is Kit Car Illustrated saying about the Rodster® Street
Fun with S-10s
by Steve Lancaster & Mike Blake
Designs uses the Blazer platform as the basis for its Rodster and Sedan
The conversation progresses
along familiar lines where El Segundo's Henry Caroselli, of Caroselli
Designs, is concerned. It begins innocently enough, with the polite,
"What is it?" query, maybe at the local grocery store or even
during a brief stoplight pause. A "Where did you get it?"
and "Did you build it yourself?" follow the initial inquiry
in rapid succession. A warm, amiable smile crosses Caroselli's features--after
all, this is comfortable ground where both he and his creation, coined
"the Rodster," are concerned.
"My idea was to build
something around $10,000 to $15,000 that people could actually enjoy
and get back to the roots of hot rodding; build something the average
guy could just jump in and have some fun with," Caroselli said
of his original intentions.
Caroselli had previously
worked in marketing and design with both Mazda and Disney, but soon
shifted his efforts to the kit car industry. "Marketing deals largely
with intangibles, and I wanted to build something tangible. Working
with a kit car allowed me to design something based on an existing chassis."
Caroselli and cohort Todd
Gerstenberger chose Chevrolet's S-10 Blazer chassis as the platform
for his signature conversion for a variety of reasons. More than two
million of the platforms were produced between 1983 and 1994, providing
consumers with a large field to use as donors and also from which to
differentiate their conversion and the original. The S-10's simplistic,
yet rugged, chassis could and would withstand substantial abuse from
virtually any day-to-day commute, and replacement parts proved plentiful,
thanks to its Chevrolet-sourced drivetrain.
"We figured they're
cheap and there's a lot of them out there. Just get out the saw and
turn 'em into little street rods. Besides, most of 'em really need to
be cut up," Caroselli mused with a chuckles.
"I spent the first couple
of years building and perfecting the prototype. The next step was building
the molds, after that it has progressed gradually to the point where
we sell about one a week."
"Everything in this
industry seems to cost the public $40,000 to $50,000 now, and nobody
wants to drive the cars--they use them as show cars," Caroselli
lamented. "Let's have fun without having to throw your life's savings
into it. That really was the intention."
"We kind of reversed
the standard process," Caroselli revealed. "Instead of undergoing
the complicated process of taking an old car and putting a new drivetrain
into it, I figured why not take a modern car with power-this and power-that,
like a Chevy Blazer, for instance. Go through it a little, make it mechanically
healthy and put a body on it. The next thing you know, you got a street
rod that you can go cruising with and you don't have to worry about
replacing some unobtainable part that breaks out in the middle of nowhere?"
Though Caroselli does offer
the Rodster as a completed turnkey conversion, he has found that a vast
majority of the company's customer base (close to 80 percent) chose
to rely upon their own talents to complete the metamorphosis. "It's
such an easy kit to build that most people want the satisfaction of
building it themselves."
A marvel of simplistic engineering,
the Rodster's well thought-out design maximizes the characteristics
of its donor vehicle, retaining the vast majority of the S-10's assembly-line
components, including the majority of the driveline, interior (should
one opt to retain it!) and windshield/cowl support. Even the factory
doors are retained, thanks to an ingenious window tracking mechanism,
a Caroselli Design exclusive.
"The only major mechanical
modifications are to the cooling system, relocation of the battery,
and the suspension system--which is lowered 3 inches."
The conversion process typically
begins with the sectioning and removal of the S-10's factory original
roof, thus creating the Rodster's unique, open-air flavor. The custom
tilt nose, quarter- and side-rocker panels draw heavily from the street
and custom rod vein, while the fully functional trunk and rear fascia
is surrounded by ;42-46 Ford taillights, further concealing the Rodster's
humble S-10-based origins.
"This kit really is
easy to build, since the conversion is designed specifically for the
home builder," Caroselli stated. "There is no welding. You
don't have to fit a drivetrain, hang the doors, install the interior,
or wire a dash. Most enthusiasts can have the conversion ready for paint
in around 100 to 120 hours."
"It's a quality product
that the average guy can build without investing his life savings."
Hardly content with resting
upon his laurels, Caroselli has been looking to expand the company line-up
recently. The result is the Rodster Sedan Delivery, which combines the
classic looks of a pre-1949 street rod with modern cruising comforts
and one important twist--a fully functional back seat and/or utility
"The Sedan has been
getting great response, mainly because of the business aspects,"
said Carosellli. "It's opened up a whole new avenue for business
owners, in particular. It really is a no-brainer. The Sedan is a great
advertising tool that people can actually run parts in."
We saw the Sedan Delivery
at the recent AHA kit car show at Knott's Berry Farm, and it stood out
from the many wonderful cars at the show, because of its innovative
look and classic, yet-new design.
Thinking about the future,
Caroselli envisions a pickup truck in the near future--maybe a kit version
of the revered '59-70 El Camino. That, too, according to Caroselli,
is a "no-brainer." He said, "I've got some ideas on how
to do that, and I've had some customers that have bought a nose only,
for use with their pickup truck. There are lots of ways to go with Blazer
chassis. It is a neat little chassis, that is easy to find and real
serviceable. I wouldn't be surprised if in the near future, the S-10
will challenge the Mustang II and the Fiero as the most popular platform/donor
on which to build a kit car."
Caroselli, who was voted
the AHA's Good Manufacturer's Practice Award in 2000 (given to
the industry icon who best serves the industry and the public good),
enjoys the industry as he told us: "The business is real steady...it's
a good business to be in. Customers call me all the time and tell me
how cool it is that they've built something that they're actually using."
And judging by comments from
those who drive Caroselli's Rodster and Sedan Delivery...they are just
as happy and as proud to be driving them as Caroselli has making them.
128 Center St.
Suite B, Dept. KCI
El Segundo, CA 90245