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Couple’s rare Kaiser hatchback gets TV treatment

EAGLE POINT — John and Pat Ruth love to take their rare 1951 Kaiser Traveler Deluxe two-door, the first hatchback produced in America, to car shows. The car will get a much wider audience when it appears later this spring on “Sticker Shock,” a new Discovery Channel show where experts appraise a car’s value.

Discovery Channel had the Kaiser hauled to Los Angeles along with 70 other vehicles from across the country for judging in a former Firestone tire factory. Show host Dennis Pittsenbarger talks with the owners and the appraisers while the evaluation is filmed.

“I just like the design of the car,” said John. Kaiser brought in Howard Darrin, a noted designer who was known for putting notches in car body lines, to retool the 1951 line. The Ruth’s model has that signature feature in its windshield, side treatment and hatchback arrangement.

“We wanted something different, not a Ford, not a Chevy,” said Pat. The car’s nickname is “Green Goddess.”

John can’t reveal the value the appraiser put on the car until the show airs. He estimates it’s worth about $20,000 due to its rarity and said he was satisfied with the valuation.

Kaisers were produced beginning after World War II. The effort lasted only through 1955 when the company ceased car production. Kaiser produced only 396 of the Deluxe versions in 1951 although they made 960 standards models. That year, 1951, was also the only year Kaiser made a two-door version of the Traveler.

The three-piece hatchback opens up to allow for increased carrying capacity with a folding back seat. A lower rear tailgate folds flat to create a longer bed and the hinged “trunk” lid and rear window swing up for more room.

Kaiser advertising featured one poster that showed farm equipment and animals in the opened rear. Advertising for a 1950 Traveler, a more slab-sided car, showed camping and fishing gear in the rear. Kaiser even produced a small manual on camping and fishing.

Residents of Southern California until 2016, the Ruths showed the vehicle regularly at car shows in the area. After relocating to Southern Oregon, they make fewer shows but have been in the Medford Rod and Custom event and the Medford Cruise. They have also shown in Jacksonville, Grants Pass and a couple weekends ago at a benefit show for Eagle Pont High School. They drive the car to local shows.

Pat and John set up camping and fishing gear of the era in the back when they display the car. One time they created a farm motif with hay bales and tools for a 4-H benefit show in Southern California.

The couple won a best interior award at one show despite some tears in the front seat. Pat suspects the judges like the way the car’s interior had been embellished with appropriate period accessories.

Previously involved in off-roading activities, the couple found those took too many long weekends so they turned to car shows. Initially John had a 1949 Kaiser. He got the present car in 2010 from Nebraska for $14,000. He had another one in poorer shape, a 1953 Traveler, that he had considered restoring.

“I figured I’d spend less money on this car and have a better car,” said John. Since purchasing the car he’s had to install a rebuilt motor after the first unit gave out.

The appraiser downgraded the Traveler some since the engine wasn’t original to the car, a quality valued by collectors. During vehicle inspections engines are started, hoods raised and the cars are put up on lifts for a look at the underside.

John applied to be on the show after learning about it through Facebook. On the first episode a 1951 milk truck, a 1926 Ford Model T and a Cadillac hearse were among vehicles evaluated.

“Sticker Shock” airs on the Discovery Channel Wednesdays at 10 p.m. About six cars are features on each one-hour episode. Show spokeswoman Autumn Drummond said Ruth’s car would appear sometime after May 9 but didn’t have a specific date.

Ruth said he might consider selling the vehicle for the right price.

“Maybe someone would make an offer,” said John. “I’d hate to get rid of it since it’s such an unusual car.”

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

John and Pat Ruth sit on the tailgate of their rare 1951 Kaiser at their home near the Rogue River.
John and Pat Ruth’s 1951 Kaiser will be featured on an upcoming episode of ‘Sticker Shock.’