Jeff Rankin
Camarillo, California

Bob Condie
Milpitas, California

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Caroselli Design logoContact Henry Caroselli
Caroselli Design
214 Main St., Unit # 15-B
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 322-2767

© Copyright Caroselli. No images or text located anywhere on this site may be reused or republished without expressed written permission from Rodster, Inc., d.b.a.: Caroselli Design. The Rodster Street Rod design is protected by U.S. Patent # D450,284. "Rodster®" is a registered trademark of Caroselli Design.
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What are owners saying about the Rodster® Street Rod?

A Few Words With Ernie Colaizzi

Farmer’s Ranch, Texas

Ernie had a collection of 60’s muscle cars, which he sold after buying his Rodster Street Rod. He found that his muscle cars were just collecting dust because he was having such a blast driving his Rodster Street Rod as his daily-driver. Of course, Ernie’s Rodster has a serious V-8 muscle-motor, with something like 500+ HP. "The Rodster has been by far the most enjoyable car I've owned. It's reliable, dependable, by far has the greatest performance, ride, handling, and looks, and still gets twice the gas mileage -- it basically took all the other cars together and improved on them."

So you bought Henry's Rodster Street Rod?

Yes. I guess he built three of them. I bought the "flame" car. (Kit Car magazine cover story "project car," black with a Pete Santini flame job.)

How long ago was that?

I'll say about three and a half years ago.

How did you find it?

I was going through one of those Hemmings Motor News or one of those magazines and just saw the car in there advertising the kit and I called him and said, "I really like the looks of this, but I don't have time to build one." In fact, it's funny, I said, "I'm really not into flames." And he said, "Well, I have a red one." He wanted to sell one vehicle. "Come out and take a look at it." I was out at a conference in Los Angeles and I took the opportunity to go over there and visit Henry and took the little red one out. We did our best to burn the tires out of it, and a tank of gas, went back to the shop and I said, "Hey, it's a lot of fun." But I started looking at the car with flames and said, "You know, it's really starting to grow on me." The more I thought about it, "Well, that really is the car I want." So we chatted for a little bit and I actually made him an offer on both cars -- not to buy both -- but either one. He said that his goal for the flame car was to put a V8 in it and I'm one of these nut cases that there's never enough power. I thought, "Whether I buy the red one or the flame one, I'm going to have to convert it anyway," so I basically bought the flame one because I liked the paint job.

Every hot rod needs flames, don't they?

Yes. You could say something like "a hot rod isn't a hot rod without flames," but that will "inflame" people. (laughs)

So you put in the V8...

Yeah. In fact I told Henry, "Look, if you make me a deal on the car, we'll do the conversion and you can have the magazine cover it." So that he gets the publicity for it and we get the V8. That was the first of the many ventures we have spent on the car. Converting it to a V8 was basically the first thing we did to it. We redid the interior, a number of things. I thought I had a real race car till I got beat by a Camaro with a 600 cubic inch motor. I said, "This isn't going to do it, so we need to make the motor bigger" and other things had to be replaced. And we made the motor bigger several times. I believe this will be the third or fourth time that we've upgraded the motor.

How much bigger can it get?

It's not that the engine gets larger, it's the horsepower we're after.


We started with a stock Z/28 motor and, I don't know how well you follow horsepower, but the only real thing to get excited over is what they call rear wheel horsepower, or horsepower from a chassis dyno. That actually measures the power that the motor is placing to the rear wheels, or what they say, to the ground. You don't care how much horsepower the motor supposedly makes, too many things along the way rob horsepower -- whether it's an automatic, a standard, whether it's power steering, the water pump... everything takes power. Again, we started off with about 240 rear wheel horsepower. I think the next cam took us to about 285, from there we went to about 345. I think the next step went to a maximum of about 370 horsepower. And now we have the motor torn apart, getting ready to rebuild the next motor, which should give us somewhere in the neighborhood of 425, 450 horses to the ground. Which in real world numbers means 525 to 550 horsepower, as everyone likes to quote their vehicles as making.

What do you do, do you bore it out?

