The Kissel Motor Car Company may not be a well-recognized marque today, but it is owed a debt of gratitude from every red-blooded American car guy.
The reason is the company’s introduction in 1919 of its Speedster (later nicknamed the Gold Bug Speedster) which cemented in the American mindset the idea of the sports car.
No, Kissel wasn’t the first to sell a sports car, but it did give rise to the sporting trend of automobiles in the Roaring 20’s. From those days forward, the idea of sports cars has lived on here in America, and today’s car buyers arguably have the best selection of sports cars ever offered.
The idea for the Kissel Speedster actually came about through the activities of some of New York’s automobile dealers. It was popular at the time to create custom bodies for certain cars on the showroom floor, providing something unique for their upscale clientele. Many brands were subject to this “customizing” and it’s written that New York car dealer Conover T. Silver originated the design that would be adopted by Kissel. In 1917, Silver added the Kissel line to his dealership and his custom designs to Kissel chassis.
It was reported in the February 6, 1919, issue of The Motor Age, “New York dealers have found it extremely profitable to have special bodies built practically creating a new line of cars such as the Silver-Apperson or Silver-Kissel . . . Some of the special bodies and painting jobs included a Kissel roadster of sporty type in canary yellow.”
Apparently, Kissel saw the value of this sporty style and adopted it, largely unchanged, for the 1919 model year. The Speedster was listed for $2,850 in 1920 and featured a side-valve 6-cylinder engine and Houck wire wheels. Priced roughly midway between a Ford and a Cadillac, Kissel is said to have sold around 100 Speedsters that first year.
The Kissel Motor Car Company also offered a sedan, coupe, and touring in 1920. Additionally, Kissel as with a number of other automobile manufacturers of the day, had a commercial division that produced trucks.
However, the Hartford, Wis., company would end up yet another victim of the Great Depression and closed its doors in 1930. Today, the Kissel Gold Bug Speedster (almost always seen in yellow) is prized by collectors for its unique sporty style and performance. In fact, this very car (chassis 451964) was offered in 2013 at RM Auction’s Hershey sale — bid to $140,000 it was a no-sale.
The car pictured here is said to have spent 37 years in the family of the first owner, Charles Bent of Rhode Island, who originally purchased the car to take his new bride on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls. Seems not much has changed over the years.