Kissel Motor Car Co. - 1906-1942 - Hartford, Wisconsin & National-Kissel - 1928-1929 - Boston, Massachusetts
|Louis Kissel and his two sons, George and William, were engaged in the
manufacture of agricultural equipment and stationary gasoline engines in Hartford, Wisconsin. In June of 1906 the
entered into the production of automobiles by forming the Kissel Motor Car Company. Cars built by the Kissel family
emphasized old world craftsmanship and attained international renown for their advanced design and outstanding
performance, which helped the company to prosper. The Kissel Kar Company was part of a group of industries in
Hartford owned by the Kissels which included the Hartford Plow Company, the Kissel Manufacturing Company, and the
Hartford Electric Company.
Kissel entered the professional car field in 1916 using their famous worm-drive 32hp 126" wheelbase chassis. They offered a small range of models which included a conservative-styled hearse and a simple delivery-van-styled ambulance. In addition to the cargo trucks slated for Allied and US Army use, Kissel Kar ambulances also served during WWI.
During World War I the Kissel firm went into the production of trucks for the Army, and during the later months of the war devoted itself almost entirely to the production of trucks. During the war the Kissel plant employed as many as 1400 workers. Following the Armistice, Kissel dropped the Germanic looking and sounding "Kar" form their name. Henceforth the Kissel Kar would be known and advertised as the Kissel Automobile.
For 1918 Kissel introduced a coach with wide beveled-glass windows surrounding the casket compartment. Although tastefully executed, it looked more like a miniature bus than a funeral car.
The long (142" wheelbase) and stylish 1925-1926 Kissel funeral coaches included nickel-plated disc wheels and optional leather-back landau styling with either a 61hp six-cylinder or a new Lycoming-based 71hp straight eight engine mounted on Kissel's patented rubber-cushioned long and low chassis.
Starting in 1927, Kissel professional car bodies were supplied by Illinois neighbor, Eureka Manufacturing Company. Kissel's were amongst the most striking coaches of the late 1920s, their innovative styling and long and low profile made them favorites among style-conscious funeral directors. They included detached cycle-type front fenders, stylish Gordon spare tire covers, and center-opening side doors that allowed easy access for caskets or gurneys. Their catalogs depicted some very sleek and attractive ambulances, service cars, funeral cars and combination coaches, all built using the same framing and Kissel's incredibly long and low chassis which was offered in two wheelbases, 142" and 162".
During 1928 and 1929 200 Kissel-built coaches were distributed through the National Casket Company of Boston, Massachusetts and called National-Kissels. Available with a choice of two straight-eights (either 126hp or 95hp) or a much less expensive 73hp six, all three engines were available as side-loading funeral coaches or ambulances. A special town car featuring an open driver's position was offered on the 126hp White-Eagle equipped chassis and included an incredibly long wheelbase of 162". Unfortunately, a dispute had developed between Kissel's body supplier, Eureka and the Henney Motor Company surrounding Eureka's 3-way casket table. As National wished to avoid being a party to any lawsuits threatened by Henney, they ended their distribution of the Eureka-bodied Kissel coaches, forcing Kissel into receivership during September 1930. Ironically, the National Casket Company now turned to REO for a new line of funeral vehicle chassis that were bodied by Eureka's arch-enemy Henney.
The last motor vehicles built at the Kissel plant were a small batch of 25 Ruxtons built in 1931. From then on Kissel production was focused on their successful marine engines built for Sears, Roebuck and Co. Upon the death of George Kissel in 1942 the company was sold to the West Bend Aluminum Company.
Kissel manufactured vehicles from 1906-1930, professional cars from 1916-1930.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com
The following history of the firm by E.E. Husting was included in the September 1961 issue of Antique Automobile:
25-year History: Kissell by E.E. Husting
In a small, tranquil Wisconsin city less than forty miles from thriving Milwaukee, in a park-like area complete with pond and trees, close to the two-block-long business center, stands a large, yellow brick complex of factory buildings on Kissel Avenue, known to everyone there as the “Kissel Shops.”
The buildings have hardly changed at all in the thirty years since 1931 when a then twenty-five-year-old enterprise, like so many others like it, came to a complicated stand-still. Today, Detroit-made trucks and ordinary freight cars cart away quantities of small mechanical products outboard motors, lawn motors, “kart” racers and the like for the present owner of these properties, the prosperous West Bend Aluminum Company celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year in a neighboring city.
Outside the plant all is quiet and orderly, but it was not always so. For forty and more years ago when all streets except Main Street of this city of Hartford, Wisconsin, were gravel roads, a dozen substantial automobile chassis would pull away from the main building every day one at a time, a box with a seat for the test driver clamped to each frame, and charge over to Branch Street, then into the country for a half-day test run, leaving a cloud of dust to settle everywhere.
The engines had already had their two long runs in block test and had been torn down in between; and if everything proved satisfactory during the run, the body would be mounted and the long, laborious hand work of the paint shop would begin. Fully a week later a shiny, handsome car or truck with its tasteful radiator emblem set artistically off-center on the radiator core, would be loaded into a waiting boxcar on the railroad siding or driven away by its new owner who had chosen to call for it on completion. He may even have bought the car at the factory, a practice the Kissel Motor Car Company permitted.
For twenty-five years this company drove onward unaware that it was predestined for extinction as was every other U.S. automobile manufacturer that remained independent except Nash Rambler and Studebaker. Kissel brought more than its share of new ideas to the market at the same time freely borrowing others, and held confidently to proved designs and features. The talent was there to refine and improve both body design and engineering far beyond industry norms - if any criticism may be leveled at management it is that they utilized talent in the organization too extensively, spreading it over such a variety of vehicles.
There are those who believe that if Kissel had discontinued pleasure car lines around 1927 and, like Henney Motor Company in a neighboring state, concentrated on its already well-established lines of funeral cars, taxicabs and other special-purpose vehicles, it might be in business today (Henney lasted until 1954). But let us take events in order.
The Kissels were an enterprising German family who took up farming in Wisconsin. In due course, they moved the few miles into Hartford, Wisconsin; Louis Kissel and his wife, Catherine. They had five sons, one of whom died in 1901, and two daughters. Louis acquired local real estate which became the special province of one son, Otto, and they built homes for resale, opened a hardware store, and moved into farm-implement manufacturing. It was natural that they would have gasoline engines built for them to offer farmers willing to try this new flexible power source, and in 1905 a young son, George A. Kissel, joined his father in starting the Kissel Manufacturing Co. to handle the gas-engine business.
The Kissels were prosperous and had a big White Steamer. Two of the boys, this same George and William L., were completely absorbed with the White and with cars in general; first they sold a few Whites in the area as a sub-dealer out of Milwaukee, then aided a pattern maker in the plow works, Sam Toles, in contriving an 18 h.p. four-cylinder automobile engine. Cylinders were cast individually with 3¼ inch bore, and the stroke was 4 inches. Since it worked, they bought other needed components and built a light 82-inch wheelbase car. This in 1905 was the first Kissel built motor car. Mr. Will Kissel recalls that it ran better than others in the community.
