(first posted 7/22/2013) 1951 was the year Kaiser-Frazer should have “made it.” A thoroughly restyled–and beautiful–Kaiser, a facelifted swan-song Frazer, and the all-new compact Henry J meant that Kaiser had spent ample time and money in rejuvenating their lineup. Never again would K-F have such a modern and diverse lineup. Unfortunately, Henry Kaiser’s ego (“The Kaisers NEVER retrench!”), the lack of a V8 option and numerous other factors made 1951 the beginning of the end for K-F in the U.S.
Kaiser seemed to have two big problems: Pricing and lack of a V8 engine. Kaisers were too expensive when compared to the low-priced three, and not impressive enough when shopped against a Rocket 88 or Buick Super. Plus, with the advent of Cadillac and Oldsmobile’s compact V8s, all bets were off for K-F’s success. So what did they do? They introduced a compact car, of course!
One of the problems with the K-F experiment was Henry J. Kaiser’s ego. Perhaps his “my way or the highway” management style worked when his California shipyards were stamping out umpteen Liberty ships a day, but the car biz was a whole different story. So, instead of an updated full-size Kaiser, or perhaps a V8 engine, U.S. buyers got the Henry J–perhaps the most egotistically-named automobile in history.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the HJ is a cool little car, even though it bombed in the marketplace. But the campaign to name the new little K-F product always rubbed me the wrong way. A contest was announced, giving the public the opportunity to suggest a name. But after it was all said and done, HJK said “April fool!” and named the car after himself. Not cool.
So what was the Henry J? It was part of the early ’50s compact car craze–well, craze in the minds of Detroit executives anyway. One by one they debuted–Hudson Jet, Aero-Willys, and the one bright spot in this new niche–the Nash Rambler. Only the Rambler would live to see its fifth birthday–and beyond. For further reading, Jeff Nelson did an excellent Auto History on the early compacts.
The Rambler did well because George Mason realized an el cheapo compact wasn’t going to fly–not when the independents’ smaller wares were about the same price–or more–than a Stovebolt Six Chevy or Ford Mainline. Thus, they were marketed as mini-luxury cars–and arguably could have been considered the first personal luxury car.
K-F took the opposite route, trying to sell the car on price–to their peril. The Henry J on introduction was a car only a true-blue skinflint could love: no glove box, no trunk lid (!) and an interior only slightly more deluxe than the cardboard box your Super Zenith console TV came in. Radio,
taillights and turn signals were also optional. And it was still expensive relative to the bigger “Low Priced Three.”
A ’51 model was $1363 with the four and $1499 with the flathead six, when a Chevy Styleline Special two-door sedan was $1403. The Henry J boasted modern styling, mini-Cadillac rear fins, and a 100″ wheelbase. The 68-hp four and 80-hp six-cylinder engines were supplied by Willys-Overland. Sales for ’51 were rather inauspicious, with 38,500 fours and 43,400 sixes built.
Would it get better? No, not really. For the 1952 model year the 4-cyl. was renamed Vagabond and the six was temporarily discontinued. In Feb. 1952 the six-powered version returned as the Corsair, and received a new grille, grille molding, built-in parking lights, “Corsair” emblems on the front fenders, revised taillights and a slightly more plush interior. The four-cylinder model became a Corsair as well, but kept the cheaper interior of the previous Vagabond.
All the fussy little changes didn’t help. The year saw 3K Vagabonds and 7600 Corsairs made. The supposed compact car “wave” never really crested, and the Henry J suffered right alongside the mini-’52 Ford Hudson Jet and Willys Aero.
1953s got minor changes, most prominently a new rocket-shaped hood ornament, chrome wheel covers and a wraparound rear bumper. As in ’52, the I4 Corsair was plainer, while the I6 Corsair de Luxe (why was K-F playing musical chairs with Henry J model names? The confusion couldn’t have helped) added chrome windshield trim, dome lights with door-mounted switches, an ash tray and nicer interior upholstery and door panels. Our featured car is one of the 8,172 de Luxes built that year.
