Kaiser - Frazer Auto Manufacturing



The Kaiser - Frazer Corporation was incorporated in Nevada on August 9, 1945. The principals, Henry J. Kaiser , the famous western industrialist, teamed up with Joseph Frazer, an old hand in the auto industry, to build cars bearing their names.

Kaiser - Frazer cars were built between 1946 and 1955 in the United States. The marque was reborn as the Kaiser Carabela in Argentina in 1958, along with the Willys line of vehicles, having been acquired by Kaiser in 1953.

Kaiser stopped building passenger cars in the United Sates in 1955, after about 735,000 cars had been built. Kaiser continued to build the Jeep until 1970, when the line was sold to American Motors.

Visit the links below for information about specific models in the Kaiser - Frazer - Willys line:

1947-48 Kaiser The 1947 Kaiser debuted in late 1946. The 1948 model has the distinction of having the single highest production run of any KF model, about 93,000 cars. Powered by a redesigned pre-war Continental Red Seal six cylinder L-head 100 horsepower engine with a reputation for reliability, the cars soon caught on with their novel styling. The first Kaiser was a front wheel drive car, but transmission problems caused KF to abandon the idea for conventional rear wheel drive. Options on these early cars were limited to overdrive, heater, radio, smaller accessories and a broad selection of interior colors.

The 1947-48 Frazer was nearly identical to the Kaiser. Except for it's grille and interior, they are the same car. The initial idea was for Kaiser and Graham Paige Frazer to operate in the same plant, share expenses, but market two different cars. That idea quickly faded as each partner soon realized that each needed the other to survive. Graham eventually merged with Kaiser to form Kaiser-Frazer, with Graham Paige retaining the Frazer Farm Machinery part of the business. The 1947-48 Frazer was the fancier of the two cars often having more luxurious interiors and most cars being equipped with overdrive. The link above shows the first Frazer being constructed by some engineers checking for fit and finish.

If you wanted to buy a new Kaiser or Frazer but didn't have the cash, KF did offer a finance plan that had easy monthly terms with low down payments!

Kaiser - Frazer built some taxis from 1947-50. Actually the 1947-48 models were converted by local dealers but in 1949-50 the Kaiser Special had sub-model 4916 for the taxi cab. Few were built, and except for one that I parted out several years ago, I've never seen another. The photo above shows a dealer that converted several 1948 Kaisers for an Arkansas taxi cab company.

1949-50 Kaiser The 1949 and 1950 Kaisers sported a redesigned grille, tail light assemblies, and dash but little else. The engine was given a 2 barrel carburetor as an option for more power and the color choices for the interior and exterior was again widened. Many 1949 Kaisers were left over at the end of the model year, and were turned into 1950 models with a switch of the serial number tag. In 1949 the Kaiser Traveler debuted. This car was the first true hatchback, with a two piece gate that had half folding up and the other half folding down. The rear seat also folded down, allowing a full eight feet of cargo space. Travelers were marketed to funeral directors, police departments, farmers and florists as perfect cars for their business. My 1950 Traveler was used by a gentleman in Texas to pull a 40 foot mobile home from Odessa, TX to Bakersfield, California twice a year to visit family. Other than a rebuild of the obviously tired engine, addition of overdrive and a coat of primer, the car remains original to this day. Here's a photo of a Traveler that was used to advertise a new KF dealer, Glen Burdick KF. This dealership still exists, although they now sell Buicks.

Convertibles were introduced into the KF lineup for the 1949 model year. 44 Kaiser and 69 Frazer convertibles were built in 1949-50. 131 Frazer Manhattan convertibles were constructed in 1951. All convertibles were made by taking a sedan off the assembly line and modifying it extensively to produce the cars. It's been said that at the retail price of $3200, KF lost about $5000 on each one, including the costs to engineer them. Only a handful of these cars survive today. Here's a picture of the 51 Frazer shown above, as it appears today after the garage fell in on it in 1980 and it's subsequent outdoor exposure. The "before" photo was taken in New Mexico in 1955 when the first owner had the car while in the army. He traded the car in 1960 for a Chevrolet Corvair and the subsequent owner let it deteriorate until I purchased it in 1995. It has the highest known body number, 129, of any '51 convertible extant.

