Courtesy of Bonhams
This particular Kellison was purchased new by SCCA Executive Director Don Rodimer. In 2001 the car passed to its current owner. As he wished to use the car in driver events, the car was made fully street legal. Lights, turn signals and a windshield wiper were all installed to meet compliance. It has since been impeccably maintained and has taken part in the New England 1000, among other events. It has a full SVRA Group 4 logbook and is ready to compete in vintage events or road rallies.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1959 Kellison J-4R Coupe
Years Produced:1958–69
Number Produced:Unknown, at least 350
Original List Price:$6,700 (turn-key)
SCM Valuation:$31,900
Tune Up Cost:$225
Chassis Number Location:Firewall
Engine Number Location:Varies by engine, pad on front of block below passenger’s cylinder head (SBC)
Club Info:Kellison Registry
Alternatives:Any vintage kit-sourced car, including Devin and Kurtis
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 180, sold for $28,000, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Amelia Island Auction at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club in Fernandina Beach, FL, on March 8, 2018.

Most American boys born in the 20th century have doodled designs for low-slung, wicked-looking race cars, usually inside a schoolbook. More than a few conceived something very much like a Kellison J-Series coupe. The squat stature and muscular shape must be part of some shared cultural memory, because you don’t even have to squint to see the influence on the Dodge Viper coupes that arrived several decades later.

The Kellison coupe is a true original. It’s also one of the best deals going if you want a bargain-priced first-class ticket to the highest levels of vintage racing.

What is a Kellison?

Jim Kellison was a serial entrepreneur. Contrary to many published reports, he was never a fighter pilot in Korea, but he later stated that he drew inspiration from the jet planes he had observed while stationed stateside in the Air Force. He was honorably discharged in 1954 at the age of 22, and went to work first in an auto body shop and then as a civilian employee at Travis Air Force Base before starting his custom-car business in his own garage.

By 1958, Kellison had designs for both a coupe and a roadster body, made in sizes to fit cars as small as a Crosley and as large as a Corvette. The J-4 model was the first to get some media attention, when Motor Trend magazine got a hold of one for a test. “From any angle you look at it, it’s a brute,” Len Griffing stated in the magazine’s December 1959 issue.

According to the story, the body was mounted on Motor Trend’s tired and much modified “workhorse” 1956 Corvette chassis, which had horrible oversteer issues. Nevertheless, California racer Andy Porterfield bravely drove the prototype Kellison in a couple of races while they worked out the kinks.

Once the body was placed on suitable platforms, Kellisons started winning races. Kellison credibly claimed his cars could achieve 170 mph on the fast straights at Riverside and Vacaville, and speeds up to 132 mph in drag races. A racer named Nolan White took a Kellison K-3 up to 224.477 mph at Bonneville in 1966.

That all led to Kellison becoming a respected name in the racing world, but it didn’t lead to financial success. In the original production run in 1958–59, it’s estimated that about 350 J-4 bodies were made. Kellison created the larger J-5 in 1960, and the J-6 in 1962, but money troubles forced Kellison to take on Max Germaine and his Allied Fiberglass company as a partner in 1961. Allied continued to make the J-4, J-5 and J-6 bodies, but branded them as Astras.

Kellison later parted ways with Germaine and made fiberglass parts for everything from Model T Fords to dune buggies. Both Kellison and Allied Fiberglass made additional J-4 bodies until at least 1969, so exact production numbers are unknown.

A storied J-4

The subject car was originally purchased in 1959 by Don Rodimer, who was a founding member of the Northern New Jersey Region SCCA. When Rodimer passed away in 1985, racer and writer Rich Taylor inherited the car. He restored it for vintage racing and documented the process.

“As you might expect from a car that sat untouched in a barn for 25 years, our Kellison J-4R was a mess,” Taylor wrote in the June 1987 issue of Popular Mechanics.

One thing to mention — there’s not really any such thing as a J-4R. That name was retroactively applied to J-4 cars used for racing. Kellison sold a J-4 “Competition Body” or “Kit B” that was only a shell, without dashboard, firewall, seat buckets or inner fender panels. None of the available catalogs from 1958 to ’70 list a J-4R as an option.

Taylor brought the car up to mid-’80s vintage specs with an entirely new frame, driveline and running gear, spending about $20,000 in the process. He then went vintage racing at Sebring, putting the Kellison on track against a large field including Stirling Moss in a Birdcage Maserati and Peter Sachs in a Ferrari Testa Rossa. The Kellison finished 3rd.

“I’m not pretending to be racing against Stirling Moss,” Taylor wrote, “I am racing Stirling Moss.”

“Exotic-car chump change”

That right there is the magic of a Kellison. Even in 1987, the cars that Taylor was racing against cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he was racing for less than the price of a new Corvette.

“When was the last time Augie Pabst came over to compliment you on your car and bench race about Scarabs for a while?” Taylor asked.

When Taylor sold this Kellison in 2001 (ACC# 27992), the car went for $36,300. The sale made the pages of ACC’s sister publication, Sports Car Market, where Pat Braden wrote, “The real value of this car is the entry it provides to exclusive venues for what amounts to exotic-car chump change.”

Since that time, this car was made street legal to run classic-car rallies as well as the vintage-racing circuit. It’s got a built small-block engine good for almost 500 horsepower and 463 foot-pounds of Oh My God torque, mated to a close-ratio 4-speed transmission in a 2,650-pound package, and it’s all fully sorted and ready to race.

Bonhams’ estimate for this sale was $35,000 to $55,000, and the car is certainly worth every penny of that. Yet the car sold for just $28,000, making this vintage racer very well bought indeed.

But before we boggle too much at that low price, consider that other condition 1 and 2 Kellisons have seen auction bids top out at about $38,000, with less-desirable cars selling far lower. Furthermore, Kellison prices have been more or less static since 1993. The craziest thing is, this sale wasn’t that far out of the mainstream.

The obvious takeaway lesson here is “consider a Kellison for your race car.” But more than that, take a close look at who’s running up front in Vintage contests. It’s not always the high-dollar machinery. If you’ve been sitting in the stands because you can’t afford to put an irreplaceable car at risk, maybe it’s time to think again.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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