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 By 1949, Wood Bodied wagons were becoming outdated.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:
THIS IS VERY RARE CAR!!!!! THIS IS A 1947 KELLER SUPER CHIEF WAGON AND THE ONLY ALL ORIGINAL ONE OF THREE LEFT IN THE WORLD! TWO ARE CURRENTLY UNDER RESTORATION. THIS CAR RUNS! I WANTED TO KEEP THE CAR I HAVE IN ITS ORIGINAL STATE WHEN THE CAR WAS BUILT. THE CAR WAS ORIGINALLY A PALE YELLOW COLOR.
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)