripped my trigger it was so nasty fast. The time spent in his car made me aware of the need for ''more'' whenever possible. I wanted to have something like that one day.
Time went by and I married my sweetheart and moved over the hill to the "Valley" and started having kids and buying a house and settling into suburban life. Some years went buy and one day my wife said; "You need a hobby and you should buy a kit car and put it together, you would like that, wouldn't you?".
What a wife!
I had been reading the Kit Car magazines and already had a dream car picked out and an idea what I might want to do. It was one that very Sat morning in 1984 that I got the green light to indulge in a huge fantasy and it was only reasonable that I would be reading the Penny Saver and it would have a "For Sale" ad for a Kit car. What a coincidence. Hmmmm.
A friend and I used to go garage sale ''Picking" on Sat. mornings for old hobby train stuff and so we drove over and saw this car. All we needed was a camera and we would have been famous.
We arrived to a up scale condo parking area and there it was, flat tires, half full of straw and just plain dirty and bad. Completely out of place. We waited all day and finally a man arrived said "Take it for 300 bucks". The Condo Board wanted it gone and I was the man to take it. It was on a flatbed and at my home in an hour. It had not run for those 19 years and the straw had kept it dry, ok, it was fiberglass, it can't rust. Still it was dry. I checked the oil and there was some in it, I hooked up a battery and the ignition wire and turned the key and with some priming it fired right up. The oil was curdled cream in 5 seconds and so I drained it twice and Yabadaba doo....I had a Kit car, and it ran. It is now 29 years later and I am still working to get it right. It is a story of a wonderful distraction, many new friends and a great talking point. It is not an obsession, really.
The story of the car is that it was built in the mid 50"s by a local garage, in the evenings and as a drag racer. It did not get registered until it was sold in 1965 to the man I bought it from in 1984. I finally found some history, and it was the shop I used to keep my construction trucks and equipment working. They said that those were the ''Good old days of youth and foolishness and lots of fun". They raced it off and on from 1955 to 1964 got it up into the 10's and that was fast even then. It then got a final paint job and was sold. The original configuration had a tube front end and trailing arms and king pins with drum brakes and it actually worked for me up to a speed of 10 mph when I got it and then it started to wobble and wiggle. As I said earlier, there were stories of mid 10 second runs and it probably could have done that in a bad dream. The last owner had bought it and tried to drive it one time and within 1/2 mile he crunched the front headlight. The drum brakes were only for slowing down. In street driving it changed lanes just by touching them. It must have shocked him at the time and so he just had it towed home. He parked it under a lean too, next to a chicken coop and it sat here for 19 years. So it is classified as a "Chicken Coop Find"
. It had a 57 chev 283 with 4" Aires double hump 11 to 1 pistons with floating pins. #461 power pack heads with titanium retainers, bee hive springs and were ported and polished so slick and thin that you could cut you finger on the separation of the runners. On the inside there were the solid lifters and a rev griddle with a name stamped on it. The cam was a very radical grind coming on at 4000 rpm and jumping up to 8000 in a blink of an eye. NEWS This very week I went online and typed in "Racer Brown" and found a small shop in Baltimore and I called him and the owner knew all about the timeframe and cam. Story to follow.
Eventually the motor just rusted out in one of the bores. Upon taking it apart we found the real treasures of why it went so fast and so I kept everything as I searched for a rebuilt, blueprinted and balanced 327. I got new 461 powerpack heads that came with the short block and a receipt for the balance and blueprinting.
I reground the spring seats for the beehive setup and the titanium retainers. The motor was good and fresh. It had flat top pistons and was clean and ready to finish. It still sat for some time while i looked for more parts and enough money to put it back together.
To get the cam right I drove around for ages with the cam and lifters in the back of my work truck until one day when I was in an old Industrial park I saw a sign "Camonics". The tingle of coincidence made me just want to get out and see what this shop held. I went in and was transported back in a time warp of 6 degrees of separation for when the bell hanging off the door tingled there appeared an old soul standing in a dim light with a mess of nostalgia, dust and no dogs. He was behind a glass counter filled with and covered in important clutter. Right away he asked to see the cam and took one look at the end told me this story.
In the mid 50"s, the shop worked on the first small block chev's. By the time the first 283 came out they had a base line for getting some serious horse power out of the little mouse that roared. This particular motor was specially built from a punchout 283 to 4'' and for high revving. He looked at the roller solid lifters and the girldle and chuckled about remembering the ''good old days'' when the three of them, Racer Brown, Duntov and Him, beat up the motors trying to get the most out of them. Duntov was the third person in this mix of R & D and one of the results was a retail cam called the 30/30.
