Have you finished your
(laughs) No. My son is leaving
on a religious mission a week from tomorrow, and so we’ve been working
with him, preparing him. It’s been three weeks since I’ve worked on
it, and I’m so anxious to get back to it. It probably won’t happen until
September 30. We’ll leave August 28th, take him where he
needs to go, and then we’ll come back and in between work, etc., I’ll
I hear you have five
kids. Are they working on the car with you?
How old are they?
I have a nine year old son,
Jared, a fourteen year old son named Mitch, a sixteen year old son named
Ryan, I have a seventeen year old daughter, Kristin, and I have a nineteen
year old son, Kyle.
they all have their own specific jobs on the car?
They kind of
do. When we first started the project, I came up with a company organization
chart, where my wife’s the CEO, and I’m the chief mechanic, and my youngest
boy, Jared, is the parts counter person. Every time we got a shipment
in, he’d be the one to open the box and count the parts and make sure
it matched the invoice, etc. My other two sons were assistant mechanics
and my daughter was an assistant mechanic, but also had the paint and
color scheme, etc. What it’s turned out to be is everybody’s an assistant
mechanic and I get on the phones as much as I can.
How much can a nine
year old help with?
All he can do is twist nuts
and bolts, so I had him take off the hood and he took off the front
grill. If I give him a wrench and I say, “You need to undo these five
screws” and point where they are -- by golly, he took the hood off by
himself -- he and a nine year old friend, and they both took off the
front grill. My two middle boys took off the front bumper. I’ve got
a picture with both of them under the car with their knees and legs
a mechanical kind of person?
far as automotive mechanics, what I’ve done before was change the oil.
Literally, I had zero mechanical ability. I’m an engineer by trade,
but it’s more software engineering. My wife calls this my midlife crisis…
I’ll give you a little chronology to answer your question: my son was
surfing the ‘Net in October of ’97 and found the Rodster Homepage. He
showed it to me and I said, “Ennh…” I wasn’t interested at that time.
But over the next few weeks, I think in December, I ordered a manual
from Henry. Then in February, I did an Internet search for a 2-wheel
drive, 5-speed Blazer and I found one up in Vallejo, which is about
an hour and15 minutes north of where I live. I called the guy and arranged
to go up there. It was in mint condition, so I bought it on the spot
and drove it home. But because it was in mint condition, I didn’t want
to cut it up. So, off and on, I searched the newspapers for another
2-wheel drive Blazer. I never saw one until December of ’98; there was
a 2-wheel drive white Blazer that showed up and I went and looked at
it. It was the wrong color; I wasn’t interested in it. And then by January
of ’99, or February of ’99, anyway, I offered this guy a ridiculous
price and he didn’t take it for the Blazer.
Anyway, my wife and I talked
a little more and agreed it would be a fun project. I’d been a workaholic
my whole life, you know, when my kids were growing up, which is a little
bit of a regret of mine, so I wanted a project specifically to bond
with my kids. They’re somewhat interested in automotive, new, late model
sportscar type things. Well, I can’t afford that. Plus, I wouldn’t buy
one for them anyway. So, I still had the phone number of this guy who
had this car for sale, thinking that I didn’t want to rip up my good
one, and this is a year older and less expensive, so I’d do that one.
I called him up; sure enough, he never did sell it, and this had been
a month or two after he listed it. So we went out there and on the spot
I said, “Fine, I’ll buy it.” And then I came home, and by coincidence,
an hour or two after I bought it, there’s a postcard from Henry offering
$500 off the Rodster. So the fact that, one, I’d kind of committed that
weekend to it, two, I found and purchased a Blazer, and, three, Henry
sent a postcard with $500 off… That’s quite a coincidence happening
in a couple day period. So, I left a voicemail for Henry the day I bought
the white Blazer saying, “Let’s do it.” And next Monday, I made voice
contact, so that’s what started things off. The goal of my project was
to do the project with my kids.
easy was the Rodster to work on; how do you rate the ease of assembly?
