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Ron’s Roadster

Written By: Tanya Manus


Ron Kistner’s car could be considered a local celebrity.

“I go grocery shopping in it. A lot of times I come out from the store and there’s people taking pictures around it,” Ron said of his two-passenger AC Roadster.

Ron, 80, who lives outside Jefferson, South Dakota, built the roadster from a kit produced by Factory Five Racing in Massachusetts. The car is a copy of the AC Cobras made in England between 1964 and 1966. Ron’s version is nearly identical, except the body of the car is made of fiberglass, and the fenders are wider to accommodate bigger tires.

Cars and boats are Ron’s hobby and “bad habit,” he chuckles. Building his own car was a fresh challenge, after a lifetime spent repairing farm equipment, vehicles and boats, then training as an aviation electrician in the U.S. Navy, and working for Pitney-Bowes and Canon.

Ron had followed Factory Five Racing for more than a decade before moving forward with the project. He read and learned about the company in various auto magazines and started collecting information about car kits.

“Factory Five Racing was started by engineers,” he said. “Their bragging rights are they sell more kit cars than all other kit car companies combined. They really know what they’re doing.”

The roadster kit car was delivered to Ron in 27 boxes, accompanied by a 500-page instruction manual. The appeal for Ron was simply the fact that he could build it and put the kind of power in it he wanted to. For him, that’s an engine from a 2003 Mustang.

“They won’t sell you a kit until you tell them what engine you have,” Ron said, and the kit is customized so that engine can be set in place.

“If you’ve ever seen plastic model kit cars in a box, it’s about the same thing,” Ron said. “They sell almost a total kit package. It had everything but the engine, transmission, tires, battery and a fuel pump.”

With all parts being new, the building process went as smoothly as expected. The roadster’s instructions advise builders not to go it alone, but Ron opted for ingenuity over human help.

“I probably built it all myself. In their build book it says to have somebody help you, but I made my own equipment to do it myself because somebody else isn’t always available,” he said. “I liked accomplishing something each time I went out and worked on it.”

Building the car from start to finish took about a year and a half. The roadster has leather bucket seats, roll bars and hardware that are either exact copies or originals that were supplied to the AC Cobras built in the 1960s. The fiberglass body of the car arrived molded; seams on the body needed to be sanded and filled, and then the car needed a paint job.

Ron hired Tim Hardyk, an automotive refinishing instructor at Western Iowa Tech Community College, to paint the roadster. Ron’s car stayed at Tim’s house for a year while he painstakingly painted the car.

Ron’s roadster is painted a rich color that appears dark blue in sunlight and black at night, with bold orange stripes on the hood. The gem is garaged, and Ron only drives it – to the grocery store or anywhere else – when the temperature is above 55 degrees and it’s not too windy.

“This car only weighs about 2,200 pounds. It’s like an oversized go-cart. It goes from zero to 60 mph in under 4 seconds,” Ron said. “It has plenty of power for a lightweight car.”

Now that the roadster is complete, and the envy of Ron’s grandson Marshall, Ron might be up for the next challenge.

“I enjoy the car but if somebody would buy it for what I have in it, I would probably build another one tomorrow,” Ron said.


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