It was 24 years later that I googled ''Racer Brown" and got to talk to Don. He verified that this is what they did. They used to grind up a bunch of cam profiles and test them on the Dyno which still to this day gives them the records to do any grind for any motor. This Baltimore shop still grinds one of cams. If i ever get the numbers off my cam, he said he would be able to tell me all about it. Mr Brown passed in the 80"s and this gentleman in 2011. Good history never dies, it just gets retold. He said to leave the cam with him and when I got my engine sorted out, he would grind me a nice, all round cam. Months later I told him about the 327 and he ground the cam for no cost and said '' Have fun". I used the single plane intake manifold from the original engine.
I used the Custom made to order try y headers that came with the car. Worthy of a picture, all the welds tell a story.
My brother took the bus from Victoria, Canada to come to Hayden, Idaho and get a Toyota truck that I had been given and it had a bad engine after 300k kilometers . I told him he could have it if he helped with the motor. We rebuilt the motor in the Toyota over the weekend. The JB Weld is till holding to this day where the rod knocked out the side of the block. Non load bearing area. As we waited for the block to be honed and line bored we put the parts together for the Kellison. It was simple and dropped right in. Started right up and we were happy and he drove off a couple days later in the Toyota and he is still driving the truck to this day.
Suspension and Frame
It was built to go fast in a very straight line and with lots of slow down space and be light. The frame was simple, two 4 in square tube side rails. They have 2 in holes drilled all the way down the inside. The engine had a plate at the water pump to hang out to the frame rails and they stopped there. The Pinto cross member and rails held the wheels and steering. There is one channel holding up the end of the transmission. At the rear is two uprights at the back of the seats that hold the 4 link and horizontals off those to hold the gas tank. The back looks pretty solid.
Now, the steering was always an issue from the beginning of this find. Sure, it ran and at 1800 lbs, was scarry because you had to always be turning just a little to keep pressure on the king pins to stop the wobble.
I finally researched enough to find a 1974 Pinto Wagon and gave a young man $50.00 and my sawzall and a new pack of blades and came back a week later to a nice crossmember and frame rails.
I spent the winter in the garage with a taped square on the floor and the car in the center and carved the kellison parts out of the way so the Pinto frame rails slipped under the car to the point where it all fit. Up and down a hundred times getting it closer and closer and finally, I had it perfect, so I then cut steel plates and welded the whole mess together.
It now has rack and pinion steering with 2 turn loc to loc and disc brakes. What a difference that made to driving it. We got to drive it a lot more. I even drove it 100 miles to Knotts Berry Farm from Ventura, there and back and it ran like a champ. We even won a prize. This was before Factory Five Racing started.
At early Knotts shows there was always an obscure class that my son and I could enter and get something.
In later shows Factory Five was so sucessful with club participants that they over ran every class by sheer numbers in the voting.
I went to many years of the Knotts Show and came away with three awards. Mostly for "The Car Needing The Most Love." I have been published in a few magazines. Harold Pace still is encouraging me to ''Finish it''
It was auto crossed and stop light raced and driven just for fun, and was a tire smoking, loud, beast of a car to control, and it was fun.
The back end was 4 link with 12 inch links with hiem joints and a panhard bar. It was running an open 3.55, 1957 chev pumpkin unit. This car was built on the weekends and after work, and I am sure the beer flowed. The welds are there and were big and nasty, but held. It has some sort, hard, cut down coils and they worked.
A nice upgrade will be coil overs both front and back.
It is getting easier to control now. It stops really well and has some zip. With Gtech Pro it has done 0 to 60 in 4.9 and the 1/4 at 14.00 at 103. That was fun. I tasted my special parts when I let off after a run on an Osha approved deserted road at over 100 mph and the car just went neutral and my thought was ''I am goint to die''. That passed of course and it took a bit of driving around for my heart to slow down.
I would have liked to have cc'd the heads and worked out the compression. The cylinder pressure is 155 all round. I have another car, a 1965 Corvair with a Crown Conversion and it has a built 350 with 185 lbs and that has some serious balls, as it has the 30/30 cam in it. I know that it's too much and I could hurt myself. I have promised my older friends to take it easier and live longer. I laugh and remember the run to 103 and swallow hard and say ''Ok''.
It is a J4. One of the original colors was florescent orange flake, and then yellow flake, and then lots of black primer and now its light grey and is getting ready for a 56 Porche butta yellow.
