The Kellison Story. An American Sports Car Dream - Part 1

What Do You Know About Kellison Sports GT Fiberglass Cars of 1957-1965? Story by BOMONSTER 

history of jim kellison cars by bomonster


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: Jim Kellison.

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 scoured the Internet and talked with two of his sons. 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 know…

Jim Kellison was an Air force mechanic 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 and 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 1957 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 sportscar


kellison j-5 panther pictures by bomonster


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.

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).

 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 sportscar pictures by bomonster


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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