You’re saying kids can work on it…
(laughs) I’m somewhat mechanically
inclined in that growing up, I had a minibike when I was in 5th
and 6th grade, so I learned a lot. I was destined, I think,
for an engineering profession, because I learned a lot just working
on a little minibike. And then when I was in high school, I had a motorcycle.
I’d do things like take the engine on and off, so, though I’d never
worked on automotive, I was somewhat inclined mechanically. I went into
my career, sort of a computer science professional, and my garage does
not have any tools. So, when you’re talking about ease of assembly,
after I got the manual from Henry and I searched through it, the one
thing that impressed me was that there was no welding, no engine work.
To me, that’s still a very foreign entity. I didn’t want to get involved
with that. When I went through his book and noticed that it was just
some cutting here, some fastening there, that’s what gave me the confidence
that even though I had almost zero automotive experience, I had confidence
that I could do it. I’ve got to admit, it has been a struggle, and I’ve
had to call Henry periodically to say, “Hey, what about this, what about
that?” because I have no experience from an automotive background. He’s
been able to point me here and there. There have been one or two rough
spots just because I could not visualize what I needed to do, but the
fact that I’ve gone through it now -- I’m 98% done -- I could do the
next one in a snap, because now I’m familiar with the automotive angle
as far as where things go, etc. So, as far as ease of assembly, it’s
been excellent, except for the hiccup places where it was literally
my lack of experience and know-how that caused me some questions in
you find the manual fairly comprehensive?
Yes. Again, for
a rookie like me, it could have been a little more detailed. Yet, talking
with Henry on the one hand, he could put mounds of information in there,
but I think for most automotive types, I think they’d have no problem.
Just a couple
of spots that weren’t clear for you?
But Henry was always willing to walk me through and have patience with
So it’s been
good dealing with Caroselli Design?
Very much so. Both
through voice and e-mail. I notice he checks his e-mail usually between
6 and 7 a.m. So, I know that if I get something off by midnight, I get
a response the next morning.
How much time
have you spent on this?
You know, I’ve kept
track to the penny of what I’ve spent on it, but I have not kept track
of hours. Henry says you can probably do it in 100 to 120 hours. Because
I’m new at this and because I have children helping me, it’s probably
been double that for me. So, I think I’m in the 160 to 180 hour range
by now. And I’m another 20 hours away from completing all the detail
you’re using this as a teaching experience for the kids?
Absolutely. And the biggest
thing with my kids is -- I’m really going to overuse this word “bond”
and I don’t mean it as a touchy feely type thing. It’s been good to
rub shoulders with my kids, get them to work with tools, because their
confidence level in working with air compressor tools, grinding, sanding,
wrenches, etc., has increased greatly. Plus, they are all so proud of
having this hotrod in the garage and telling all their friends, it’s
been a plus and a win all the way around.
It’s been very much a teaching
and learning experience as we go. And so that’s why it’s taken extra
hours. But, we don’t care. We’re all anxious to see the finished product.
We’re willing to put it aside for three or four weeks while we get our
oldest son – he’s going on a Mormon mission. They go out for two years…
says you believe in teaching process to the kids… What exactly do you
mean by that?
Do you understand what a
pert chart is?
It’s used in program management
where you line up things that need to be done and in what order they
need to be done. If things can be done parallel, that’s fine, you line
them up parallel. So I got some 3 feet by 4 feet poster paper and put
it on the kitchen table. We had yellow stickies, Post-It notes. The
last one said, “Drive to Santa Cruz,” so that’s on the far right. Another
yellow Post-It says, “Paint body,” so I put that to the left side of
the sticky that says, “Drive to Santa Cruz.” And so we worked our way
back… One Post-It says, “Mount the back,” another Post-It says, “Get
the front tires on,” another Post-It says, “Take care of the windows,”
and then, “Order these parts.” We probably ended up with 30 or 40 stickies
of things that need to be done on the car. I asked the kids, “What needs
to be done before we can put on the back end?” So all the things that
were dependent on that, we put in front of it, then we drew lines funneling
into this one thing, “Mount back end” and things that were parallel
went on the front or the bottom, and then we drew a line to where it
says, “Take it to paint shop.”
project management, you can put down what needs to be done, and if it
takes two weeks, then all the prep work needs to be done two weeks prior.
