Wanna Turn Heads? Park a ’54 Kaiser Manhattan at Runde’s

20130718_153303We had an unusual sighting on the Runde Chevrolet parking lot today. It was a 1954 Kaiser Manhattan two door (very rare)! It was initially hard to get a look at it because of all the people oohing and aweing all over the vehicle. But I managed to snap some shots and went on a search to get a quick word in with the owners.

I noticed your car, it drew quite a crowed! Can I get the names of the owners of such a beautiful vehicle?
Bob and LeAnne Kleiner.  

What brought you into Runde’s today?
I’ve been looking for this dash part for about a year or so now. I was having trouble matching the perfect dash with my Kaiser so eventually I found the part from you guys which should work out well.

We’ve probably had the dash in and out about 100 different times trying to fit different things in there. The part we are getting from Runde is a piece from a Camaro that covers the top part of the dash between the windshield and front-side dash. I’ll be trimming it to fit the Kaiser, so about 2/3 of it will be thrown away.

20130718_145153So is the part the only reason you’re in Dubuque?
Oh no, We have family here and events to go to.

You guys are originally from Dubuque?
Yes. We lived here and then we moved to Arizona. We’ve been there for about 21 years now.  I used to own The Auto Den on Dodge Street. I opened that up in ’78 and by ’92 it was in the way for the highway expansion so the DOT bought me out.

I wanted to go to a rust-free claimant cause I’m a car guy. I was also getting a divorce at the time so it was a good time to go.

What do you do in Arizona?
We have a shop running out of our garage at home where we do car repairs on all makes and models. She orders parts, books the jobs, helps me with the cars, etc. and I mostly work on the cars.  It really helps seeing all the different parts and things that I work on because it helps me realize what I can use for the Kaiser.

20130718_145205How long have you been working on the Kaiser?
I’ve been working on the car for about 13 years. It’s not done yet. It’s to the point where I can use it and show it, but I don’t have the cruise control done, the power lock on the passenger door, etc. There’s always something else to be done on it.

I upgraded all the front suspension to tubular, race-quality, suspension. Replaced or repaired the entire interior. I take things from different vehicles and modify them to fit in the Kaiser.

When I first bought my car I showed my son the pictures of the Kaiser because I didn’t have it home yet. He is a total car buff but was really confused by why I bought the Kaiser and thought it was junk. I’m also a total Ford guy, so he was just as confused by the whole deal. I just told him to wait and see what I turn it into.  Needless to say he’s pretty proud of it now and thinks it’s awesome.

I put a big block Chevy motor in it which I got a lot of grief over because I am a Ford kind of guy. People would even say I bleed blue. But the Chevy motor fit perfect into Kaiser so I used that.

What year is the Kaiser?
1954. it’s a Kaiser Manhattan which is the top of the line model.  The whole outside of the car is original except for the mirrors and the wheel and tire package and color. All the chrome and everything is stock.  118 Manhattan 2 doors were produced that year. People accuse me of making it into a 2 door because they are so rare but it is one of the originals.

20130718_145212Do you mostly show the car at shows?
No, we actually drive it, I don’t just store it and show it at auto shows. I just watch out for construction and gravel roads. I clean it out good after we get home from a trip. I drive it every Tuesday and Thursday to get coffee with some car guys.

Why did you come to pick the Kaizer as the car you wanted to work on?
The Power Tour is what started me to get interested in the whole Kaiser project. It was 1996 and they just announced a Power Tour in Hot Rod magazine. It’s a traveling car show where you travel through about 7 states displaying your vehicle.

I thought it would be neat to build a car and take it on a tour but it would be cool if I did it in a car that no one else really has.  That started my search for the Kaiser.  If her mom wouldn’t have moved to Kernville, CA to rekindle a 45 year old relationship we wouldn’t have gone there and found the car from the person we bought it from. So I guess we can thank mom for the car!

20130718_145128Has the original seller of the car ever seen it after it was completed?
We took a picture of when we bought it from him and we went back and showed him the completed vehicle. He was ecstatic to see what we did to it. He was blown away and so happy.

I bet you get lots of comments and reactions from people all over the place!
It’s fun to watch people’s reaction to it. Either they don’t know anything about the car or they had a relative or someone they know that had one. It’s a great time. We go to a gas station and we end up being stuck there for a half hour talking about it most times.

Dan got his own spot in Hot Rod Magazine!

Bob got his own spot in Hot Rod Magazine!

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