In 1945, Henry J. Kaiser and Joe Frazer formed the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation with the purpose of creating an economical, light-weight, and innovative vehicle.
When Henry J. Kaiser began production of the Manhattan, his goal was to produce a safe vehicle. This was accented by the vehicles bumpers, low centre of gravity, excellent field-of-view for the driver, and more. The design updates were courteous of the legendary designer, Howard 'Dutch' Darrin. The first Manhattan was actually created in 1947 as a Frazer and not a Kaiser. In 1951 the vehicle became the Kaiser Manhattan, the result of Frazer splitting his relationship with Kaiser.
Under the hood of the Manhattan sat a six-cylinder engine. This was unfortunate because the competition was offering high-output eight-cylinder variants that were more powerful and offered more performance.
In 1954 Kaiser offered the Manhattan with a McCulloch VS57 Supercharger. This raised horsepower for the 226 cubic-inch engine from 118 to 140. The zero-to-sixty time when from nearly 18 seconds down to 15.
In 1953 a high-end version of the Manhattan was produced, dubbed the Kaiser Dragon. The exterior was given a reptilian theme trim package complete with 'dragon-skin' vinyl room. The interior continued this theme in its upholstery.
In 1953 Kaiser merged with Willys-Overland which proved to be a bad move for the Kaiser Company. Willys-Overland was being criticized by the public over its military contracts. As a result, negative press arose and ultimately accelerated the companies' demise in 1955. The Kaiser factories were closed and the production equipment was sent to Cordoba, Argentina in 1958 where the production of the Manhattan continued until 1962. During this 1958 through 1962 time period, around 8,025 non-supercharged Kaiser Carabela's were produced.
Much is left up to speculation about the fortunes of the company if a eight-cylinder engine would have been offered. The Manhattan was a stylish vehicle but its six-cylinder engine was not enough to keep the public interested. By Daniel Vaughan | Dec 2006