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Acquisition Saga
April 3-July 25, 2005

This 1924 Kissel Speedster was formerly owned by Bill Trollope, Sydney, Australia

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It's all Andrew's fault!

For Lynn's 56-th birthday, Andrew buys his father a nicely framed original 1920 magazine advertisement for Kissel cars. Lynn had vaguely heard about the Kissel cars in the past, but had not really thought too much about it. But now, there it was, staring at him from his office wall, a nicely framed small piece of automotive history that bore his surname. Being a naturally curious fellow, Lynn started to do some casual research about the Kissel Motor Car Company, founded by L. Kissel and Sons on June 5, 1906, in Hartford Wisconsin. Cool! That was Louis Kissel, not Lynn Kissel, but it tickled Lynn's fancy so he started to dig deeper.

A birthday gift similar to this from Andrew triggers Lynn's closer look at Kissel cars

Kissel Kar radiator emblem, on display at the Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of American History

"Every Inch a Car"

This is the somewhat strained motto that the Kissel Motor Car Company added to their trademark in 1914. Following World War I, they dropped the "Kar" part of the company name as it was too Germanic for the post-war mood in the United States.

1908 Kissel Kar Model II Touring

1913 Kissel Kar Roadster

1923 Kissel Phaeton

1929 Kissel White Eagle Speedster

The Kissel Motor Car Company was never a large producer of automobiles, and the Kissels were driven out of the car business in late 1930 by the Great Depression. But Kissel was famous in their day with a reputation for quality and a for building an attractive car that people were proud to own. From 1907 to 1930, Kissel hand produced about 35,000 automobiles. Remarkably, less than 150 Kissels are thought to exist today; many of them are in museums. Apparently nobody has a good count of how many Kissel Speedsters were produced, but less than 30 are thought to exist now.

It was the Kissel "Gold Bug" Speedster that achieved the most significant notoriety for the company. Introduced in 1918 as the Kissel Kar Silver Special Speedster, this roadster configuration became know to the public simply as the Kissel Gold Bug. While it was available in a variety of colors, it was most often painted a chrome yellow. Gold Bugs were owned by a number of famous people including aviator Amelia Earhart, entertainer Al Jolson, pianist and society bandmaster Eddy Duchin, auto racer Ralph De Palma, boxer Jack Dempsey, and comedian Fatty Arbuckle. The Kissel Gold Bug appeared in the movies, with a big part in "The Eddy Duchin Story" (MGM 1956), staring Tyrone Power, Kim Novak, and actor/director George Sidney.

1920 Gold Bug

1923 Gold Bug

1925 Gold Bug

Gold Bug in "The Eddy Duchin Story"

From a Distant Fantasy to a Distinct Possibility

In early April, Andrew turned Lynn on to auctions of Kissel radiator emblems that were for sale on eBay. Lynn bid up to $120 on some of these but was surprised to be easily outbid by people were willing to pay hundreds of dollars more to obtain these collectable items.

Lynn did buy some vintage advertisements for Kissel cars and started a personal inventory of individual Kissel Speedsters that he could identify on the web. He eventually identified 23 of the approximately 25 Speedsters that are thought to still exist today.

Lynn began to fantasize about owning a Speedster, but was quickly disenchanted when he found a 1920 Speedster for sale in St. Louis -- they were asking $115,000 for the car! There was no way he could afford this kind of purchase, even if it were a collector's item. Lynn started to think about ways to locate unrestored Kissels laying under bales of hay in old barns in rural Wisconsin. Lynn even asked one of his coworkers to ask her Wisconsin farming family if they had or knew of any Kissels lying about.

The breakthrough came in the early morning hours of April 13 when Lynn discovered not one, but TWO Kissels for sale at more reasonable prices. There was only a couple of small problems, one vehicle was in Oslo, Norway, and the other was in Sydney, Australia. Lynn immediately sent email messages to both owners asking for more information. The email to Norway "bounced", and no response was ever received from the email to Australia.

After stewing about this for a few days, Lynn screwed up his courage and made cold phone calls to Oslo and Sydney. Talking with Odd Christensen, the owner of the 1927 Kissel Roadster Coupe in Oslo, Lynn got an invitation to Oslo to see the car. Odd (who made a joking comment about his name in English) even invited Lynn to stay in his home. Lynn and Odd agreed that Lynn will write Odd a letter, and Odd will send pictures by mail. Lynn didn't get a response for the longest time, and he thought that maybe he got the address wrong. But eventually a letter with picturs did arrive from Oslo, but by this time attention had been focused on the Sydney Speedster.

