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Junkyard Gem: 1947 Frazer Manhattan

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Automobiles bearing the Kaiser badge— with its Je suis prêt (I’m prepared) slogan— have been offered for simply the 1947 by means of 1951 model years, so you will not discover many in your native automobile graveyard nowadays (although I did handle to seek out a discarded ’51 Frazer Vagabond a decade in the past). That is a disgrace, as a result of the contemplation of a weathered Frazer opens an enchanting window into some essential automotive history. Here is one of many first vehicles ever produced by the Kaiser-Frazer Company, now residing in a Denver self-service yard.

Joseph Washington Frazer— sure, that center identify derives from an ancestry that included the primary President of america— is not a family identify now, however he performed a pivotal function within the formation of Chrysler Company (it was Frazer who thought up the name for the Plymouth Division), went on to run Willys-Overland (the place he trademarked the Jeep model) throughout World Battle II, after which took over Graham-Paige with the plan of constructing thousands and thousands of civilian vehicles after the warfare. Missing capital, he joined forces with industrialist Henry J. Kaiser (who masterminded the corporate that cranked out 2,710 Liberty Ships through the warfare) and the two men created the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation.

The corporate leased the vast Willow Run plant in Michigan, initially constructed to fabricate B-24 Liberator bombers through the warfare, and— in true Liberty Ship trend— got here up with designs for 2 all-new vehicles seemingly in a single day. One was a radical unibody-chassis machine with front-wheel-drive that by no means made it into manufacturing regardless of plenty of hype during 1946, whereas the opposite was a conventional body-on-frame sedan with rear-wheel-drive and a parts-bin powertrain. The second design went into manufacturing at Willow Run as a 1947 mannequin, with the Frazer variations priced larger than their Kaiser counterparts. The Manhattan was the top-of-the-line Kaiser-Frazer model, priced at $2,550 (about $35,145 in 2022 {dollars}) that yr. You possibly can purchase the lower-zoot Kaiser Special version for a mere $1,868 ($25,745 as we speak).

Ford, GM, and Chrysler have been still building prewar designs presently, so the slab sides of the Kaiser-Frazers appeared futuristic by comparability. The postwar scarcity of new cars meant that patrons did not a lot care if their ’47s and ’48s have been actually late-Nineteen Thirties designs, at the same time as streamlined rocket-powered aircraft flew faster than sound, so determined automobile buyers snapped up the whole lot new with 4 wheels and an engine through the 1946-1948 interval (my grandfather bought a new 1946 Crosley as his postwar work automobile and regretted the choice instantly).

As soon as the Detroit Massive Three had completed the transition from constructing tanks and bombers to designing and constructing trendy Special Deluxes, Tudors, and Chieftans, although, the get together was over for Kaiser-Frazer. Not solely did everybody’s 1949 fashions characteristic slab-sided our bodies, however overhead-valve engines have been changing into the Subsequent Massive Factor. Cadillac and Oldsmobile boasted brand-new pushrod V8s that yr, Chevrolet had supplied an OHV straight-six because the Nineteen Twenties (Buick offered OHV straight-eights beginning in 1931), and even the flathead-engine holdouts have been jacking up compression ratios and making their old valve-in-block engines appear trendy. In the meantime, Kaiser-Frazer was caught with probably the most generic of off-the-shelf engines possible: the Continental flathead straight-six.

The historical past of this engine is so tangled that I would have to write down a doctoral dissertation to do it justice right here, however the condensed model is that Continental constructed engines for different producers (of tractors, plane, mills, trucks, vehicles, you identify it) beginning in 1905, and finally greater than 100 makes of vehicle can be constructed utilizing some variant of the Continental flathead straight-six. Actually, the very last new flathead-equipped car you could buy in the United States was the 1964 Checker Marathon, which could possibly be bought with a 226-cubic-inch (3.7-liter) Continental.

Kaiser-Frazers additionally used the Continental 226 (the later Kaiser Henry J used Willys flathead engines), coupled to a three-on-the-tree column-shift manual transmission. Kaiser-Frazer gross sales collapsed in 1949, by no means to recuperate. Joe Frazer stop the corporate after countless squabbles with the cussed Henry Kaiser, and the Frazer model acquired the axe after 1951 (when the vehicles have been simply 1950 models built with leftover parts).

The final Kaiser-badged vehicles offered in America have been 1955 fashions, whereas Jeep manufacturing continued beneath the Kaiser-owned Willys Motor Company after which Kaiser-Jeep. Jeep ended up within the fingers of American Motors, which was consumed by Chrysler in 1987. We might thus think about as we speak’s Junkyard Gem to be a distant ancestor of the automobiles made by the present-day Stellantis Empire, making it a cousin many occasions eliminated of the Opel Grandland Plug-in Hybrid and Peugeot 208. The Kaiser Permanente healthcare firm, based throughout World Battle II as a way of offering medical look after Kaiser shipyard workers in California and named after the creek near Kaiser’s cement plant, is probably the most seen remnant as we speak of Kaiser-Frazer.

Full of historical past as it’s, this automobile by no means had an opportunity of getting put again on the highway after spending a long time outdoor in Excessive Plains Colorado. A very nice ’47 Manhattan just isn’t worth much now, sadly, so a tough one is value its weight in scrap.

Bear in mind, your Kaiser-Frazer dealer is delivering now!


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