set out to design a car that would offer an alternative to the ever-escalating
prices street rods command to build and buy. He foresaw an easy build
and a stylish, character-laden car that would not only turn heads, but
would also be extremely affordable to put together, thus its owner would
be more willing to drive it regularly. He felt that so many of the high-dollar
street rods being built spend their lives serving as trailer queens
or 100-mile vehicles (only driven 50 miles from home and 50 miles back),
that the fun factor of the cars was virtually lost to the investment
aspects. Henry, with the help of noted Art Center grad and designer
Todd Gerstenberger, took a reverse engineering approach to the Rodster
project, by starting with a modern platform and drivetrain, then fitting
the parts with a retro body.
as a donor vehicle, Henry wisely chose the GM ('83-'94 two-door Chevy
S-10 Blazer/GMC S-15 Jimmy) mini SUV as the platform on which to build
the Rodster. The logic of that choice was quite sound, since some 2.8
million of the little SUVs were produced, and a wealth of aftermarket
components is available for them. The cars are plentiful and reasonably
priced to use as donors for the Rodster rebody. There is also plenty
of potential to make these cars potent performers. They were offered
with a couple of modest four-bangers and a 4.3L V-6, but a lot of room
intentionally exists under the flip-forward front clip to handily swallow
a small-block V-8.
Rodster met most of Caroselli's criteria in that it is comparatively
easy to build and can be assembled for less than $10,000. There is no
welding or fiberglassing required. The design wisely retains the SUV's
doors without reskinning, the complete interior, complete suspension,
drivetrain, and the windshield and its frame. The kit (Standard Conversion
Kit $3,995: Complete Conversion Kit $5,995, which includes everything
except the donor, wheels, tires, miscellaneous fasteners, and paint)
consists primarily of a one-piece front clip, rear clip, rocker panels,
quarter-panels, tonneau cover, and trunk lid. The donor roof is cut
off and the body is trimmed in the rear to accommodate the new fiberglass
clip. The front bodywork of the S-10 is also removed to accommodate
the new flip-forward nose. (For a complete buildup on the Rodster, see
"Cruisin' Machine." Nov. '97).
As a testament
to the Rodster's well-engineered build and proof of concept, in 1997
we literally rolled up our shirtsleeves and pitched in to help with
a complete Rodster buildup for the story mentioned earlier -- a car
that would additionally carry us 2,250 miles cross-country on the Hot
Rod Power Tour ("Kit Cars On Tour." Nov. '97), in company
with some of the hottest rods on the road. It went together well and
performed much more reliably than cars costing more than twice the $12,160
it took us to build our splashy, eye-magnet Power Tour machine.
and fun as the Rodster is, its success has relied on lots of marketing
and lots of sales talk, mostly because folks don't recognize it as a
familiar shape. The history of the kit car business is littered with
original design cars that would have been, because the overall kit buying
audience seems to prefer replicas or vehicles that have the feel of
an era, if only marginally faithful in design. The success of the Rodster
has been attributed to guys who get the idea that the car is inexpensive
to build, looks cool, and is ready to drive without a moment's hesitation,
in contrast to most street rods built today.
We've said all
that to say this: take a gander at the newest Rodster -- the Super Deluxe.
Now, instead of the question being "What is it?" it's more
like "What year is it?" That sounds like a positive to us,
and a recognition that this new treatment recalls a fat-fendered car
era of the late '30's, early '40's, without being just another street-rodded
'40 Ford roadster. Basically, the Super Deluxe Kit is a new nose treatment
that made the startling difference between the two Rodsters. If you
think you see familiar shapes up front, the concept works as Henry intended.
Yes, that's a '40 Ford reproduction grille and nose peak, but the rest
of the front end is uniquely styled to fit the components while still
offering something incredibly distinct.
The rear clip
of the Rodster remains untouched, as do the donor's doors, windshield,
windshield frame, interior, chassis, and drivetrain. As with the original,
the front clip is a flip-forward piece, which allows great access to
the engine. It is also quickly removable for those times when additional
space in the engine bay is needed. The Super Deluxe is offered in a
single configuration for $6,995 and includes everything necessary to
build the car (including a comprehensive assembly manual) except the
donor vehicle, wheels, tires, some fasteners, and paint.
About the only
changes to the donor car chassis involve lowering the suspension, in
keeping with the street rod looks of the car. Caroselli uses DJM lowered
A-arms up front and either lowering blocks or re-arched leaf springs
in the rear to lower the car 3 inches in the front and 4 inches in the
back. This first Super Deluxe out of the mold received Monroe shocks
and BFG rubber. The nostalgic red rims are highlighted with beauty rings
and chrome shallow moon-hubcaps.
complement the style of this first Super Deluxe, there was really only
one logical paint treatment that would show off the car and shout "Look
at me!" Since this Rodster would serve as Henry's marketing tool,
a mirror-finish black with traditional rod flames seemed to be the best
answer. Henry's crew did the body-prep work before enlisting the talents
of noted rod painter Pete Santini (704/891-8895). Pete is widely recognized
as a master of flame jobs, and his work on the Rodster keeps his reputation
intact. Black PPG Deltron 2000 DVd urethane was used for the body, with
the flames fading from Pearl White to Lemon Yellow to Tangerine, then
framed by Apple Green pinstriping.
is mostly stock with vinyl bucket seats, standard dash and instrument
panel, and stock door panels. Since there is an abundance of donors
around, changing colors or materials in the cockpit is quite easy. S-10
pickups even offer a few other possibilities for dressing up the interior.
Ever the street rodder, Henry couldn't resist adding some typical rod
icons to the cockpit, including a Moon tach, eight-ball shift knob,
swap-meet steering wheel, and a Kenwood stereo.
To say that
this new Rodster Super Deluxe is cool -- in a street rod sense -- is
a giant understatement. Not only does its look rival that of today's
hottest show cars, but it's ready, willing, and able to head cross-country
on a whim. The bonus is that the car cost less than $10,000 to build,
attracts just as much attention as pricier cars, and speaks volumes
about an owner who seeks distinction in what he drives.