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Krazy Kar Returns After 35 Year Disappearance

By Randy Rundle

Krazy Kar in parade
The Krazy Kar

Many older Kansas residents may remember the Krazy Kar from Clay Center. It was built using the front halves of two 1939 Chevrolet cars. Both ends had working steering and the car could be driven from either direction.

It was a Christmas dinner in 1959 that led to the birth of the Krazy Kar. Instead of the usual dinner conversation you might find around a Christmas dinner table, local Clay County residents Henry Ables and his brother Wilfred were discussing what they could do for the upcoming 1961 Kansas Centennial. After many "out of the box ideas" they decided to build a car that had two front ends. That way no one could tell if they were coming or going.

During further dinner conversation, it was brought up that there was a 1939 Chevrolet parked out behind the barn. They decided that would be a good start. All they needed was the other “half.” They then discovered that 1939 Chevrolet cars were somewhat rare and hard to find, even in those days. It took several months of scouring the junkyards in the surrounding towns before they were able to find a match in a Manhattan.

The actually building was in fits and starts. They worked on the Krazy Kar when they had time, between farming and family. Slowly the “vehicle” took shape. When they got to the driveline portion, especially the rear-end, it tool a little extra engineering. They needed a rear-end the same width as the original Chevrolet but with both steering and motivation capabilities. They finally found what they were looking for in the front end of a Dodge Power Wagon pickup.

Krazy Car from the side
The Krazy Kar and its rebirth in 2008

Because this was a low budget project, they used what they already had on the farm. That included replacing the original—but much deteriorated—wiring harness of the car with old house wiring that they had saved as they tore down old farmhouses. The cross members of the "blue end" were made from the handles of various plows and cultivators.

Flat chain with iron rods that were threaded by hand became the hold-downs for the blue body sheet metal. The car is powered by the original Chevrolet six- cylinder engine.

Henry passed away in 1988. Wilfred Abels is now 80 plus years young. I sat down with him before a recent parade and asked what he remembered most about building the Krazy Kar.

“We had the most trouble with the doors. We has shortened the body a little to get it to fit on the frame. When we got ready to install the doors they would not fit. We tried cutting them down a number of different ways but nothing worked. The window frame would not fit the opening.

“So we ended up getting two more doors, cutting them down the middle and splicing them back together. We just kept cutting material out of the middle of those doors…first one side then the other until they fit. We finally got one done and we then knew how to do the other side. We had never done anything like that before so we had to learn as we went along.”

Krazy Kar in 1964
The Krazy Kar in the Clay Center Kansas Parade 1964

The car was displayed and driven at the 1961 Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson and was immediately a big hit. The car was taken to numerous parades and steam engine shows around the state every year after that until around 1973 when the brothers decided that the Krazy Kar was getting to be like an old hat.

For the next 35 years it sat in a shed, only came out for an occasional drive around the area until Henry's death in 1988. Then it was passed on to the oldest son Barry Abels, who took it to his home to Denver. After Barry's death in 1994 it was passed on to the oldest grandson Benny Gibbs, who took it to his home in Austin, Texas. It remained in storage with Benny for the next eleven years.

Then in 2005, Kenton Gibbs the youngest grandson decided the Krazy Kar should run again. He went down to Austin and brought the car back to his home in Arkansas City. After looking the car over when he got home, Kenton placed the car in storage for a couple of more years, banking on the day he would have the time and money to start working on it: Getting the Krazy Kar running would prove to be more than a weekend project. It had not run for more than 25 years.

“We had quite a time getting the old car to run again. It was kind of crudely built, my grandpa and my uncle just put it together to have a little fun with and I doubt they had any idea it would still be around all of these years later.,” Gibbs said to me recently.

For starters, “the house wiring was something else. I had to start over and rewire almost the whole car,” he noted.

The car made its first parade appearance in 35 years at the 2008 Piotque Parade in Clay Center Kansas. Wilfred Ables was on hand to answer questions about the car and how it was built, something he enjoyed a great deal. “It was like 1961 all over again.”

 

 

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Last Updated April 6, 2009 >
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