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Show Car Not Race Car: 1961 Kellison J-5

Tastes change as we grow older.  As car nuts, our early childhood is often influenced by the toys we play with.  Take Hot Wheels for example.  Many of the cars we bugged our parents mercilessly to get bore little resemblance to street cars.  That was what Matchbox Cars were for.  Some of us never outgrew that taste for outlandish cars with wild paint jobs.  If you are one of those people, then have a look at this 1961 Kellison kit car for sale on eBay in San Martin, California.  With one of the most unique finishes ever applied to a four-wheeled contrivance and a body design that looks like a Rob Zombie fantasy, this Kellison is currently at a cool $50,000 with 18 bids.  Is this the type of car for you, or is it better suited for someone who would go to a minister’s funeral dressed in feathers?

Jim Kellison was an interesting guy.  After a stint in the Air Force, he ended up in the body shop business.  It was there he learned about the miraculous properties of fiberglass.  Before, it was almost beyond the reach of the average car enthusiast to create their own body panels, let alone a whole car.  Pioneers like Woody Woodill blazed a trail for those who were long on creativity but short on manufacturing resources.  Kellison used his knowledge to start producing fiberglass bodies for fairly common automobile chassis.  One of his first bodies fit on the chassis of the then plentiful Crosley automobile.  It wasn’t long before his wild creations found a home on the chassis of America’s sportscar.

The company made a dizzying array of models from 1958 through 1970.  Some believe that thousands of Kellison bodies were built throughout that time.  At various times Kellison offered bodies only, bodies that were designed to fit on the chassis of production cars, bodies with custom frames, and likely any combination that you could think up.  Some were street cars, while others went racing.  Kellisons have been seen on drag strips, road courses, autocross, and anywhere else you could take a car.

The wild Kellison you see here is advertised as a J-5 model. According to the seller, this car was built on a 1961 Chevrolet Corvette chassis.  It has a 348 cubic inch Chevrolet V-8 bored 0.60 oversize putting down the horsepower with the help of three two-barrel carburetors.  Power is sent to the rear wheels through a T-10 four-speed transmission and a 1955 Chevrolet rear end with a 3.55 gear ratio.  The car also uses a Corvette gas tank, a Corvette radiator with an electric fan, and a set of Stewart Warner gauges.  The wheels are 15-inch Torq Thrusts that are 5.5 inches wide in the front and 18.5 inches in the back.

The paint job is the most eye-catching feature of this already in-your-face automobile.  We are told it is the handiwork of a gentleman named Phil Leonard, of the Syrarum Color Studio.  It is designed to emulate a 1970s street machine look.  The seller tells us that purchasing this car is like having one’s very own Hot Wheels car in life-size, and that description is not far from the truth.  The car is wildly unpractical and outlandish.  It was as if a 12-year-old won a huge lottery prize and was suddenly unencumbered with such things as checking prices on their desires.

As you can see from the photograph above, the builder wasn’t too enraptured with luxury.  Bomber seats with the most minimal of cushioning for your rear end are currently installed in the car.  There seems to be no provision for adjustment.  There aren’t even seat belts for that matter.  Some heat insulation is seen in the passenger door.  However, the fiberglass body pan lacks any such nods to creature comfort.

Under the hood is the previously mentioned Chevrolet V-8.  Despite the lack of detailing under the rare forward tilt hood, we are told that the car runs, drives, and stops as it should.  That hood is advertised to be only one of three built by Kellison in this body style.  Regardless, the power pushed out by this V-8 coupled with what is most likely a set of drum brakes all around would certainly make for a lot of fun if pushed a bit.

Overall, this is a really neat car that could use some finishing to be perfect.  It’s not something you would willingly take across the country unless you consider heat and getting beaten up in a vehicle this spartan a great vacation opportunity.  It is a car to trailer to the local car show and win some trophies and wow some kids.  Cars can exist just for fun too.  Hopefully this Kellison gets sold to someone who wants to display it and let others enjoy seeing it.

What would you do with this Kellison if you won the auction?  Please let us know in the comments.


  1. Cadmanls Member

    Me, I don’t have any desire to own it. Don’t misunderstand me nice car parts and paint and the later is mostly the reason I don’t want to own it. Looks as it might have been a racer for a time and now it’s this sort of show car. Sort of 70’s paint check, interior is a mix of what was and rat rod. Guessing in 62, or shortly after this was someones hotrod and someone found it and decided to go this route.

