In 1945, Henry J. Kaiser, an industrialist, and Joseph W. Frazer, the president of the Graham-Paige Corporation, founded the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation which made automobiles under the brand names of Kaiser and Frazer. With Kaiser’s capital and experience in obtaining government contracts and Frazer’s contacts in the automobile industry, there was optimism regarding their success. The new company was headquartered at Willow Run, Michigan.
Joseph Frazer had started work in the automobile industry doing manual labor at Packard. He moved up into an executive position, then moved to General Motors and then to Chrysler. At Chrysler, Frazer coined the “Plymouth” name and set up the De Soto sales program. In 1938, he became president of Willys-Overland and in 1945 he joined Graham-Paige.
The business relationship between Henry Kaiser and Joseph Frazer was not always smooth and peaceful and in 1948 Frazer resigned as president of Kaiser-Frazer. He remained as a sales consultant and vice-chairman of the board. In 1949, Edgar Kaiser, Henry Kaiser’s oldest son, was made president of Kaiser-Frazer.
In 1953, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation changed its name to Kaiser Motors Corporation. Kaiser car production ended in 1955. Kaiser Motors then became Kaiser Industries Corporation which functioned as a holding company for Kaiser business including Willys Motors Incorporated.
The Kaiser line included the Deluxe, Carolina, Traveler, Dragon, and Manhattan sedans.
In 1946, Kaiser began development of the revolutionary Kaiser K85 which was to feature front-wheel drive. However, engineers could not work out transmission issues and the new car did not go into production.
In 1947, Kaiser brought out the Special, a four-door sedan with a six cylinder engine. It featured a large luggage compartment, curved wraparound bumpers, dual horns, twin sun visors, and automatic dome lights. Nearly 67,000 Specials were sold in the first year.
With the hatchback design introduced in 1949 in the Kaiser Traveler and the Frazer Vagabond, Kaiser bragged that these cars led a double life: they were easily converted from sedan to pickup.
Shown above is the 1950 Kaiser Virginian which is on display at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River, Oregon.
A 1953 Kaiser Manhattan is shown above.
In 1953, the Kaiser Dragon was introduced as a six-cylinder four-door car. It had a padded top to imitate hardtops.
The Frazer was an upper-medium priced luxury automobile. The Frazer brand included the Standard, Deluxe, and Manhattan Sedans and the Vagabond hatchback. The design for the Frazer was developed by Howard “Dutch” Darrin. It had a basic four-door sedan body shell that was shared with the lower-priced Kaiser.
The Frazer Manhattan was introduced in 1947 as a luxury line which was priced at a $500 premium over the Standard.
The Frazer brand was discontinued after the 1951 model.
A 1951 Frazer Vagabond is shown above.
The Henry J was introduced in 1950 as a pioneering compact car, affordable for the average American. In 1949 the federal government had given the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation a loan to produce a car that was to: (1) retail for no more than $1,300; (2) it had to seat five adults; (3) it had to be capable to going at least 50 miles per hour for a sustained period of time.
To lower the costs, the early Henry Js did not have rear trunk lids. To access the trunk, owners folded down the rear seat. The car also lacked a glove compartment, armrests, a passenger-side sun visor, and flow-through ventilation. For an engine, it had the same engine used in the CJ-3A series Jeep.
Sales of the Henry J were disappointing and it was discontinued in 1954. The Henry J was brought to market at a time when consumers wanted big cars.
The Allstate (shown above) was basically a Henry J that was sold by Sears. It had a unique grille, hood ornament, hubcaps, and interior trim. It also came with Allstate brand tires and batteries. The Allstate was sold by Sears from 1952 to 1954. The car was also available in Japan through an agreement with East Japan Heavy-Industries (part of Mitsubishi).
The Darrin (also known as the Kaiser Darrin and the Kaiser Darrin 161) was an American sports car which was the first American car with a fiberglass body. It was named for its designer, Howard “Dutch” Darrin, and was one of his final achievements.
One of the interesting features of the Darrin was that its doors slid on tracks into the front fender wells (see photo above).
The Darrin was part of a larger movement that included the development of the Ford Thunderbird and the Chevrolet Corvette to compete directly with the European sports cars which were being imported into the U.S. While the Darrin had what was considered an attractive design, it was generally felt to be underpowered and over-priced. Only 453 Darrins were built.
According to one story, when the first prototype of the Darrin was ready, Henry J. Kaiser was brought in to look at it. He was upset and was reported to have yelled:
"We are not in the business of selling sports cars."However, his wife, who was considerably younger, is reported to have said:
"This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I don't see why you aren't in the business of building sports cars. I don't think there will be many automobile companies that won't go into the sports car business after seeing this car."These words changed Kaiser’s mind and he embraced the project.