Article and photography by Richard Butschi (Part I can be viewed at www.cityrevealed.com. Click on past issues for the December issue.)
Ken Kaiser was “old school” - a welder by trade. He and wife Karen, raised their three sons, Keith, Nathan and Travis through “tough love,” teaching by example, especially when it came to cars, especially Chevies. They would load up the family ‘55 210 Delray and it was off to a local car show. The boys later acquired their own Chevies – a ‘66 Chevy II, a ‘65 Chevelle and a ‘72 Corvette, respectively.
Nathan Kaiser, of Marion, had his heart set on a 1964 Chevelle – the first year of production and the only new model out that year. Chevrolet needed something to compete with Ford’s down-sized Fairlane. Chevelle was a hit with debut sales of 338,286 units. Body styles included coupes, sedans, convertibles, station wagons and even a reintroduction of the El Camino after a 4-year hiatus.
Nathan had been checking Craig’s List, spotting a ‘65 in Des Moines, August 2009. The price was a bit higher than hoped for, but Dad taught him to use his head with money matters. Frequently checking, he noticed the price being reduced bit by bit. Kaiser finally made an offer, which was soon accepted. The Chevelle was in the early-project stage, which was fine as Nathan was looking for something he could “flip” and buy what he really wanted – a ‘64. It took two trucks and a trailer to get the ‘65 home. The interior had seats, but little else. The 327/350 hp engine and TH 350 trans were workable and included new frontend parts, brakes, headers and new interior parts, but it all had to be installed. The Kaiser boys had been taught to be resourceful and Dad was notorious for giving directions – “learn by doing” were his words to live by. The three had been taught basic welding techniques, but Nathan felt the need for Dad’s expertise on some crucial floor pans. Dad showed up as expected, proceeded to make four tack welds to hold it in place, then calmly walked out of the garage. “There ya go. Finish it.”
The rearend was trashed, but after a week’s worth of “evening garage labor” and the aid of several cutting tools, Nathan removed the metallic mass and installed new 3.08 gearing. With the mechanical aspects of the ‘65 finally together, Nathan and wife, Caitlin, hit the streets with a partial interior. Caitlin lounged on the rear seat while Nathan chauffeured on a real “bucket.” He later trailered it to Keota where King’s Hot Rod Shop replaced the rear quarter panels and a door skin, then applied a temporary flat black paint job. Decked out with Keystone Raider 15” wheels, Hooker Super Comp headers, and Flowmaster Super 40 mufflers with 3” exhaust, it looked and sounded pretty good. In 2011, Nathan made his first Thursday night cruise, showing it off at Godfather’s on 16th Avenue. In April of 2017, Kaiser connected with body/paint man, Scott Beauregard, of Central City, meeting through their wives. Beauregard used some “tough love” of his own, getting Nathan behind the spray gun, but eventually took over and laid down the Toyota Majestic Gray paint, giving the Chevelle a refined, elegant look. Ken Kaiser, now into his fourth year of battling cancer, was no longer able to handle the clutch in his ‘55, so a 200-4R auto trans was ordered. The Muncie 4-speed would be transplanted into the Chevelle, much to Caitlin’s disdain, but Nathan plans to teach Caitlin the finer points of slam-shifting a manual, like Ken taught his boys. The switch couldn’t be made in time for Ken to experience, but photos and a short video did show him the “almost” completed project in action. Nathan would like to thank all who helped him along the way, with special thanks to wife, Caitlin, and especially Dad and Mom. Nathan and Caitlin now load their own kids (Elliot, Nolan and Willa) into their pride-n-joy and hit the road.
(Note - Special consideration was made to photograph both Kaiser cars at Red Cedar Lodge, Squaw Creek Park - the location of the Celebration of Life for Ken Kaiser, held in July, 2018.)