I didn’t go into that detail with my kids, but just the overall concept
of scoping a project, writing down the things that need to be done,
and then putting them in the order that they need to be done, just so
we have a visual of what we need to do.
kids mechanically inclined?
My 16 year old son is, my
other children were not. You know, I purchased a grinder, a stand-up
grinder from Sears, and boy, for a week, my 14 year old son would be
over there helping me any way he could, polishing up some screws, or
doing something, or grinding this piece of metal. My 16 year old son
-- I think he’ll be an engineer. He has adapted very easily. My other
kids have had a blast. I don’t know if they’re mechanically inclined,
but they’ve had a blast learning how to use tools.
great. I don’t mean to be sexist, but your daughter’s into it too?
Very much so. You know, a
lot of girls her age sing or something like that. If your last name
is Condie, you have no musical talent. And so, she gets good grades
in school, but I think she’s looked for something to latch onto to be
individualistic, so she’s latched onto NASCAR racing. She’s been down
to Sears Point a few times to see Jeff Gordon, etc., so she’s very interested
in automotive, not from a grease monkey point of view, but just interested
in that type of entertainment and sports. So, I’ve had her help me.
The sad thing is that she works from 3 to 9, and I’m off work around
sixish. When she helps me on the car, it’s usually on Saturdays. She’s
turned wrenches and sand papered stuff. In fact, she helped me with
the door assembly. So, she’s as much involved as the boys are.
Are you guys having
fun with the Rodster?
Very much so. It’s just fun
to see it take shape in the garage. It was interesting to cut up the
body. Then we got the back end on it and saw the curves of the car start
to come alive, you know, you work on that for a month. Then we got the
front end on and finished the curvature of the car. It’s been a lot
of fun to see it come together before our eyes. I look at other convertibles,
like the Chrysler Sebring, and a few other convertibles, like the Mustang
II and the BMW, etc. -- it’s nice to see those kinds of cars, and I’m
sure they’re fun to drive, etc., but because each of my children and
myself have been involved from the ground up in this project, they’re
all very proud of it. They’re very proud of their work, individually
and collectively as a family. So even though it’s got an “old interior”
whereas a new Chrysler Sebring or Mustang II has a new fancy interior,
leather seats, etc., it still doesn’t compare to the fact that they
put in their blood, sweat and tears -- and bruised their knuckles --
on getting the Rodster put together.
You can always put
a new interior in it – another family project.
Yes. Next time we go to one
of these “pick and pull” salvage yards, certainly, leather seats are
on our list if they have any. We got it to the point where it’s driveable,
meaning, we live in a kind of out of the way place, so there aren’t
cops running up and down our street… we don’t have the front headlights
in. The taillights and everything are all working, but the last week
or so, yeah, we’ve been taking it up and down the street and everybody’s
smiling when we’re driving it.
live out in the country?
We live on the edge of San
Jose, a little town called Milpitas, we live right next to the hills.
So people are
reacting to your Rodster? They like it?
Very much so. And our neighbors
are aware of the project; they always come over and they’re all smiles
and complimentary to the kids. In fact, my son drove it around the block
to show the neighbors, one of whom who had back surgery a couple of
months ago, and they were raving on and on. So, it’s been a big confidence
and ego boost for my kids. And yeah, they’re all smiles and excited
What more do you
have to do?
We have to put on the other
quarter panel, and then just put on the lights and the grill.
That’s it? Wow, that’s
The quarter panel is one
of the hardest parts because I visually could not understand from the
documentation, and from a couple of phone calls with Henry, how it worked.
