Kaiser Henry J (1951-1954)
Article by Mark Trotta
At a time when American consumers were demanding big cars, Kaiser-Frazer debuted their new small car, the Henry J. It would prove to be yet another example of an Automaker offering the right car at the wrong time.
Established in 1945, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was a joint business venture between Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph W. Frazer. The latter had previously held various positions with GM, Chrysler, Packard Motor Company, and Willys-Overland. Among the Kaiser passenger car models were the Custom, Deluxe, and Manhattan sedans, and a unique four-door hatchback sedan called the Traveler.
Production of the Henry J began in 1950 for the 1951 model year. Riding on a short 100-inch wheelbase, the Henry J was available as a two-door sedan only. Cost-saving measures included fixed rear windows, and no glove compartment or armrests. The rear seat folded forward as there was no deck lid.
1951 Henry J
Six-cylinder models started production in July 1950, with four-cylinder engine production starting several months later. The four-cylinder engine, save for slight modifications to component parts, was the same engine as found in early Jeep CJ models. All cars were fitted with a three-speed manual transmission with overdrive.
Henry J Debut
Presented for sale in September 1950, the 1951 Henry J was priced at $1300, much lower than other cars in it's category. This was part of an agreement from a government loan that helped finance the little car's development.
1952 Henry J
In 1952, there was new styling and improved workmanship, as well as slightly higher pricing. The front end featured a full-width grille, with rear tail lamps incorporated into the fender fins. The Henry J was available as the Corsair (four-cylinder) and Corsair Deluxe (six-cylinder) model. A Continental kit became an extra cost option.
Sears Allstate Henry J
Also 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 in the southern United States. The cars were equipped with Allstate products (tires, belts, battery, etc.) and featured a three-year warranty.
Allstates were nearly identical to Henry J's. Slight differences included a unique grille, hood ornament, hubcaps, identification badges and interior trim.
After two years of lower than expected sales, Sears dropped the car.
In an effort to sell off remaining vehicles, 1954 Henry J's were merely leftover or incomplete 1953 models. The only distinction from the 1953 version is the "54" prefix in the serial number.
Henry J Production
First year models were most successful - sales peaked at 80,000. Unfortunately, by 1954, sales had fallen to 1,123 and the model was dropped. A total of 131,702 Henry J's were produced from 1951 through 1954.
Japanese Henry J
In a classic car history footnote, the Henry J was the first car produced in Japan after World War Two. Through a licensing deal with East Japan Heavy-Industries, part of the Mitsubishi group, the Henry J was produced in Japan from 1951 to 1954. This marketing strategy was based on the belief that American GI's stationed in the area would take interest in the little car.
Read: American Cars of the Fifties