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The 1939 Chevy Krazy Kar

10/6/15

The Krazy Kar built by Henry and Wilfred Abels of Clay Center Kansas  in 1960

It was the Thanksgiving dinner of 1959. While most of the Thanksgiving dinner table conversation revolved around how the children and grandchildren were doing, two brothers Henry and Wilfred Abels had their own private conversation going on.  The Kansas State Centennial celebration was coming up in 1961 and they decided they should build something for the occasion.

Henry remembered he has an old 1939 Chevrolet car parked out behind his barn. The brothers decide to use that car, find another one like it and build a car with two front ends welded together that would steer from both ends. It would take a little more than the usual “farm” engineering they were used to, but the brothers were always up for a challenge.

So in their spare time they got to work. They started by taking the body off of the 39 Chevrolet car chassis. The next job was to locate a front end that was the same width as the stock Chevrolet car front end that also steered. In 1959 the choices were limited.

After a few Saturdays spent visiting all of the local salvage yards in a 100-mile radius, they determined that a Dodge Power Wagon front end was within a couple inches of being the exact same width. That would be close enough.

Because this was a low budget “fun” project the rest of the car was built using what they already had on the farm. That included replacing the bad sections of the original wiring harness with the wiring they had saved from tearing down old houses and barns.

With the Dodge Power Wagon front end installed onto the 1939 Chevrolet car chassis it was time to build the body. Turns out that 1939 Chevy cars were not an easy find locally in 1960. They found lots of 1937 models and lots of 1935 models but no 1939’s. After three months of intense searching they finally located what they needed in a salvage yard in Manhattan Kansas.

They had to shorten the bodies of both cars quite a bit more than they originally planned, in order to get both front ends to fit onto the stock length frame. With the bodies mounted and welded together it was time to build the doors. They ruined two complete sets of doors trying to figure out how to cut and section them to fit the openings. No matter what they tried nothing worked.

Most people would have scraped the whole project about then. Not these two! Finally after three weeks of working with door number five… they figured it out, then, all they had left to do was build a second door for the other side.

They used the stock outside door hinges and pins on one end of the doors and a large bent gutter nail for the door pin on the opposite end of the doors using the original outside hinges.  They used old movie theatre seat cushions mounted on wooden box frames for the seats. They went to great pains to be sure the interior was the same inside for both ends.

Matching the steering columns, meant matching steering wheels, and same 3-speed shifters and making sure all of the linkages and pedals on the floorboards, were present and working on both ends. Matching the Dodge Power Wagon front-end to the 1939 Chevrolet Steering box turned out to be one of their biggest challenges.

When it was completed in 1960 there were eleven horns on the car. Today the car still has seven horns including the original mechanical Bull Horn.

The brothers took the “Krazy Kar” to the 1961 Kansas State fair where it was a big hit. The car then appeared weekly at dozens of county fairs and parades throughout the state for the next dozen years. In 1973 the brothers decided the Krazy Kar had “made the rounds” so into the barn it went where it remained for the next 39 years. 

I grew up and went to High School with Benny Gibbs the grandson of Henry Abels. One January day in 2007 I got to thinking about the Krazy Kar and wondered what happened to it. I called Benny who explained after the grandparents died the car was gifted to Wilfred's oldest son Barry who lived in Denver. After Barry died it was gifted to Benny who by now was living in Austin Texas. Benny went to Denver and got the car and hauled it to Austin where he put it into storage.

 I tried to convince Benny to fix it up or I would buy it if it was for sale. He did not have much time to fix it up, he was plenty busy at work. Benny said he could not sell the car as it was a family heirloom. Not willing to give up so easy I called on Benny's younger brother Kenton who lived in Arkansas City Kansas and convinced him to ask Benny if he could come get the Krazy Kar so we could get it running. Benny happily agreed. 

Kenton was to young to ever drive the Krazy Kar it but had fond memories of it. Benny and I did get to drive it a few times around the farm when we were in High School with strict orders not to wreck it. That was in the early 70's after the newness had worn off. 

Kenton went and got the Krazy Kar and it took most of the winter to get it running. New tires a little work on the brakes and a paint job later it looked better than it ever did. Ironically, Kenton was about the same age when he started working on the Krazy Kar as his granddad and his uncle were, when they started building it.

Its first trip out after its long hibernation was in the annual Piotique Parade in Clay Center. The car had not seen the light of day in 40 years. It was the Clay Center Piotique Parade in the fall of 1960 where the car was first driven...." to test it to be sure everything worked..." Kenton and I did the exact same thing 40 years later. Who would have thought? 

Kenton and I have driven The Krazy Kar in about a dozen parades and it is a lot of fun to drive. Communication is of the essence or you will end up on the curb before you know it. We practice for about 20 minutes before every parade so we can check the width of the streets and intersections...normally if the streets are wide enough we do complete circles at intersections and crab walk down the streets. It is a handful making sure you do the opposite of what the other driver says he is going to do and watch out for kids at the same time. 

In the updated version the Krazy Kar got an actual spray paint job instead of the brush paint job it had originally. Everything else is true to the original design with no other changes made. The only addition was a 1961 Kansas Centennial License tag installed on the front the car. The goal was to capture the nostalgia and experience what it was like to drive the car when it was first built. Today we can do that. Henry and Wilfred would be proud.


The Krazy Kar As It Looks Today. 


The Blue End Is The Dummy End


The Red End Has the Engine And Transmission


This Is The Drivers Side


This Is Also The Drivers Side


 The Dodge Power Wagon Rear End That Drives The Car. 

UPDATE  - 
The Krazy Kar appeared in the 2017 Clay Center Piotique Parade for only the third time since it was revived in 2008. The original 1939 generator breathed its last during its last parade appearance two years ago. Time for an upgrade to a Fifth Avenue 6-Volt Alternator. Boy did that make a difference. Better starting especially when the engine was warm and while we sat for 20 minutes getting lined up in the parade the battery stayed up for the first time ever.

It also got a gear driven electric fuel pump to help out the tired mechanical pump. That combined with one-gauge replacement battery cables made a huge difference in the cranking power of the car. it was an obvious upgrade to me but the family had to weigh the decision of changing the car from the way it was originally built. In the end they decided that if the two brothers had known of these upgrades, they would have used them.

None of the changes are permanent, everything is bolt and can be put back at any time. We have had to push start it in the past and we always knew better than to shut it off at the end of a parade, unless we could park on a hill. I had been campaigning for these upgrades for a while. Finally it was time.

Now the car is much more fun to drive. We had a film crew from Wichita KS. come to Clay Center for the friday night cruise night and yes we drove the Krazy Kar in cruise night. It was a first. We had no idea we were being filmed until the next day at the car show, they tracked us down for an interview and a demonstration. We even put the camera man on the running board and he filmed us doing circles... figure 8's... and crab walking. He said that was a first in all his years filming car shows. Guess he has never hung around us Krazy Kar drivers before.


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Since 1987, Fifth Avenue owner, Randy Rundle, has been making antique, classic and special interest vehicles more reliable and fun to drive.