It has the really sloped one piece windshield and is the right wheel base. The rear wheels hang out 4 inches each side so I just made the body humps wider and it dropped the wheel wells right over the outside of the tires. Both front and rear tires do that.
The gas tank was a 55 chev. and it was changed over to an aluminium replacement.
The brake master was upgraded to a dual zone unit and the clutch master is still an old Ford truck.
It had a 33 lb flywheel for drag racing and I was always amazed at how hard it was to man handle in 12 inches of crawl space and much it weighted whenever i replaced the clutch or 4 speed Muncie.
When I replaced the 4 speed with a World Class T5 out of an 89 Camero for that wonderful 5th gear it made sense to put in a light weight flywheel of 13 lbs. It had to have a large center to go over the Crank end.
That was a scary find. Driving deep into Spokane's rual/suburbia wilderness where the streets are north or south and it takes luck and a gas station to reach your destination. "Just come around back" is always a little thoughtful when you have to open a gate to pass the dogs. "Don't worry, they don't bite" is alway believable. It the middle of the afternoon and momma bear is getting up and clearing her throat on her first cigarette. She can yell loud enought to quiet the dogs, scare the rooster and summon a nice young man from ''out back''. We wander back to a shed with two cars in various degrees of repair. I show him my 33 pounder and he brings out lots of flywheels. None are right so he sends the none speaking assistant with a silly grin down the alley to another storage facility. He comes back with the right one, in about an hour. Jimmy and I trade stories and laugh a lot. He could down a beer in 2.5 seconds and to prove it he did it over and over. The assistant came back and they grinned at eachother and I took my new light flywheel and chalked it up to another story.
That included a lighter clutch plate and what a difference. It has snap off the line and revs much faster and is just lots more fun to drive. Upon completion of any work it was noted that we may know a lot but what we don't know becomes very obvious after the fact. We moved to Idaho in 2003 and I changed out the AFB double pumper carb for a Edelbrock Purformer 625. Took me a while to find the vac leak, like weeks. Finally I replaced the gaskets (like everyone said to do) and put in a spacer and that got it all better. Refer to above quote.
Again, simple stuff always gets us. The original AFB came with the drag car. It turned out to be from a 427/425 vette and was super special and only a few were ever made. I sold it for some parts. It went on a numbers matching 427 chev and he got 10k for the completed motor.
I managed to get the one piece windshield in. Of course there is a story about that. While driving through the woods in Northern Idaho I spotted a little sign that said "Studebaker Lane". I just glimpst it and mentally filed it for future reference. Amazingly enough, Doctors are right, short term is shot and long term rules. So I guess that 5 years later I remembered and mentioned to my son that we were going to see if we could find that place. We drove around in the woods and finally found it and went down the narrow dirt track that was a series of small lakes with some dirt between them. Some were deep, very deep. We passed wreck after wreck, some good and some just rusty testimony to a better time. We ended up in a clearing with the lean too for more vehicles covered in old tarps and a huge shed and of course the single wide with deck.
Dogs barked and growled around the car and finally a one legged man came out of the home and asked what we needed. He then said that the dogs don't bite. I think they do. I told him my story about the Kellison that uses an early single piece Studebaker windshield and he said he had a few out ''back'' and told us to go down the trail out back a fair way to see what was out there. It had been a while since he had made it that far. He advised some tools and to pick up a big stick and make some noise in case of varmits, there were some big ones this time of year. He sent the dogs with us which was not that encouraging. The were growling a lot and it kinda sounded like they were enjoying themselves. He asked if we spoke German as that was the best language for cammanding them. Vergoten and volkswagon were the extent of my bilingual skills. We wandered through the forest and it was another graveyard of rusty hulks. Some were exposed and clear, others had 2 foot trees growing up through the floor and roof and it was unusual to say the least. We found a couple of cars that had the right size and took two reasonable ones and one with bullet holes.
They were used and even had the wiper trail engraved into the glass. Kinda like patina.
We went back up to the clearing and he was outside now and showed us his collection. He had a 1907 Huppmobile and we started it up. It is a horse drawn buggy with an engine. It was beautiful and he knew all about it. As well as all the other cars he had. Each one had a story and it was the best history lesson in the world. It started to rain and we retired to the mobil home. He was also famous and gave us a copy of his writings as well. When we went into the single wide it was a workshop with a big overstuffed chair and a wood stove. He was proud of his castle and it was full of his stuff. He gave us the glass on the assurance that we would one day come back to see him with his windshield in the car.
