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The Post War Kaiser-Frazier Prototypes

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 the industrialist was the principal contractor of 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 1946 the pair introduced both the new Kaiser and the Frazer cars at Madison Square Gardens in New York City.

The front-wheel-drive Kaiser prototype featured unibody construction and front and rear torsion bar suspension. The advanced Kaiser, however never reached production due to the lack of time to perfect the concept, and it was later dropped. Although the conventionally designed Frazer rear-wheel-drive when into production, and sales began in 1947.

  • The rear-wheel drive Frazer test chassis with a weight box mounted on the rear of the frame.

This is the first in a series of posts showing early activities at the nearly-empty Willow Run Plant, were the Kaiser-Frazier was constructed. It was a surplus defense plant situated in the Michigan town it was named after. The building was built initially for the construction of World War II aircraft by the Ford Motor Company.

Today’s featured images dated by the source to May of 1946 were taken at the end of construction of the prototype rear-wheel drive Frazer “test mule” chassis and while the coachwork for one of the two pre-production automobiles was built. Later in 1946, the pair of machines were displayed at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.

Please share with us what you find of interest in these photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor District Library.

16 responses to “The Post War Kaiser-Frazier Prototypes

  1. Great pictures !!

    Nice to see workers who truly look happy doing what they’re doing.

    The 1949 Chrysler products seem to have taken body style clues from Kaiser – Frazer first cars.

  2. A couple suits (production engineers, maybe) trying to hang the door on 1st and 3rd pictures. Another one 3rd picture checking contour inside trunk . Love these production plant pictures.

    • Behind the trunk checker is worker wearing a flip up eye shield – unsusual to see safety equipment being used in that era.

  3. There’s been a little trend of Kaiser spottings in posts here of late, and oddly enough, though I can’t remember the last time I saw one in the flesh, I just saw one parked by a bedraggled farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Primered in different colors, missing some windows, winter weight on the weeds and grass around it. Looks like it’s sat for quite a while. I have to take more rides in the country. As a kid in a family with not a lot of money, Sunday drives when gas was cheap were the big event of the weekend. My father would pick a country road in the hills of Connecticut, and I got an appreciation for architecture in the small towns we passed, old tractors, pickup trucks, and cars frugal Yankees kept rather than replaced. I miss that. No iPhone to be buried in, just taking it in. You could see how towns evolved from the oldest buildings on up. Anyway, seeing a Kaiser turned into deeper thoughts.

  4. Photo 1-It seems unusual to see a welded Joint from just below the rear window to top of the rear door. Most others did a pressing of the entire roof panel but this was a prototype and probably changed later. Willow Run factory finally fulfilled it’s promise of one B-24 bomber per hour. What a great story of great ideas and hard hard work.

    • I noticed the break in the top and quarter panel as well. My guess is that if K-F did not have a press with enough tonnage or stroke to draw this deep of a panel and had to design within their machine capacity. The early “Turret Top” presses were several stories tall so I’ve read.

  5. Ive been on rolling roads in Connecticut around Essex,Ivoryton,in the early 70s.They got these stone walls everywhere in that part of Conn. built by farmers.Some of them at least 150 yrs old.Theyre protected by state law I heard.You smash into one in your car and you are liable big time.Im from Brooklyn.It was truly an alien landscape when I first beheld this Connecticut.

    • Same time frame Chris, for me late 60’s early 70’s-we may have passed each other. Funny, I ended up living in Brooklyn through the 80s and had a great time taking in the streetscapes of the city. Great architecture and lots, comparatively, of more upscale cars, Caddies, Electras, 98s, etc. A little beat up and grittier, but more urban than the Chevy/Ford/Plymouth norm out in the country. Those stone walls were everywhere. Some were built by convicts, most as you say by farmers , clearing the rocky fields for planting and putting the stones to good use. My grandfather came across a huge boulder hidden under the surface of a field, stoked a fire around it for several days, doused it with cold water, then aggressively sledgehammered it to pieces. Of course, it became part of a stone wall, what else.

  6. At last week’s Barrett-Jackson auction, I happened across a very nice Kaiser Dragon…likely that me of the best around. Not only did it have the “Dragon Skin” vinyl top, but an impossible to replicate typical ’50s modern seat fabric. It was fun to look at.

    It sold for about $25,000 which seems like a deal that f you are into Kaisers or rare independents.

  7. To All,

    Kaiser’s and Frazer’s (2 different vehicles) are alive and well, thanks to the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club International ( . Lots and lots of K-F meets in the U.S. every year.

    My interest??? My dad and uncle were the first Kaiser-Frazer dealer in the State of New Jersey (Morristown). I have wonderful pictures from late 1945, showing the first Kaiser being readied for showing at the Morris County Fair.

  8. A few corrections. Joseph Frazer and his business partners acquired control of Graham-Paige Motor Corp in 1943. Frazer had been president of Willys-Overland from 1939 through 1942 and first met Henry Kaiser on July 17, 1945.

    G-P had leased part of the West Warren plant to Chrysler’s DeSoto Division as DeSoto had a contract to build airplane wings. G-P proceeded to use the rest of the plant to build war materiel for the US government. After the war parts of the West Warren plant were used to build parts for K-F.

    However, in 1947 G-P decided to get out of the auto business as it did not have enough income to cover the expenses to build Frazer cars. All K-F-related materials were sold to K-F. G-P then sold the West Warren plant to Chrysler Corp in 1948 and turned to real estate. The “Motors” in Graham-Paige’s corporate name was dropped in 1952.

  9. Great photos, thanks for posting them. I’ve always been interested in K-F and have read many stories about their quest to become a successful post war auto manufacturer. Both my father and uncle worked at a little dealer in NE OH and I remember the stories my dad told of how the cars were loaded up with options in the brief sellers market. I’m sure there were many reasons for their (lack) of success, but as an industrial equipment dealer of nearly 50 years I can tell you the Continental engine must have really limited K-F’s potential. That engine was probably OK for the time, but had very low power and were prone to overheat, even in the applications they were designed for. Maybe if they were fitted with Rocket 88 V8’s…………?

    • Do you remember the dealer name? I’m from Cleveland,and my dad was also in the car business. There was a K-F dealer at the corner of our street that was incredibly tiny for a dealership.

      • A town about seven miles east of Youngstown called Hubbard, Hulbert Motors. Like most old dealers, it had gas pumps out front and my dad worked on the “grease rack”. My uncle returned from the war and worked in sales- this may have been his first job in that occupation as he went on to sell office equipment. He went to a sales rally at Willow Run and the spokesperson, (might have been Edgar) asked if any of the attendants had a sales order form on them; the one that did got a bag of silver dollars!

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