This is a Kellison J-4EX, it’s a 1950s-era American sports car that remains unknown to many, it was a period competitor for the Corvette and in fact some of them were built on Corvette chassis.
The Kellison Engineering & Manufacturing Co. was founded by Jim Kellison, a USAF veteran and hot rod builder. He designed the beautiful fiberglass body himself, and it could be bought either as a separate body to be fitted to various chassis, or it could be bought with a matching Kellison chassis.
Fast Facts – The Kellison J-4EX Coupe
- Jim Kellison was born in Seattle before moving to California where he joined the burgeoning hot rod scene. He joined the USAF in his late teens and after discharge he started his own body and fender shop at the age of 22.
- Kellison would spend the rest of his life as an entrepreneur in the automotive world, first repairing cars before branching out into car design himself, and selling fiberglass body kits as well as complete cars.
- The most famous cars built by Jim were the Kellison J series vehicles, they ran from J1 through to J6 – their styling was remarkably advanced for the era and well ahead of their time.
- The J series cars would remain in production from the late 1950s well into the 1960s. Kellison would diversify his product line to include Formula V cars, boats, dune buggies, hot tubs, and more.
Jim Kellison – The Unlikely Car Designer
Born James Frank Kellison in Seattle, Jim Kellison would move to California as a young man and become part of the rapidly growing hot rod scene as a teenager. It would be in the world of hot rods that he cut his teeth learning about automotive engineering, bodywork, and engine tuning.
In his late teens Jim joined the United States Air Force, he long be enamored with aircraft and aircraft design, having been a keen builder of model planes when he was younger. This fascination with aircraft would later have a significant influence on his automobile designs.
After leaving the USAF Jim opened his own body and fender repair shop, at the age of just 22. He would spend the next few years working in the field, both in his own shops and working for other people, building a broad base of experience in the process.
It was around this time in the early 1950s that fiberglass was becoming a popular material for constructing car bodies. It was lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and easy to form into complex shapes with the use of moulds – vastly easier to turn into car bodies than aluminum or steel.
Many small companies popped up offering fiberglass bodies that could be fitted to production car chassis, vastly reducing the weight and improving the performance at the same time. Some of these companies also developed their own chassis designs, and by the mid-1950s Kellison would be one of them.
Jim Kellison first began developing his car design in the mid-1950s and it would be officially released in 1957 as the Kellison J-4. The beautiful styling of the body caused a sensation and many were sold, an in-house developed chassis was also offered.
This early chassis design didn’t offer the kind of Corvette-killing handling that Jim was after, and so he hired Indy car designer Chuck Manning to develop a new chassis from scratch, which he did over two generations of designs. These new chassis designs much improved handling, and various Kellisons began winning races against Corvettes, Jaguars, and Ferraris.
In later years Jim Kellison branched out and used his fiberglass production capacity to build a variety of other vehicles including Meyers Manx dune buggy clones, Formula V cars, and even speed boats, and jacuzzis. The company ceased operations in the 1970s, though its later history is still largely undocumented.
The Kellison J-4EX Shown Here
The car you see here is a Kellison J-4EX, it’s one of the rarer examples built using the later version of the Chuck Manning-designed, box-section steel chassis with independent front suspension.
The current owner purchased this car in 2014 as a project vehicle, it has been sold by Jim Kellison in 1987 and was later found in a junkyard. It was previously recommissioned, however the current owner (and now seller) commissioned another series of works on the car to bring it up to a higher level.
It was repainted in Cotswold Blue with white roundels on the hood, door, and rear panel. Before painting the rear fiberglass fenders were widened and the body was reinforced. Significant work was undertaken on the interior, low-back bucket seats were re-trimmed in black leather with plaid inserts, red diamond-stitched marine-grade vinyl was used on the door panels, along the transmission tunnel, and behind the seats.
Safecraft six-point harnesses have been fitted for each occupant, and in the interest of further improving safety a roll bar has been installed.
The car is powered by a Chevrolet 283 cubic inch V8 which has been overhauled, it now features a Holley carburetor, an Edelbrock intake manifold, Kellison-branded valve covers, an ATI damper, tubular exhaust headers, an aluminum radiator, and dual electric cooling fans.
Power is sent back through a Tremec TKO 5-speed manual transmission and a GM 7.5″ rear end with a limited-slip differential. The car has independent front suspension, and disc brakes front and rear for improved stopping power.
Since the completion of its refurbishment this Kellison has been featured in a December 2022 issue of Collectible Automobile magazine, and it was shown in The Quail in August of 2023 where it attracted significant attention.
It’s now being offered for sale out of Emeryville, California with a California title listing the car as a 1960 Kelli on Bring a Trailer. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Bring a Trailer.
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