The Kopper Kart clone

Vic Collins used to visit John Pazsik's shop when he was just a boy, and developed a love of custom cars from his dad, building 1/24 scale models, and going to car shows. When he got his drivers license, he went through a series of old cars and trucks. He eventually settled into a shoebox Ford, that he had another Jersey customizer, Bob Nitti (co-owner of the Barris Aztec) do some body modifications on. When BOb retired, he came to my shop for more custom work. I installed Studebacker fins on the Ford, and later shopped the top. VIc also found the George Wallace 61 Dodge I now own, another Pazsik built custom.

Vic got the bug to build a replica of his favorite custom truck, the Kopper Kart, and eventually bought a 55 GMC to do so. He and his brother did some work on it, but eventually came to me, as they did not have the equipment, time or place to do the job right. The project struggled along for a couple years, stalling quite a bit, until I saw on the HAMB ( an internet traditional rod and custom forum) that someone else was building a clone of the Kart as well. 

This other builder, John Maurice, had been collecting parts, and chopping and sectioning the truck, until he had to move to New York CIty, where building cars isn't very easy. Vic bought out his project, and together with ours, was the impetus to "git'er done!" We made a pact to complete the truck in 16 months and debut it at the Detroit Autorama, exactly 50 years from then the real truck made it's debut in California.

The Kopper Kart clone

The Kopper Kart clone

Here it is at the photo shoot for Kustoms Illustrated magazine. I will add more photos and stories as time allows.

original 55 truck.jpg

original 55 truck.jpg

This is what an original 55 Chevy pick up truck looks like.

original kart.jpg

original kart.jpg

This is the George Barris built Kopper Kart. It was built as a shop truck and for promotion, in car shows. It debuted in 1958, appeared in all the custom car magazines, was sold in 1961. It went to Ohio, where it was shown, then later taken apart, then abandoned and scrapped.

kart_build 002.jpg

kart_build 002.jpg

Vic and his brother Ed, had picked up a 55 GMC truck to use as the basis of the Kopper Kart. They did a bit of work on it at home, but it really got serious when he asked me to help him to do it.

Kart_build 001.jpg

Kart_build 001.jpg

We started on building the very distinctive nose of the truck. We used replacement headlight repair panels, and widened them for quad headlights. two Studebaker grill pans were given to the project by Barry Mazza, who bought them to build a clone of the Aztec Chevy. He later bought the REAL one and did not need these.

kart_build 003.jpg

kart_build 003.jpg

Tubing used to frame out the quad headlights.

kart_build 004.jpg

kart_build 004.jpg

Fitting up the Stude pans.

kart_build 005.jpg

kart_build 005.jpg

Making small filler pieces to transition the Stude sheet metal into the truck's.

kart_build 007.jpg

kart_build 007.jpg

First attempt to build the nose. First we tried using pieces from an extra hood.

kart_build 006.jpg

kart_build 006.jpg

The shapes were not quite right, and we couldn't figure out what Barris used to make this part, probably something discarded from another build. We had to begin fabricating new ones on my English wheel.

kart_build 010.jpg

kart_build 010.jpg

The fenders on the Kart extended all the way up to the cab. We used an extra set to begin making them this way. Extra metal was then added to fill in the difference between the two.

kart_build 009.jpg

kart_build 009.jpg

The section job (removing a metal section horizontally through the body) necessitated reshaping and rebuilding the cowl area.

kart_build 008.jpg

kart_build 008.jpg

The nose roughed out and looking pretty close.

kart_build 011.jpg

kart_build 011.jpg

Next, came chopping the top. Here is our first obstacle. The body had taken a twist, as it was unsupported during sectioning, and very weak in the floor, and body mounts, due to rust. After struggling with it for a while, we took a break.

kart_build 012.jpg

kart_build 012.jpg

Well. after careful considering, we abandoned our first attempt (K-1) and Vic later picked up a new cab (K-2)

kart 001.jpg

kart 001.jpg

The bottoms of the rear fenders had to angle cut to lead to the new pans

kart 002.jpg

kart 002.jpg

The fenders also had to have new flanges welded to them, to match the new shapes.

kart 003.jpg

kart 003.jpg

Lots of pieces of sheet metal cut and welded to mate the fenders to the cowl, and radius the hood corners!

kart 004.jpg

kart 004.jpg

The rear fenders were bolted to the bedsides, but welded to the rear pans, and tailgate panels. So once attached, we had limited access to them. So we sandblasted the rust off, and preserved the bedsides before putting the fenders on.

