The Frazer was the product of an uneasy alliance between a 35-year auto industry veteran and a brash industrialist who thought it might be nice to get into the car business. The veteran was master salesman Joseph W. Frazer. The industrialist was west coast steel and shipbuilding tycoon Henry J. Kaiser.
Frazer had learned his trade in the Twenties at Packard, Pierce-Arrow, and General Motors. He moved on to help build Chrysler Corporation, then breathed new life into Willys-Overland in the Thirties. Shortly before the U. S. entered World War II, Frazer and his associates had acquired the remnants of Graham-Paige Motors with the idea of producing a new postwar car. Frazer was looking for a moneyed partner in early 1945 when friends introduced him to Kaiser, whose pockets were bulging from fat wartime contracts.
The two hit it off, and Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was born. Together, they acquired the mile-and-a-half-long exbomber factory at Willow Run, Michigan, and Henry laid plans to build there his hoped-for full-size Kaiser, with unit construction, torsionbar suspension, and front-wheel drive. Graham-Paige in Detroit would see to the costlier Frazer, a rear-drive companion sharing the Kaiser’s basic body design, the work of famed stylist Howard A. "Dutch" Darrin.
Problems loomed early. The frontdrive Kaiser "85" proved unworkable, and finances forced G-P to sell its automotive interests-to K-F in early 1947. Yet despite these woes and postwar materials shortages, K-F managed to start production by June 1946. The Frazer remained a costlier Kaiser, which was now reengineered with rear drive and a separate boxsection chassis with conventional suspension and a 123.5-inch wheelbase. Both makes were built at Willow Run, initially at a ratio of one Frazer to every two Kaisers.
K-F prospered in the booming postwar seller’s market. Its cars had the industry’S first true flush-fender styling, offered an unheard-of array of colors and trims, rode well, and were solidly built. Only one body style, a four-door sedan, was offered in each line through 1948, Kaiser Special and Custom, Frazer standard and Manhattan. Power came from an improved, automotive version of the Continental "Red Seal" industrial engine, a markedly undersquare 226.2inch six rated at 100-110 horsepower.
By New Year’s Day 1950, what some obsevers called the "postwar wonder company" had built some 400,000 cars under both marques. But by then the bubble had burst. The pivotal year was 1949, when Henry tried to maintain 1948 production levels in the face of brand-new Big Three competition and only minimal styling changes in his own products. High prices didn’t help. A Kaiser Special cost more than a Chrysler Windsor, and the Frazer sold for as much as some Cadillacs, which now had a potent new V-8 and much sleeker looks. The result was a considerable drop in sales that left K-F . with thousands of unsold cars. Leftovers were accordingly given 1950 serial numbers just to clear stocks. This debacle and continuing friction with Henry and his son Edgar prompted Joe Frazer’s resignation as company president in 1949. Edgar moved in to replace him. K-F’s downhill slide to oblivion had begun.
The Frazer’s last year was 1951. Leftover Kaiser utility sedans, with double rear hatch and folding back seat, were converted into Frazer Vagabonds, and the previous Kaiser Virginian pillared hardtop became a Frazer Manhattan. All models were treated to reshaped sheetmetal, but prices were higher than ever and production stopped at a little more than 10,000 units. Altogether, about 152,000 Frazers were built for 1947-51.
Ironically, the Frazer disappeared even as dealers were clamoring for more of the cars. It was typical of the mistakes that led to the demise in the U. S. of K – F itself after 1955. Management briefly considered a new Frazer based on the lovely second-generation Kaiser, introduced for 1951, but with Joe Frazer out of the picture it was not to be. With the marque died America’s first postwar convertible sedan and a potential that was never fully exploited.
Filed under: Article, Automobiles, The forties Tagged: 1948 Frazer Manhattan, Forties American Cars