Thus encouraged these young men in their twenties decided, in the spring of 1906, to go into the business of manufacturing motor cars and on June 5, 1906, obtained a corporate charter for the Kissel Motor Car Company. To develop a suitable product they put together a second car using a 4-cylinder Beaver engine, Timken axles, and Warner transmission and steering gear. They admired the Pope-Toledo radiator and imitated it for an unusually pleasing effect. In a casual way they discussed what the name should be and settled on “Badger,” after Wisconsin, the “Badger State,” issuing an announcement of a 1907 Badger line which survives in the November 1906 issue of Motor magazine; however, they did not otherwise use the name which was soon selected by not one but two other Wisconsin manufacturers, one in Columbus and the other in Clintonville, for passenger cars.
The body illustrated for Kissel’s Badger was especially beautiful, having the lines of a Cortland cutter in the upsweep of its tonneau and squared rear corners. Why? It was built for them by Zimmerman Bros., of Waupun, Wisconsin, manufacturers of sleighs!
The spirit of the enterprise at this stage may be sensed from a publicity release printed by the Milwaukee Sentinel, May 13, 1906:
“Hartford Opens’ City Gates - Bids Thrifty of All Nations to Enter Giving Employment to All at Good Wages
“Special Dispatch to the Sentinel
“HARTFORD, Wis., May 12 - This city is experiencing one of the most phenomenal runs of prosperity in its history. On every hand evidence of activity and thrift is apparent. Merchants and manufacturers, men of the law and clergy, retired farmers and business men, all are joining hands in an endeavor to promote the welfare of Hartford. Chief among those who are doing so much for this city is the firm of L. Kissel & Sons.
“Possessed of great wealth, the foundation of which was laid in 1880 by the elder Kissel, who in 1890 took into partnership his four sons, Adolph P., Otto P., William L., and George A., this firm is expending thousands of dollars annually in wages to artisans and laborers of almost every nationality to work in their many factories.
“This firm owns and controls the Hartford Plow company, the Kissel Manufacturing company, the Hartford Electric company and the Kissel Automobile company, and are stockholders and directors in many other local concerns.
“At the present time this concern is advertising extensively
for men with families to locate here, and to all such they will sell them a
cozy home on easy terms, give them employment at good wages, and to those who
are not masters of some trade competent instructors will be furnished them
free, at the same time paying them good wages. Not only will the head of the house
be given work and allowed to
“A short history of this interesting family makes good reading:
“The firm of L. Kissel & Sons of Hartford, Wis., was started in 1880 by Louis Kissel, who at that time went into the hardware and grocery business. He gradually branched out into the farm machinery and vehicle lines.
“In 1892 the firm purchased from J.R. Rice a one-fourth interest in the Hartford Plow works. The next year they bought another one-fourth interest from E.G. Rowell. Last year they bought out S.M. Seeley and A.D. Rowell. Last year the firm built an entirely new factory, consisting of four large new buildings, in which they are now also manufacturing farm machinery, gasoline engines and automobiles.
“They will build other buildings this year, which will be used principally for manufacturing automobiles. Their automobiles will be known as the Kissel Automobile, and will be made in runabouts and touring cars, and will be equipped with four-cylinder engines.
“Besides their retail, wholesale and manufacturing establishment, they own considerable valuable real estate in Hartford, Milwaukee and other cities. They have about 500 choice residence lots in Hartford. They do a large amount of residence building every year, and are well equipped for building at a low cost. They buy most of their lumber in logs in the northern part of the state and have it sawed into lumber suitable for their purposes. They have a stone quarry within the city limits, and a sand pit just outside the city limits. They also manufacture nearly all of their finishing lumber, sash window frames, etc. They will build from forty to fifty houses this year in order to accommodate the new hands they are employing.
“They are manufacturing a large amount of farm machinery. The last three years they have had their gasoline engines made by the Western Malleable and Grey Iron Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, but are now making the engines themselves. They have put an entirely new engine on the market, which is expected to make quite a hit with the trade.
“The Kissel Automobile Company will make about twenty-five runabouts and about fifteen touring cars this year. They will be equipped with a new plant and machinery for making 1,000 cars next year.
“Louis Kissel, the father, although 67 years old, is still a well preserved man, and takes an active interest in the various enterprises.
“Hartford is an ideal city of about 6,000 inhabitants, about thirty-seven miles from Milwaukee, with a beautiful lake inside of the city limits. Possessed of an excellent school system and imposing church edifices of all denominations, this city opens its gates to the thrifty of all nations and bids them enter.
“Hartford is in a current of progress and prosperity, it is a tide that will flow on triumphantly because its source is in the sincerity of its merchants and manufacturers.”
The Badgers caught the eye, in July 1906, of the Stoddard-Dayton distributor in Chicago who had a Milwaukee branch: McDuffee Auto Company. McDuffee approached the Kissels with an offer to contract for 100 cars a little smaller than Stoddard Dayton and selling for $200 less.
McDuffee insisted on a round Hotchkiss-like radiator and hood which disappointed the Kissels, but they made the change, losing some distinctiveness too as bodies went conventional. According to Mr. Will Kissel, the order was completed according to schedule and resulted in a profit of $25,000, a substantial one in those days. Thus, they were off to a running start with Kissel Kar Model A, B, and C, signifying body types, all bodies now built by Chas. Abresch & Co., Milwaukee, until sometime in 1909.
Specifications were the same as announced for the “Badger” name but 30 horsepower was claimed for the 2,150 lb. car priced at $1,850 stripped or $2,150 fully equipped. The basic design with minor improvements was continued through 1907 with wheelbase lengthened to 98 inches. Production increased to the point where in the final quarter of 1907 92 cars were built, valued at $185,000, definitely placing the fledgling company among the “comers.”
That the company was already body-conscious, in which area it was later to excel, is indicated by this quotation from the 1907 catalogue:
“Kissel Kar bodies are made by experienced body builders along accepted lines of automobile construction. Seats are made of segments, nailed and glued together, then covered by linen scrim which in turn receives the paint and color . . . fully eighteen coats of paint are used on Kissel Kar bodies. Ask for a free demonstration of the ‘Koming Kar’ of reliability.”
As stated before, 1907 Kissel Kars had a round radiator and barrel-shaped hood. For 1908, however, the McDuffee influence gave way in favor of a standard “hip-roof” shape like Peerless and others, with the full name raised prominently in bold letters top center. This radiator was moved back to a new position directly above the axle which made for easier steering.
Another distinguishing 1908 feature was the rear frame “spring horns,” which were no longer scroll shaped but straight, with outboard-mounted half-elliptic springs. Now the company offered commercial bodies, too, on the passenger car chassis in 1908, the start of a permanent program of diversified lines.
On August 28, 1908, the father, Louis Kissel, died. The brothers had already settled into separate channels of family activities: Otto in real estate and construction, George and Will in automobiles, and Adolph, a lover of horses, in other family activities.
About this time a young and competent body engineer, aged twenty-six, who had started with Opel Motor Works, Russeiheim, Germany, and had come to the U.S. in 1905 for an assignment with Studebaker, quickly followed by one with Patterson Motors, was employed through a classified advertisement in a Chicago newspaper: namely, J. Friedrich Werner.
Soon Kissel was building many of its own bodies. He joined an engineer trained in the University of Cologne (Germany) who happened into Hartford by pure chance two years before, Herman David Palmer, who had become the engine and chassis engineer after brief service in the plant. (Mr. Palmer, who is also a talented musician, retired in 1956 after fifty years’ service in the same building with Kissel and successors).