No. We have actually what they call a stroker. We put a 400 crank into it, we've used different rod bolts. Effectively, with this go-round, we'll end up with a 396 cubic inch small block with, obviously, a special cam. I think the biggest secret is the heads, which are still LT-1 heads but they're manufactured by a company in Houston called GTP. They do some special porting and polishing that really gives the flow that you're after, along with all this horsepower. We've had to replace the standard rear end. It was good to about 300 horsepower to the ground. Once we got beyond that, we started to tear up drivelines After I ate up three drivelines, "Well, enough of this." We went to a very expensive rear end a company called Mozer makes and it could do probably 850 horsepower or maybe more. We certainly won't be going beyond that.

How about the suspension?

We have modified it somewhat. We put a different lowering kit on the rear end. In fact, since you brought it up -- I guess it was last week -- we actually changed the front end and put in some drop spindles from Bell Tech which I think will give it a little better ride. We also did a mini- tub to give it a few more inches underneath so we can give it a bigger tire. We had been running a BF Goodrich drag radial which, again, to 300 horsepower really held the ground well, but now, there's really no traction left. That was with approximately 11 inch wide tires, so we're hoping to get somewhere between a thirteen to fourteen inch tire underneath it. From a standing start or very low speed, the vehicle will gain traction and probably sit there and spin the tires.

How big are the stock tires?

I would guess the average (tire) is probably 275/60-15 (15" wheels), which is going to be about an 8 or 9 inch wide tire with regular tread. The drag radials have a very soft compound just like you would use on a slick. So it may not be any wider, but there'll be a lot more traction because of the soft compound. They also wear out a whole lot faster. But the Rodster is a relatively light vehicle, so the tires last a lot longer than most people think they will.

So you say a Camaro blew you away. Do you get challenged very often on the street?

Oh, all the time. In fact, when I bought the car from Henry, it was a 4-cylinder 5-speed. I took it to a car show the next afternoon. As I pulled in, some people standing there looked at the car and gave me a funny look and said, "It's just too quiet." I said, "Well, you're absolutely right, it is." And of course, I had all the Mustangs and Z/28's trying to race me. With the 4-cylinder, obviously, it wasn't capable of competing. So I basically had to say, "Well, come see me in the spring, guys, I'll get this thing done." So realistically, for the first little while, about everything that we would race with just really ran away from it. The car was fast, don't get me wrong. It was probably capable of running mid-13 second quarter miles at 100 miles an hour plus, but this Camaro -- obviously, it had a much larger motor. Extremely fast. As a matter of fact, it's one of the fastest cars in Dallas, which says a lot, the Metroplex aside and all the crazy lunatics out there. That's the only car that I lost a race to. I hope there aren't more out there.

Where were you racing?

We were on the freeway, I'm not sure that we exceeded the posted speed limits (laughs). I recommend everyone else do that (obey speed limits).

Disclaimer time...

Yeah. I have run the car upwards of about 120 miles an hour. It's been extremely stable and well-handling at those speeds, I'm very glad to find out.

You're just talking about straight-line kind of stuff, no cornering on some winding country roads...

No, we really haven't done any of that. Although there's a race in Texas which I'm hoping to get to this year where they block off the highway down in the Big Bend area. I believe it's a 19- mile race. Henry had talked about it several times. He said, "Why don't you take it out there?" I said, "If I get time this year, I'd certainly love to."

It's in the spring?

April or May. I'm not really sure of the date. Henry tried to get me to do it the last couple of years, but I have two businesses and I opened up a third, which is the laboratory I'm at right now. That has really required a lot of my time with the start-up and getting things going. Taking away from my ability to... I couldn't do the Hot Rod Power Tour last year because of the start-up. But this year we'll be taking advantage of it. Jim Youngs from Kit Car Builder, he wanted me to take it to some of the run 'n guns. Everybody thinks the Cobras are the masters on the street. We want to show that a heavier car with a smaller motor (the Cobra), we'll humiliate a rather large percentage of them. With this new motor and set-up we should be running low 11 seconds at probably around 120 miles an hour -- which is almost, probably, Pro-Street times not too many years ago. And this was with a car that's a daily driver with wonderful manners. You know, you could put grandma in it; she wouldn't appreciate the looks or performance perhaps, nonetheless, she could drive it to the grocery store, get whatever she needed and come back without any difficulty.

And it's less likely to break than a Cobra.