kart 005.jpg

kart 005.jpg

The parking lights matched the shapes of the headlights, but smaller, and mounted outside of a rolled pan.

kart 006.jpg

kart 006.jpg

At one point, we welded a square tube bar across the nose to align all the pieces we added to it. like headlight buckets, parking lights, etc.

kart 007.jpg

kart 007.jpg

The firewall had to be sectioned, as well as the rest of the body. Most body lines lined up, but the doghouse had to be raised for the engine to fit.

kart 008.jpg

kart 008.jpg

Filler panel between the 2 sections of rear fenders.

kart 009.jpg

kart 009.jpg

Adding the hood scoops: measured, and marked.

kart 010.jpg

kart 010.jpg

Oak hammerforms were used to make the scoops. The holes will be transferred to hood and sandwiched together between 2 oak forms.

kart 011.jpg

kart 011.jpg

Vic cutting a slit where the front part goes down, and the rear part gets raised up.

kart 012.jpg

kart 012.jpg

Ron watches while I start the hammering. The wood sandwich prevents the hood from getting distorted while we stretch the metal into a raised scoop.

kart 013.jpg

kart 013.jpg

Ron's turn, this time using a "caulking" tool to sharply define the edges. Vic watches and coaches.

kart 014.jpg

kart 014.jpg

One side done!

kart 015.jpg

kart 015.jpg

Both sides! and the front peak added. More welding on that to come.

kart 016.jpg

kart 016.jpg

Since the wood forms were relatively flat, and the hood had a slight curve, we had to go back and adjust the sheet metal a bit! Bill Sincox and Stan Orear help out.

100_0100.jpg

100_0100.jpg

What the finished scoops look like. Pieces of small tubing were welded to the open edges of the scoops, for a more finished appearance.

HPIM0078.jpg

HPIM0078.jpg

The tops of the bedrails were bound to get some abuse, since the truck had a "hard" tonneau cover on it. So I decided to do the bodywork in lead, so it would hold up better. First step it to meticulously clean the area to be leaded, or soldered.

HPIM0079.jpg

HPIM0079.jpg

Now, you can either "tin" the clean steel with tinning liquid and rubbing lead on it, or use this easier method. Tinning butter, tinning paste, plus powdered lead. Brush it on generously.

HPIM0082.jpg

HPIM0082.jpg

You only use acetylene , as oxy-ac is too hot. You must use a special tip, so it mixes with air to produce a flame. You can also use a propane tank, but it is a bit slower, as it doesn't put out as much heat.

HPIM0084.jpg

HPIM0084.jpg

Heat the tinning butter until it bubbles, and turns brown, or burnt.

HPIM0085.jpg

HPIM0085.jpg

Then wipe it with a clean cotton rag. Don't use anything synthetic, or it will melt onto the panel. The panel should be clean and shiny if done correctly.

HPIM0091.jpg

HPIM0091.jpg

Heat the panel gently, and just push the lead stick onto it, until you form a mound of it.

HPIM0087.jpg

HPIM0087.jpg

Move around depositing lead where you need it. It definitely takes practice and careful watching. The lead should be the consistency of peanut butter for this step, and paddling it around.

HPIM0099.jpg

HPIM0099.jpg

Bunch of mushy lead, isn't very pretty!

HPIM0092.jpg

HPIM0092.jpg

Lead paddles are made of oak or other sturdy wood. First, you treat them so the lead will not stick to them. Heat up some beeswax, and dip the paddle into it, forming a thin coat. Old timers have also used trans fluid or used oil, but I'd prefer not to add any type of contamination, if possible.

HPIM0094.jpg

HPIM0094.jpg

Reheat the lead to working consistency, and spread it around, smoothing it to the contours you want. Leave it slightly thicker than it needs to be.

HPIM0102.jpg

HPIM0102.jpg

Now, let cool and use a vixen file to "sand" it down to perfection. IT takes some practice to get this right, but use long, slow even pressured strokes, or the blade will chatter, and skip. you should be able to get the metal perfect with this technique, if you do it right.

HPIM0105.jpg

HPIM0105.jpg

Almost there, another pass and it will be good to go!

kart 001.jpg

kart 001.jpg

Now we get to some fun stuff, chopping the top! First, brace up all the openings on the body, and below where you will be cutting the A pillars.

kart 002.jpg

kart 002.jpg

Precisely mark off where to make the cuts.