The team of Kissel sons, Werner, and Palmer produced a variety of cars and trucks for 1909. Passenger car models ranged in price from $ 1,350 to $3,000, with wheelbases from 107 to 128 inches.
Three-quarter-elliptic rear springs were new to the line, and engine bore and stroke became “square” on all models : 4¼ by 4 ¼ and 4 ¾ by 4 ¾. Cylinders were still cast in pairs which enabled a new 60 h.p. big Six to be produced on a 128-inch wheelbase with many 4-cylinder-engine components.
Letter designators continued to be used for bodies; for example, “LD-9” meant “Light weight series (107” w.b.), touring car (D) , 1909”; “E-9” meant “Regular” series (115” w.b.), roadster (E), 1909. Thirty-six inch tires were the rule except for the “light” series which were 32-inch.
The 1909 radiator shell had a hinged oval cap with button fastener replacing the spout and screw-cap of 1908. This was retained through the 1913 model year but, starting with the 1910 models, on a rounded radiator shell patterned after Mercedes and Locomobile and having a distinctive enameled emblem placed off to the side on the radiator core, even on trucks, which endured as a distinguishing mark for nineteen years.
1910 models were longer and heavier but otherwise not much changed mechanically. In 1910 the company experimented with aluminum pistons but did not adopt them because there was too much expansion to that metal in the form used at that time, according to Mr. Will Kissel.
Early Kissel Kars won a few racing laurels, including one
important one in 1910: first place in the Los Angeles to Phoenix race. A
stripped stock “Fifty-4” driven by Harvey Herrick clipped three hours from the 1909
record. (This was a new 124-inch wheelbase series with 4¼ by 5 engine). The
distance of 483 miles, covered in 15 hours 44 minutes, was 46 minutes ahead of
the second place Franklin and more than three hours ahead of the Mercer entry.
Having been fourth in a field of ten the previous year, the company evidently
felt that it had accomplished its racing objectives and made no more racing appearances,
contenting itself with stunt hill climbing performances and such thereafter, which
made good advertising copy.
Double-drop frames were introduced for 1911, a feature the Kissels first admired on a Royal Tourist they inspected; also a device for supplying more oil to engine parts when the throttle was opened for hill climbing or for driving at high speed, retained for twelve years.
A bulletin of that year contains several interesting statements:
“Oil reservoir contains about 1½ gallons of lubricating oil, sufficient to run at least 200 miles.” (We trust this means 200 miles without adding oil Ed.).
“Since the publication of our 1910 catalogue, we have added a drop forge plant and an aluminum and brass foundry, which enables us to manufacture practically the entire car within our own factory.
“We have also added a large body building plant.
“We have added one new type of car which will be known as the D-11 Western Special. The general specifications of the chassis and the body will be very similar to those of the regular D-11, with the exception that it will have added road clearance, gained in part by elimination of the double drop in the frame. This car will be especially adaptable to the sharp turns and hills characteristic of so many western roads.”
“Semi-racers” with low seats, elliptical gasoline tank behind them slanted rakishly forward, and two or more spare tires piled nearly flat behind the tank made their appearance in the line. These must have cut quite a figure among sports of the day, and were certainly handsome designs. They were shown in the catalogues without windshield or top, but both were available. Fortunately, a few have survived.
In the middle of the 1912 model year (begun the previous July), electric side lamps were furnished, but acetylene headlights and kerosene tail lamps still were used. For 1913, last year of the right-hand drive, the combination was reversed; that is, the headlights were electric and the side and tail lamps were kerosene. Electric starting was standard, fully a year ahead of much of the industry. Nickeled radiator and trim replaced brass. The Fifty-4 now had a 4-speeds forward transmission.
A great deal of effort went into the 1914 line which was introduced August 15, 1913. For one thing the company had acquired a branch plant in Milwaukee, at 32nd and Center Streets, where the old painted sign, “Kissel Motor Car Company,” still shows through. Here it assembled a new 6-48 which replaced the Fifty-4 or 4-50, designated both ways. This model, unlike the Hartford-built cars, used a Wisconsin 6-cylinder engine (4 by 5½) and Chas. Abresch & Co. built the bodies. The 4-40 and 6-60 series built in Hartford shared the same pair-cast cylinder blocks as before. All 1914 Kissel Kars came out with left-hand drive and a new center position for the shift lever and emergency brake (“Center Control”). The radiator shape was modified somewhat, now advertised as “Mercedes style,” and a conventional tall filler spout with hard-rubber cap fitted. Dash lights (three) concealed under a steel cornice supported the claim to first in direct dashboard illumination. The 60-6 had a patented “Golde” one-man top, again ahead of most of the industry. Some enclosed models had curved front corner windows, an early example of “wrap-around” effect; however, pivoted ventilating sections were set into the front in the conventional way, not visible in side illustrations. The ignition was a 12-volt system, with 6 volts used for lighting, and all models had transmissions providing four speeds forward.
Mr. T. W. Reed, who was the New Hampshire distributor in 1914 and for two years thereafter the factory representative in New England, has this to say about the cars of that period:
“The 1914 Forty-4 was a good automobile, resembling the Cadillac a bit but a better performer. The overdrive in fourth speed was very smooth, but the Lunkenheimer valve would not keep up gas pressure for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a stretch. The 1914 6-48 was a problem car; we soft-pedaled it after gaining experience.
“The engine was en bloc (Kissel’s first attempt). When it heated up it would get out of time and break camshafts, even crankshafts. By contrast the 4-40 still had the cylinders cast in pairs, and the 6-60 was the same with a third pair added. They gave no trouble. The 7-passenger touring cars with 142-inch wheelbase rode well and go faster than the roads we had were built for.
“For 1915 the Kissel Kar line was streamlined: 4-36, 6-42, and smoothed-up 6-60. The 4-36 vibrated excessively, but the 6-42 was a very good car and the 6-60 good as before. The combination (“All-Year”) body came along about show time and proved a good seller.
“Only trouble was that the owners expected us to store their removable sedan tops in the summer, and we didn’t take care of them. Result was that when we came to mount them in the fall we found that they had spread, and in forcing them we broke the glass.”
The combination body referred to was heavily promoted as the “All-Year Car” from the time of its introduction in January 1915 until 1921. With the usual delays, the patent application was not filed until July 21, 1917, but on December 12, 1922, patent number 1,438,382 was issued to “William L. Kissel and John Frederick Werner, assignors to Kissel Motor Car Company.”
Quoting from it, “The object of this invention is to provide an automobile body which shall be readily convertible from open to closed condition and vice versa, without sacrifice of elegance, rigidity or strength.”
This was no simple winter enclosure, and Messrs. Will Kissel and Werner succeeded in their objective well. Advertising described the “All Year” car as not just one with a “winter top” but a closed car divided in two, so that the upper half could be removed. For strength the number of doors was limited to one on each side, except for the Victoria Top touring which became a chauffeur-driven town car when only a small “All-Year” top was fitted to the tonneau. Wood trim strips (later metal) were furnished to cover open window slots in the thick body edges and, of course, a separate open-car windshield and one-man top.
So much strength of necessity was built into these bodies that the company called them “Gibraltar bodies.” This, when combined with “All-Year” and usual body nomenclature, gave them the longest names in motoring history! The enclosure added only $350 to the price of a Kissel Kar Gibraltar Touring or Roadster.