They look good today, and have one of the coolest hood ornaments I’ve ever seen, but in ’53, K-F dealers might have had trouble selling them even if they weren’t $100 more than a big Chevy on average. Inside, 1953 models added a padded dash and a “dustproof” instrument cluster. Was dust a problem on the gauges of 1951 and ’52 models?
The year saw the aforementioned 8,172 de Luxes and 9,333 Corsairs built. As in the beginning, all HJ’s were built at K-F’s massive Willow Run factory. That same year, the Henry J won the Mobilgas Economy Run, but it didn’t matter. Too little, too late. In fact, K-F was just about ready to close down its automotive division in the U.S. and concentrate on Jeeps, as they had purchased W-O on April 28, 1953.
But for 800 Corsairs and 325 Corsair de Luxes, the Henry J’s short life was over, though the big Kaiser (CC here) would survive to 1962 as the luxury Carabella sedan–but in Argentina, not the USA, which was abandoned after a short 1955 model year.
Henry Js are quite rare these days, having been popular as drag cars in the late ’50s and Sixties. So I was very happy to see this beautiful sapphire-blue one at the Galesburg car show last year. I do not think we will be seeing one of these on the streets of Eugene, Indianapolis or Rock Island anytime soon, so this Car Show Classic will have to do for now. Mr. Kaiser, I like your cars, but I really wish you hadn’t fired Joe Frazer and let your ego get in the way of things, but I still salute you, sir!
Optional taillights? Was that legal? Regardless it’s the ultimate in penny pinching lol! An interesting car nevertheless – I particularly like the hood ornament and how the rear window has that little nod to the bigger Kaiser’s centre-dip. Excellent write-up Tom.
Maybe the requirement at the time was for only one, so you had to pay extra to get two. Makes sense, I suppose; if you’re going to skip the frivolous turn signals, might as well stick with just one taillight, too. These, along with the Willys Americar, made cool gassers on the dragstrip, though.
That’s correct. The only Federal requirement in those days was, sealed-beam headlights. State laws covered other lights and signals…neither turn signals nor brake lights were required; only that the driver SIGNAL, with either lights or hand signals. (Remember the hand signal for STOP?)
Most states, probably all of them, only required one taillight.
My first car, a 1952 Chevy Deluxe, had optional turn signals – a box with a stalk lashed to the steering column!
I had to turn the signal off after I made a turn, because either that’s the way it was designed, or a little rubber wheel was worn out. Don’t recall which…
The box did have a green light that would flash when activated to let you know it was working! Of course, our driver’s training included hand signals.
Jeep CJs used that exact same control, right up through 1975. Manufacturer was “Spartan” – I remember it well. A lot of heavy trucks came with the same control.
Those would have been aftermarket turn signal controls, not options installed at the factory. And yes they were not self canceling. You can still purchase them today. Here is a “modern” version.
No, as I said, AMC and subsidiary AMGeneral were using those on CJ, DJ and Postal DJ Jeeps – from Toledo and South Bend – up through 1975. Later, with the Postals; although they eventually did get a Jeepster-type steering column about 1978 or so, with integral turn signals.
Heavy trucks as well. I cannot conceive of heavy trucks in the 1960s being sold without turn signals; but they used the same clamp-on turn-signal unit up until the “Glamor-Truck” era. Don’t know when; but I took my road test on a 1975 Kenworth conventional and it had one of those. Not sure if it was Kenworth’s own or a Spartan brand.
It kept on being done that way because for years it was “good enough” and changing designs cost.
And in the case of trucks, the turn signal doesn’t cancel with movement of the steering wheel, even now – because just positioning a truck in lane to set up for a turn takes quite a bit of back-and-forth movements on the steering wheel.
I’ve tried to confirm that statement, and can’t. Therefore, I’ve edited the text accordingly.
As I recall, it said taillights were an option in my 1946-75 Standard Catalog. Maybe it was short-lived.
Per my Standard Catalog, in 1951 taillights are listed as a “convenience option” (you think?). In ’52, they are listed as optional on the Vagabond and standard on the Corsair.
But as others have mentioned, none may have ever been built sans taillights.
Tail lights optional? That is not true at all. All Henry Js had tail lights. Signal lights were optional on all models but tail lights were standard on all of them.