Also manufactured in 1949-50 was the Kaiser Virginian and Frazer Manhattan Hardtop . Kaiser Frazer didn't actually build a Frazer hardtop, but this car is a recreation of a prototype that KF did consider. Like the convertibles, these cars were virtually hand built using sedans pulled from the assembly line. Most had leather interiors although a Custom Virginian was built with a cloth interior and thick Wilton wool carpet. All hardtops were fitted with standard transmissions with overdrive.

1951 Frazer Manhattan hardtops were constructed from leftover 1949-50 Kaiser and Frazer sedan bodies. The first six cars, all with standard shift and overdrive, were built at Willow Run, the giant bomber factory built by Ford for aircraft production during World War II, and the rest of the production, all with hydramatic transmissions, were built in Jackson Michigan, later the location of Darrin assembly. Some hardtops were fitted with vinyl roof coverings and all had leather interiors, the leather having been purchased in bulk from the Navy, who used it in PT boats and other watercraft during the war. Today, about three dozen of the cars are known to survive.

In 1951, Kaiser - Frazer completely redesigned their lineup with the new 1951 Kaiser debuting in March of 1950. The car was designed by Howard Dutch Darrin , already famous as the designer of the Packard Darrin, and a member of the European design firm of Fernandez and Darrin. The original design was called the Constellation and was heralded as a "Triumph of Anatomic Design"...meaning the car fit ones body rather than the opposite. The final design didn't encompass all of Dutch's desires, eliminating the sliding doors and lower rear roofline, but overall it was a winner, and gave the '51 Kaisers a look unlike anything else on the road. Mechanically, the cars now had the General Motors hydramatic transmission as an available option, along with an engine that had greater horsepower, 118 versus 1950's 110.

In 1951, the Frazer line was going to be dropped, but with several thousand unsold 1949-50 bodies in storage, KF decided to do some minor restyling and using new front and rear fenders came up with the Frazer Sedan . These cars were a hit with over 50,000 orders being taken, but only about 7,000 cars were made before the supply of bodies was exhausted. Today, about 90 of these cars survive, most having been used for parts to restore hardtops and convertibles.

The Kaiser Dragon was a car created to fill the upper medium price bracket for KF. The Dragon was offered in 1951 as a trim option to the Deluxe series and was offered in three trim versions, the Golden, Silver and Jade Dragons, the latter being the rarest. About 1000 1951 Dragons were built. The 1953 Dragon was a separate model and offered many luxuries such as a padded vinyl top, not available with all 1951's, power steering, folding armrests, gold plated exterior trim, and on some cars, wire wheels. There was even a plaque that was affixed to the glove box that had the buyers name engraved on it.

1952 Kaisers were built in two separate model runs. Kaiser - Frazer had leftover unsold cars at the end of the 1951 model run, the result of overproduction and the war in Korea dampening the economy, so KF used the same trick as it had in 1950. To sell the cars, KF simply changed serial number tags, and swapped the clear nose pieces on the 1951 hood ornament for black plastic, and renamed the cars the Kaiser Virginian , a name used in 1949-50 for the hardtop cars.

Once all of the Virginians were sold, the "real" 1952 Kaisers appeared. The biggest change was the addition of a chrome lip to the hood base and the grille area was also redesigned. Unfortunately, this led to a restricted opening for the radiator and 1952-53 Kaisers suffered from vapor lock. Also, the rear of the car sported new tail light assemblies, and a rear bumper bridge to match that on the front of the car. The interiors got new seat cushions and a broader selection of material. The second series 1952 Kaisers also got the new dual range hydramatic transmission, replacing the single range unit of 1951 with it's mechanical reverse and finicky shift pattern. 1952 Kaisers, in either series are rare cars that deserve the attention of collectors today.

Few changes were made to the Kaiser lineup for the 1953 model year. The cars got a new hood ornament, headlight rims and chrome spears appeared on the rear fender tops. Interiors had "bambu" vinyl on the dash and door panels, and a new headliner material made of "Boucle" vinyl, a sort of bumpy textured material. Both vinyls were formed using heated material passing between refrigerated plates and when pressed, the pattern was impressed on the vinyl. Many cars have been found in junkyards with the cloth inserts long rotted away, but the vinyl nearly perfect. Also, mechanically, the cars were given a new intake manifold and tail pipe for more horsepower along with a rerouted fuel line to combat vapor lock, a persistent problem.

