Kaiser HistoryOn August 9th, 1945 the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was incorporated, an effort spear-headed by Joseph Frazer and Henry J. Kaiser. Kaiser had made his fortune in construction, most notably his participation in the building of Hoover *** and Liberty Ships. Frazer had been a Packard mechanic, then president of Willys-Overland, and finally gaining control of the Graham-Paige Motor Corporation. The Kaiser-Frazer goal was to tackle two major segments of the automotive market, the upper and the lower. This meant going against General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler and other small but well-known companies such as Packard, Studebaker, Nash, and Hudson. The intent was to gear the Kaiser automobiles for the lower end segments and entry level vehicles. The Frazer vehicles would operate the opposite end of spectrum, catering to the upper class segment.
Since this was a new company, their vehicles had to be built from the ground-up. There was experimentation with front-wheel drive and various other mechanical components but the Kaiser-Frazer pair settled on the traditional front-engined, rear-wheel drive design. This was decided after they encountered numerous transmission problems with the front-wheel design. The styling was handled by Santa Monica-based Howard 'Dutch' Darrin who produced designs that provided ample seating and legroom for passengers while maintaining a comfortable ride. Darrin also designed for Packard and Studebaker.
A side-valve six-cylinder engine producing 100 horsepower was used to power the vehicles. The modified Continental Red Seal engine had quality problems which were later resolved after Kaiser-Frazer began manufacturing them under license in 1947.
In January of 1946 the first two vehicles were ready to be shown to the public. By June of 1946 production was in full-swing, producing cars that were later introduced as 1947 models. During the initial year over 139,000 Kaiser-Frazer automobiles were sold. The Kaiser and Frazer automobiles were very similar, distinguished by small visual queues such as their grilles. Both were well received and sold very well. The 1948 vehicles were similar to the prior year receiving on slight modifications. Sales continued to be strong.
For 1949 and 1950 sales began to decline. This was due, in part, to changes in the market such as increasing competition. Many manufacturers were introducing new models that ranged in size, design, features, mechanical components, and technology. The Frazer-Kaiser line of automobiles needed to be updated to stay current. Darrin, with assistance from Duncan McRae, were able to create a new look for the Kaiser-Frazer automobiles in 1951. The design was modern, sensational, and elegant boosting sales to over 230,00 for 1951. For 1951 only 152 Frazer Manhattan Hardtops were produced making them extremely rare by todays standards. Most of the sales were Kaisers since only a few Frazer's were produced. This was the result of the Kaiser-Frazer partnership collapse due to a disagreement and Frazer withdrew from the company; this was the final year the Frazer name would adorned a vehicle. For 1952 the Manhattan model, originally intended as a Frazer was dubbed bearing the Kaiser name.
From 1947 through 1951 Kaiser-Frazer Corporation produced the vehicles in the United States, in Willow Run, Michigan. For 1952 the vehicles were being produced in Toronto, Canada.
The Kaiser-Frazer pair created the first true post-War attempt at pillarless 'hardtop convertible' vehicles, beating General Motors to market by two months.
For 1952 sales plummeted to just over 57,000. For 1953 only 46,398 vehicles were produced. This was due to many reasons, most notably the lack of proper horsepower. Kaiser did not have an eight-cylinder engine and was no match for the performance of its competition. In 1954 Kaiser offered a supercharger which raised the horsepower rating to 140 but this was not enough. Sales hovered just over 10,000.
Powered by a 90-horsepower 161-cubic inch six cylinder engine, the Kaiser-Darrin was created to compete with Chevrolet's Corvette in the growing sports car market. The Kaiser-Darrin was styled by Darrin. Unusual for the time, the Kaiser-Darrin had a fiberglass body, a three-position top and sliding doors that disappeared into the front fenders when opened. In 1954, the model's only year of production, a mere 435 cars were built in addition to an estimated six pre-production prototypes.
In 1955 and after 735,000 vehicles, Kaiser ceased production of automobiles in the United States.