With the 1951-54 Henry J, Kaiser-Frazer created a cute and memorable car for collectors to enjoy today. But when they were new, the company could barely give them away.
However, we have never managed to attract J Henry himself to the main attraction. Nonetheless, we have also covered the story of J Henry’s version of the department store Sears, known as Allstate, in 1952-53. Additionally, we featured the prototype AMP of Kaiser-Frazer, which is considered to be the father of the low-priced compact cars. In 2018, for example, we did not necessarily prioritize the most logical order of things at Mac’s Motor Garage in City.
In September of 1951, J. Henry Kaiser, the founder of Frazer-Kaiser, introduced the model A, which was named after himself, in a formal introduction to the public. When Kaiser had the idea, he wanted to produce an affordable compact car for working people, even though his original plans didn’t work out. Finally, in the spring of 1950, the Frazer and Kaiser models were rolled out for the 1947 model year, with the price creeping up into the Buick range. Kaiser Henry was able to achieve his original goal with the help of a $44 million loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, covering the costs of development.
The curb weight of the car was approximately 2300 lbs, and it had a wheelbase of only 100 inches. K-F approached Willys-Overland for the two available engines for the Henry J – the optional 161 CID flathead six with 80 hp and the same 134 CID flathead four used in the Jeep, which had a rating of 68 hp. The prototype car used a Continental four-cylinder industrial engine. In the production car, conventional steel channel was used instead of the round steel tubing of the AMP car for the frame rails. The chassis of the 1948 AMP prototype bears a remarkable resemblance to that of the Henry J.
J Henry engineered the metal sheet exterior of the prototype’s AMP, closely following the egg-like shape with a few added styling gestures. The deck lid and roof combined to be the largest one-piece stamping in the car industry at the time, while there wasn’t even an opening deck lid originally. Kaiser was so obsessed with cutting costs that no optional features were available, including rear side windows or a glove box. However, the trunk was accessible and clamored for in export markets, according to Sears Roebuck.
Overall, strategies were devised to cease the production of passenger vehicles when Kaiser Motors acquired Willys-Overland for $63 million and some additional amount in April of 1953. It seems that the remaining 1953 cars, which were labeled as 1954 models and amounted to 1,123 sales, were fewer than the 17,000 cars that were sold in 1953. In 1952, the number of cars produced drastically dropped to only 30,000 from the previous year’s production of nearly 82,000 cars. The company boldly referred to the Vagabond model for 1952 as “America’s finest sports car,” and added a continental spare tire (shown above) as the inventory continued to accumulate. Initially, the demand was met and sales were quite brisk, but then they declined rapidly.
Here is the result: (Check out our feature on the Rambler here.) The Rambler was much more successful in the compact car field, with additional standard equipment but at a slightly higher cost. Meanwhile, Nash lacked the economies of scale enjoyed by big automakers due to its relatively low production volume. When the pricing for a new Chevy was $1450 and a new V8 Ford ’51 started at $1411, J Henry managed to start pricing at $1363, making it even more possible. The factory photo above provides some clues as to what went wrong with the product, as the cabin appointments were kept spartan to say the least.
The water under the bridge is now almost gone. Even today, the Henry J still holds a special place in the street rod community, and in the 1960s, hot rodders and drag racers greatly valued it for its lightweight design and simple construction. The vintage car enthusiasts also highly appreciate the Henry J. When the ’51 model in the stunning Aloha Green color, which was an original Kaiser-Frazer shade, made an appearance at the Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show, the audience gave it a round of applause, fittingly enough. If someone were to give you a Henry J. Kaiser car today, you might never guess that they were not brand new.