July 21, 2024

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Savvy Car Technicians

A Rare Kellison J6 Panther V8


This is a Kellison J6 Panther, it’s an American sports car developed by Jim Kellison back in the late-1950s that’s been lauded for its advanced body design and its race winning history.

Thanks to their lightweight fiberglass bodies, good aerodynamics, and powerful V8 engines the Kellison J-series cars were among the fastest vehicles you could build in your garage back in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Fast Facts – The Kellison J6 Panther

  • 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.

Jim Kellison

Image DescriptionThis is Jim Kellison with one of his creations. Many Kellison J series cars went racing and achieved excellent results in the early 1960s.

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.

The Kellison Car Company

Jim began work on his first J car design in 1957, he created a steel tube and wire frame, then used plaster of Paris to create a smooth surface to create the fiberglass mould. Within two years Kellison cars began appearing in American automotive magazines including MotorTrend.

Kellison Car Magazine Advertisement

Image DescriptionMost Kellison bodies were sold via advertisements like this in the back of car magazines in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The C1 Corvette was being built at the time with a fiberglass body, and so Jim built the Kellison J4 body to fit neatly onto the Corvette chassis in place of the original body. It looked fantastic but there were some complaints about handling.

As a result of these complaints, Jim hired Chuck Manning – a talented Indy car chassis builder – to developed a new chassis specifically for his body designs, and solve the handling issues once and for all.

The initial design had a steel box tube frame with tube axles front and back. This didn’t provide the desired handling, and so a new version was designed – a steel X-frame fitted with easy-to-source Corvette suspension front and rear.

This new chassis combined with the good aerodynamics of the Kellison body was a match made in heaven, and there were numerous reports of Kellisons taking dominant class victories in motorsport competition in the early 1960s.

Kellison J6 Project Car 8

Image DescriptionThe Kellison J6 project car listed here seems to have most of the major parts, with the body, chassis, suspension, brakes, and drivetrain all accounted for.

It wouldn’t be long before Jim 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 Kellison J6 Project Car Shown Here

The car you see here is an original Kellison J6, it currently requires a full restoration. The car comes fitted to a 1958 Studebaker Hawk chassis, it’s powered by a 350 cubic inch V8, and power is sent to the Ford 9″ rear end via a Muncie 4-speed manual transmission.

Underneath you’ll find coilover suspension, front disc brakes with rear drums, 15″ Centerline wheels, Currie Enterprises rear axles, and a 3.55:1 Positraction differential. Under the hood the V8 is topped with a Holley four-barrel carburetor, it also has roller rockers and polished valve covers.

It’s clear that this Kellison will need a lot of work to get it back on the road but most of the major parts are already accounted for. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

Kellison J6 Project Car 13
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Kellison J6 Project Car 2
Kellison J6 Project Car 1

Images courtesy of Bring A Trailer

Kellison J6 Project Car


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