is Automobile magazine saying
about the Rodster® Street Rod?
by Jean Lindamood
-- Henry Caroselli's friends wonder if he's gone a little off his nut.
Here he had this perfectly good job at Disneyland -- creative director
for advertising -- and he kissed it goodbye because he just couldn't
stop thinking about this car he wanted to build.
"It was one of those
strange things I needed to do," says the very affable forty-seven-year-old
Caroselli. "I had a lot of 200-mile cars. You know, cars that
you would drive about 100 miles out of town and then you'd get nervous
about whether they'd make it back and you'd head for home. I wanted
a car that I could drive a lot."
My guess is that it all
started, Caroselli's dream of building his own car, back in the pre-Disneyland
days when he worked at the Foote, Cone & Belding ad agency
on Mazda's Miata advertising. Thinking about the freedom and simplicity
and beauty of Miatas all day long must have got him going. Changes
at Disneyland about six years after he started working there gave
him the opportunity he was waiting for, and off he went. It's the
direction in which he went that's so nutty.
Have a look
at the before and after shots below. The little red roadster is Caroselli's
Rodster. And it came from a big old 1989 Chevrolet S10 Blazer -- windshield,
doors, engine, transmission, interior, and all. Which goes a way toward
explaining why the Rodster looks the way it looks.
Somehow I don't think our
design editor, Robert Cumberford, would approve. You wouldn't call
the Rodster a classically beautiful shape. The windshield is kind
of high and the door is kind of long and the nose is kind of squat.
"In a perfect world," says Caroselli, "you would have
chopped four inches of the windshield and doors. And you would have
moved the A-pillar back." Keeping the windshield and the doors
with their ID tags intact kept the original Blazer registration
valid. Instead, Caroselli bulged the hood and made it extra high to
hide some of the windshield's verticality. Another optical illusion
is one of length created by the bulging V-nose jutting between the
Rodster's round headlamps. "I was trying to reconfigure the proportion
without hanging more body out in front of the wheel centerline,"
The results are kind of
a Miata that got lost at Disneyland and came out a little Goofy. No,
the Rodster's beauty is somewhere other than in the eye of the beholder.
It is, for instance, in the fact that it can be serviced at any old
Chevy dealership. And if the windshield gets a chip, a standard Blazer
windshield can be popped in its place. And, true to Caroselli's vision,
you don't have to be afraid to drive the Rodster across the entire
United States and back.
So how did
he come up with the Blazer as a donor vehicle?
"I was thinking that
there are all these pickup trucks out here. Kids are hot-rodding them
and they still look like pickups. Why isn't someone doing something
with them? Why hasn't anyone rebodied one yet?"
"I first looked at
Toyotas, but they've been changed too often, which hurts the donor
pool. I eventually came to Chevy. GM made almost three million
S10 Blazers and S15 Jimmys basically unchanged from 1963 to 1994.
And it has a pretty short 100.5 inch wheelbase -- pickups are about
six inches longer -- so I didn't have to shorten the frame."
Our conversation outside
the valet parking stand at the Four Seasons hotel in Newport Beach
was interrupted by two very elegant women on their way in for Sunday
brunch. "Excuse us, but we're just all in a dither," said
one, wagging both hands in the air. After answering their what, where,
and how-much-money questions, Caroselli sent them trotting on their
way with color brochures and the price list. ($3995 for the basic
composite body panel kit; $5795 for the body panels and the trim hardware
you see on the Rodster here. You provide the paint job.)
It was a fine, sunny day,
so we decided to cruise Balboa Island. The Rodster felt surprisingly
happy, with a little extra slop in the steering, an indication of
the 104,000-mile Blazer-under-the-skin. It was. (Your Rodster will
only be as good as the donor vehicle you start with, obviously.) Caroselli's
mechanical modifications are carefully considered. "I lowered
the suspension front and rear three inches. It would look better even
lower, but I didn't want to worry about speed bumps and getting on
ferries, and so on. If you want to slam it, it's easy. You just slam
He lowered it by changing
the front lower A-arms, which altered the front camber geometry and
gave the Rodster's steering a more carlike feel. He also put lighter
and flatter Posie's springs in the rear. Another benefit of the Rodster's
Blazer heritage is the active aftermarket for hotted-up Blazer components
like shocks and wheels for maximum personalization. Caroselli installed
a nice rumbly Gibson exhaust and added a Z-Industries chip to recurve
the computer for a gain of 25 horsepower (from 160 to 185) from the
4.3-liter V-6 engine.
"Hey!" a guy
yelled from the curb. "Cool!"
was riding on some pretty meaty BFGoodrich tires -- 225/50R-15s in the
front and 265/60R-15s in back -- which made the turn-in kind of squidgy.
Tokico shocks were probably overkill, adding to the harshness of the
tires, and Caroselli opined that he might switch to Monroe shocks and
change the front tires to 60-series.
We drove onto the Balboa
ferry past a little guy who hopped up and down, pointed, and yelled,
"Dad! Dad! Look! Cool!"
two pedestrian passengers on the ferry. "Where did you get
We headed back to the Four
Seasons, and Caroselli admitted he wasn't quite sure where he was
heading with his Rodster. "I'm seeing an incredible interest
in a turnkey product from people with money but no time or inclination
to pick up a wrench. But I don't have the resources to set up that
kind of business. I can build to an order, but not to an order of
100. In fact, I don't want to become a guy with a shop with forty
people cranking out cars. I'm an artist. Is that wrong? I guess I'm
not sure what I want. This thing just seems to have a life of its
own, and I'm dancing with it as fast as I can."
"What IS it? Who
makes it?" yelled a guy in a Chevy pickup. Brochures advertising
Caroselli Design in El Segundo, California (310-322-2767), sailed
into his open window as we drove alongside.