In his call to Sydney, Lynn learns that Bill Trollope is out of town on business, and Lynn gets an alternate email address. In a few days, Bill answers Lynn's email and engages in a dialog about his 1924 Kissel Speedster, including sending these recent photos of the car. Bill even sends two short movie clips of the car -- one with the car stationary with the hood open and the engine running, the other with Bill driving the car for a short distance at his home.

BONK! Lynn's fantasy of owning a Kissel suddenly goes from a distant dream to a real possibility!

1924 Kissel Speedster, currently owned by Bill Trollope, Sydney

A look at the controls and gauges. Note the right-hand drive.

Where's the clutch and brake? By adjusting the contract, we can see them up high. Note the placement is different than today's standard.

Starting in 1918, the radiator emblem changed to this image of Mercury, the Roman name for Hermes, the speedy messenger of the gods.

This engine compartment looks pretty simple compared with modern engines

Nice house, Bill

"Show Me the Business Plan"

After Lynn made contact with the sellers in Norway and Australia, his interest in seriously pursuing the acquisition of one of these cars really started to peak. Those who know Lynn know that he can become obsessive when he becomes interested in something -- obsessive may not even be a strong enough word to describe him! Anyway, the Kissel Speedster became one of those obsessions as he researched and read and bought every reference he could find on the subject.

In an effort to prevent any unilateral actions on his part, Lynn's wife Jeanne reminded him that he didn't have permission to purchase a Kissel, and that if he wanted to pursue it he had to make the business case to her. She then left for a week long business trip.

Thinking about her comment, Lynn decided to follow-up on Jeanne's suggestion and he set off to prepare a professional viewgraph presentation to make the business case to buy a Kissel.

Lynn and Jeanne run their family affairs like a business, and playfully talk about the Kissel Corporation and things like getting approval from the board of directors (Jeanne + Lynn), or getting a report from the accounting department (Lynn), as if they ran a large corporation with hundreds of employees. Lynn decides the declare himself the head of the Motor Car Division for the purposes of this presentation. Lynn excitedly spends evenings and lunch hours during the week of April 18-22 preparing a 14-page PowerPoint presentation, marshaling and sharpening his arguments for the Kissel acquisition. Here's an outline of Lynn's presentation.

  • Historical highlights of the Kissel Motor Car Company,
  • Lynn's planned uses for a Kissel,
  • Estimates of the worth of a Kissel,
  • Opinions from friends and family about this idea,
  • A plan for contracting to buy the Kissel,
  • A detailed financing plan.

Unaware of Lynn's week of secret preparations, Jeanne returns to town on Friday, April 22, and Lynn invites her out to a nice restaurant for dinner. Over dinner Lynn presents his viewgraphs and pitches his proposal to her. Jeanne is surprised and more than mildly amused at Lynn's unexpected dinner business presentation. After only a single glass of wine that evening, Jeanne agrees to allow the purchase of the Australian Kissel with a couple of additional stipulations -- that Lynn get a covered car trailer, and that she get a horse trailer.

Here are some selected slides from Lynn's presentation. These slides have been slightly revised with corrected or updated information that became available after the April 22 dinner meeting. In particular, a few additional comments from friends and family have been added. While all the elements presented helped build the case, Lynn felt the comments from friends and family were particularly persuasive.

Lynn's business proposal, title page

proposal outline -- note color scheme to be used to indicate progress though the presentation

Some history about KisselKars

Some details on the Gold Bug

The Gold Bug was famous in its day

Lynn's use plan for the Gold Bug

Some valuations of Gold Bugs

Remarks of friends and family

The Saga As It Unfolds...

Sunday, May 8, 2005

Lynn makes arrangements with Bryan Cummins, of Cummins Classic and Sport Cars in Sydney, to do an inspection of the vehicle. Lynn believes that Bryan will provide a reputable third-party opinion about the vehicle as Lynn independently selected Bryan, and has checked his reputation with a California classic car dealer that knows of him. Lynn excitedly waits for pictures and a report from Bryan. To this point, Lynn has not discussed price with the current owner. If the report from Bryan is encouraging, Lynn will contact Bill and try to negotiate a selling price.

