Lightweight Challenge: 1959 Californian Special

Recently we have seen the emergence of a number of one-off cars that have sprung from the fertile minds and workshops of enthusiasts from days gone by. This particular car is called a “Californian” by its owner as that is where it was originally built at some time in the 1950s. It is listed for sale here on eBay. It is located in Tampa, Florida and is being sold with a clear title. Bidding has reached $6,500 but the reserve hasn’t been met. A big thanks to Barn Finds reader Craig Johnson who spotted this one for us.

Look, I’ll be honest here. This is simply not the most attractive of these cars that I’ve ever seen, but what it does have is a heap of potential. The seller rightly points out that it could be completed as either a road car, or as a sports car for circuit racing. One of it’s big advantages is it’s diminutive size. Track and wheelbase make this car about three inches shorter than a Triumph Spitfire, so it has the potential to be a fun little device on twisting roads

The seller doesn’t give us a lot to go on. There is no interior trim but what we do know is that under that body this Californian is based on a Crosley chassis and drive-train. Unfortunately the owner does not specify which Crosley engine is installed but I think that the appropriate answer is “a small one!” This is what gives this car so much potential. If it were completed with a very basic and lightweight interior it really could be a lot of fun to drive, especially on twisting roads. The new owner will also need to complete all the fiddly detail work like instruments, wiring, hoses, etc.

The body is complete. The panel gaps are a little bit odd, but they could be made to be more consistent with a bit of work. For me I think the thing that is a negative for me is the squared-off look of the wheel arches. I think that if they could be modified to give a more rounded look then this could be quite an attractive car. Given that it is a one-off and fiberglass construction then the world is your oyster.

I’m not even going to try to guess a value for this one because then I’d have to justify it. I personally don’t think that it is the most attractive of these one-off creations, but the potential is there for someone to finish this, and to produce something attractive, distinctive and fun to drive. Even with those slightly odd looking wheel arches this could look good in the right color. I think that potentially one of the most satisfying challenges would be to complete it, but to be able to successfully minimize the weight so that you could extract decent performance from that tiny engine.

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  1. Andy

    It’s cute, but that Kaiser is a knockout! I know Crosleys had some success in endurance racing, but I wonder how grippy that chassis is. This looks like a nice home for a motorcycle engine, too.

  2. Shawn Fox Firth

    Speed Racer – love it though a new chassis and an LS or LT swap would be super .

  3. Ken Nelson Member

    This is being sold by the fellow who started the mag “Forgotten Fiberglass” – as another kit body was listed in front of the same home with the Kaisers in the driveway. Must not be room in the warehouse for all the variations –

  4. bruce baker

    Yeah, the Mach Five! But don’t choose the M-head engine, too fast, & won’t stop without a big bang, ha, ha,. Speed Racer was my Saturday morning. I think i will build my own M-5 body, chassis from scratch for much less money than this old prototype sells for. A 60’s Corvair chassis is wider, right?

    • injuhneer

      Clearly Mach 5 styling in this car. Could be fun.

      • Metoo

        I thought it looked like the Mach 5 myself. But I checked and the show began in ’67. The maker of this had imagination, that’s for sure. Almost expect Chim-Chim to jump out of it.


      I do believe that the reference to the “M-head” was in connection to an episode of HOT WHEELS (shame nobody ever built the Jack Rabbit Special).

  5. Fred V

    i’ve seen very few one off cars that looked good. This is another example of ugly lines and off size proportions. it is like many customizing jobs that should not have been done.
    Fred V

  6. Fred H

    Like the Kaiser in driveway much better.

  7. scottymac

    Saw a sweet little Crosley wagon at the Street Rod Nats in Louisville first weekend in August. Never knew someone made a blower for them!

  8. Uncle Bob

    This is the second rig in the past week of a Geoff Hacker piece. Ken mentioned his business above, here’s a link to his site;

    It’s obvious that a lot of folks here don’t care to do research, but hopefully the authors of the BF articles would use this resource to enhance their posts.

  9. Madmatt

    I thought “Speed Racer” and
    63-67 Vette.That was my favorite show for years as a kid..!
    This car could be amazing, definitely an inspiration to the creators of
    speed racer.This could be really cool,and you will likely have the
    only one in 500 miles….or more.

  10. D Allen Member

    The Calif. car gave me a new outlook on this Crosley Spl with pontoon fenders.

  11. Wrong Way

    I kinda like it! I did immediately have the same opinion about the wheel arches tho! They totally look odd, it just doesn’t go with the body at all!

  12. chrlsful

    these wheel arches were the style at that time & (2 me) therefore go with it.

  13. Bobinott

    Bidding got to $6700, then the listing was pulled. Now relisted at $8750 or make an offer. I wish when people sell something like this that they would put some common object or a person beside the car, to give us a sense of scale.

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