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The Sensational New 1947 Kaiser Front-Wheel Drive Car

Henry J. Kaiser was a man who did not take the easy path in any of his many business ventures – He thought big and built Liberty ships at seven Kaiser shipyards during and after World War II; earlier was a major contractor at the Hoover Dam, and also formed the Kaiser Steel and Kaiser Aluminum companies and other ventures.

In 1946 Kaiser and Joseph W. Frazer became involved with the Graham-Paige Company and later purchased the assets of the old line automaker. In 1947 the pair introduced both the new Kaiser and the Frazer cars at Madison Square Gardens in New York City. Two front-wheel drive Kaisers prototypes were built featuring unibody construction and front and rear torsion bar suspension. The advanced Frazer however never reached production due to lack of time to perfect the concept in time and it was dropped, but the Frazer was produced, and sales began in 1947. Learn more about the Kaiser-Frazer in an earlier article.

Thanks go out to contributor Tom Jakeway for the story idea and the last two images in this post and to Bill Brown who hosts a page with more information about the front-wheel drive 1947 Kaiser. 

1947 Kaiser Front-Wheel Drive II

  • Ilustration from a 1946 Kaiser-Frazier brochure of the 1947 front-wheel drive Kaiser.

1947 Kaiser Engine and FWD Transmission and Differentical

  • Illustrations above and below of the 1947 Kasier 187 c.i. six-cylinder L-head engine, transmission, differential, and front suspension. The rear suspension with lighter trailing arms used the same general construction. 

1947 Kaiser Engine and FWD Transmission and Differentical II

21 responses to “The Sensational New 1947 Kaiser Front-Wheel Drive Car

  1. Interesting advertising copy,”..war perfected…”
    “And best of all,its been war-perfected for that extra get-up-and-go!

    • I don’t recall anyone mocking GM,s claim that the Hydramatic transmission had been “battle proven.” It went on to be one of the most durable transmissions of the times.

  2. We were so behind the times. Europe had several fwd platforms already in use. The K-F unit looks like it would have been a heavy, clumsy, oil leaking mess full of inherent fwd quirks. It was Europe and Asia that had small motors, transversing them, making a compact unit, they weren’t propelling tanks, for heavens sake. Lot’s of stuff came out of the war, some, just not so popular on the highway as on the battle field . That, and K-F really had some dated styling. I would have thought, K-F should have done more with styling, like the Henry J, than pour all that into fwd. They had to have working prototypes, I wonder if any exist? Cool article.

    • The American auto industry led the world after WW2. We were not behind the times. Cord had great FWD designs as early as 1929. There were some interesting engines in Europe, but if you wants a high quality, fast reliable car, there were no reasonably priced cars available except from the US. Transverse FWD was not available until the BMC Mini in 1959, more than 10 years later. In 1947, Asia was not a significant auto producer. In 1950 the US produced over 70% of the world’c cars. In 1947 we had a much larger share.

      • For sheer value American cars were unbeatable .The Citroen avants were dear Gregoires etc hopelesly unreliable. If you compare say a Packard of 1938 to a Royce of the same date ,or a modest Plymouth to a big Morris,the American car is superior.

  3. This is amazing. I’ve long known of the front-drive Kaisers. I’ve read of Tom McCahill saying they were the worst all-around cars he ever tried to steer. But, I’ve never known of advertising for those cars.

    As always, thanks for all you do.

    • In Dec ’48 M.I., McCahill tested the ’49 Kaiser on a road trip. He did mention driving the FWD test mules and that it “had the agility of an elephant in the Ballet Russe.”

    • It might be worth remembering that Citroen avants had special tyres courtesy of the parent company,I am lead to believe FWD Alvis were heavy on their fronts ,were Cords the same ?

      • Hi John, Firestone sold a tire called the “TFD”, or Toronado Front Drive, specifically made for Toronado’s. It, supposedly, had a stiffer sidewall.

  4. K-F worked very hard to bring vehicles to market which were different from the run of the mill cars available from the Big Three. Standing out in a crowded postwar marketplace seemed like a great idea, but K-F could not afford to take risks but did anyway. I’ve always admired their willingness to give the buyer real choices and fresh thinking in automotive design.

    • Given how high the engine sits above the differential, that’s probably the logical place for it. It’s hard to imagine a power unit that tall fit under anything resembling a normal hood. I recall my wife’s TR3 had a crank mounted fan as well altho that’s hardly a recommendation for the practice.

      “Bigness” That’s not a word I can recall seeing in a car ad before.

  5. Walter Christy invented front wheel drive. He was an American who managed to patent it in the USA, Europe, and
    other countries. He raced one at Ormand Beach in 1904 and had the first American entry in a French Grand Prix in 1907. At 19,881 cc’s and a V4, it was the largest engine to ever participate in a French Grand Prix. The Frontmobile
    was produced 1917-1918 by a Mr. Blomstrom who had produced the Queen in 1907. A 1918 sits in Reno in the
    Harrah’s Museum. By the ’20’s, Cord and Ruxton had popular and acclaimed front wheel autos on the road. The
    depression did serious damage to the class of people who could obtain these cars and put a damper on development
    until the sixties, when GM brought out the Olds Toronado. I’ll leave European efforts for somebody else to comment
    on.
    Thanks for filling me in on the Kaiser front wheel drive cars. I always had a feeling that truth was stranger than fiction. Take care of yourself. The old car community needs you.

  6. Boy, I just got an education regarding Kaiser’s front wheel drive attempt. Obviously, it would have been a failure. I can only imagine what a nightmare it would have been to work on that transmission considering its location. I always listened to “Uncle” Tom McCahill.
    Rog

    • I read that the big problem was the amount of effort needed to steer these cars and that the cost of adding power steering, which was still an exotic option, was too high to make the idea viable for a mass market car.

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