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Saturday, January 1, 2011

1951 Kaiser

The 1951 Kaiser’s sophisticated grille was an eloquent
double chrome bar kiss
Joseph Frazer was the most sought after salesman in the automobile industry. The superstar was president of Graham-Paige in 1945, having just left the Willys-Overland company in Toledo, Ohio.  Henry Kaiser was the construction and ship building magnate who yearned to build automobiles. The two men met for the first time on July 17, 1945. They liked each other’s ideas for a post-war car. Eight days later, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was born, capitalized with a cool $5 million. They would turn the world on its ear with stunning new front-wheel drive automobiles.

Though prototypes were shown at the New York Auto Show in January of 1946, teething troubles delayed introduction. Eventually, the front-wheel drive concept had to be given up; it was simply too costly to tool. With a backlog of more than 600,000 orders for Kaisers and Frazers, the first conventional, rear-wheel drive test models rolled down the line on May 29, 1946. The cars sold like woolly mittens in –40C weather; the 100,000th mark was reached on September 25, 1947.

The cars looked very much the same for the 1948 selling season but they carried fifteen mechanical improvements. Sales were hot again. Restyled 1949 models bowed on September 19, 1948, once more to public acclaim and plenty of sales. 

Sticker price for the 1951 Kaiser Special four-door sedan was $3,173. Tough new consumer laws from Parliament required Canadians to put down half at delivery and pay off the balance in 12 months.
Kaiser and Frazer launched its 1951 models in February of 1950. Beautiful, with low belt lines, their graceful lines sizzled, making everything else on the road look stodgy in comparison. The styling was courtesy of Howard “Dutch” Darrin. The Control Tower greenhouse was generous, boasting 3,541 square inches of glass. Windshield and rear window carried the signature “Sweetheart” dip, a distinct steel kiss that was repeated in the rear quarter panels. 

Power for the 1951 Kaiser came from the
115-horsepower Supersonic High-Torque engine.
Advertising bragged that the new Kaiser “was developed from a new kind of thinking, a new application of science, a new consideration of human needs and wants as they have changed with the growth of motor transportation.” That science was called anatomic design.

Anatomic design was defined as a car that was created to respond to the human needs, senses, reflexes and muscles. Anatomic design promised to deliver a car that was more comfortable to ride in, safer for the passengers because it was easier to control. 

The 1951 Kaiser Traveler Utility rode a 118.5-inch
wheelbase and tipped the scales at 3,210 pounds.
A two-door Club coupe and a two-door sedan were new this year. They joined the three-passenger business coupe and the four-door sedan. The unique Traveler, a.k.a. the Utility hatchback continued. This year, the Tuck-Away spare tire was repositioned from behind the driver to a clever space under the floor of the trunk. The Traveler was no longer a three-door car. Now it was available in true two- or four-door configurations and given a durable patterned vinyl interior. 

Powering the new Kaiser was the Supersonic High-Torque Engine. Sourced from Continental Motors, the high compression mill generated 115 horsepower. Delivery of that power to the wheels was by a three-speed manual or by a Hydra-Matic self-shifting unit. Advertising pointed out that Kaiser chose the superior unit because it was used by two of the industry’s most expensive motor cars. 

The Easy-View instrument panel in the 1951 Kaiser
 boasted safety padding on the Deluxe models.
Luxurious interiors were emphasized. Deluxe interiors could be ordered in Stockholm, Beaumont or Normandie textiles or sumptuous, supple leather. A thoroughly modern instrument panel brought the speedometer and gauges directly in front of the driver in a hooded cluster dubbed Direct-Vu. It was given colour-coordinated padding in the Deluxe models. A classy feature in all Kaisers was a large, drop-type glove box. 

Kaisers came in base Special trim or a more costly but classy Deluxe trim. A series of seven special Kaisers were decked out in various Dragon 'trim packages' throughout the model year. 

Popular optional equipment included a defroster and heater. A radio was available, as was two-tone paint. Overdrive, electric windshield wipers and an electric clock were nice add-ons. One option deleted by government order as a result of the conflict in Korea was white sidewall tires. 

The 1951 Henry J by Kaiser was assembled in
Leeside (Toronto), Ontario.
The company opened up shop in Canada in 1950. Just as K-F was getting ready to roll, the Federal Government imposed stringent credit restrictions on new car buyers. Now, the consumer had to pay 50 percent down and pay the balance in 12 months. Manufacturers had to pay a 25 percent excise tax. The purpose behind the law was to halt runaway inflation and to divert labour and materials away from consumers and funnel them into the war effort underway in Korea. The new restrictions prompted sales for all the manufacturers to plummet by 35 percent. 

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Restrictions or not, the first K-F products rolled out the doors of the Toronto factory in September of 1950. The sole model produced here was the Henry J, the company’s new compact, designed to take on the Nash Rambler. Senior lines would continue to be imported from the plant in Willow Run, Michigan.

A scant month later, the US parent produced its 500,000th car. Canadian production was decidedly more modest, adding up to 376 units by year’s end. Sales for the calendar year totalled 513 deliveries in the six Eastern provinces. 

Frazer was being phased out of the picture because it was faltering in the market. A single Frazer was sold here in 1951; it was registered in Newfoundland. The 1951 model year production reached 1,286 units, all of them Henry J models. Sales for calendar year 1951 amounted to 1,876 Kaisers, Frazers and Henry Js in the six Eastern provinces.
Lots of extra brightwork added to the already handsome look of the 1951 Kaiser Deluxe four-door sedan. Whitewall tires were shown in sales brochures but were not available because of the UN police action in Korea.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved.

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