    Like 3
    • Cadmanls Member

      By the way looking at the pictures it has front disc brakes.

      Like 0
    • Chuckster

      O.k. I saw it and did not enjoy it

      Like 0
  2. kaf

    So, it’s got about an inch and a half of suspension travel in the rear? Am I seeing that right?

    It looks cool, but it wouldn’t even make it out of my driveway.

    Like 1
  3. Big Bear 🇺🇸

    This reminds me of the Cheetah from the 60’s. It also was fiberglass body I think a hand made chassis. I don’t remember the engine could of been GM 427 or Ford 427. I do remember seeing this Kellison J5 before the custom paint job. In old hot rod magazines . This is a rich man toy. Go to shows and have fun. I bet the front wheels could come up off ground easy on take off😂. This paint job on this ride brought back ton of memories for me. Thanks for posting it here. 🐻🇺🇸

    Like 10
    • FrankD Member

      The real Cheetah had a 327 corvette engine made specially to beat Cobras.

      Like 1
      • Larry Member

        I think I’ve read the factory built race cars were bored and stroked aluminum small blocks of 377 ci. Gave the 289 Cobras a fit, but had high speed areo lift problems that was pretty scary.

        Like 0
  4. oilngas

    Padded underwear and drive it till the wheels fall off. My dream car. Would never sell it so who cares what it’s worth when I die? Not me.

    Like 13
  5. Rw

    I think it’s very cool!!

    Like 4
    • HoA Howard A Member

      Me too. Looks like some of the 1/24 scale slot cars we raced.

      Like 9
  6. TRP

    What!? I live in San Martin!?! It’s a ridiculously small town between Morgan Hill and Gilroy, CA. It’s tiny. How have I never seen this car? I’m going to have to check it out

    Like 4
    • Poncho

      Let us know how your inspection goes.
      I was just in Santa Monica for a week and couldnt really find something I was interested in to check out while on the Left Coast. Now back on the East Coast and all this cool stuff keeps popping up. Dang!

      Like 2
  7. hugh crawford

    Gee a 348, all the weight of a big block with not much of the power. Well at least it looks like a 409.

    Like 1
  8. Steveo

    Not being 12 years old, it’s not my cup of tea. Great car to invite people to come over and look at. Or trailer it to cars and coffee…once.

    Like 2
  9. Grumpy

    Very kool for the time

    Like 4
    • 370zpp 370zpp Member

      Yes, grumpy, so kool . .

      Like 2
  10. gippy

    Mid 70’s and endless lines and lace painting were in. We did the whole enchilada on my Lotus 23 to the horror of the other SCCA guys. Fortunately for them, they only had to look at the rear of the car.

    Like 3
  11. TheOldRanger

    I think I would like this car better if it was painted with different colors. I can’t get past this paint job.

    Like 2
    • Poncho

      I’m digging the paint job. There is more there than meets the eye. I’d love to see a video walkaround in the sun. Between the copper colors, the silver and gold leaf machine turning, metallics, and lace, there is a feast for the eyes to enjoy. Pics in less than direct sunlight wont do this paint job justice. Can’t imagine what someone would charge for this paint job today.

      Like 5
  12. Steve

    They should change the license plate from “KNOWN” to “KLOWN”. It’s just butt-ugly, IMHO.

    Like 0
    • jwaltb

      Thanks, Steve. Very insightful.

      Like 6
  13. Old Man

    “What would you do with this Kellison if you won the auction?”
    I’d donate it to “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”.

    Like 0
  14. gregb

    The paint would have to go the way of the 70’s
    Also the slicks. A nice solid color and appropriate tires and wheels
    would make it a cool ride

    Like 0
  15. FrankD Member

    This is the first J5 I have ever seen close to completion. Most are a work in progress.

    Like 1
  16. Roman Macias

    18.5 inches wide, or 8.5..?

    Like 1
  17. Chuk Holmes

    At least it’s not lace paint. Right from my era . What were we thinking? Like a french bulldog? So ugly it’s cute. The boat anchor 348 just adds to the appeal

    Like 0
  18. TC

    Looking through th comments this car is not a cheetah ( big bear) its a kellison j5 not in any way shape or form to a cheetah

    Like 0
  19. ACZ

    What would I do? Easy! Pull the motor and put ca crate small block in its place and then sell the car. That engine needs a place in a restomod 1959 El Camino.

    Like 3

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