Later a close-coupled sport-touring and -sedan type was added called the “All-Year Sedané.” This was an attractive car with or without the enclosure, especially when ordered with wire wheels which were becoming more common on Kissel Kars.
When the 1915 line came out in July 1914, the engines were all cast en bloc, dimensions as follows : 4-32, 3 7/8 by 5½, 4-36, 4¼ by 5½, 6-42, 3 5/8 by 5½. By this time problems with unit engine construction had been solved, and clearly Kissel Kar had become committed to a long-stroke, to which principle the company clung thenceforward.
Hundred Point Six 1915-1918
Early in 1915, with much preparation by the Advertising Department, the Kissel Kar “Hundred Point Six” was introduced, with a 3 ¼ by 5 engine, so well-conceived that it set the pattern for all sixes produced into 1928. Like the 1915 engines, the 6-38 had the intake manifold cast into the block, providing very clean design and short stoking passages.
While Nash and others later found advantages in this arrangement, it was not without faults; for the mixture was admitted at different temperatures as circulating water heated up. Exhaust manifold heat was ducted across the head to the carburetor, which was bolted to the block, to heat up the mixture earlier.
Automobile Construction and Repair by Hale (p. 206) comments as follows on this type of construction:
“On a number of block-cast motors, the manifolds have been cast integral with the cylinders, thus taking further advantage of the heat generated within the motor for fuel vaporizing purposes. It is for this type that the horizontal-outlet type of carburetor has been developed. In this type the volume of vaporizing space beyond the spray nozzle is at a minimum; that is, they have been designed simply to mix the fuel spray and air, while the highly heated inlet passages do the actual vaporizing.”
There seem to have been problems with the first runs of Hundred Point Sixes as only 250 were built in the 1916 model year, out of total production of some 7,000. The Hundred Point Six, to quote a catalogue, was “born of a determination to be supreme in the field of medium-priced cars just as the All-Year Car has already placed Kissel far ahead of competition in body design.” Never bashful this advertising man!
Prices ranged from $ 1,195 for the Gibraltar Touring or Roadster to $1,850 for the Victoria with detachable Town Car Top. The All-Year Sedan and Coupe seem to have been good values at $ 1,520, no more than the cost of any well-made 117-inch wheelbase sedan in those days; yet, they offered the plus of convertibility.
This was the era of the black and midnight blue cars, and the smooth lines of the Hundred Point Six, which were extended to the whole 1917 line when it came out in July 1916, carried out fully the concept of uncluttered design. Gone were all visible joints. Beads were missing from tops of fenders and from doors; hinges and seams were concealed; doors were “blind” (flush) ; headlights were all black with no suggestion of a rim on all but a few models. Of course, Gibraltar bodies carried exterior door handles, needed for the All-Year top.
While a few 1917 6-42 models were built, emphasis was on the 6-38 Hundred Point Six, production of which was now in full swing. Some 4,000 were built that model year.
The Double Six 1917-1918
In 1917 Kissel announced a startling new larger series on a 128-inch wheelbase the Double Six (cf. Packard “Twin Six”). In appearance this car differed from other Kissel Kar models only in having small parking lights below the headlights, following luxury-car practice; nevertheless, it was unusual in several ways. First, it had a 12-cylinder 90 h.p. Weidely engine, 2 7/8 by 5, built in Indianapolis and used in other cars, e.g. Pathfinder Austin, and P.A.L. This was but the second production passenger car engine purchased by Kissel on the outside, although the company had commissioned foundries to cast engine blocks or had bought large truck engines from Wisconsin manufacturers. Second, it was the only overhead-valve engine offered in a Kissel-built vehicle, which with this single exception were all of L-head construction. Third, the first ones burned oil, quickly corrected with an oil-wiper ring, but Kissel’s reputation suffered a setback. Only about eighty 1917 and 726 1918 Double Sixes were built of which only one 7-passenger Gibraltar Touring survives, in Rochester, New York, having weathered many years’ exposure to the sun in high altitudes of Arizona where Cameron Peck acquired it.
World War I Trucks 1914-1918
Up to this point we have said little about Kissel Kar trucks, first shown for 1908. The first specially engineered trucks were offered in 1910, after the company had bought a Packard truck for factory use. Frankly, the first such Kissel Kar trucks were designed using the Packard as a model, cheerfully admitted today. By 1912 four big truck chassis were available in the line, running up to the 180-inch wheelbase 5-ton “Dreadnaught,” plus any number of special truck bodies and special-purpose vehicles on passenger car chassis such as ambulances, chemical fire trucks, delivery trucks, police wagons, etc. even beer trucks! One marvels that such a small staff could spread itself so thin. Even the “All-Year” idea was applied to truck cabs, but only as removable windshields and windows. Enclosures were new at the time, as other trucks had either open cabs or none at all.
In 1914 Mr. Reed, mentioned before, through acquaintance
with a Massachusetts restauranteur who returned to his native Greece when World
War I threatened, sent over a Kissel Kar truck for the Greek Government which
resulted in an order for 175 more for Army use. This was the start of heavy
involvement in war production which eventually curtailed passenger-car
production, yet swelled the work force to 1,400 people. In December 1917, the U. S. Government
awarded Kissel a contract to
Mr. Palmer was evidently exposed to patent law while in Washington; for in 1919 and 1920 he applied for three patents, all granted, on the old Kissel oil pump and oil supply regulator, on a trick oil basin splash pan, and on an adjustable spring hanger. His assistant, Joseph A. Tarkington, shared in the second patent.
The Silver Special 1918-1920
In 1917 the Kissel Kar distributor in New York City was C.T. Silver, Inc., 1760 Broadway. He also handled the Apperson, and there was a certain amount of friendly liaison between the two manufacturers. As stated by historian Stanley K. Yost, in The Great Old Cars - Where Are They Now?, Silver made a regular habit of changing the design of manufactured cars, having done so with the Willys-Knight, for one.
Early in 1917 Silver went to Hartford and, working chiefly with Mr. W. L. Kissel, Director of Purchasing, Engineering and Production, promoted the concept of a custom-styled series with a European feeling and straight flowing lines. Mr. Will Kissel had a certain flair which he possesses to this day, and Werner and his three assistants were thoroughly competent to translate the designs into well-founded shells.
The result was the Kissel Kar “Silver Special” line in three open models Speedster, Tourster, and Seven-Passenger Touring, prototypes of which appeared in Hartford beginning July 1917, mounted on lengthened Hundred Point Six 124-inch wheelbase chassis. The radiator was a graceful, new “Fiat type” though it had the same rearward dimensions as on other Kissel Kar series. Low-placed headlights were a graceful bullet shape used by Silver on other makes.
So delighted with the cars was Silver that he arranged for Apperson to produce the identical two touring models as “Silver-Appersons” on Apperson’s 130-inch wheelbase. While a new ovalish radiator adapted by Apperson fitted the touring designs especially well, one must concede better proportions for Kissel Kar on the shorter wheelbase for which the Tourster was designed and, of course, a flatteringly lower base due to the double-drop frame Kissel long had featured.
This Tourster body, of which several examples remain, deserves special mention. On both Kissel Kar and Apperson its front bucket seats slid on long tracks for ease of entry, a Silver “first.” The single door on each side was over three feet long, the left one being centered and the right one set forward since the front seat on that side could move farther forward for the convenience of rear seat passengers. Perhaps no car ever had a more gracefully curved top, and the curves of the short turtle back made it a cohesive whole.
