Phan: Do you remember the first moment when you fell in love with the car world?
McBain: No I was too young… Before I was even in school.
Phan: So with your Kellisons, was it your first love? The car you always wanted?
McBain: Actually, this car was the same model car which is the first car I ever owned… This is a car that was made by hand. Back then they would sell you a body, fiberglass body, and you would build everything that you want under it to make a car out of it.
When I was in high school, I built one of these. So, I never owned a car before one of these, and that was the only car I was ever sorry that I sold. Over the years, I’ve had a number of interesting cars, but that was the only one I was sorry I got rid of. So, that’s how I came to build this one.
(He got his first model in high school in 1966)
Phan: Do you think that was the first moment when you started to seriously become interested in cars as a hobby/lifestyle?
McBain: I guess you could say that. Because I was always interested in them, and there were a lot of cars I couldn’t afford. To build it myself, I could afford that, and my mom helped me out like a graduation present.
Phan: Do you remember the moment when you realized that classic cars were or already going to be a big part of your life?
McBain: No. No, it wasn’t like that for me. I mean, maybe it was for a lot of people who would dream of buying a particular car, but for me it was building the car. That was the important thing. So, it’s not like I could go buy another one of those (Kellison) and enjoy it, if so I wouldn’t have built it.
Phan: What is it about your classic Kellison J5 that speaks to you?
McBain: It’s shape, the shape of it. A lot of people at shows try to figure it out what it reminds them of, and I can’t tell you how many different cars everybody sees in it. I mean, most people who don’t know anything about cars ask if it’s a Corvette, apparently they don’t know what Corvettes look like. But it is a very unusual shape.
The guy who built these bodies, Jim, Kellison, built six distinct models. That’s how this is a number five. He called them all ‘J’ something or other. And this, this body was designed in 1958., ‘59. You could first buy this in 1959, and you can imagine how that looked in 1959. It’s unusual now, it was wildly unusual then.
Phan: I can imagine all the compliments you get driving.
McBain: Oh yeah, it’s not unusual at all to be driving down the road and people giving the thumbs up and taking video with their phone or whatever that happens every day when it’s out.
Phan: I’m sure it is an amazing, great car and it seems like you give so much love for it. Is there any other car that you always also had an eye for, that you might want to trade pink slips for if offered?
McBain: Oh yeah, but it was passing. Whatever I thought I liked at the time. I’ve had a number of corvettes, I had a very rare Chevy II Nova. But I don’t miss that.
Phan: I know these cars are very beautiful and there’s a lot of passion for not only people driving them, but also seeing them on the road. As you’ve said you get alot of compliments, what do you hope people think about your car when they see you driving?
McBain: I never concerned myself with what they think. I don’t know, they think such wildly different things from one person to the next, as to what it might be and what kind of person who would drive that and everything. I don’t even think about it. I know when I was young when I built my first one, I was thinking how cool it would be to be driving around in something that looked like that. With this one, it’s more for my own pleasure.
I liked the way it looks and I don’t really care if somebody didn’t like it. I’m not driving it for anybody else’s pleasure, or for whatever they think it is. I can’t describe it, but all I can say is that for me, it’s all about making it, and now enjoying wanting something I made. Unlike a lot of other cars where you can buy whatever you want. I mean, I could go up to the auction, there’s a lot of big auctions up in Scottsdale. There’s lots of cars that I would love to buy, but that’s entirely different than making it.
Phan: And then when you make it, you obviously take it out for a test drive and drive it around. Is there a favorite road you have taken, if not a dream road you would like to take it out on a spin on?
McBain: Well, the first drive is memorable, but I didn’t wait until it was completed to drive it. The body wasn’t even on it when I took the first time. It was just the frame, it was like a big go-cart. So, the thrill of the first drive is sort of diluted by a few drives of it semi-completed.
It took me 20 years from the time I bought the body — I found the body in California — took me that long to finish it, because of different things in my life had gotten away, running out of time or not wanting to spend money at that time. So, things came gradual. It wasn’t like I could just wait until it was totally finished and then go out for a glorious drive.
Phan: But now that you have finished the car, is there a place you would love to drive it on?
