This week in 1947, the primary manufacturing Kaiser and Frazer vehicles roll off the Willow Run, Michigan meeting line. Until the trendy EV startups equivalent to Tesla, Rivian and Lucid, it could be the final American automaker to problem the Big Three, and would survive by means of 1970.
If the names appear international to fashionable automotive patrons, they have been well-known on the time. Nevertheless, the one remnant of the automaker is Kaiser Permanente, the HMO many Americans use.
But the saga of Kaiser-Frazer, and its creation, is an interesting one.
A case of the WIllys
The story of Kaiser-Frazer is entwined with Willys-Overland that for a time within the Nineteen Twenties, ranked second solely to Ford in gross sales. But administration errors discovered it declaring chapter in 1933, and exiting 4 years later. Although the corporate produced greater than 60,000 automobiles and netted a revenue of $473,000 in 1937, the journey into chapter 11 didn’t instill purchaser confidence, and the corporate’s fortunes declined as soon as extra.
It’s solely beneath the stewardship of gross sales supervisor Joseph Frazer that the corporate didn’t fail as soon as extra. While automobile gross sales remained meager, Frazer had gained a U.S. Army contract to construct the Jeep, resulting in a revenue in 1941 of $809,258, and a backlog of $42.5 million in protection orders. Willys-Overland profited together with the conflict, as greenback quantity grew from $21 million in 1941 to $213 million in 1944.
But it was in 1942 that Frazer first turned conscious of Henry J. Kaiser, who had been learning plastic-bodied automobiles, suggesting that after World War II was over, he would possibly promote them for $400-$600, whereas additionally saying that automakers ought to publicize their postwar plans.
Frazer was not pleased; car manufacturing had been halted as automakers have been anticipated to transform their factories to fabricate munitions, not vehicles.
“I resent a West Coast shipbuilder asking us if we have the courage to plan postwar automobiles when the President has asked us to forego all work which would take away from the war effort,” he stated.
Little did both of them know that inside three years, they might be enterprise companions.
A gathering of like minds
Kaiser had made his mark as a shipbuilder on the West Coast throughout the conflict whereas Frazer had made his mark at Willys-Overland. By the time Frazer left Willys-Overland in 1944, the corporate had yearly gross sales of $212 million, because of Jeep manufacturing. But by that time, Frazer had landed at Graham-Paige, the place he was planning the agency’s postwar car. That Graham-Paige had survived in any respect was miraculous.
Before the conflict, the corporate had limped lengthy, an unprofitable automaker that had survived constructing the Graham Hollywood primarily based on previous Cord 810. The conflict had confirmed worthwhile, nonetheless, and 1941 supplied the primary earnings since 1933. Once extra on sound footing, Frazer assumed management of Graham-Paige after buying 530,000 shares of firm inventory in 1944 from founder Joe Graham, with choices on a further 300,000. Not surprisingly, Frazer was elected chairman of the Graham-Paige board, and began planning a postwar automobile.
Frazer introduced in designer Howard Darrin to work on the brand new automobile, which to be referred to as Frazer, because the Graham-Paige identify not carried a lot weight with patrons. As sellers have been being recruited, Frazer was launched to Henry Kaiser by Amadeo P. Giannani, founding father of Bank of America. Kaiser, who had revolutionized shipbuilding, had been toying with the concept of an reasonably priced postwar automobile. Like others within the trade, Kaiser anticipated a postwar recession just like the one which adopted World War I.
But Kaiser had no automotive expertise; Frazer, whoever, did. The two joined forces, agreeing to a three way partnership as Frazer’s nephew, Hickman Price Jr., obtained the wartime surplus Willow Run, Michigan meeting plant that Ford not wished. Next got here Kaiser-Frazer’s inventory providing which netted the corporate $52 million in capitalization.
A fancy joint working settlement between Kaiser-Frazer and Graham-Paige was agreed to, with two mainstream Kaisers vehicles to be constructed for each premium Frazer, the latter remaining a Graham-Paige product. Joe Frazer was named president of each corporations, whereas Henry Kaiser was anointed chairman of Kaiser-Frazer.
By January 1946, Kaiser-Frazer unveiled their first prototype, the front-wheel drive Kaiser K85 on the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. But improvement issues precluded its use, because the automobile exhibited heavy steering, gear whine, and wheel shimmy. The resolution was made that each Kaiser and Frazer automobiles would share powertrains and appears, as Henry Kaiser used Graham’s design for his personal automobile in a match of expediency, not artistry.
Too a lot too quickly
The first Kaiser and Frazer automobiles rolled off the road this week in 1947, each powered by a 3.7-liter 6-cylinder engine that produced 100 horsepower. The Frazer was the fancier of the 2, and provided as a sedan or convertible. But the 2 differed in additional than furnishings. The Frazer benefitted from its automated transmission, whereas the Kaiser got here with a 3-speed guide transmission. Rear-wheel drive was customary on each automobiles.
Initially, the automobiles offered nicely within the postwar vendor’s market, with Kaiser-Frazer producing 70,000 automobiles in 1947 and practically 92,000 in 1948, good for a $30 million revenue. Yet neither automobile was low cost. The Kaiser Special began at practically $700 greater than the most cost effective 1947 Chevrolet, whereas the upscale 6-cylinder Frazer value $100 greater than an 8-cylinder Buick Special.
Yet as demand turned satiated, the Big Three equipped for his or her first, true postwar designs in 1949. In distinction, Kaiser-Frazer merely had a refresh; a brand new mannequin was due in 1950. Yet Henry Kaiser wished to construct 200,000 automobiles, towards Frazer’s want to tug again within the face of the Big Three’s redesign.
“The Kaisers never retrench,” he insisted, and the corporate adopted Henry’s needs, gearing as much as construct 200,000 automobiles — and offered 58,000. Approximately 20% remained unsold, and got new 1950 serial numbers, accounting for about 84% of 1950 gross sales.
It was an excessive amount of for Frazer, who left the corporate and was changed by Henry’s son, Edgar. The Frazer line was dropped.
The finish, and a brand new starting
A brand new Kaiser arrived in 1951, with a brand new design by Darrin. But it did little to assist gross sales, which continued to slip, totaling 32,000 for 1952 and 28,000 for 1953. But as an alternative of restyling the Kaiser, or manufacturing a V-8 to match the competitors, the corporate launched the compact Henry J, which proved to be flop. Even America’s first fiberglass sports activities automobile, the Kaiser-Darrin, didn’t elicit patrons.
By 1954, with money diminishing, Kaiser acquires Willys-Overland for $63 million and renamed Willys Motors. Kaiser manufacturing was consolidated at Willys Toledo plant, with Kaiser promoting its Willow Run facility to General Motors in 1954 for $24 million. Many Kaiser sellers change into Jeep sellers as tooling for the 1954 Kaisers was saved and moved to Industrias Kaiser Argentina, the place it was offered because the Kaiser Carabela by means of 1962.
Back within the states, Kaiser returned Willys Motors to profitability by 1956, renaming it Kaiser Jeep Corp. in 1962. It can be offered to American Motors Corp. in 1970 after Henry’s dying in 1969.
Many view Henry Kaiser’s car-building profession as a failure, which is true in case your tunnel imaginative and prescient stops at 1954. But the next 15 years proved way more profitable than the earlier eight, meriting a re-examination of his ability as an auto producer.