By January Show time manufacturers were too heavily involved with war production to take part through their association; however, New York dealers held one. Publicity of the time features the Silver entries prominently.
Motor recognized the similarity between Kissel Kar and Apperson tourings in its February 1918 number reporting on the show, pages 74 and 78. But the hit was the Kissel Kar Silver Special Speedster, a low and racy, curvaceous number with cut-down sides and no doors - only a small step plate at the body base above the running boards in Stutz Bearcat fashion. It was painted pure chrome yellow all over, and had a folding auxiliary seat in a drawer on each side, a neater interpretation of the old option of a folding side seat offered as far back as 1910 on various runabouts. There was a permanent center arm rest. Any number of women sat in the car; observing the trouble they had with tight skirts, the factory soon placed a door on the right side and made a Neville patented slide-up steering wheel standard equipment.
Mr. Will Kissel recalls how Silver emphasized that the hood lines must flow straight through, with no upsweep to the windshield. Silver so impressed this idea on the Messrs. Kissel and Werner that it later was carried to closed models as well (1919) with original and pleasing results. Mr. Will Kissel has a snapshot of the early Silver Special speedster with the date July 1917 on it a 1918 model. Branham’s Automobile Reference Book shows only 53 speedsters, toursters, etc. built in the 1918 model year, carrying 6-38 numbers ; nevertheless, the engine size is stated as 3 5/16 by 5 ½ as for the 1919 6-45 . Whether the 1918 Silver Specials actually had the larger engine or used the Hundred Point Six engines in those first 53 cars has been impossible to determine.
Let us agree that Mr. Conover T. Silver influenced the designs. All future Kissels through 1928 were cast in the Silver pattern, and the ideas he brought as executed by Kissel, made them blue ribbon winners year after year in motor salons here and abroad.
Among the late J. F. Werner’s effects is a drawing he made (lettering on it “Designed by C. T. Silver, New York”), dated October 20, 1917, of a Silver-Apperson 4-passenger speedster. It is the same as the original Kissel Kar speedster except for a 130-inch wheelbase instead of 124-inch, two rear-mounted spare tires instead of one, and the battery in the rear deck hatch. There are four simulated exhaust headers on each side of the louvre-less hood and, of course, the Silver-Apperson oval radiator and crown fenders. Apperson never produced the car, only the related Tourster and 7-passenger Touring.
The only Kissel Kar Silver Special drawing among Werner’s effects is one dated February 14, 1918, labeled “Kissel 4-pass. speedster Silver Special No. 1437,” on the back of which is written “Blue Print of Spec. speedster top June 17, 1918 FW.”
The first speedster built had five simulated exhaust headers running to the apron on the right side, but these were promptly eliminated. First illustrations also show a steering wheel flattened on top for better road view (Mercury and Plymouth please note), but this feature was not adopted.
Enclosed All-Year bodies for the Silver Specials were the same as those on less expensive Hundred Point Sixes and not in keeping with the straight-flowing lines of the open models, true also for 1919. However, because of war production Kissel built no passenger cars from the second week of April 1918 until November, and was unable to supply enclosed Silver Special models until well after the 1920 model year began (July 1, 1919). To fill this gap Kissel phased out the All Year bodies left over from the discontinued 12-cylinder series, the “Double Six,” by mounting them on the 124-inch wheelbase 6-45 chassis to which were fitted the larger 34 by 4½ wheel and tire equipment of the Double Six, as well as its radiator and headlights. Only one such car is known to have survived, owned by the Kleins of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Price for this model was $2,750 f.o.b. Hartford, though only $2,350 without the All Year top. It has the hood and cowl ventilators of the 6-45 but is otherwise indistinguishable from a Double Six without raising the hood.
In 1918 the company, heavily at work in the war against Germany in which the U. S. now participated, felt that “Kissel Kar” sounded too German. The January 25, 1919, issue of The Kisselgraph, company house organ, announced late that the name of the car was now “Kissel,” and new radiator emblems so read across the god Mercury in relief. Nevertheless the stock of number plates, hubcaps, door steps, etc., was ample, and “Kissel Kar” could still be found all over the 1920 models and on the serial number plate as late as 1923!
The Custom-Built Six 1919-1923
The 1919 model year officially started July 1, 1918, but the date was academic no production until November. When passenger cars started rolling again, the company emphasized the “Custom-Built” label, although keeping “Silver Special” to describe open models in some advertisements well after Silver discontinued as New York distributor in 1919.
Kissel has always been criticized for calling this line “Custom-Built,” as a more accurate description might have been “semi custom-built.” Permissible exaggeration, we say, just as the modern Oldsmobile, to use only one example, has for years advertised a “Rocket Engine” which, in correct usage, would be a power source such as used in Messerschmitt 167 interceptor aircraft or in missiles. Permissible exaggeration.
Nevertheless, Kissel felt the barbs of competition and in 1922 offered an explanation in its catalogue called “What Kissel Means by Custom Built”; viz., “Built as if to order.”
“Each car that Kissel produces is built as if it were a special job for some individual customer. With the exception only of a few of the more important parts, every unit is manufactured from the raw materials in the Kissel factory. Every bit of material is analyzed for quality and uniformity and specially treated to fit it for the particular use it is to serve; every part is tested repeatedly. The 61 h.p. Kissel Custom-Built Motor is produced complete in our own shops. It is an exceptional engine, both in the skill with which it is designed and in the performance of which it is capable.”
When production was resumed, the company announced a policy of concentrating on just one chassis, of 124-inch wheelbase. The engine was basically that of the Hundred Point Six but stretched to 3 5/16 inch bore and 5½ inch stroke, an achievement by Palmer under orders to “go to the limit.” It was designated the 6-45. There were 1,824 produced with 6-38 numbers and 735 as 6-45 models. The “Custom-Built” 6-38 and 6-45 may have been the same, or the 6-38 may have had the Hundred Point Six chassis until superseded.
While the first speedsters were painted several prime colors or black, the chrome yellow car was so popular that yellow became standard for 1919 and after. The yellow axles and underbody were easily marred, and some owners soon changed fenders and underparts to black, whereas others availed themselves of a green option for these parts. Special colors were available for $50 extra; a popular alternative for timid souls became battleship gray. No striping was used anywhere on the speedsters line and color told all.
Naturally the yellow speedsters promptly became “Gold Bugs” and so they remain, all unofficially. Reference to the nickname appears in an account in the Milwaukee Journal of August 24, 1919, of doings of its Automobile Editor, W.W. “Brownie” Rowland, who was driving about the state in a yellow Kissel. That article by his assistant, “The Poor Cuss,” states in part “. . . the star attraction . . . which proves of greatest interest to the public is the race between Brownie in the Kissel Gold Bug, and “The Flying Squirrel” in the airplane. On September 17, Brownie raced the plane from Marshfield, Wisconsin, to Milwaukee with a three-hour head start and actually came in ahead.
The Gold Bug became the rage, a romantic car never quite successfully imitated by Argonne, Paige, and even du Pont later, but relatively few could afford it as its price went up with post-war inflation from $3,075 to $3,475 at one point. Moreover in mid-1919 other superb models, non-convertible enclosed types, the Sedan, Urban Sedan, and Coupé were introduced for the 1920 model year. All of the coach builders’ art learned by Werner abroad went into their construction, and quality was emphasized in every detail upholstery, form-fitting seats with individually boxed Marshall springs, selection of woods, and piano-finished woodwork. Remarkably Kissel never owned presses but rought body panels six at a time with trip hammer which all but shook the operator apart.
