As regular readers of this
magazine know, Henry Caroselli set the kit car industry on its ear several
years ago, with the introduction of the S10-based Rodster. Instead of
making an old car look new, he reverse-engineered a newer daily driver
that looked old. Great idea for most, but driving a lowered, two-wheel-drive
hot rod every day can be problematic for some.
Kraig Short is an engineer
who just happens to live in the Pacific Northwest where people have
been known to rust before they tan. Kraig was in the market for a four-wheel-drive,
go anywhere rig when he spotted an ad for the Rodster. Being a big fan
of Henry's designs, and having a desire to build a one-of-a-kind car
that would fit his lifestyle, he ordered the builder's information packet.
Then Kraig figured out what
would be needed to build the only 4x4 Rodster kit car in existence.
Kraig, by his own admission, is a builder. In addition to several small
projects, he built a '29 Mercedes replica. But he had no idea how easy
or difficult it would be to convert an S10 donor vehicle to a Rodster
I looked at the material
that I got from Henry and I kept thinking. "I wonder what that
kit would look like on a 4x4 with a lift kit and big tires," says
With all of the back roads
available, the public beaches, and the heavy rainfall in the Pacific
Northwest, such a car really made sense.
According to Kraig, there
are five basic steps to building a Rodster: obtain a donor, cut it up;
obtain a kit; attach kit parts to donor; and paint.
Kraig, "If you figure in a few mistakes and a few modifications
to make the kit work on a 4x4, then the actual number of steps in around
Obtaining the donor car is
the first step to driving around in something different from what the
neighbors drive. After watching the advertisements in the local newspaper,
Kraig selected an '89 Blazer S10 4x4 with a slipping transmission which,
after dickering cost only $2,700. This vehicle came with the Tahoe package,
which included A/C, cruise control, tilt wheel, and power windows and
locks, all of which will be retained on the finished vehicle. It also
came with the 4.3-liter V-6, which would be perfect to handle bigger
tires. One nice feature is the little dome lights built into the rearview
mirror. That comes in handy in an open-top vehicle.
Wanting to get to know the
Rodster company better before sending in his money, Kraig arranged for
a trip to visit Henry at his facility in El Segundo, California.
"I was impressed with
the company and with Henry," says Kraig. "Although the fiberglass
work is done elsewhere, I was able to see some completed cars, including
the Hot Rod Power Tour Car. "Another reason for the visit
was to measure the wheel openings on the Rodster to see if they would
accommodate the larger tires.
Now it was time to get the
donor ready for the kit. Cutting up the vehicle is the fun part. Follow
the instructions carefully. If you have questions about the exact location
of a cut, wait until the kit arrives. While the front end was off and
the engine easy to access, the new spark plug wires, fuel filter, K&N
filter, and other parts were installed. "Next I installed the 3-inch
lifts, which were not as hard as I thought they would be," says
Kraig. "Then Rancho shocks were installed. Since the Blazer had
the collapsible steering column, there was no major modification for
the 4x4 floor-mounted shifter. At this point I dropped out the leaking
and slipping transmission and had it rebuilt."
Wanting to see the kit car
show at Knott's Berry Farm, Kraig arranged to pick up his Rodster kit
at that time. Not wanting to pay the crating and shipping charges, Kraig
borrowed a minivan with a flatbed trailer and drove 1,000 miles down
the freeway to the show.
The kit was ready, and Henry
Caroselli helped secure the larger pieces to the flatbed trailer. The
rest of the pieces filled up the back of the minivan. During the night
on the return trip, Kraig pulled into a rest stop to sleep. This had
been no problem on the way down, because the rear seat folded down into
a bed. Now the back of the van was full of kit car parts, so much so
that the front seats wouldn't even recline! Talk about a long night.
"After I arrived home,
I couldn't wait to start attaching parts," says Kraig. "The
assembly manual was clear and detailed with photos and templates."
the Blazer front fenders and attaching the rear quarter-panels were
the most time consuming. The front of the frame had to be trimmed. The
front tilt nose section mounts on a bar that's attached between the
front framerails. Before installing the nose, it was necessary to relocate
the charcoal canister, radiator overflow bottle, cruise control, windshield
washer, 4x4 vacuum actuator, and the remote oil filter. The radiator,
oil cooler, transmission cooler, and A/C fit between the front of the
engine and the nose. This proved to be an excellent kit that went together
with a minimum amount of difficulty. The main thing is that, with a
3-inch body lift, the Rodster body doesn't mount to the frame in the
same location. Also, if bumpers are to be added, the frame is trimmed
a little differently from what is shown in the manual.
The lift-off Carson top is
welcome in the not-so-sunny climates. It seals well and is easy to get
on and off. At $595, it's one of the more reasonable tops on the market.
From the time Kraig brought
his kit home until he was driving a painted Rodster was only two months.
The final cost was around $12,000. Not bad for a 4x4 with all of the
creature comforts -- a vintage-looking hot rod that can go virtually
for stuff seems to be the number-one favorite activity of a lot of folks,
so it doesn't come as a surprise that our most popular issues are buyer's
guides. Every year we scour the planet for the latest selection of kits,
and every year we're amazed by the creativity and ingenuity of this
marketplace. Somebody, somewhere is always thinking up something new
to put on a donor car or to build for scratch using an entirely new
combination of components.
to the listing of each kit's vital statistics as provided by the manufacturer
(see legend below for explanation of abbreviations), we've included
a brief comment about its appeal. Although not every kit will appeal
to every taste (that's why they make different flavors of ice cream,
too), we feel each and every one has its merits. Note that pricing information
is usually for a starter package, whether kit or turnkey, so be sure
to look carefully at what is and isn't included those figures before
proceeding with your project. Also, we make every effort to provide
information that's current and accurate, but all figures are subject
to change at the manufacturer's discretion. You'll still have to do
some homework, but this is an excellent place to get started. Happy