McBain: We just took a trip up to Colorado and Yellowstone and there were a lot of roads I’d love to have taken it on for a drive, but it’s not really practical for us. I’ve already put over 2000 miles on it since I finished it, but my wife and I travel a lot. I mean, we do it driving, but we also take our cat with us everywhere. We wouldn’t even want to leave her to be babysat because we’re gone for a long time. So if we were going to do that, we’d be taking our cat in that car. It’s pretty loud, not real smooth riding like what we normally drive. So, it is just not practical for us to go on a lot of those nice roads that I’ve pictured driving it on.
[…] We plan to drive it quite a bit. I know the paint is real nice, and it will get stone chips and stuff like that. But I made it to drive, And that’s the fact of life, I’m not worried about minor damages like that. It’s sorta like battle scars.
Phan: How did you get involved with the Tucson Classics Car Show?
McBain: I just figured that when it was finally finished, I would put it in whatever shows I could. The show, the Tucson Classics was the last show of last year that I could possibly put it in because we were leaving for a long trip… So that’s how it ended up there. We had visited the show frequently for a number of years, we had just been observers. And so finally I had something to show and that’s how it happened.
Phan: What is it that you love about the Tucson Classics Car Show?
McBain: The location is probably the best thing. It’s a well run show… I was also just amazed that there was any money involved. I just showed my car because I wanted it to be seen, and maybe I would get a trophy. The fact that that money went with our class win and with the sponsor’s award…. I had no clue that up until the moment that I got money, that I was going to win anything. I was just able to show something that I did, and enjoyed being there and seeing all the other cars for that year. The fact that it did real well, well, that was a real plus…
Phan: Well, in light of winning the Sponsor’s Award, would you consider improving your car or participating again in the future?
McBain: It’s probably unlikely, I’m already in my seventies… I may not take on another big project. If I was to do that, what I would probably do is buy an old car with a modern engine and stuff in it that can be driven rarely. And then I would put that in the show, but otherwise it’s this car.
I see some people bringing the same car to the show every year and to a number of shows, they just like being there. And I probably would do that, but otherwise it’s highly unlikely that I would have something else to show…
A lot of new people see it, you know, not everybody goes to all the shows. It is surprising how few people saw it at that show. And I mean, there were thousands of people there and I’ve only run into a few people said, ‘oh yeah, I saw that over there’..
Phan: So, it is pretty much a finished product, car. But is there any time you ever wonder if there’s anything else you’d like to add to it or improve?
McBain: Well, I’ve been doing that, even since the show I’ve been doing that and it’s just about perfected now. The car desperately needed a backup camera, and so now I have one that drops down out of the ceiling console. It wasn’t up there during the show. So when I put it in reverse, the camera screen drops down so I can see behind, because that car is very hard to see out of behind things like that. But it’s just there’s not much else to do to it unless I decide I want more power, and then, then I would be doing some engine.
Phan: Is there anything you would like to say about the Tucson’s classic cause show in general, since you’ve been there for many years, for people who haven’t visited it yet?
McBain: Well, that’s probably the best show to go to because it’s on grass. Other shows around are on asphalt and that’s a lot of walking on a hard surface, it gets hotter. So it’s a very comfortable show to go to and you will see a wide range of cars there. It’s rare to see all different types of cars at any show, and at this show, there’s not much in the way of the import scene. That is a lot of young guys are into now. They’re not there at this show, but otherwise you’re gonna see all kinds of stuff. I mean, that was parked next door to, uh, a Ferrari, an old Ferrari Dino, and I think that car was worth a quarter million dollars. He was in my class.. They’re rare fancy paint jobs. It’s for someone who hasn’t been to a show, this is the one to go to, plus you’re helping out the charity.
Phan: Lastly, is there anything you’d like to add about the future with your car?
McBain: Boy, I can’t think of anything really that I think from my standpoint, it’s more important to drive the car than to show it. Some people never seem to drive their cars if it’s not just to take it to a show, and I don’t know about them but I thoroughly intend to put thousands of miles on this car. And since I am as old as I am, and this car is extremely low, some people ask me this and what am I going to do with the car when I get older and can’t get into it. I asked my son if he wanted it, and oh yeah, he did. I told him, okay, when I can’t get into the car, you can have.
It turns out there’s not getting into the car that’s the problem. It’s going to be getting out. It’s extremely low and hard to get out. (laughs)