The short post-war depression did not pass Kissel by. Inventory values dropped some $800,000, causing the company to seek outside help in a $750,000 first mortgage bond issue placed against its properties and machinery through a Chicago investment firm April 1, 1922. Here was a load not carried before.
Meanwhile the 1920 line of Custom Built 6-45 cars was continued without change into 1921; however for the January 1921 shows, in the middle of the model year, the regular line became “standard” models and de luxe models were created by means of new full-crown individual fenders, with spare tires mounted low on each side and a trunk fitted behind the fuel tank. Houk wire wheels were fitted as before, the ensemble proving to be very pleasing, with individual aluminum step plates. Only the 7-passenger standard touring came with artillery wheels, but in due course, their use was expanded. The Tourster was given four doors but kept its “fast back.” Only mechanical change worth mentioning was half-elliptic rear springs, replacing the scroll-type ¾ elliptic ones which had been used for over twelve years.
A truly remarkable enclosed model made its appearance at the January and February 1921 shows, dubbed the “Coach Sedan.” Advertising described it as “a new type of enclosed body by Kissel - equipped with permanent inlaid top - four doors - extra wide low lounge seats accommodating three people each with high form-fitting backs.” Mr. Will Kissel recalls that they conceived it by having Werner lay out the exterior dimensions over an outline of the Tourster model, top included, thus giving it a gracefully curved low roof at a time when most sedans had nearly flat roofs. An interesting and attractive squared “bustle” extended over the fuel tank, a most attractive rear effect with its razor-edge styling. Building the body wide enough to accommodate three people in the front seat and tapering it slightly to the rear enhanced the low, sporty look. These magnificent enclosed models all seem to have disappeared, and no photograph does them complete justice. At the shows Detroit designers would go over them with tape measures and rulers, but somehow could not find the same space and comfort under a roof so low.
The 1922 line was again the same but dubbed the “Custom Built Power Coach” by the Advertising Dept. There was one change in that side-lamps of bullet shape to match the headlights and tail lamp were fitted. When July came around, the 1923 6-45 was created by changing to drum-shaped fully-nickeled lamps, plus a combination tail and stop-light. Some buyers yearning for the old bullet-shaped lights found an acceptable substitute in the small-lens aluminum E & J headlights which could be purchased from dealers of accessories, and replaced the headlamps with these.
The Six Fifty-Five 1923-1928
Late in 1922 Kissel announced a new smaller companion car for the 6-45 and then gradually phased the latter out through the remainder of the 1923 model year. This new series was the lighter and shorter 6-55 on 121-inch wheelbase. Stroke of the engine was shortened to 5½ inches; and although the bore was still 3 5/16 inches, horsepower remained the same: 61. A timing chain replaced gears; also an early improvement was force feed lubrication. The result was a very good modern engine, though still based on the 6-38 of July 1, 1915, as was the 6-45. Tire size became 32 x 4; however, 32 x 4½ tires continued to be used on the speedsters. Now Buffalo wire wheels instead of Houks were furnished at extra cost on some models, and aluminum step plates also became an extra cost option, regular equipment being now less treacherous three-quarter running boards. New Brougham Sedans and Coupés were very attractive, still of razor-edge design with oval rear-quarter windows bordered by Landau hinges, and even with standard artillery wheels and a Y-bracket side mount for each spare tire, had definite character. Trunk racks were now atop fuel tanks on some models and, for the sake of appearance, missing from 6-55 speedsters unless ordered.
Mid-1923 found the company announcing just the 6-55 as its sole 1924 line, but wheelbase was lengthened to 125 inches. However, big things were occurring in the industry since in June, a month before normal Kissel announcement time, Rickenbacker announced a 4-wheel-brake option, followed soon by Packard and on August 1 (standard equipment) by Buick and Oakland, then Cadillac and others. In December the brand new Chrysler 70 came out, too, with 4-wheel hydraulic brakes and small 29 x 4½ softer-riding tires with its Kissel-like radiator a thoroughly advanced car of moderate price destined to make inroads into what had been Kissel’s market. Kissel made haste to offer Lockheed hydraulic 4-wheel brakes, external contracting, as an option after arguing the point with Vincent Bendix and chose the equipment well, for Kissel’s hydraulic brakes, like Chrysler’s, functioned better than the mechanical brakes others announced first.
A long 132-inch chassis was added for a new 7-passenger Berline-Sedan, which was a lengthened Brougham type body with the same oval quarter windows and having rear seats set well forward so that an inboard trunk could be accommodated. Meanwhile, the company continued to promote commercial vehicles and trucks of all kinds. A new 6-55 Limousine Hearse was readied, not at all a heavy carved hearse, but an elongated Brougham or Berline type on a 150-inch wheelbase, with a new low patented loading platform. The Berline-Sedan itself was offered to undertakers as an 8-passenger car at a much lower price than the traditional Cunninghams many undertakers used. The 1925 6-55 had 4-wheel brakes now as standard equipment, and balloon tires size 33 x 6 were fitted as the whole industry went over to low-pressure tires.
The Straight Eight, 1925 On
There must have been feverish activity around Hartford as these improvements were adapted; for 1924 also saw Kissel readying its first line of 8-cylinder cars for fall announcement as the 1925 Straight Eight. These 8-75 models were easily identifiable as a larger Kissel, but the engines were Lycoming cylinder blocks and upper crankcase to which Kissel fitted its own ribbed aluminum oil pan still of 12-quart capacity, as well as light-weight Lynite aluminum alloy pistons and connecting rods, a long-time Kissel feature, aluminum cylinder head, and a larger oil pump. Great care was exercised in balancing the crankshaft by machine, also in maintaining uniform piston and connecting-rod weights as had been done for the Sixes. The final result made for a silky-smooth engine with enough different about it to enable the company to soft-pedal the origin of the block in the Lycoming factory in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. In fact, when some competitors now began referring to Kissel as an “assembled car”, management became sensitive on the point, with good reason as even frames and bumpers were put together in the company’s own plant, indicative of the extremes to which Kissel carried local manufacture of components. Wheelbases for the Eights were long 131 and 139 inches. Rubber-mounted springs, though not helping appearance, were used to simplify maintenance and further promote quiet operation.
These Eights were excellent cars right from the start. G.P. “Dick” Hovey, who purchased new the ’25 speedster which has become familiar on Glidden Tours and around Sebring, states that he often drove his car 85 m.p.h. and that no Lincoln passed him in those days. (Lincoln was a notably good performer in the mid-twenties, preferred even by the illicit alcohol trade around Chicago for that reason).
Of course heavy sedans were not as fast. His car now has over 100,000 miles on it and he says has had only one ring job. But the Six engine was a good one, too, for that matter. The ‘28 6-55 speedster Mr. Henry Berthold has operated (in Australia) for thirty years had nearly 300,000 miles on the engine when he removed it because the head developed a crack.
Bodywise, too, the 1925 line was an achievement. All models were low for that day, yet roomy inside. The new 2-door all-year Brougham was an early convertible sedan of compact seating arrangement similar to all our modern convertible coupés. Kissel revived the optional sliding seat idea for its 2-door Broughams, as first used on its 1918 Tourster and advertised it extensively. Now only the right front seat moved, to aid in access, but the mechanism provided an idea eventually to be part of the front seat of every U.S. car.
