Louis Kissel emigrated from Germany to Wisconsin, settling in the small town of Hartford 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee. By dint of thrift, diligence and industry by the late 19th century the family thrived, having moved from farming to commerce and industry. The two youngest Kissel sons, Will and George, began experimenting with automobiles, building their first, a 4-cylinder, shaft drive runabout, in 1905 in the family's farm implement factory and beginning production the following year. Eventually the Kissel companies added foundries casting aluminum, brass and iron, a body line and complete production facilities that built every Kissel nearly in its entirety from their own factories. Known for quality and reliability under engineer Herman Palmer and the attractive coachwork of J. Friedrich Werner, Kissel’s were favored by solid citizens and by not a few celebrities including even racer Ralph dePalma. Kissel competed head-to-head with Buick, Nash and Studebaker and held its own despite significantly higher prices. In stark contrast to Kissel's touring cars and sedans, from the marque's earliest years it carried a line of light, sporting roadsters starting with the Semi-Racer in 1911, continuing through the memorable Gold Bug speedster and culminating in the elegant, fast and sporty White Eagle by Kissel in 1929. It used a straight eight 298 cubic inch block bought from Lycoming, meticulously assembled and balanced in Kissel's factory and fitted with a Kissel aluminum cylinder head and oil pan. Horsepower is 126 and torque is 210 lb-ft. Advanced features were plentiful, notably Lockheed hydraulic brakes and adjustable spring shackles but it was the double-dropped frame which Kissel had employed for years that made the beautiful bodywork of the White Eagle possible. It was not enough to save the company, however, and it succumbed a year after the stock market crash. This 1929 Kissel White Eagle Model 126 Speedster is one of only two known survivors. The other is in the famed Nethercutt Collection. A third, powered by a smaller engine, is in a museum in Ohio. It is built on a long 139 inch wheelbase and is as spectacular as any speedster runabout of the late Twenties, a thrilling relic of the Jazz Age. Once part of Harrah's collection in Nevada, it was discovered at Hershey in 1978 by Ron Fawcett. An experienced restorer, Fawcett completely restored the White Eagle to standards that are impressive even today. Its design is marked by the deeply cut down doors and sweeping fenders and running boards with dual side-mounted spare wheels and tires with mirrors. The steering wheel is a manly construction out of fine wood including the spokes. It has center lock chrome wire wheels with two-eared nuts, racks in front of both rear fenders carrying golf club bags, Ryanlite headlights with matching cowl lights, a single Pilot-Ray driving light, stainless steel radiator stone guard, dual chrome horns. An unusually large rumble seat sits below the long, low rear deck with three steps along the right fender, a folding luggage rack and a center-mounted combination taillight by Teleoptic of Racine, Wisconsin. It is beautifully presented in bright red with maroon leather upholstery and a black cloth top that contrast vividly with the chrome wire wheels and black wall tires. The fully-instrumented dashboard is highly varnished hardwood as solid and substantial as the Kissel it graces. Surely its most unusual feature, however, is its radiator cap mascot, a cast eagle with outstretched wings that are spring-loaded and flap as the Kissel White Eagle Speedster moves through the air. It is a CCCA Full Classic (tm) and will be a welcome participant in the many events, shows and tours which that designation includes. One of the last automobiles produced by Kissel, it embodies the great history of this remarkable Wisconsin manufacturer and is a visually arresting statement.
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