Almost a phoenix: Bobbi-Kar part 2

S.A. Williams’s problems were growing.  Not only was the SEC investigating him, but his prison record for a prior scam came to light.  Williams started hunting for a new state to run his scam out of.  After Delaware fell through he decided on moving the Bobbi-Kar works to Huntsville, Alabama, far away from the prying eyes of the California Commissioner of Corporations.  Plus Williams found another vast, empty factory in Hunstville which he managed to lease.  In mid 1946 Bobbi-Kar headed to Huntsville

Meanwhile Liefield hired Keller. George Keller had a stellar reputation as an honest man, and he had real automotive industry experience with Studebaker.  Williams found out in Alabama that he was not allowed to run a company there as his history had followed him.  Keller stood up against Williams and set about a small revolution that re-organised the company.  Williams was bought out by investor Hubert Mitchell of Huntsville.

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The new Bobbi-Kar company briefly became the Dixie Motor Car Corporation, but it was nearly broke.  Hubert Mitchell was the next person who set about making things right.  Mitchell was originally interested in the car company as a place to sell seats from his furniture company.  But as he learned what a mess the company was in, and grew to like the staff who he said were,” innocent victims,” he set about a plan.

Mitchell worked with Keller to create a new company out of the ashes of the old.  Mitchell saw the experience and enthusiasm in Keller, Liefield and the rest of their compatriots.  Mitchell also suggested that the new company be named Keller Motors, as he saw that George Keller was the driving energy behind this group of automotive designers.  To his credit, Keller had pushed for the company to be named after Mitchell.

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The original Bobbi-Kar was re-worked slightly as a display model.  Then, partially based off of designs for a woodie Bobbi-Kar wagon, the Keller car was designed.  The Keller Super Chief was made largely of wood.  This meant that they could use less expensive materials and labor to produce a slightly larger but affordable car.  The rest of the car was made out of readily available components.  In a car starved United States the prototype Kellers received rave reviews.

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As Tucker, Playboy, Davis and others battled the SEC, so did the new Keller Motors corporation.  While trying to build initial cars, and while raising money from possible franchisees, Liefield and his staff also fought with the SEC to be allowed to issue stock.  Finally the SEC grudgingly gave approval, and Keller Motors went into motion for their initial stock issue.  In September, 1949 the stock went public and sold well.  The little group of dedicated automotive men celebrated with a big dinner on October 4th.  It looked like all their trials were over, and their little company would have the funds and dealer base to build and sell cars.

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The morning after their celebratory dinner George Keller did not come down for breakfast.  They found Keller dead of a heart attack in his hotel room.  With the Keller staff despondent, the stock sales were pulled.  There was enough money left in the company to pay off all debts.  The stock brokers gave the company 90 days to find a replacement for Keller.  But the company was built around George Keller, his drive, honesty, and enthusiasm.  Liefield said without Keller,” we had no spark plug left in the engine.”  Keller  Motors shut down after producing only eighteen cars.  The roller coaster ride that began with an honest idea, and a swindler, almost came to fruition only to be shut down by Keller’s tragic death.

If Keller had survived the little company would have had an uphill struggle.  Even Crosly Motors, with the deep pockets of Powell Crosley subsidizing losses, only survived until 1952.  Oddly though, only a few years later in 1955, the Volkswagen Beetle would begin selling successfully in the United States.  Perhaps these little cars were a good idea too soon.

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Sources for this article were the original Bobbi-Kar press release of 1946, articles in the Jan/ Feb 1975 and Sept/ Oct 1975 Special Interest Autos, and this article from Huntsville rewound: http://www.huntsvillerewound.com/HSVkellercar

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