And then, two Saturdays ago, my 16 year old son and I, we just brute
forced it as far as “We’ve got to make this work.” There’s no magic
here, we had to line it up and fasten it, and that’s what we did. We
just need another four hours to get the other quarter panel on, then
it’s probably a half a day to get the lights and grill working. Then
we’re ready to go out and drive it legally. So we are, literally, that
close. It’s just time. I can’t put the time in right this minute.
Are you going
to do the paint yourself?
No. We’re going to find somebody
to paint it. We have a friend in Utah, but I don’t know if we’d drive
it up just for that. I’m getting some quotes here in the San Jose area
of someone who could paint it for us.
me ask you about the overall quality of the kit itself. For instance,
the fiberglass parts being hand-laid versus the cheap chopper gun. Was
it worth the extra cost? Was the quality there?
Let me answer that from a
naïve point of view in that I’m not familiar with other fiberglass manufacturers
and how they look, but yes, I was very impressed with the quality. Let
me at least mention this – all we’d seen was pictures and because I
was a little bit afraid of not having worked on one, the whole family
drove down to the Caroselli Design center in El Segundo to pick it up.
We were all impressed when Henry took us back to his shop and we saw
his red Rodster. You know, I thought fiberglass would have been cheap,
but after hitting our knuckles on the fiberglass, we were all very impressed
at the quality of work that it was capable of, as far as putting it
together and getting the paint on it. So that was a thrilling part,
just seeing how professional looking it was.
How was the fit
of the Rodster parts to your donor?
Uh… good. The only reason
I hesitate is because I found out that cars are not built square. (laughs)
So any issue I’ve had is not with the Rodster part, it’s just been that
cars are mass produced, they’re not all perfect.
Another customer I
talked to said the same thing.
On my Blazer, there’s three
quarters of an inch difference. So, when it’s up high, you can’t tell
that difference because the delta is a smaller percentage, right? But
now that I’ve lowered it, I can tell, and I think others can tell, that
one side is ¾ inch higher than the other. What I’m going to do is fix
that with the blocks that Henry’s going to send me. I’ve got some 4”
lowering blocks on it now and it’s too low for my tires because I went
a half inch wider than the recommendation, so Henry’s going to send
me 3” blocks. I’m going to shave, if I can, a half inch off on those
blocks and even it out. I don’t see that as a Caroselli kit car problem,
it’s more a General Motors problem.
How about the completeness
of the kit?
It was all there. I appreciate
having the list of hardware, nuts and bolts. I’ve got to admit, though,
I’ve made more trips to the hardware and auto parts store than I ever
have in my life. I’m going at least two or three times a week, because
not being an automotive or mechanically inclined person, my garage is
not full of extra nuts and bolts and brackets and braces and all those
things that maybe a normal, automotively inclined person would happen
to have in his garage after years of experience. So, for me, it was
many, many trips to the auto parts and hardware store.
Speaking of trips,
I’ve got a note from Henry… he says you took your kids out of school,
you took four of your kids, and you have a U-Haul trailer on the back
of your car and picked up the kit?
Yes, on a Sunday we left
San Jose, and drove to El Segundo and caught a hotel there. The next
day, we picked up the trailer -- largest trailer U-Haul had -- and drove
to the Caroselli Rodster place, and loaded the kit up and drove home.
So, my kids missed a day of school, but they had a blast. It was fun
trip. We didn’t go to Disneyland, of course, but spending three or four
hours with Henry was a lot of fun.
Are you planning
to show your Rodster when it gets done?
Yes, very much so. I’ve got
to admit that when I first contacted Henry, I said, “I want to do this
right and I want to make it a show quality car,” but I’m finding out
that these “show quality cars” have tens of thousands of dollars pumped
into them. It’s a business in itself. So, I’m going to show it, but
I can’t pump tens of thousands of dollars into it. I splurged an extra
thousand dollars for some nice wheels. But it’s a unique enough car,
and there’s nobody else up here in the Bay Area who has it. My daughter
and I have gone to car shows over the last three years, and I’ve taken
the whole family to a couple car shows. We’re going to show the Rodster
when we’re done with it, so we want to get a primo paint job.