Around this time George Kissel and Charles W. Nash, of Nash Motors, talked merger, the idea being that Kissel would build the 8-cylinder cars and Nash the sixes; however, nothing came of the discussions. Werner spent two days in the Seaman body plant which supplied Nash bodies. There may have been a connection between the two events. Werner also received a lush offer to go with Packard but did not even consider it just asked the advertising manager to phrase a polite letter declining.
It is not easy to distinguish a 1925 from a 1926 8-75. Branham’s Register lists R.L. Porter’s enclosed speedster, serial number 75-2333 as the last of the 1925 line; however, catalogues show 2-bar bumpers on the 1925 line and the 3-bar type on the 1926’s which, among survivors, does not fit the numbers. Kissel lengthened the radiator-bottom to include the crank hole sometime in the 1926 model year.
New for 1926 was the “All-Year Coupe-Roadster,” a convertible coupe shorn of frills. It was a conspicuously low car with a conventional rear deck and rumble seat, remarkably priced $100 lower than the lowest-priced open car in the line $1,695 for the Six and $2,095 for the Straight Eight. Five-passenger 2-door Broughams carried the same price.
For 1927 headlights were changed from drum-type to a bowl shape, then replaced during the 1927 model year with flat Ilco Ryan lights. Meanwhile, sales kept declining, a condition not much helped by the introduction January 1, 1927, of an “Economy Eight,” the 8-65 with 2 7/8 by 4 3/4 Lycoming engine fitted in the 6-55 chassis for $200 more. Wheelbases of these smaller lines were unchanged: 125 and 132 inches, depending on the body.
In mid-1927 the 1928 line came out, basically the same cars but with small 18-inch wheels (vs. 21-inch before, or 19-inch on 1927 speedsters). They had a higher radiator with a flat plain metal radiator cap. Thus modified the 6-55 appeared July 1, last Kissel to use a wholly Kissel-built engine; and the 8-80, new label for the 8-65, and the 8-90, previously the 8-75, were announced August 15.
Higher compression ratios raised the horsepower over comparable 1927 models. Also on that date, a new “6-70” was announced, on a 117-inch wheelbase, with a Lycoming six of the same bore and stroke and other characteristics as the 8-80; that is, 2 7/8 by 4¾. This six was booked as the “new, smaller Kissel, cushioned in rubber.” Austerity models of the 8-80 were marked “8-80S” and listed as low as $1,895, $400 more than the 6-70 and about the same amount less than the regular 8-80. A standard 8-90 sold well below the price for a deluxe 8-80.
White Eagle DeLuxe of 1928
Close to show time January, 1928, Kissel readied a line of high-performance and higher-priced 8-90 cars, seven models as a limited edition of 100 cars (serial 90-7500 to 7600) which were called White Eagle De Luxe” models, first use of that name. Engine bore was 3 ¼, one-sixteenth larger than the regular 8-90, and the speedster ads read “115 horsepower, 100 miles per hour.” Other White Eagle De Luxe models were pictured with two spare tires mounted at a rakish slant at the rear, instead of side-mounts. There has been confusion about just what these first “White Eagle” models were, but the answer is abundantly clear, as we only last year discovered, from Branham’s Automobile Reference Book and Kissel’s big double-spread advertisement in the January 1928 issue of “MOTOR” Magazine. Unfortunately no survivors of this limited run of cars seem to have come to light thus far.
The name “White Eagle” is supposed to have been suggested by the Buenos Aires distributor, according to one version. Among Werner’s effects is a 1911 magazine insert picturing a Bleriot monoplane with a streamer atop reading “The White Eagle.” Of course, the Stutz competition had its “Black Hawk.” One can now only speculate on the origin of this name.
The “White Eagle Series by Kissel” 1929-1931
With sales slipping Kissel management knew something was radically wrong. A decision seemed indicated to give the 1929 line a complete “new look,” and a distinctive, original, yet conventional design was created with nary a suggestion of C.T. Silver’s ideas. Instead the company attempted, according to Mr. Will Kissel, to achieve something of a “Lincoln effect” with the high, flat “Hispano type” radiator then in vogue on such makes as Cadillac, La Salle, Jordan, and other cars. For identification, an eagle with outspread wings was emblazoned in relief across a black simulated core section on the front of the shell, below the spout. The off-center emblem was no more.
After eight years of individual front fenders, Kissel changed to long sweeping ones, and running boards returned. The car had a certain quality despite too-high headlight mounts for our taste and enclosed versions were beautifully appointed. By fiddling with compression, the company further increased horsepower of the three Lycoming-powered engines comprising the lines now labeled 6-73, 8-95, and 8-126. Engine for the latter was the larger bore version, 3 ¼ by 4½, which powered the 100 White Eagle De Luxes built for 1928, and all three lines were called “White Eagle Series Custom-Built by Kissel”. Everyone called them “White Eagles,” but the only name on hubcaps or number plates was “Kissel.” The big and prominent radiator-front eagle spoke its own name.
White Eagle speedsters and toursters of 1929 and 1930 were things of beauty. We were hasty in disclaiming C.T. Silver’s influence for it was still there in the speedster which finally had its windshield changed. Now it could be folded forward like competitors.
The first 1929 speedster and tourster were readied for shipment to the Argentine distributor with brightwork on the speedster specially and impractically gold plated, and on the tourster silver plated. The freighter carrying them was unfortunately sunk on the way down, according to Reuben Freitag who was advertising manager in the 20’s. The steady decline in sales from 2,881 cars and 62 commercial vehicles in 1925 continued and fell to 1,071 in 1929, 261 in 1930, and only 16 in 1931.
The Ruxton-finis 1930
The company’s troubles were evident early in 1929, well before the stock market crash. A good combination with National Casket Company to market “National-Kissel” funeral cars did not aid sufficiently, nor heavy emphasis on sales of taxicabs, including “Bradfield” taxis built for a group of former Yellow Cab people in Chicago. Kissel received installment notes for some taxicab sales, and these did not all pay out; furthermore, the company borrowed against them at its bank, as some cabs were repossessed in poor condition. When cash needs became pressing early in 1929, months before the stock market crash, the management sought and obtained in New York a $200,000 loan tied to specific orders agreeing to high charges required by the lender, Small Issues Corporation.
In the summer of 1929, Mr. George Kissel got together with Mr. A. M. Andrews, then chairman of Hupp Motors besides being involved with the Moon and Gardner motor companies.
Andrews had a project to build a new front-drive car, the Ruxton, and he promoted a new company, New Era Motors, Inc., to develop it. The press announced June 1, 1929 that Ruxton would be built “in the plant of Gardner Motor Co., St. Louis, Missouri, and in another in Cleveland.” Two months later, a joint Moon-Ruxton announcement stated: “Gardner and Kissel, whose sales and engineering departments have been merged with Moon, will build Ruxton front-drive cars. Ruxton Corp., a subsidiary, has been organized as a sales and distribution corporation to handle Moon and Kissel output (Ruxton only?—-Ed.).”
