Frazer Manhattan – 1947

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.




1947 (until 1951)


3.7 (226 cid) Straight Six


Top speed around 75 mph (121 km/h)


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.


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