Lynn also contacts Dale Anderson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Automotive Museum, and Executive Director of the Kissel Kar Klub. Dale looks at the pictures that Bill sent of his car, declaring that the car looks like a dandy. Dale also consults his list of known Speedsters and indicates that it is one that he already knows about.

Monday, May 9, 2005 - inspection results

Lynn makes a number of phone calls and inquires.

  • Yes, can handle an automotive sale between an Australian seller and a US buyer.
  • US Department of Agriculture requirements -- under carriage must be clean and free of foreign soil
  • EPA emissions requirements for imported cars? There are no restrictions on cars 25 years or older.
  • US customs -- there's a 2.5% duty on foreign manufactured cars imported into US. But what about this car? It's of US manufacture being reimported into the country!
  • The bank has come through with the financing and the money is sitting in Lynn's bank account. Boy, things are really starting to come together.

Bill Trollope sends Lynn an email message. Bill has talked with Bryan Cummins and they've completed the inspection. Bill hasn't seen the report (good, Lynn paid for it), but he says that Bryan will be sending it to Lynn soon! Yikes!! Lynn's starting to get a little faint! Lynn repeatedly checks his email until 10:55 PM PDT (that's 3:55 PM Tuesday, May 10 in Sydney). Nothing! Dang!

Lynn does one last check of his email at 11 PM. If there's nothing, Lynn plans to go to bed and check in the morning. BONK! There's mail from Bryan Cummins! So, should Lynn savor the moment or open the message and get the news? He savors the moment for a bit, bringing this web page up to date. What will the report say? (Drum roll please... The suspense is killing me!)

A wide shot of the Cummins garage

There are six email messages containing 27 photos and a handwritten inspection report. The car is basically sound, but it's an older restoration that's showing its age. There will be lots for Lynn to do to improve the condition of the car. Happily, the wooden frame is solid, the sheet metal is straight, and the engine runs well. There are lots of little creaks and small blemishes, the seats are covered in vinyl, not leather, there's no rumble seat, just a wooden platform -- lots of small oil weeps. The brakes are all there, but the two-wheel mechanical brakes just don't work that well as a result of their design. Lynn calls the Cummins garage and discusses the inspection in detail. The bottom line is, the car is probably worth the asking price.

After thinking about the details of his offer, Lynn calls Bill Trollope and talks at length with him. From about 12:30-1:15 am, Bill and Lynn discuss the car and Lynn's offer. Bill takes Lynn's phone number and agrees to think about it and get a response to him in a day or two.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005 - Bill's counter offer

There's nothing in Lynn's email before he retires on Tuesday, but BONK!, there's email when Lynn gets up on Wednesday morning. Bill responds with a modest increase in cost, and a different mechanism for exchanging the car and funds. Lynn writes back, accepting Bill's overall proposal and expresses Lynn's concerns about shipping, negotiating US Customs, and cooperating on Lynn's goal to establish history of the vehicle. At this point, Lynn's and Bill's offers differ in the details, but are only apart by less than $500.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Lynn and Bill have another round of email exchanges, further refining the plan. In the early AM hours of May 18, Lynn thinks that all his issues have been addressed and declares in an email message to Bill that he thinks they've reached an agreement. Lynn summarizes the broad features of the agreement for Bill and asks for his agreement.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bill writes to Lynn and agrees that they're close. Bill is having his company's lawyers draft an agreement. His friend Mark reminds Lynn that the devil is in the details. Lynn takes this cautionary advice to heart and plans to carefully read the written proposal when it arrives.

Monday, May 23, 2005 - agreement reached

Bill writes to Lynn and detailes his offer -- it differs a little from Lynn's last offer but it's within Lynn's acceptance window. Lynn writes back accepting the offer and asks for the offer in the form of an agreement suitable for signing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Bill writes to Lynn giving contact information for the San Francisco agent of Mega Trans Corp, the company that will be transporting the Kissel. Lynn contacts the agent and discusses details of the shipment.