In fact, I think it was three years ago on the Power Tour, we were headed up to Elk City, or somewhere, Oklahoma. At any rate, we had a rear wheel bearing go out in the middle of nowhere, in a place called Paul's Valley, which is a place where, I think, there was only a restaurant and a couple of hotels and a gas station. We were limping in there with the bearing making all kinds of noise and it was Saturday night, everything was closed basically, and we had to wait till first thing Sunday morning. Had a little auto parts store that opened up, and we found a... it was just a standard bearing right there. Stuck it in the car and two hours later, we were on our way. Well, you certainly couldn't do that with a lot of cars. In fact, Henry told you I used to have quite a collection of what you call muscle cars, the older cars from the late 60's, early 70's. And this car has out-performed all of them by a long shot. Again, we've got a lot of modern niceties -- the fuel injection and the power steering, air conditioning. We get massive horsepower and we still get 23, 25 miles to the gallon out of the car. You just couldn't do that with the old beasts. I say that fondly.

Henry said you used to have a large collection of cars and now you're down to two.


What's your other one?

It's a Dodge pick-up to get back and forth to work and to haul things. I'm not saying I wouldn't add something else, but I don't know what it would be at this point. I'm having too much fun with this car.

So you use it as a daily driver?

Uh, huh. Which surprises most people, but we put it on the road on a daily basis. But that's what I bought it for.

What were some of the cars in your collection?

Oh, gee... two 1969 Oldsmobile 442's, a '70-1/2 Firebird Trans Am, a '70 Chevelle SS 454/LS6, a '69 Dodge Charger -- that was one of the "Dukes of Hazzard" cars.

You mean it was used in the (TV) show?

Correct. I've had three Corvettes (a '62, a '64, and a '75 ), a '67 Camaro RS, a '48 Ford, a couple of Plymouth Dusters, a '66 Mercury Cyclone GTA Indy Pace car, a Ford Falcon, a '65 Malibu convertible, a '58 Ford Fairlane convertible -- these are all cars that we had raced... I've just drawn a blank. I apologize.

That's okay. You used to race?

I used to drag race. Nothing serious. We'd take it out to the drag strips on the weekends to play with the vehicles.

Was it an amateur kind of thing?

Well, a lot of the tracks had what they call a Friday night "test and tune." Anyone who was able to pay $20 could go out there and race your car all that you want. I was doing it quite frequently with a little Camaro, actually being one of the fastest of the cars. I went back to the motor that was in the Rodster. This last go round I took out to put into the '67 Camaro. It would bring its performance dramatically, but it now belongs to my ex-wife, so whatever performance (she gets) is up to her.

Was this recently that you drag raced?

Up until a couple of years ago. With all the business interests, I just haven't had the time to get out to the track. And of course, with the Rodster we do want to take it out there and get some real times just to see what the car is capable of. Drag racing is pretty tough on the vehicle.

Have you always fooled around with cars?

I've probably owned 75, maybe 100 cars in my time. Most of the cars were the old muscle cars, I really enjoyed them. I guess I'm a kid that never grew up. I grew up in the late 60's. I had my first real muscle car, which way back then was a '69 442 and I liked it so well that about ten years ago, I bought another one. And it was my favorite car for quite some time -- till I sold it a few years ago, just before I bought the Rodster, for no other reason than someone I work with kept bugging me for the car. He finally offered me more than I thought the car was worth, so I was happy to sell it.

Did you ever have any hotrods?

Not per se. Almost everything that we had would have been, again, what's considered the old muscle cars from the '60s and '70s. I guess by hotrods you mean that look like they're from the '30s and '40s.

Yeah, you take an old car, soup it up and customize it and make it your own.

We did that with a '48 Ford. I just did that with a couple of the muscle cars; we'd take them and build them up from there and customize them. I guess you can consider that a hotrod, it was just a little bit newer body style than what people are used to. I didn't care for the shape of the older cars, to be honest with you. The things that I fell in love with were the cars from the late 50's and onward just because they had such great styling. The previous cars appeared to be much too boxy for me. And that's strictly personal preference. We don't want to make anybody mad out there.

Oh, no. Everybody has their own ideas. What attracted you to the Rodster?

