Kissel Car

Mark C. Bach
I always claim that "if you can't find a car at the Arizona auctions, you don't need it". After all with almost 4,000 vehicles offered for sale during the January 2020 auctions, surely you'll find one that you like.  Another adage is "you are bound to find a car here, that you'll never find elsewhere."  That proved accurate when the Barrett-Jackson auction offered for sale a Kissel Kar.
What's a Kissel?  Good question.  The Kissel Motor Car Company was based in Hartford, Wisconsin and produced a variety of vehicles from 1907 to 1931. They produced cars, hearses, fire trucks, taxi cabs and trucks at their production plant, which is no longer in existence.
Although 27,000 vehicles were produced it is thought that less than 150 are still in existence. Not surprising but the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford, Wisconsin has twenty five Kissel's on display there.
The Kissel cars had the motto "Every inch a car". But the stock market crash took its toll on the company and the demand for their cars dropped. The company did rebound though and created outboard motors for boats and they were sold through Sears, Roebuck. Eventually the firm was bought by West Bend in 1942, who continued making the boat motors for a few more years.
The company used the spelling of Kissel Kar originally but after World War I, they changed the spelling to Kissel Car to avoid the German connotation.
Another intriguing fact is that the Kissel cars used a logo with a Greek figurine.  Ford Motor Company wanted to start up a new marque and asked Kissel if they could use the name. Kissel agreed to let them adopt their "mercury" figure and Ford was able to start up a new brand!
This Kissel car was offered up at the Barrett-Jackson, January 2020 auction in Scottsdale, AZ. Technically it was a 1918 All-Year Touring Sedan Car 6-38 with staggered doors. Being an All-Year car meant that the car could be used in the summer as shown and then for the winter a solid top could be used allowing for comfortable use in winter time.  Unfortunately the top was not part of the sale and had long ago disappeared.
The staggered doors were an interesting twist for the Kissel. The driver's side door is near the A pillar as you'd expect. But the staggered passenger side door is towards the rear of the cabin.  That meant a passenger in the right front seat had to contort themselves either across the driver's seat from the left side or get in on the right back side and squeeze up front to get to the seat.
Another design characteristic - the steering wheel was not a smooth round shape. Oh it was round like, but actually a twelve sided wooden wheel but twisted and knurled. Another oddity was the rear turn signals above the solitary left side rear brake light. One lamp glowed green for a right turn or red for a left hand turn. This actually was added after the fact by the owner for safety.
The car had a three speed transmission and cruised at 45 MPH, though some felt the top speed was closer to 60 MPH. Since the cars were offered in any color scheme you wanted for an extra $50, this silver and black look would be period correct. And it looks great with the red rims.
I had the chance to get an exclusive interview with the seller, David Spence from Prescott, AZ. When he first bought this car only the front "half" was being sold. It had been converted to use in a mine and the back half had been discarded long ago. But he wanted the car because of its uniqueness and bought it in 1988.
Spence started looking and advertising for the back half and after two years located one in Wisconsin. As he was restoring the Kissel he was having troubles with the cone clutch. Conventional wisdom and other collectors were telling him to use Kevlar but he never could get that clutch to work right, so the project was shelved for a few years while he worked on other cars. Eventually he decided he needed to finish the Kissel and used leather for the clutch material, as originally designed,  and that solved his dilemma.
He never tracked his hours spent on the project. When he had time he would work on it and enjoyed the time with the Kissel. It actually was functional years ago but there were lots of things to fine tune and it wasn't in the final shape, as seen at the Barrett-Jackson auction, until two months before the auction.
The buyer loved the Kissel as well but quickly recognized that the final product was too nice to keep to himself, so he graciously donated it to the Wisconsin Automotive Museum to add to their collection, as it is the only known car in that model style still in existence.
The attention to detail was amazing, especially for a car that is not very common. The owner had to recreate some pieces (after all the local NAPA store isn't likely to stock the scuff plates for this marque)! It sold for $33,000 at the auction (including buyer's premium). I wonder how many readers restored a car that ended up in a museum?  If you did, drop me a note.
(c) 2020 Mark C. Bach

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