When the 1954 Kaisers appeared, it was obvious that the company was in financial trouble. Too many unsold 1953 cars and a soft car market meant Kaiser was in deeper financial trouble. Kaiser had already tried to diversify buying Willys Overland in 1953, a purchase that netted them the Willys Aero passenger car and the profitable Jeep line of utility vehicles. One attempt at boosting horsepower without a V8 engine was the addition of a McCulloch Supercharger . This unit, the same one that appeared a few years later on Studebakers, was a belt driven centrifugal unit that varied the amount of boost, up to 5 lbs., with the aid of a kick-down switch. When operating, the supercharger raised the horsepower from 118 to 140, enough to make the Kaiser Manhattan a contender, without the expense of a V8. Kaiser had experimented with a V8 as early as 1950, but tooling costs prevented any from reaching the showroom. Kaiser tried to buy Olds and Reo V8's, but to no avail.

Along with the 1954 Manhattans, Kaiser also marketed the Kaiser Special . These cars were built in two series, now commonly known as the "Early" and "Late" Specials. The Early Specials were leftover 1953 Manhattans that had the new '54 front sheet metal and tail lights installed with the '53 glass and interiors retained. The Late Specials were '54 bodies with less fancy interiors and trim levels. Neither Special came equipped with a supercharger. About 2250 Early Specials and 929 Late Specials were built in both 2 and 4 door models.

The last passenger cars built by Kaiser in the United States were 1955 models. These cars were identical to the 1954 models with the exception of a slightly redesigned hood ornament. The only model offered was the Manhattan and only 227 4 door and 44 2 door Kaisers were built. Many were equipped with wire wheels and power steering, both being first offered in 1953 on the Dragons. The last Kaiser built in the United States, a 1955 4 door is equipped with power steering, power brakes and an air compressor. This car is in unrestored condition and currently resides in an Ohio collection.

Along with the full size cars, KF also offered the Henry J from 1951-54. The Henry J was the result of Kaiser's desire to build a smaller car with economy in mind. Many designs were looked at before the final design based on the American Metal Products entry was used. After making some changes to their design, KF ran a contest to name the car. Mrs. Charles Atkinson of Denver, Colorado won the $10,000 first prize with the name Henry J. Early cars, in an attempt to keep prices down, did not come equipped with a glove box, instead relying on elastic pouches in the inner door panels. Also, the cars didn't have vent windows that opened or a trunk lid. To reach the spare, one had to fold the rear seat down. Later models had all three missing amenities. The Henry J used a Willys based 143 cubic inch 4 cylinder L head engine, and as an option the Willys Hurricane 161 cubic inch 6 cylinder L head engine. Both engines had overdrive as an available transmission option, hydramatics were not used. Sears also marketed the car in 1952-53 as the Allstate . Approximately 120,000 Henry J's and 1400 Allstates were built.

Perhaps the most memorable product from Kaiser Frazer was the Darrin . The car was designed by Dutch Darrin on his own time and when he showed it to Henry in 1952, the reception was less than enthusiastic. Only after Henry's new wife Alyce had seen the car and loved it did Henry decide to build the fibreglass boulevard cruiser. Many of Dutch's design ideas were used in the making of the car, things like a three position folding top and sliding doors. The car used an F head version of the 161 cubic inch Willys engine and an overdrive equipped three speed standard transmission. 435 of these rolling masterpieces were constructed in Jackson Michigan, at the same plant used to build the hardtops, and about 385 survive today. When KF left the passenger car market in 1955, Dutch bought a few cars from the factory and refitted a couple with Cadillac V8 engines and LaSalle transmissions.

If you worked at Kaiser - Frazer you had to wear an employee badge at all times. To keep track of the tooling in the plant, all machinery was identified with tool tags . This one is from the old Willys Overland plant in Toledo, Ohio, where Kaiser - Willys built the 1954-55 Kaiser and Willys products.

To be continued...

Visit your local Kaiser-Frazer Dealer today!

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This Page Last Updated on: August 9, 1945
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