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New world record in “Bang for the Buck”-class: 500 hp Kellison for $28,000

The record was set on March 8 when one very lucky bidder acquired a 1959 Kellison J-4R for the spectacularly low price of 28,000 dollars.

A what, you may ask – Kellison?

Indeed, and this may have been one explanation: American Kellison is not a marque with anything near the gravitas of the European greats the likes of Porsche, Ferrari or Mercedes. In fact, it’s was not even a car manufacturing marque at all, but more of a kit car.

Glassfibre is fantastic stuff – just add fantasy, talent and hard work and you can have a world class sports car.

At least that is how Jim Kellison started out around 1958. At some later stage Kellison did eventually offer fully-built cars, the J4 such as this one as well, but regardless the name is nowhere near as well known as the major marques. Which is a shame as the J4 was one of the most succesful models and to my eyes actually something of a design masterpiece. Kellison did most himself and amazingly ended up with a car looking just like a young (and talented) boy at the time would probably sketch the most super supercar he could imagine.

The proportions are spectacular, bordering on Batmobile-like.

The J4 features an impossibly long hood, an achingly tight roof line and muscular haunches all pulled together by looooong flowing lines. It is almost a glassfibre caricature of a front engined supercar – which as such suits the concept perfectly: Indeed Kellison wanted to take on all and the world with his creation – and priced it accordingly, as back in the day it was more expensive than a Corvette.

In some ways he succeded, as the company sold around 300 J4’s and later built on that succes. But in the Seventies the founder left the car business and only the true car connoisseurs would recognize his name today. The auction house Bonhams valued such rarity with an estimate of 35,000-55,000 dollars, which already seems amazing value.

But it went for far less, so last weekend a Kellison roared to fame with what I believe is a world record for a classic car in the”Bang for the Buck”-category: 500 horsepower for 28,000 dollars is serious stuff – and considering this seemed to be a working, well tested, road legal and rather beautiful looking Fifties sportscar, nothing less than sensational.

A contributing factor to the low price probably was its originality – or rather lack of it. Of course the smallblock engine never punched out 500 horsepower in 1959, nor would the car have featured a comprehensive rollbar structure like this one. This Kellison had, according to the catalogue description, been converted to a race car in the Eighties and received a healthy dose of breathed upon 406 cubic inch V8 – that’s 6.5 liters in European language. More to the point, that resulted in 497 horsepower and surely spectacular numbers in performance as well. No less, the car was still docile and usable, and in 2001 a new owner had added the neccessities needed for road registering the monster. From there on he had proceeded to drive the car on rallies and regularities, always properly maintaining the car. It certainly presented convincingly in the catalogue.

But of course it’s condition is not the main thing: Almost 500 horsepower in a spetacular body of Fifties fantasy available for 28,000 dollars including premium? I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with it, but I’d love to try and find a reason – meanwhile you simply can’t argue against the huge amount of Bang for not a lot of Buck, neither that the car is rather spectacular in itself.

What could possibly beat it in this category? Answers, suggestions (or just chocked reactions) on a postcard or in the comments below, please.


11 Responses

  1. Christian V

    This particular Kellison has been offered for sale for a while, and there’s a perfectly good reason, that it didn’t sell for more:

    For starters – despite the title – this car isn’t even a J-4 but a modified J-5 (The R-suffix was used on lighter bodies intended for race cars), that has had the hood scoop and lower pair of headligthts filled in.

    However the main issue remains, that the original chassis has been replaced with a custom built modern frame – leaving little to no historical value (or aestethical for that matter…).

    Now for a little history lesson:
    The Kellison J-4 was introduced around a 1958 and featured a frame designed by Jim Kellison and sprint car builder Chuck Manning. The engine/transmission was sourced from the first-generation (C1) Corvettes, while the suspension was based on pre-war Ford components. In 1960 the J-4 became available as a “turn-key”car from the factory at a whopping price of $ 6,700.

