V8/5-Speed: 1983 Blakely Bernardi Roadster

The automotive world was littered with kit cars from the 1960s until the 1980s. They are rarely seen today, but one of the better cars from the days of old was the 1983 Blakely Bernardi Roadster. Buyers could choose from a kit or drive away from the factory in a turnkey vehicle. They stand as one of the better-quality kit cars, allowing them to command higher prices in the classic market. This Bernardi features a V8/5-speed drivetrain combination and, coupled with low overall weight, it should provide performance that will pin occupants in their seats. It needs a new home, with the seller listing it here on Craigslist in Kendall, Florida. You could drive home in this beast by handing the seller $15,000.

Hands up those of you who have chanced upon a kit car based on a Volkswagen platform. Hmm, I see that appears to be all of you! It is easy to understand why because a VW frame and drivetrain are exceptionally light, robust, and versatile. Blakely followed a different path with the Bernardi. It rests upon a bespoke frame, with its panels made of a fiberglass/plastic sandwich. This combination makes a Bernardi heavier than most equivalent kit cars. Still, its panels are generally tougher than other kits, with the fit and finish also a notch above the opposition. This Bernardi is finished in an attractive combination of White and Cream, and deterioration is rarely an issue because the color is sealed within the gel coat. It shines beautifully, with the trim and glass equally impressive. There is no fixed school of thought on wheel choice, but I feel the Superlites fitted to this Blakely perfectly suit its character.

When it came to the question of where to source all the oily bits required to transform a Bernardi from a piece of yard art into a functioning motor vehicle, Blakely trod a different path to other manufacturers. It looked beyond the Volkswagen parts bin to the Ford Pinto/Mustang II platform, and many Bernardis hit the street with almost a complete Pinto drivetrain under the skin. This car takes the concept a step further because the seller pulled its mechanical components from a 1988 Mustang. Forget an asthmatic four under the hood because this jet features a 302ci V8 with added bite. Upgrades include an Edelbrock carburetor and intake, a custom-ground camshaft from the good folk at Competition Cams, headers, and an exhaust featuring headers and Glasspack Cherry Bomb mufflers. The upgrades should see this beauty pumping out significantly more than 200hp, which feeds to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. With the Bernardi weighing considerably less than the donor vehicle, I believe it should effortlessly produce consistent sub-15-second ¼-mile ETs. The seller tackled this build as a complete package, adding an aluminum three-core radiator and a 16″ fan to prevent a meltdown, while a Holley racing pump ensures that sweet V8 won’t starve for fuel. Although the seller supplies no specific information on how this beauty runs or drives, they do provide this YouTube video. It allows us to hear the engine running, and that V8 sounds as sweet, clean, and tough as you could ever hope.

I probably won’t cop a lot of flack from readers if I criticize the finish quality of most kit car interiors. I’ve always felt that most look like someone loaded the components into a bazooka and fired them roughly in the direction of the project car. Fit and finish are often dreadful, and material choices can be pretty awful. The Bernardi stands head-and-shoulder above most, and this car is no exception. It is worth remembering that Blakely kits were among the most expensive kits of the time, so buyers had a right to expect something extra for their money. This Bernardi features trim in a combination of Cream and White vinyl, with the Mercedes seats retaining their original factory upholstery. That is the only aspect of the interior that jars for me. It would have looked more “complete” if the upholstery matched across the seats, dash, and door trims. However, rectifying the problem would not be difficult or expensive. Otherwise, there is little of which to be critical. There are no signs of wear or abuse, the gauges look crisp and clear, and the timber-rimmed Grant wheel perfectly suits this car’s character.

Most buyers chose to splash their cash on a Blakely Bernardi kit rather than taking the easy path of buying a complete car from the factory. Part of this stemmed from a desire to participate in the creation process, but the price was a significant contributing factor. The sticker price of a turnkey 1983 Bernardi ranged from $21,000 to $23,000. That figure placed the Bernardi in direct competition with the Chevrolet Corvette, but the Bernardi lacked the extensive development, testing, and warranty offered by Chevrolet. Those that pursued the kit path did so with varying degrees of success, and we’ve seen a few pretty ordinary examples at Barn Finds. This one looks like a gem, but it needs to. The price is at the top of what you would expect to pay. However, its presentation and mechanical configuration could justify the cost. There’s no doubt it would plaster a mile-wide smile on the driver’s face every time they floored the gas, and who can place a price on that?


  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Nice car. Engine would respond positively to dumping the restrictive Cherry Bombs and put a couple of engine tuned Borla or Flomaster mufflers on it. Have to wonder how many millions of cars and hot rods have had ’39 Ford taillights put on them….

    Like 3
    • Tony Primo

      I would definitely skip the Dronemaster mufflers and get some nice turbo mufflers like Dynomax.

      Like 3
  2. MattR Member

    I’m with you on the mufflers Bob and Adam on the interior. That is a random piece of black boiler-plate below the gauges. What is that about?

    That said, this would be a fun car.

    Like 0
  3. TheOldRanger

    Nice looking kit car, and it looks fun to drive.

    Like 2
  4. RexFox Member

    Add a roll bar and a top, plug some headrests into the seat backs (holes are already there), and this would be a super-fun driver. I don’t know about the resale value, but it seems like a lot of car for the price. It looks a little bit like an MG TD, but I bet it drives better.

    Like 2
  5. Scott L.

    Seems it could use one less wiper and one more mirror.

    Like 1
    • Rick

      You wouldn’t want to own an Austin Healey Sprite or an MG Midget ha-ha.

      With such a wide but relatively short windshield the only workable arrangement is three short arms and blades. Two long ones would overlap the top while providing little glass coverage.

      Like 0
      • Scott L.

        Nice explanation, but still not sure I would ever need a third wiper. Or a second. Or a first (on a car with no roof).

        Like 0
  6. Gary Thompson

    Owned one of these years ago..It had the Pinto 4 in it – was way underpowered.The V8 has my vote…Believe the price is a little high..

    Like 0
  7. V12MECH

    For the price of a 5 yr. old civic, this can be yours instead. Well priced.

    Like 3
  8. Claudio

    Before plunking down some $$$for this , i would have to test drive it …
    Bought too many cars without a prior roadtest and been disappointed too many times

    Like 1
  9. Car Nut Tacoma (USA)

    Nice looking car. Although I regret that I’ve never seen a Blakely Bernardi roadster, I’ve heard of the car, and I’ve seen pics from the period of the car. At the time I didn’t know what to make of the car, whether to find it attractive or hideous. Today, I like it. I can imagine going for a drive in the car on a nice day.

    Like 0

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