006.jpg

006.jpg

I like to do the cuts with a hacksaw. Much more control over the cut, and precise cuts make for better welds.

kart 004.jpg

kart 004.jpg

Front down, see the difference in the height of the rear?

kart 005.jpg

kart 005.jpg

The cab we had, was a small wondow version. The Kart had the large window, so we used an extra roof we had, cleaned off the rust.

kart 007.jpg

kart 007.jpg

Vic cleaning up the cut lines on the back of the cab to prepare to install the new sheet metal.

kart 006.jpg

kart 006.jpg

Tacked it in place, and Vic made the cuts to match the front.

kart 008.jpg

kart 008.jpg

In place!

kart 009.jpg

kart 009.jpg

Pushed the truck outside to see how it looked from a distance, and from all angles. I can't stress how important this is when doing custom work!

kart 010.jpg

kart 010.jpg

The roof had to be widened for the right look, you can't easily angle the front windshield opening, like on a flat glass car. The easier way, if you have a spare roof, is to just widen the roof at the edges, and replace the center with an over-sized cut out center of another roof.

kart 011.jpg

kart 011.jpg

kart 012.jpg

kart 012.jpg

kart 013.jpg

kart 013.jpg

Cutting ahead time-wise, but here you can see how the chop came out.

100_0002.jpg

100_0002.jpg

We started out with a n early Chevy straight six, which we had to transform into a copy of the modified Corvette engine that the Kart had. John Maurice had it rebuilt and had located the rare 3 x 1 side draft intake and Carter YH carbs.

100_0008.jpg

100_0008.jpg

I wanted the engine to be as show worthy and detailed as the rest of the truck was, so I started grinding off any casting marks, mold lines, and casting roughness.

100_0009.jpg

100_0009.jpg

A carbide burr was used in the concave areas, and there were many!

100_0010.jpg

100_0010.jpg

100_0013.jpg

100_0013.jpg

A cartridge roll further smoothed out the concave spots, while finer grit discs were used on the flats.

100_0014.jpg

100_0014.jpg

Nice and smooth and ready for primer.

100_0016.jpg

100_0016.jpg

Using House of Kolor Epoxy primer, for great durability, adhesion, and toughness.

100_0020.jpg

100_0020.jpg

I actually went through the trouble of guide coating, and blocking the surfaces to find any minor imperfections, and fix them.

100_0031.jpg

100_0031.jpg

Spraying the block in 3 stage HOK Pearl White. 2 coats white base, 2 of intercoat white pearl, and a coat of clear. Keeping the paint thickness to a minimum is important on an engine.

100_0047.jpg

100_0047.jpg

Finished with paint!

100_0048.jpg

100_0048.jpg

Also smoothed and painted the bellhousing.

100_0050.jpg

100_0050.jpg

Oil pan, too, paintedall separately, and then used stainless bolts to attach the parts.

100_0054.jpg

100_0054.jpg

Looking good with the accessories!

100_0055.jpg

100_0055.jpg

As Barris dressed up his, so did we, with finned valve covers, and lifter valley cover.

2007_1110Image0001.JPG

2007_1110Image0001.JPG

The frame was sandblasted before we did any work on it. Putting it on the rotisserie made it easy to weld on, and paint.

2007_1110Image0004.JPG

2007_1110Image0004.JPG

The major modification we did to the frame was to "C" it, This allows the axles to sit higher up in the chassis, lowering the vehicle. We made cardboard templates first, cut out the pieces in 1/8" plate, and welded them onto the frame.

2007_1110Image0013.JPG

2007_1110Image0013.JPG

Welded and ground, we did both front and rear. Then, the mounting pads were cut off both axles, and re-welded on on the bottom, considerably lowering the truck.

2007_1110Image0014.JPG

2007_1110Image0014.JPG

Ron putting the epoxy primer on the frame.

2007_1110Image0017.JPG

2007_1110Image0017.JPG

Vic following up with black paint. We could have made the chassis "showier" by doing it white or copper, but to be authentic, we left it black, as it would have been as an almost new truck being customized.

2007_1208KopperKart0004.JPG

2007_1208KopperKart0004.JPG

All other components were suitably painted, re-bushed, rebuilt, and restored.

2007_1208KopperKart0024.JPG

2007_1208KopperKart0024.JPG

Except for the flipped axles, and "Ced" frame, it went along like a stock restoration.