Friday, June 3, 2005 - agreement signed

On the evening of 6/2, Lynn receives an written agreement from Bill. Lynn reviews the agreement carefully and concludes that he will sign it. Lynn calls Bill and arranges for a fax exchange of witnessed signatures. Lynn faxes a signed agreement to Bill, and Bill faxes back a signed agreement at 12:05 am on 6/3. Lynn will wire the money to the lawyers in Sydney later in the morning.

Monday, June 6, 2005 - funds received

Lynn and Bill receive notification from the Gibsons Lawyers that Lynn's wire transfer of the payment funds have been received. The funds have been converted to Australian dollars and the funds will be dispersed according to the agreement that Lynn and Bill signed.

Monday, June 13, 2005 - cargo container

Bill sends an email to Lynn with photos of the loading of the 1924 Kissel in a cargo container.

Monday, June 20, 2005 - the ship has sailed

Bill sends an email to Lynn with the bill of lading; he will be sending documents (title, bill of lading?) by courier to Lynn within a few days. The Kissel has been loaded on the Kapitan Maslov which sailed from Sydney on June 18. The Kissel is scheduled to arrive in Oakland on July 13! Yahoo!

Doing some Internet research, Lynn discovers that the Kapitan Maslov (Lloyd's Vessel Number 9130157) is a Russian container ship built in 1998. For Voyage 615N, the Kapitan Maslov starts in Sydney (June 18), then she sails to Melbourne (June 23), then on to Auckland (June 28), arriving in Oakland (July 13). This ship continues to Seattle (July 16) and finishes Voyage 615N in Los Angeles (July 20).

Did you know that in some cases you can track the movement of ships using ocean weather maps? Ships are floating weather stations, and they often voluntarily report on weather conditions while they're enroute. If they do, one can identify the reporting vessel by its callsign. Lynn intends to try and locate the Kapitan Maslov on the open ocean using the information provided by this ocean weather web site. By clicking on the appropriate ocean map, then clicking on the the "marine observations" button you can see reports from individual ships. The Kapitan Maslov has the callsign UBRO. Lynn has been checking this site since the Kapitan Maslov left Sydney but has not yet spotted its callsign on the weather maps. Apparently the Kapitan Maslov is not voluntarily reporting weather conditions.

A side benefit of watching these maps is that Lynn is observing what kind of weather the Kapitan Maslov is sailing through. So far is appears to have been smooth sailing so it's unlikely that the Kissel has been tossed around much in shipment.

A photo of the Kapitan Maslov

A map of the ocean around Australia at 0030 hours PDT June 21, 2005. The red circle indicates the general expected location of the Kapitan Maslov, although it's callsign of UBRO is not evident on the image.

Monday, July 13, 2005 - the ship has docked in Oakland

Lynn repeatedly watched the ocean weather maps, hoping to spot the call signs of the Kapitan Maslov on its trip across the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the call signs of the ship were never seen.

As predicted, the Kapitan Maslov docks in Oakland on July 13. The car was unloaded and Lynn was told that he should expect to pick it up on Monday, July 18.

Oh, oh! Lynn receives an email note from the shipping company that the US Customs wants to inspect the shipment. As a result there will be an additional delay, maybe as much as 10 days! Yikes!

Monday, July 25, 2005 - car finally received

On Friday, July 22, Lynn is told that the Kissel is ready for pickup. He can take the car as soon as he pays, with certified funds, the due bill of approximately $1100 for port fees. Bonk! Lynn's agreement with Bill is that these fees were to be paid on the Australian side. After a series of email exchanges and a delay of a couple more days, Lynn is told that he can pickup the Kissel on Monday, July 25, and no additional payment is due.

The Kissel as Lynn first spots it in the Oakland warehouse

Loaded on a trailer and ready for the ride to Livermore

The car appears exactly as it has been described to Lynn. In spite of this, Lynn's first reaction is fear -- he is afraid that the car may be more than he can handle. Lynn doesn't know how to start it or drive it, and it needs work.

This fortune strengthens Lynn's resolve to succeed with the Kissel challenge

After Lynn gots the car home, he goes to a local Chinese restaurant for lunch. In his cookie, Lynn gets a fortune that said he would be presented with a great challenge that would require all his skill. It is at this instant that Lynn resolves that he will muster the courage to master the Kissel and make it a car that he will proud to own.

So Lynn finally has his Kissel. Look to this site in the coming months to see what Lynn has done with his new toy.

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Last updated: May 24, 2009