That’s kind of an argument
in our family now, now that we’re getting this close. I say argument
in a joking way because we haven’t figured it out yet.
So it’s up for grabs.
It’s up for grabs. I don’t
know if we’ll do a community vote amongst the family -- do it democratically
-- or whether Dad will dictate something. We’ll see.
Did you tell me
how many dollars you have invested?
Right now, I’m at $20,200.00.
Now, in light of that number, because I’ve not been automotively inclined,
I’ve had to farm out stuff that, normally, other people could have done.
New brakes, putting in the
shocks. I had people do those, whereas, right now, if I did another
Rodster kit, I’d do all that stuff myself. Prices are high up here in
Northern California, so I’ve probably paid an extra $2,000 that I could
save off the next one I do. And I paid a premium price for my donor
vehicle because it was in such good condition. That’s why I drove it
for a year before I found the second one. But I backtracked, because
one was an automatic, one was a stick shift, and for some reason, in
my brain, I thought, “Gee, hot rods have to be stick shift,” so I decided
to cut up the real primo one. I paid a good price for my donor vehicle,
so that’s what pushed it up to the 20K mark.
year was it?
What kind of engine?
A 4.3 liter, 5-speed.
And you said it
was a 2-wheel drive?
How many miles
I think it had 86,000.
you doing any custom touches?
I’ve put on a Moon gas pedal.
That’s kind of a nostalgic thing. Moon Eyes used to have high performance
parts in the mid-60’s or 70’s. For me, growing up as a kid in Arizona,
I remember hot rod type cars having gas pedals that were like a foot
imprint. But, I’m kind of joking, it was a $14 part.
Henry said that
you bet your wife that you were going to finish it by August…
That’s true. One thing led
to another. I had to build a shed to move all this stuff out of the
garage, and so, my wife, Maureen, her car has been out in the driveway
as long as the Rodster has been in. Maureen knows me -- that I start
projects and don’t finish them. So, she wrote up a contract – now, this
is all in fun, nothing is dead serious – but, she wrote up a contract
saying that parts will be put away, kids will be in bed on time on school
nights, the executive CEO has final say on all things… then it says
this will be done by August 30, 1999, which is my birthday, so I promised
her I’d drive her to Santa Cruz and buy her lunch in the car.
Not going to work,
Well, we both agreed that
this deal with my son receiving his mission call, which is unexpected
– he was off to college when we started this project – we both agreed
to put it off till September 30.
What happens if
you don’t finish by September 30?
What the agreement says is
that all the parts get thrown out into the driveway. (laughs) She says
she gets her garage space back and so I finish the car out in the driveway.
Since it’s driveable
now, you could drive her somewhere in it...
Without it being painted,
I could finish it by Saturday -- if I had all day Saturday -- and meet
Do you work in Silicon
I do. I work for Quantum
Corporation, which is hard disk drive manufacturer. I have been what
they call a “firmware” engineer my whole career. It’s between hardware
and software. Hardware are the electrical engineers, the software engineers
are the ones that program their computers for the Internet or bank programs.
In the middle -- and closer to hardware -- is a classification of engineer
that writes assembly language programs to make the hardware talk together.
So, if you have a modem, or you have a disk drive, there’s firmware,
meaning there’s software embedded inside a chip, which makes the modem
work, makes the hard disk drive work. So, it’s kind of in a class by
Are you planning on
building another Rodster? You keep talking about the next one…
(laughs) We’ll see what happens
and what we do with this one. We do have a second 2-wheel drive Blazer
that my daughter drives right now, which we may do something with in
Now, it’s only a 2-seater
– are the kids going to arm wrestle to decide who gets to ride in the
car? You’re going to have to build another one…
Right. I told my daughter
that if she wanted to drive it herself, well, if it’s the 29th
of February and a full moon, I’ll let you drive it. (laughs) I’m kidding,
of course. They’re arguing and saying, “Dad, when can I drive it?” type
things, so that’s a sticky point. We’ll have to work out something.