Just the overall looks of it. I don't know, I really can't pin it down. I saw the picture and went, "Damn, that's a cute car." Actually, maybe we should back up before I make too big a liar out of myself. I had been looking at moving into the kit car market simply because the muscle cars have so many problems with them. They're carbureted instead of fuel injected, so they're very cold blooded -- if the weather's bad, they don't want to run. So many things affect them. They don't handle like the new cars do. So I thought, "Well, this time I'll get something like a kit car" and tried to decide which one -- (and decided) the Cobra was the vehicle for me. There are quite a few different Cobras and I finally drove a couple and was just grossly underwhelmed. They were extremely loud, they were rough-riding, they were too low to the ground which made it difficult to get in and out of them. You get them over 30 miles an hour and the wind beats you to death. I thought, "This just isn't pleasant." It wasn't what I had envisioned they would be. Then I saw the Rodster and thought, "Oh well, it fits a lot more along the lines of something I'd like. Let's go out there and see what it's like." Of course, Henry told me it's built on a modern frame and all the plusses that go along with it. And low and behold he wasn't lying to me, which was really nice to find out. So once we drove it and I went, "Gee, it's really the type of car you could put on the road and be very comfortable in." I like to drive my cars. And some of them... you can't drive the quite expensive collectors. (But) it's a very comfortable daily driver.

What are some of the comments that you get from people on the street?

Well, most people just love the looks. In fact, it's almost a constant "smile-mobile." Everybody wants to pull up and honk at you, and thumbs up you constantly... I guess the biggest distraction is the other people who want to hold a conversation with you out on the freeway, to find out more about the car. I get quite a kick out of it. And, of course, I love to race people, because, again, they think it's a very old car that probably is not very performance oriented. It's kind of fun to leave them in the dust, wondering what happened.

How do they challenge you? Do they just pull up at a stoplight or alongside you on the freeway?

Mostly it's out on the street itself, wherever you go. Leastways, I'm not out late enough to get all kids at the streetlights. It's more fun to have them pull up and rev their motor. Then you kind of put the pedal down and wave bye to them. I had one fool in a hopped up Cobra Mustang that insisted on racing from an 85 mile an hour roll. I thought, "Well, okay." On the dyno, we ran this particular car at 190 miles an hour and in the real world, it's not going to go that fast due to aerodynamics, but I'm sure it will easily do 165 plus. So it was kind of the wrong place for this poor kid to want to race, but I was more than happy to oblige.

Once you blow them away, do you pull over and wait for them?

Most of them don't want to look at you once you've done it. Some of the kids do. I had a kid with a '68 little Dodge Dart with a 440 motor which he wanted to talk about how fast it was. I didn't realize it had that big a motor. We actually did race from a standing start. I went off in (tire) smoke -- had to let off and get back into it. Before I got out of second gear, I passed him. There's a regular car hangout here every Saturday night. A lot of people go and from that point on this kid would see my car and he'd walk in the other direction. He wouldn't come over and talk. I'm very sociable. I like to kid around with people, but I embarrassed him so badly. He didn't think anything could outrun him. A few years ago we were on the Hot Rod Power Tour, and there were some kids coming along, beating all the cars, in a newer, hopped up Camaro. As soon as they pulled by and revved the motor, I kiddingly revved it and they said, "Let's road race." At the time, I had nitrous on the car, so I just flipped on the nitrous switch and hit it. I didn't think any more about it. I didn't finish the Power Tour; it ended in California, but they did (finish) and they did meet with Henry out there so they asked him all about the car. And he said, "You have Blazers with 4 or 6 cylinder motors" and they said, "Oh no, we ran into one" and they proceeded to tell him the story that we were doing about sixty when we hit it and that instantly I left them. They'd thought, "Well, it's an old car we'll just stay into it and catch it" and they said they ran their car like about 120 miles an hour and I just kept getting further away from them. And Henry said, "That would be Ernie." He kind of knows how crazy we get.

Have you ever gotten caught by the police while you're doing this?

Nope. Of course, mainly because the car really is so fast. I'm not saying this to brag, but most races only last one or two seconds, three seconds, because by then, you just pull away from people so hard you just lift off -- it makes no sense to stay in it any longer. So you're not out there for blocks and blocks on end trying to get up to speed. And I'm a little bit nervous. I'd feel really terrible if I got into a wreck and hurt somebody, so... I like to think that I do it somewhat safely. But no, the police have pulled me over on numerous occasions. First thing is, they see the car and want to pull it over and assume that some kid is driving it because it is a little bit louder than it should be. But once they get me pulled over and they see that I'm an elderly gentleman, we'll sit around and kid about it and, you know, they thank me and look it over and we chat a little bit and then I'm on my way again. So, it's been very positive. And for all I know, they're probably marking the car so they know if they ever see it running around, they know where to find the guy.

You're probably building up a reputation out there...