It took years to find the right rims. I wandered around Southern California picking through sheds and wrecking yards looking for Kidney Aluminum rims with just the right offset to match the pinto front end and the edge of the body. I did not want the flairs seen on so many cars to accomodate the width of the tires. I finally found the 14 in. fronts in a wreck of a shop near a river and the stacks and stacks of rims that were what held the shed roof up. The owner knew every style and size and kind of rim he had and he just went over to the shed, reached in and pulled on one and then another and said 20 bucks. He had some really big dogs and he said that they didn't bite either. The rims were perfect. I changed out the rotors to Chev and it was getting better and better and this is taking years and years to accomplish. More years pass and I finally went back and got the rear 15 in. from the same guy and he remembered us and the whole story. The dogs did not bite this time either.
The present Body work on old fiberglass. Need I say more. Body work period Nuff said. But.....It is smooth for a while and then some cold and some sun and it wrinkles or pops. We are learning a LOT about patience and why they always say it takes SOO long. PREP is everything. A once over and primer and all the next level of ''perfection'' come to light. Just the little things and big or little, it all takes the same amount of time to sand a square inch. I put the black trim between the wheels to hid the exhaust pipes and clean up that line. I want to go on a road trip to the Canadian Rockies next year.
It originally had the Myers Manx type fiberglass buckets and they had some cheap Pep Boys covers. Now the floor is just one thin layer of fiberglass and so being bolted to the floor is a complete illusion. The mufflers get hot and so does your butt. I have put insulation down and some good bracing. I love c4 Corvettes and have had one for some time. I liked the seats and bought a couple on my way home from L.A. in Portland, from Craigslist. Drove over and took them out myself and 25.00 bucks later for the two, I was gone. These dogs were little and nipped at my ankles. They did bite. I went home and cut the bottoms off and got them as low as possible and now we have nice seats. It had a roll bar. For years it got in the way of everything. I banged my head on it and it took up so much space. This winter i am working on the interior and sound proofing. Another interesting story. For some years the car had head liner. One year i took it out and found a painting. It is period correct from the mid 50's and shows a bar scene with a policeman and bikers and hookers persons beating on others...all kinds of drama.. Now in the middle of this mess is a man on his knees and he is praying. That insight took me another 10 years to really see. Sure, a painting on the roof. I really enjoyed the realization that this mural had a deeper meaning to the painter. It is a great piece of history.
The gauges are all Stewart Warner and they all work. Gas tank, oil pressure, temp, alt. and speedo and tac.
It was a nice day and I thought to take the car out and here are some pictures
It might go well on the build story, continuing saga.
I took the car out at the beginning of winter and it was so cold with no windows. I went to the Pikapart and found that the 88 Izuzu trooper has the window rubber trim with a lip to go over our bodies and give a clean, straight line and has 90 degree molded corners that make it easier to put in rear side windows. It also gives a channel for the plexi side windows. On long trips a window is necessary and even taking them out every time is still a huge improvement over being buffeted.
This year I have rubbed and sanded and primed over and over. The pictures show a foolish optimism in thinking I may get’r done. I did get the openings and jambs and headlight. It looked perfect in primer but one coat of paint showed up all the little imperfections again. Will it ever end. Not that I am in a hurry.
I have re aligned the front end and a tiny adjustment made the steering so much easier. It was toed out just a tiny bit and slow corners were stiff, now it glides around.
The front headlights were from a Harley roadster, new style halogen bulbs and chrome buckets at 6 in dia. Which fit in the holes allowing for trim ring and a more finished look.
The t 5 camero gearbox is a dream compared to the Muncie. A lighter pressure plate makes driving easier as well.
The linkage is smooth and quick, and the .68 final drive ratio with the 3.55 gears puts me at 2k at 60 mph. It is still so loud. Sitting on top of the wheels is loud. I have sound insulated the whole thing and its still good to have ear plugs for almost all driving.
The windshield wipers work great and the horn and the fans. All sorts of little upgrades that make it more reliable and fun.
I finally dialed in the timing and mixture and it is going very well now. First and second gears are lots of fun and its just on the edge of breaking traction, so it’s more fun.
I adjusted the C4 vette seats again and they really fit and are comfortable, I can see a long drive in the future.
I hope to make it to another owners location as an excuse to go somewhere.
A couple hundred miles would be a good trip. I can include Canada now and I am in northern Idaho, 90 miles from the border. Road trip…….