Kaiser Frazer Cars (1945-1955)
Article by Mark Trotta
Established in 1945, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was a joint business venture between Henry J Kaiser and Joseph W Frazer. After the departure of Frazer in 1951, the company continued as Kaiser Motors Corporation.
During WW2, Henry Kaiser was an industrial giant, bringing a number of innovative mass production ideas to the manufacture of Allied war ships. Historians are in agreement that the quick building of American Naval ships had a profound effect on the war's outcome.
A seasoned company executive with a solid automotive background, Joseph Frazer had previously held various positions with GM, Chrysler, Packard Motor Company, and Willys-Overland. He was instrumental winning the Military Jeep contract for Willys-Overland in 1941.
Less than a year after the company was formed, production began in June of 1946. The cars were produced at the former Willow Run aviation plant in Michigan.
The company produced two lines of passenger cars. The Kaiser series was geared for the lower and medium range market, while the Frazer series was aimed toward the luxury segment. Powering K-F cars was a modified Continental industrial 3.7L engine producing 115 horsepower.
First New Post-War Models
In contrast to most competitors pre-war rehashes, Kaiser Frazers were sleek, smooth, and modern. They were the very first new post-war body styles.
Passenger Car Models
The cars were designed by stylist Howard "Dutch" Darrin, who had previously designed several classic Packards. The Kaiser passenger car models included the top-of-the-line Custom, Deluxe, and Manhattan sedans, and a unique four-door hatchback sedan called the Traveler.
The Frazer models included the Standard, Deluxe and Manhattan sedans. Also in the line-up was a deluxe version of the Traveler hatchback called the Vagabond.
The first Frazers were built by Graham-Paige Motors under license, who later sold their automotive assets to Kaiser Frazer. Joseph Frazer had previously been president of Graham-Paige.
The 1947 and 1948 models were popular and sold well, but by 1949, Kaiser-Frazer lost their "new car" advantage, as the major Automakers finally re-tooled and redesigned their passenger car line-up.
1949 Model Year
Due to limited finances, the company could only afford a slight redesign for this year. Now at a distinct disadvantage, Frazer suggested that the company scale back production. Seeing as all they could offer would be mildly restyled models, this seemed like a logical business decision. However, Henry Kaiser disagreed and instead tooled up for a big production run. This decision resulted in an estimated $39 million loss on operations.
Joseph Frazer left the company in 1951 and would be the last year for the Frazer models.
Kaiser Henry J
Presented for sale in September 1950, the 1951 Henry J was a compact car priced at $1300, much lower than other cars in it's category. The pricing was part of an agreement from a government loan that helped finance the little car's development.
Read: Kaiser Henry J (1951-1954)
Sears Allstate Henry J
In 1952, Kaiser began selling re-badged Henry J's through Sears, under the nameplate of Allstate. These were designed to sell through Sears-Roebuck department stores largely in the southern United States. The cars were equipped with Allstate products (tires, belts, battery, etc.) and featured a three-year warranty.
Kaiser Darrin Sports Car (1953-1954)
At the 1953 New York Auto Show, Kaiser Motors announced it would be producing a fiberglass-bodied sports car. The convertible body was fitted onto the chassis of the Henry J, with power from a 161ci six-cylinder producing 90-horsepower.
Read: Kaiser-Darrin History
Willys Overland Aquistion
In 1953, Kaiser Motors Corporation purchased Willys Overland, who produced the CJ Jeep, merging both Kaiser and Willys operations under the name Kaiser-Willys Corporation.
Although economical, the Kaiser's inline six cylinder engine paled in comparison to competitor's modern OHV V8's. In 1954, a supercharger option became available, which boosted power by 22 horsepower.
End Of U.S. Production
Both Kaiser and Willys passenger car lines were phased out during the 1955 model year. Passenger car manufacturing was relocated to South America, where production continued until 1977.
Several factors attributed to the company's demise, including financial problems and pressure from the Big Three (General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation).
Kaiser-Willys Jeep 1954-1969
American Cars of the Fifties
American Automotive Industry During World War Two