We don't race it that much, but it's still fun to play. I only had the opportunity to race one Viper, which we managed to pull quite nicely. I haven't had a chance to race any other ones. Unless they've been hopped up, we shouldn't need to fear too many of them. We should be putting out more horsepower with less weight and generally, be the faster vehicle.

Tell me about your businesses. Henry says you have an exotic bird business.

Actually, all my businesses are tied up in the birds. We have Backtalk Bird Center, which is probably the largest retailer of exotic birds in the country. It's about an 11,000 square foot store. Many of the birds are quite rare -- threatened and endangered species, as well as run-of-the-mill -- but it's mostly the parrot type birds. We have a second company called Phoenix Unlimited, where we manufacture products for birds like vitamin and mineral supplements, hand feeding tubes, special nutritional supplement. And then (there's) the laboratory here, which is called Research Associates Labs where -- don't get impressed because of the title -- but we're the foremost avian research laboratory. We're actually doing DNA studies on birds, identifying a variety of viruses and diseases. That's where my passion is. Many years ago, that reference lab was the largest veterinary lab in the world before it was bought and -- like many other companies -- run into the ground. I just wanted to get back into the business, so I bought an interest in it just over a year ago, and then moved the laboratory from Cincinnati down to Dallas. (It's) right next door to my other two businesses, so I kind of keep track of all of them.

Are you a veterinarian?

No. I call myself a frustrated vet because I'm not. I like to think of myself as a researcher.

Have you always been as interested in birds as you have been in cars?

Yeah, I think so. With the exception of probably some of my late teen years, I've always had birds. From 1972 on, after I got out of the service, I've had birds constantly. I've imported, exported, I've gone to foreign countries to bring them back. We've bred a fair number of birds -- again, mostly threatened and some endangered species. It's been a fulfilling passion.

You're allowed to sell threatened and endangered species?

Oh, absolutely. In fact, the laws are really pretty crummy. I can retail them in Texas, but I can't sell them to breeders across state lines unless they have permits or we have permits. So most of the endangered species go to collectors and breeders, and again, the endangered species are a very small percentage of what we do as far as the shop goes. But it's a large percentage of my interest anymore because I've gotten rid of most of what we call the run-of-the-mill birds to concentrate on the very rare species.

What do you think is the best thing about the Rodster?

I think the reliability. The sheer fact that I'm not afraid to break down anywhere -- not that I anticipate breaking down -- but knowing I've basically got a Chevy. I can pull into any Chevy dealership or auto parts store and whatever I need is going to be there and it's going to be reasonable. In fact, the old muscle cars that I had, like the Camaros, Mustangs, parts were everywhere, but once you get outside of that realm, it's very difficult to find parts. You actually may have to wait for an extended period. With the Rodster, the only problem I can see is if you wrecked it and have to have Henry send you out a new piece of fiberglass. Everything else is General Motors. That's tough to beat. A couple of years ago, I took my youngest son with me on the Hot Rod Power Tour -- of course, he's in love with his mother's Camaro. As anyone can see, it's one of the nicest '67 Camaros in the country, I'm sure, but his remark was, "Dad, that Camaro would never be as comfortable as this. You just couldn't get out and drive it all day long like you can with this." We averaged 75 to 80 miles an hour, got 20+ miles to the gallon. The windshield fits up tall enough that I... I've got some people who say they don't like the height of it, but the nice thing with the windshield is that you don't have any wind noise. You can carry on conversations at 60 miles an hour just as easily as you can at 20 or 30. You can enjoy the stereo. It's extremely pleasant for a car without a top.

Any last words about the Rodster?

It's got a modern ride and -- personal bias -- killer good looks. I've never had somebody pull up that didn't get excited about the car. I didn't buy it for anybody else but me, but in fact, many people have said, "You bought this car because you wanted to be seen," and I say, "No, not really. I'm actually a little bit of a slight introvert." I'm not a flashy kind of person. I bought the car because I fell in love with the looks of it. I saw the paint job and went, "Damn, this is nice!" The Rodster has been by far the most enjoyable car I've owned. It's reliable, dependable, by far has the greatest performance, ride, handling, and looks, and still gets twice the gas mileage -- it basically took all the other cars together and improved on them.

Editor's Note: You may want to check out the following articles regarding Ernie's car:

Kit Car magazine's cover story.

Kit Car magazine's V-8 installation article.