Saturday, May 08, 2010

More Kaisers and Frazers in East Peoria

More photos from the KFOCI Midwest Division Meet at the Stony Creek Inn in East Peoria. Here's what greeted me when I stopped by yesterday afternoon. Clicking on any of the photos will take you to a larger image.

This is a '47 Frazer, the first year for the Kaiser and Frazer automobiles. It was named after Joe Frazer, the long-time automobile man who partnered with industrialist Henry Kaiser to take on the Big Three (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) after the Second World War. The first Frazers were officially manufactured by the Graham-Paige Motors, a pre-war independent headed by Frazer that just barely survived the Depression. The first generation Kaisers were basically stripped Frazers.

Soon after production of the Kaiser and Frazer began, GP quickly sold out the car part of its business, went into real estate, and a decade later changed its name to the Madison Square Garden Corporation. This is a '49 Frazer, a very nice face-lift of the '47-'48 models. But by then the Big Three had post-war designs, meaning KF lost its uniqueness in the market. Soon Mr. Frazer was being eased out of the company by Kaiser people.

The '51 Frazers were the end of the line. Actually, they never would have been made -- Joe Frazer was out of the company by then -- except KF had manufactured way too many 1950 cars that didn't sell. This face-lift was to use up those extra cars, and it really looks nice.My grandfather owned a Frazer for a while, though that was before I was around. I'm not sure which of these three it would have been.

If I ever buy a Kaiser, it is more likely to be more like this '53 Manhattan. A very handsome car, not as rare as the '54-'55, and there seem to be decent ones close to my price range.

After domestic production ceased, Kaiser-Willys manufactured the Kaiser in Argentina from 1958-62 as the Kaiser Carabella. This 1960 model was used for engineering purposes as the Kaiser plant in Toledo, Ohio, which explains how it is one of only a dozen or so Carabellas in the US.

Henry J. Kaiser went into the auto business after World War Two with the goal of building a "peoples' car." The closest he came to that was the compact Henry J. This one actually looks pretty nice, but it was the wrong car at the wrong time for the wrong price. There are many reasons Kaiser-Frazer ultimately failed as a make, and the Henry J's draining of resources is near the top of the list.

The first part of selling a car is getting a buyer in the showroom. Nothing does that better that a sexy "sports car." Even today, folks head to the Chevy dealer to look at a Corvette. Very few will even consider actually buying one, but some will come home in a new Impala or a Cruze. The 2-seater Kaiser Darrin (designed by and named after Dutch Darrin, the chief designer of the full-sized Kaisers and Frazers) is a beautiful fibreglass body on a Henry J frame. The doors actually slide into the front fenders! 435 were built, and the KFOCI registry shows just over 400 of them still exist. Too bad it's not top-down weather.

Most folk my age or younger hear the make "Willys" and think "Jeep." But before WW2, Willys-Overland had been one of the major independent auto makes and they re-entered the market with a series of compact cars, hoping to capitalize on another niche along with Jeep. The "Aero Willys" was well-praised, but niche simply wasn't big enough -- perhaps if Willys could have sold it for $500 less. Kaiser purchased Willys in '53, but the car was probably already on its last legs. Jeeps were selling well; who needed this? This is a '55 Custom, the last year for the domestic Willys automobile. Her owner, Lew Retzer (one of The Sources if you want to know something about the post-war Willys) and I had a really nice conversation about this and other cars he's owned -- exactly the kind of thing old car club meets are for.

As I was walking to my car in the lot of the Stony Creek Inn, this '53 Manhattan was driving in. She sounded as smooth as she looks.

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