    The J-5 model was introduced in 1959 and featured a completely different and vastly improved frame construction (similar to early Triumph TR-series cars) using both engine, transmission, and suspension from the C1 Corvettes. The J-5 had a longer wheelbase, longer doors, and a slightly taller roofline for ease of entry/exit. The frame design gave the J-5 a very low centre of gravity, and almost 50/50 weight distribution between the axles. With a kerb weight of approximately 2,400 lbs, the J-5 was also considerably lighter than a Corvette. The J-5 was available as a either kit in various stages of completion or as a turn-key car for $ 7,000.

    The J-5 was soon followed by the J-6 “Panther”, which had an even taller roofline as well as the addition of a trunk for luggage. Though early factory catalogs suggest that the J-6 was purposely designed as a kit-car for use with C1-Corvette frames, the J-6 was also available as a both a kit and as a turn-key car with the same 102″ wheelbase chassis as the J-5.

    A lot of people tend to get the terms “Astra” and “Kellison” mixed up.
    In 1960 in order to meet the rapidly increasing demand, Jim Kellison entered a business partnership with Allen Max Germaine of the company Fiberglass Products Inc. . Initially the cars and parts were manufactured and sold under the Kellison brand, but some time around 1961, Fiberglass Products Inc. intoduced their own “Astra Automotive Division”, which manufactured and sold the Kellison products under the “Astra” name.
    Around 1965 Jim and Allen parted ways, but the company, which had by then changed it’s name to Allied Fiberglass, continued to manufacture the cars and parts under license. Allied Fiberglass even introduced their own derivative of the Astra/Kellison J-5, called the Astra X300 GT.

    Both Kellison and Allied Fiberglass continued to offer cars, kits and parts until around 1970, when the production ceased.

  2. Niels V

    @morten-kragh-mortensen, would it be possible for you to share the story of the car you had ?

  3. Christian V

    @morten-kragh-mortensen Do you know what happened to it afterwards?
    I’ve been trying to track down another J-5, that was imported to Denmark around 1987, and later sold to a guy in Germany. It would be interesting to know if more of them are lurking in garages around the country.

  4. Skaanning

    @christian-v thank you very much for all the infomation.
    Yes, it would be interesting to know what happend to @morten-kragh-mortensen ‘ s car….

  5. Morten Kragh-Mortensen

    @christian-v @niels-v @skaanning I bought the car in Viborg, and sold it to a German ( Ekkehard Öbbeke) who raced in Germany. I can tell a lot about it, but on my way to Copenhagen right now.

  6. Morten Kragh-Mortensen

    @christian-v @niels-v @skaanning
    I will update you in Dansk on Sunday.

  7. Anders Bilidt

    I must confess that I’m on the fence when it comes to the Kellison…
    On the one hand, it’s so dramatic and thoroughly over-the-top, that the schoolboy in me can’t help but love it. It certainly puts a smile on my face – and one could easily argue, that ought to be enough.
    But on the other hand, it’s not exactly aesthetically pleasing. As Claus put it, it’s designed like a young boy would draw the ultimate sports car. Designwise, it’s basically a caricature of a sports car, which explains perfectly why it makes us smile, but it’s clearly not the work of a highly talented designer.

    Regardless, there’s no arguing against the “Bang for the Buck” thesis. You’ll struggle to find equal amounts of GO! for $ 28k anywhere else…

    Thanks for the detailed insight on this particular Kellison. That does no doubt explain the lack of higher bids.

  8. Christian V

    @morten-kragh-mortensen Based on that info, it has to be the same car. I’d really like to hear more about it, as I may even know the current owner.

  9. Claus Ebberfeld

    I thank you very much for the interesting background on the Kellison story, @christian-v – and not least on the status on this specific car. Most impressive. I agree that this further explains the low price, although it does not – to my eyes – change the fact that it still takes the Bang for the buck-price.

  10. Morten Kragh-Mortensen

    @christian-v send mig evt. din mail på 21629850.


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