History of Kaiser

Kaiser imageAfter World War II, with the great need for transportation, many newcomers entered the automobile industry looking for success. Henry J. Kaiser, a shipbuilder during the war, was looking forward to the postwar period. He anticipated the needs for house, medical care, and automobiles. Along with a beneficial health care plan and an expansion in the manufacturing of materials for houses, Kaiser ambitiously began to build automobiles, creating Kaiser-Frazer Corporation with his partner, Joseph W. Frazer, the former CEO of the Graham-Paige Corporation.

Henry Kaiser worked from a modest beginning to build an empire of shipbuilding, steel, and cement production, and earned the title “the Miracle Man” by building remarkable numbers of ships during World War II. Joseph Frazer worked his way up in Packard, rising from manual labor to the executive ranks. They met in 1942 and again in 1945; at their second meeting they agreed to team up. By working quickly they were able to lease Ford’s Willow Run plant from the WAA and build a full 11,000 cars in 1946, before the big Detroit automakers could get going. The next year 100,000 cars were made with a $19 million profit.

In January 1946, two well-kept secrets were revealed to the public in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City: non-running prototypes of the new Frazer and the revolutionary Kaiser K85 family car with front-wheel drive. While there ultimately was a running front wheel drive Kaiser (even driven by Tom McCahill in 1946), the development time was too short to bring it to production and the final decision was to use the same body and drivetrain for both the Frazer and Kaiser. The Kaiser K85, with its advanced unit-body construction, would never be built, and all Kaiser cars would have body and frame construction.

Kaiser-Frazer Corporation’s first car was launched for the 1947 model year. Known as the Kaiser Special, it was a four door sedan with a six cylinder engine. These two cars (with the Frazer) had the first true postwar sheet metal with enveloped bodies and fender lines that ran front to rear in an unbroken contour. The Kaiser had many luxurious features including welded all-steel construction; between the wheel seating; exceptionally wide wheel rims; low center of gravity; low, luxurious seats; large luggage compartment; curved wraparound bumpers; dual horns; twin sun visors; dash mounted starter switch; automatic dome lights; and large, hydraulic self-centering brakes. The Kaiser radiator grille was a mixture of vertical and horizontal blades (not unusual for the period) with rectangular parking lamps placed outside the grille work, under the headlamps. A large hood badge bearing the letter ‘K’ above a buffalo shield told the world that this was a Kaiser vehicle.

Modern features included aluminum alloy pistons, an automatic choke, double-acting hydraulic brakes, independent suspension, curved rear window, and fresh-air heater. A more unusual feature was the hand throttle.

The Kaiser Custom was a higher trim. Although the engine was the same, the Kaiser Custom had more features and convenience options. These features include a leather-trimmed dashboard and upholstery; special dashboard and window control knobs; a clock; robe holder; new ashtrays and package shelf; more interior trim and bright metal windshield frames; upholstered trunk compartment; passenger assist handles; chrome highlighted footrests; courtesy lamps; bright finished hand brake lever and lengthwise seamed headliner. The car was distinguished outside by rocker panel molding, custom front fender scripts, and chrome wheel trim rings. The custom interiors were carefully keyed to harmonize with special exterior shades such as Onyx; Linden Green; Clay Pipe Gray; Coral Sand; Horizon Blue and Hickory Brown Metallic. Some of the convenience options were the defroster and heater, radio, radio antenna, stainless steel wheel trim rings, tailpipe extension, full wheel discs, outside rear view mirror, external sun visor, traffic light viewer, spot lights, fog lamps, plastic white sidewall discs, front and rear bumper guards, and white sidewall tires.

In 1948, the Kaiser saw very few changes. Most alterations had been made during the 1947 model run. The changes were of minor significance. The same thing went for the Kaiser Custom – small changes were minor significance. Production of the Kaiser Special rose while production of the more expensive Kaiser Custom fell.

More information and pictures available at http://www.allpar.com

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