Hooniverse Wagon Wednesday – The Keller Super Chief Wagon

Welcome to another edition of Hooniverse Wagon Wednesday. We received this tip about an unusual Station Wagon found on Ebay from Tom (turb0dizzle) and it led to a site that described the history of this stillborn little car. So, it’s time to take a journey back to the postwar years, to see how a fledgling Automobile Company nearly got started and to learn all about the Keller Super Chiefs, including the one that is currently on Ebay.

In the September/October 1975 issue of Special Interest Autos, an article was written about America’s Most Needed Car: The Keller Super Chief, written by Ken Gross and Rich Taylor. The story details the relationship between John Liefeld, who was a 32-year former engineer at Chrysler (and later at the giant San Diego aircraft firm Convair) and George Keller who was a veteran of 28 years with Studebaker, eventually becoming Vice President for Sales. A third person bankrolled the operation, and was a promoter of sorts named S.A. Williams. He made a comfortable living by buying up poorly-managed restaurants, revamping them, and selling them at a substantial profit. Williams had no Automotive background.

The story goes on to describe how Keller, Liefeld, and Williams set up shop in of all places Birmingham, Alabama. With their original company declaring bankruptcy, and Williams now out of the picture, Keller Motors was incorporated in 1947. There was a conventional Wood Bodied Station Wagon constructed at this time, along with two other models. It had a 40 HP Continental four-cylinder engine, and were showcased to prospective dealers in New York. “The Keller was the most needed car in size, performance and price” exclaimed the press release. Keller Motors took in over $450,000 from prospective dealers during that trip.

During this time period, the SEC was watching Keller very closely because there were three other fledgling car companies that got into trouble. The most famous was Tucker, but there was also Davis (who marketed a three wheel automobile), and Playboy, which fielded a very compact car, based in Buffalo, NY. After the SEC gave Keller a clean bill of health, a detailed prospectus was drawn up to pave the way for a common stock offering. There were 1,523 dealer outlets on board by this time.

The undoing of Keller was two-fold. By 1949, Wood Bodied wagons were becoming outdated. Other than the wagon model, there were no plans for any other type of vehicle. Even the roadster shown at Hotel events and Dealer meetings was quietly put out to pasture, with no plans for production. However, all was still moving forward, and by September of 1949, over 50% of the stock issue was pledged so things looked great. It took the death of George Keller, on October 5th of 1949, to pull the plug on the promising venture.

The stock sale was withdrawn and the company simply folded. As a footnote, the Hotel Buckingham in New York was forced to sell the Prototype Wagon that was displayed in its lobby to cover the outstanding bills left by Keller Motors. Which brings us to the Ebay Auction of one of three remaining Keller Wagons. The listing is both brief and badly written. It goes on to say the following:


The asking price for this very rare car in its current condition is a breathtaking $100,000. I don’t think it’s worth that much scratch, but there is an intrinsic value to this orphan made by a group of people who wanted to get into the automotive business, only to be dealt a cruel fate at the very last moment.
See the Ebay Listing here, and read the entire article from Special Interest Autos here.
Image Sources: Ebay Listing and Redstone Army Base Historical Website (links above)

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  1. tonyola Avatar

    "Honey, look at what I just bought"
    "Er…yeah. Cute. How much?"
    "Now don't get upset…"
    "I said HOW MUCH?"
    "Uh, a hundred grand"
    It ends in tears all around.
    I suppose there's a rich collector or two out there who would die for his thing. More power to them. Utter insanity for anyone else, even with the knowledge that you won't encounter another one on the highway.

    1. Mr_Biggles Avatar

      Yeah, maybe I don't understand true rarity in cases like this, but that's pretty nutty. I guess I should have bought it in 1975 when it was only worth $2-3K!
      I'm not sure I follow what the seller is talking about in the listing. Is he talking about a different car that he wanted to keep pale yellow, or did he lose that battle? And really, how would you keep something like this original during restoration if there were only ever a small handful of them made?

  2. muthalovin Avatar

    Wait. Started life as pale yellow, and turned, uh, rusty turd? Neat trick.
    Also, that price is damned obscene.

  3. OA5599 Avatar

    With a 0-60 time greater than 25 seconds, I'm sure the BS inspectors would look the other way on the extra $999,500.00 you would spend bringing this home.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      As a point of pride, insist on taking the penalty laps instead.

  4. dukeisduke Avatar

    I thought I'd heard of every car make, but the Keller is a new one on me. I'll have to look them up in the Standard Catalog tonight.

  5. Alff Avatar

    I like it. There are about a half dozen things I would do with it, all of which would be heretical in light of its rarity. It would look good sitting on a Jeep chassis, though.

  6. Jim-Bob Avatar

    If they want that sort of money for it they need to sell it at Barrett-Jackson, not on Craigslist. Someone there would over-bid for it in a heartbeat as those rich bastards pay irrational prices for crap all the time.

  7. jerjozwik Avatar

    1964 dodge power wagon town panel, $280.00.
    1948 keller super chief wagon, $100.000.
    64 > 48

  8. Joe Dunlap Avatar
    Joe Dunlap

    In retrospect, this would seem to be a sad and forlorn attempt by a group of undertalented, underfunded dreamers that never had a snowballs chance in hell of succeeding. Which is probably true. But, when placed in the context of the immediate post-war era it makes perfect sense. We had just successfully defeated the axis powers (ok, we did indeed have a lot of help) in a 2 ocean front, and dammit, ANYTHING was POSSIBLE! Lawyers, accountants and naysayers be damned! Bless em and so many others for trying. Thats more than 99.999% of the population would do today. Not because they dont want to, but because they know the parasites, government and otherwise, would bleed them out before they even got a knife to the clay or a hammer to the sheet metal.
    * shuffles back inside, slams screen door*

    1. tonyola Avatar

      There was also the fact that for a few years after World War II, there was a huge pent-up demand for new cars in the US. For the first time in 15 years, people were flush with money and there had been no new cars available for four years. Anything with four wheels could sell. However, the party was over by 1950 and Keller would have come in a little too late. It's no coincidence that Crosley began its rapid downward spiral about that time – the seller's market ended and people were willing to spend a little more for a "real" car.

      1. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

        I picture a Crosley executive being informed of this at the time, and his wild-eyed response, "But… but…. We don't make a 'real' car!"

  9. RichardKopf Avatar

    It's cool and all, but it's too rare for its own damn good.

  10. Pinson 1975 Avatar
    Pinson 1975

    They were made in Huntsville, Al. Not Birmingham….big difference

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