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Kit Car Builder

June 2004

Haulin'... Hay

This stunning Rodster rebody has been picking up some serious recognition and haulin' home the gold

Story and photos by Harold Pace

Chris Courtney has a lot to be proud of. His Rodster pickup has not only won its class in the International show Car Association (ISCA) show car championship, but he did almost all of the work himself. And with a total cost of around $15,000, it's less than some show car builders spend on their paint jobs alone!

Courtney started with an idea. He had built a pro-street S-10 pickup before, but this time he wanted more of a custom show car look. He had seen some advance sketches of the upcoming Chevy SSR two years ago, and got excited about the concept of a sport pickup convertible. When he saw the first shots of the Caroselli Rodster pickup kit, he knew he was on the right track. His idea was to combine traditional styling elements with a completely new design to construct a truck that bridged the gap from 1940 to 2004! Courtney is a construction installation supervisor by trade, and has numerous project cars behind him.

Starting with a nasty $500 1985 Chevy S-10 pickup, he set to work straightening the bodywork that would be retained. The nose clip was of course ditched, and he removed the top per instructions from Caroselli's comprehensive build manual. The truck had been the victim of an attempted amateur engine swap and came minus motive power, so a Chevy 350 was installed by Courtney with help from his friends.

The body needed a lot of work. Installing the Rodster nose clip involved cutting back the frame in front and adding a radius to the frame ends to clear the nose. This was accomplished with the help of templates included with the kit. The nose, quarter panels and rear wheel flares are the only fiberglass parts on the truck. Although the Rodster nose is designed to tilt forward, Courtney added an 8" electric lift hinge to open it automatically. When it closes it locks into Bearclaw latches on the firewall. Courtney opted for Tri-Bar flat lens headlights with blue gem centers, which he recessed into the lamp bucket until they were flush with the front of the trim ring.

Once the top had been cut off, he visited a local shop that fabricates custom barbeque grills as they had the metal working expertise to form the special parts he wanted. The first parts made were caps to cover the exposed edges where the top had been removed. This also required raising the rear deck line to make the doors and the rear caps line up. The custom rear deck has dual headrests and was also formed from steel and welded into place by Courtney, who prefers MIG for this kind of work. The door handles were shaved, and Auto Lock remote-operated door solenoids installed.

The same barbeque manufacturer formed custom roll pans for the bottom of the truck as well as a smooth tailgate. Courtney says he spent lots of grinder time smoothing the welds and making everything fit. He considered chopping the windshield, but that would have put him in a tougher class on the car show circuit, against more radical customs featuring major metalwork.

Once the bodywork was complete, Courtney sprayed it with PPG Ford white paint in a special warm shade that is almost a cream. Then he called in a custom painter who got so excited about the project that he gave him a special deal on the paint job! House of Kolor Tangelo Orange pearl paint was sprayed onto the flames, which are a combination of traditional and tribal styles. A special graphic was squirted on the tailgate, and then all the flames and graphics were hand pinstriped in House of Kolor Violent Purple. The flames and graphics also have drop shadows underneath to give depth.

Inside, Courtney wanted a sophisticated look with traditional styling elements. The S-10 seats were reupholstered at Kingswood Custom Upholstery with two shades of Saddle Tan vinyl designed for use in boats. This material is more resistant to fading than automotive vinyl (an important consideration on a roadster). He built the console from wood and covered it in vinyl, then cut and installed his own carpet (purchased at Wal-Mart) to match. He also fabricated a custom flat-panel dash to replace the S-10 unit, and wrapped it in vinyl. A set of Dolphin Antique instruments with white faces and chrome bezels are centered in the dash. A LeCarra steering wheel with tilt tops it off.

Courtney wanted real wood trim to accent the dash, and after despairing at the cost and waiting period to have the job done by a pro, he decided to tackle it himself. He made the patterns from 3/16" paneling, then topped them with white oak veneer purchased from the left-over bin at a woodworker supply store. He custom-mixed a warm shade of stain by mixing three colors of Minwax stains. After staining, he coated the wood with a two-part epoxy gelcoat sold for covering table tops. This gives the wood a thick clear topping without the yellowing that repeated coats of polyurethane can cause.

For the inner door panels, Courtney used a technique that sounds so simple it's amazing you don't see it more often. He cut out flames from cardboard to make a pattern, then cut 1/8" thick foam to match and glued it to the doors. Then the panel was sprayed with contact cement and the vinyl applied. Once in place the vinyl was pressed down by hand around the foam to leave the flames in subtle relief against the panel.

A bed cover was made from sheet steel, upholstered in the same vinyl as the interior and Courtney added a custom "Rodster" logo of his own design using the same relief technique as on the doors. Behind the seats are two "roll bar" styling elements made from muffler pipe and covered with vinyl.

Courtney installed a JVC stereo with a 400-watt amp and Sony Explodes 10" speakers mounted behind the seats. He plans on improving the sound system later. With no top, he passed on air conditioning.

For a low stance for his retro-truck, Courtney added Bell-Tech drop spindles in front and lowered rear leaf springs to achieve a 5" drop all around. Nitro gas shocks intended for lowered trucks were fitted, but they are a touch short on travel and will be replaced with longer ones shortly. Brakes and suspension are stock, although Courtney did paint the calipers orange. American Racing Hopster wheels (7" X 15" front, 8" X 15" rear) are shod with BF Goodrich rubber.

For power Courtney opted for a 1989 350 Chevy built up by a friend. It is basically stock except for a mild hydraulic cam, Edelbrock intake manifold, Holley Street Avenger 670cfm carb, Mallory HEI distributor and a set of Headman headers with a bright silver coating. To get that hot rod sound he installed twin Flowmaster 2-1/2" mufflers with quad chrome-plated tips in back. Polished aluminum valve covers, a chrome-plated alternator and a Holley crossover air filter complete the shiny stuff. To cool the V-8, a custom 4-core radiator was fabricated by Smokey's Radiator Shop in Northpark, Texas. A TH-350 automatic tranny was beefed up with heavy-duty internals and is controlled by a B&M shifter. Courtney lives near Houston so he added a tranny cooler for hot Texas summers.

It took two years to get the job done, but as soon as his truck was ready Courtney started entering it in car shows. He hadn't had time to finish all the details, but he wanted to see what the ISCA judges would be looking for. To his surprise, his Rodster started winning right from the start! In fact, he has taken home a trophy at every show he's entered. Before the season was over he had enough points to clinch the 2004 ISCA divisional class championship. He competes in a class for customized mini pickups that have not had radical bodywork done (adding fiberglass panels is not considered "radical," but chopping tops and channeling is). At one show he also won a special award for "Best Handbuilt Truck."

Like most kit cars, Courtney's Rodster is a work in progress. He plans to finish out the bed with wood panels and add a killer sound system that will impress even his kids, and the stock suspension arms are due for replacement with more attractive fabricated parts that will look better when the hood is opened. Courtney says he could not have completed the project without help and understanding from his wife Tammy and kids Tiffany and Christopher.

The combination of modern and traditional styling elements, combined with meticulous detailing and bold graphics gives this Rodster the look of a concept vehicle built by a major manufacturer, and should encourage anyone who has thought about building a show car or truck to get busy!


Just about everywhere you look on this cool hay-hauler custom touches abound. The usual tip-off that the donor for this kit is an S-10 is the dash--not so in this case. An electro-hydraulic ram lifts the tilt-forward Rodster nose where a sparkling V-8 sits. We particularly like the bed cover and integral blisters as well as the awesome paint job and flame treatment.