There are a few signs of Kissel influence in Ruxton design, such as the bracket bridge front mounts for the engine and Kissel fittings in the driver’s compartment; nevertheless, Ruxton was not a Kissel design, but developed by its own management around the Weiss universal joint patent. Kissel may have designed the roadster and touring bodies and built some twenty-five Ruxtons in all, out of over five hundred produced in total. Meanwhile Kissel’s finances slipped further.
On March 21, 1930, Mr. George Kissel personally entered into an agreement with Mr. Andrews and New Era Motors, Inc., whereby he was to have the Kissel Motor Car Company manufacture at least 1,500 new-type Ruxtons a year, “provided the market will absorb that amount, each such car to list at about $3,000, besides the universals and front-drive units for cars manufactured in the Kissel plant and in the factory of the Moon Motor Car Company.” Mr. Kissel guaranteed that Kissel would also manufacture five regular Kissel White Eagle cars, one funeral car, and one taxicab daily for the remainder of the year 1930. If Kissel did not fulfill its part of the bargain, Mr. Kissel was to trade control of Kissel to Mr. Andrews for preferred stock of New Era Motors, Inc. (This may have happened — Mr. Will Kissel thinks it did). In return Kissel received a commitment for $250,000 of new financing, of which New Era loaned $100,000 promptly against a chattel mortgage covering the inventories. New Era agreed to set aside 50,000 shares of Moon stock as substance behind its obligations, Moon then being actively traded on the stock exchange. The contract states that New Era had sold 100,000 shares of Moon for $800,000.
From this point on the courtship cooled. In any event, New Era Motors, Inc., furnished no more loans after the original $100,000, the note for which it carried into its own bankruptcy. Before that, however, Kissel was unable to keep up payments on its mortgage bonds, and in September 1930 the Kissels asked the investment house which had sold the bonds to bring on receivership. In the climate of the deepening Great Depression, the result in Hartford was chaos. Events followed in the familiar pattern of the period. The attempt to operate in receivership wasted assets; when it became clear to the Court that there was no hope the receivers, George Kissel and Thomas L. Davison, were ordered to hold a public sale of the properties which took place on December 21, 1931. The only bid for the plant was that of the bondholders: Buildings, machinery, patents, trademarks - everything except the mortgaged inventories themselves was included. Young people cannot appreciate what a state of prostration prevailed in business here in the United States at the bottom of the depression. Even though the bid for the properties was the minimum figure that the Court would accept to cover taxes and receivership expenses, the bondholders’ committee could not raise all the money. After matters had dragged for several months, Mr. George Kissel and his attorney were requested by the Court to unscramble the mess. This they did by buying up such claims as would have been paid out of the proceeds, and on August 13, 1932, the plant, machinery, etc. and some lumber were acquired for B.M. Kissel, doing business as “Hartford Industries Company,” all with the blessing of the trustee in bankruptcy for New Era Motors, Inc., who obtained for Moon a large supply of Ruxton parts in Kissel’s possession. The factory was certainly no bargain, for it had to be started up from months of inactivity.
Werner was gone, now doing research and building models depicting the history of land transportation for the Milwaukee Public Museum. The Kissels rented part of the plant as a warehouse for canned goods, and applied themselves to the job of making a new start as “Kissel Industries,” in the depths of the depression, with only such means as they could salvage or assemble.
The remainder of the story may be quickly told. Somewhere along the line, they built chairs, then replacement cylinder heads for Fords and Chevrolets, all for a Chicago parts jobber. Sears, Roebuck helped out with orders for outboard motors and with necessary assistance in arranging to finance them. After six years of struggling and when war again threatened, Kissel luckily received some contracts for torpedo parts. Then slowly financial health returned after the lean years.
In October 1942 George Kissel died suddenly, leaving Will with the full burden at age sixty-three. To sell seemed the best course, and on February 29, 1944, the business was turned over to the West Bend Aluminum Company, which continues the branch plant there to this day. Kissel was no more. A lone and rather poor example of a White Eagle 6-73 coupe continued to function as the mail car for the plant with a box on the back and is there today, for that matter, in solitary retirement. George and Will Kissel sold their open Ruxtons to Cameron Peck in 1939. The only Kissel who owns a Kissel is a non-relative.
There was one spark that might have set Kissel Industries going again in the automobile business. In 1933 representatives of the A.L. Powell Power Company, Inc., Aurora, Illinois, commissioned Kissel Industries to build one or two engines having lever linkage interposed between the small, long-stroking piston connecting rods and some lower rods turning the crankshaft. Originally conceived to permit changing the stroke distance while the engine was running and engineered earlier at Elcar, this engine now had a fixed end-pivot and claimed only one certain advantage - “piston slap” would be banished. Kissel Industries built one engine, perhaps even two; furthermore, drawings at least passed the art-work stage for a “Lever” car, to be produced by this A.L. Powell Power Company, Inc. A sales circular survives which shows the design to be an updated Ruxton, with slanted windshield, fender skirts, and beaver-tail back; but Mr. Will Kissel states that no such car was ever built - just the engine prototypes, one of which found its way into another make of car belonging to Powell’s engineer, Rex Raney. Too bad! It at least would have had Klassy Looks, capital “K” and capital “L,” in typical Kissel and Ruxton fashion.
Besides being especially remembered for its Gold Bugs, Kissel earned its place in motoring’s Hall of Fame through an honest attempt to build good cars, trucks, and special-purpose vehicles- rugged and a refinement of the best conservative and proved stout engineering of the day. Eventually its bodies were years ahead and so remained to the end. This company struggled hard to survive without the means to press Detroit-style all-steel bodies and independent of the combines which could lower costs or tide it over a bad year. A great family enterprise in the best American tradition, German flavor.
KISSEL (US) 1908-1931
Kissel Motor Car Co., Hartford, Wis.
The first Kissel truck was mounted on a regular 4cylinder shaft-drive passenger car chassis, but by 1910 the company was offering large trucks up to five tons capacity with chain drive on the bigger models. These used Wisconsin or Waukesha engines and carried names such as Heavy Duty, Dreadnought and Goliath. A patented differential lock to aid traction on soft surfaces was featured, as was a removable winter cab with allenclosed plate glass windows. The 1912 range consisted of five models from 1500 lbs. to 5-tons.
During World War I Kissel engineers made important contributions to the design of the Class A and B trucks (see Liberty), and in 1918 the factory was turned over entirely to the manufacture of F.W.D. 4-wheel drive trucks. During the 1920s conventional trucks in the 1- to 5-ton range were made, using their own, Buda or Waukesha engines. In 1923 they introduced the 18passenger "Coach Limited," a bus styled like the passenger car line, with double drop frame and 20-inch disc wheels. Wheelbase of this "stretched sedan" was 202 inches. This design led, in 1925, to the "Heavy Duty Safety Speed Truck" with the same low chassis and Kissel 6-cylinder engine of the bus. Ambulances and hearses became a major part of Kissel's production from 1926 onwards, on lengthened stock car chassis with Kissel 6-55 engines to 1928, and Lycoming WS after that. They were distributed by the National Casket Company, hence their name National-Kissel. Further attempts to bolster falling sales resulted in a deal with Bradfield Motors Inc. of Chicago to distribute taxicabs, trucks and buses. The former Yellow Cab officials who formed Bradfield collaborated with Kissel in creating a handsome taxicab body.
These Bradfield or New Yorker cabs with Continental engines were offered even after Kissel's failure, assembled by Bradfield in space rented from the receiver well into 1931.
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