What was the best thing ever to come out of Ypsilanti, Michigan? It may well be the Frazer, flagship of the senior automobile line built by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation after World War II.
Frazers were named after president Joseph W Frazer and designed by Howard ‘Dutch’ Darrin to such effect that the cars were honored with the Fashion Academy New York Gold Medal for design excellence — perhaps reflecting the fact that (along with Crosley) Frazers were the first all-new vehicles styled and built after hostilities ended in 1945.
This helped Kaiser-Frazer’s transition from Liberty-Ship builder to automobile manufacturer get off to a flying start, though both Frazers and the utilitarian front-wheel drive Kaisers came in two styles only – sedan and Vagabond hatchback. The devil was in the detail and the company introduced the semi-luxurious Frazer Manhattan in 1947. One cunning marketing ploy was to offer an unequalled array of interior and exterior colors, whilst a bulbous body and long wheelbase offered generous interior space. The Manhattan was powered by the Continental Red Seal six-cylinder engine, which continued to evolve throughout the 1940s. This delivered good fuel economy and the Manhattan was also noted for giving a smooth ride. On the down side, styling — despite innovative straight-through wings — was bland.
Nonetheless, early Manhattans enjoyed reasonable commercial success, with 41,000 sold in two years. But despite a cosmetic revamp sales started to decline and in 1949 a desperate attempt was made to revive interest by creating a convertible. This was hand built from a reinforced sedan shell with the top chopped off. The ploy was not a success — only 17 convertibles were produced and sales of the sedan plummeted below 10,000. J W Frazer left the company in 1951 and the Frazer name went with him, though partner Henry Kaiser carried on.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1947 (until 1951)
3.7 (226 cid) Straight Six
Top speed around 75 mph (121 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Kaiser-Frazer automobiles were built at Willow Run, the world’s then-largest building, which had been constructed by the US Government and used by Henry Ford to build B-24 Liberator bombers – after the war Ford had no further interest in the facility and Kaiser-Frazer was able to secure a cheap lease.