When Mopar collector Charles Kee died last December at age 84, he left behind plenty of unanswered questions: Did he really plan to start a museum? How many cars did he sell to a group of Swedish collectors? And what’s going to happen to the hundreds of cars he accumulated on 50 acres of Oregon high desert? The former two may forever remain mysteries, but the latter will be resolved next month when the cars all head to auction.
1955 Chrysler Windsor Deluxe.
Brothers, Oregon, isn’t exactly a tourist mecca. Located in the sparsely populated middle of the state, the town is little more than a wide spot in the road, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland. Perhaps it was this isolation that Kee found appealing, as it gave him a relatively safe place to store the 50-acre automobile collection that took him three decades to amass. Some say he was intent on opening an automotive museum, but met with resistance from the Brothers municipal planning board, which refused to allow the construction of additional buildings on Kee’s 600-acre property. Others insist that Kee collected simply for the joy of it, and that a museum was discussed but never really planned for; after all, how many visitors could a locale like Brothers, Oregon, draw on an annual basis? Everybody who encountered him agreed on one thing, however: Kee was often a reluctant vendor, who would only sell to those he liked.
1972 Plymouth Fury III.
The exception to that rule, however, happened in the early 2000s, when a group of Swedish Mopar collectors approached Kee to buy a number of the collection’s most impressive cars, said to be Chrysler “letter cars,” convertibles and two-doors, all in restorable condition. The story goes that Kee liked the Swedes, and that a deal was struck is certain, but the quantity of cars sold remains a mystery. Some, including a Forward Look Forum member who claims to be one of the Swedish buyers, put the number at 100, reportedly from Kee himself. Others put the quantity at 195, but the actual number probably lies somewhere in between those extremes.
1966 Dodge Charger.
That still left hundreds of cars in the Kee collection, including a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda, a pair of 1966 Dodge Chargers, a 1968 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible, and a 1964 Dodge Dart GT hardtop. Though all have their V-8 drivetrains intact, none appear to be equipped with performance options, perhaps limiting their appeal. A second 1964 Dodge Dart, in convertible form, is also an available lot, but this will cross the block sans engine or transmission.
There are ample Virgil Exner-designed “Forward Look” cars to choose from, including a 1956 De Soto Firedome, a trio of 1957 Dodge Coronets and a trio of 1957 Plymouth Belvederes, to name a few. Those looking for “plucked chicken” Chryslers won’t be disappointed, either, as the sale will feature at least one 1962 Chrysler 300 and four 1962 Chrysler Imperials.
1962 Chrysler 300.
Overall, the lots scheduled to cross the block date from the early 1940s to the late 1970s, and while the majority of the cars remaining are full-size four-doors, there are still a few B-body and A-body cars to be had. Some lots (like the previously mentioned Dart GT) are missing drivetrains, but the region’s dry climate and Kee’s efforts (which included covering dashboards with blankets and newspapers to prevent cracking) appear to have preserved many of them. Scotty Taylor, the auction company representative currently on site, said that about “60 percent of the cars are in restorable condition, while the other 40 percent are probably parts cars. Our goal is to have roughly 30 cars running in time for the auction.”
1965 Plymouth Barracuda.
There will be parts galore to choose from as well, including both Mopar components and aftermarket performance parts, along with no less than six Chrysler V-8 engines (including two Hemis of undisclosed displacement or vintage). The original estimate stated that the sale would include 250 boxes of parts, but per Taylor, the most recent count has that number approaching 600 boxes. Most are labeled with the exact components inside, and some are even new-old-stock components, though publishing an exact list would be a daunting task with just two weeks remaining before the sale. Those looking for Chrysler hubcaps and wheel covers would be well advised to pay attention, as the sale will include a lot of approximately 1,500 of those, covering a wide variety of years, makes and models.
The cars in the Charles Kee Collection occupy 50 acres.
Day one of the two-day auction will focus on the automotive side of things, and Taylor estimated that 1,200 lots (including cars and parts) will be offered for sale, all at no reserve. Day two will feature construction equipment and miscellaneous lots (including a sizable collection of shipping containers, ideal for packaging lots purchased at the sale), and Taylor said that as many as 800 lots could cross the stage on the second day. James G. Murphy Company, the auction firm handling the sale, will permit Internet bidding as well as live bidding, ensuring that those who can’t be in Brothers, Oregon, will still have a chance to participate in an event some have already described as “this year’s Lambrecht auction.”
By: Kurt Ernst