Requirement here was only one taillamp numberplate light combined lots of the cheap British cars gave nothing but the bare minimum HJK just followed the pattern set by William Morris, Cool car Tom and not one I;m ever likely to see here,.
I second the “optional tail lights” question. What did they put there if you opted out? Oil lamps? Glowing embers? Reflectors? I cannot imagine that being legal, either, but I don’t have the time to research, so I’ll await someone’s definitive answer.
With all the fallout of the marginal players after WWll, I’m surprised K-F lasted as long as it did, considering their level of product alongside the big 3.
We always thought it would be cool to own a Henry J back in the late ’60’s, but even then, in my neck of the woods, they were rare. In fact, the only time I have aver seen one in person was in summer, 1969, parked at a Radio Shack in Ferguson, MO. It was a very pale green.
Perhaps Tom means backup lights, which had been optional even on Cadillacs a few years earlier.
I believe so. I’ve seen more than a few Henry J’s in my lifetime, and they’ve all had two working red taillights. I don’t believe that white backup lights were standard equipment until they were made mandatory by the first round of safety legislation (1966 model year?).
I think they became standard before then, though, which suggests that states started mandating them sometime in the ’50s. I’m not sure of the details, though.
I think it was consensus, not law.
In Ohio as late as 1970, only one taillight was required to be legal. By that time, of course, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 took precedence…that was when two taillights, reverse lights, side markers, front indicators on with headlights…all of that came to be mandated.
No, back up lights were optional until the mid 60’s, you see early Mustangs and Corvairs without them. I think 65-66 was the first year they were required.
I recall being told by a family friend that she had to pay extra for back-up lights on her 1969 Valiant 100. (Radio and 225 slant 6 were the only other two options on the car).
The 1967 model year was the first introduction of back-up lights on VW’s. They were bolted to the bumper on the Beetle, and then in ’68 they were integrated into a larger tailight unit.
For that reason, I would say that during 1966 is when they were mandated in the USA.
As best as I can tell, backup lights came in (mandatory) with the 66 model year. My oldest brother had a 65 Monterey without them, while my father’s 66 Monterey had ’em.
I’ll echo Red County Pete. Backup lights, driver-side mirror, and rear lap belts (front lap belts had become mandatory in 64) were first required beginning 1/1/66. The brochure for the ’65 and ’66 Chryslers differ show this change; backup lights were standard on the New Yorker and 300L but optional on the 300 and Newport in ’65, standard for all cars in ’66.
I also seem to remember 1966 being the first year for federally-mandated closed crankcase ventilation on all engines. Does anyone have any knowledge here?
Taillamps might have been a “mandatory option,” in the manner that I believe turn signals, radio and a heater were on the 1953 Corvette.
Some items were technically optional, to allow for a low advertised base price…but that didn’t mean any were actually built with zero options.
As for the legality, pretty much anything was legal in the United States prior to January 1959, when the Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958 required greater pricing and content disclosure, and gave birth to the window sticker sometimes referred to with the name of the Act’s sponsor, Almer Stillwell “Mike” Monroney.
“With all the fallout of the marginal players after WWll, I’m surprised K-F lasted as long as it did, considering their level of product alongside the big 3.”
While K-F was undercapitalized, remember, its parent company, Kaiser Industries, was very, very rich. They owned Kaiser Steel; Kaiser Aluminum; Kaiser Shipbuilding; Kaiser Broadcasting; Kaiser Permanente Healthcare.
It was, however, a publicly-owned company; so Henry Kaiser was limited in how deeply he could loot the piggy bank. Also, his bankers at Bank of America were extremely negative over K-F and wouldn’t loan any money for the purpose of expanding or covering operating costs.
I think Henry J. Kaiser’s comment about auto making was “I never saw so much money disappear so quickly” or something like that.
Agreed; they had taillights. I’ve edited the text.
I can’t comment on Kaiser’s practices, but my dad did a brief turn as a Willys salesman in the late 40’s. Willy’s had an optional “DeLuxe” steering wheel….but there was no ‘standard’ steering wheel. If the customer somehow managed to decline the DeLuxe wheel, despite the best efforts of the salesman, the car would come from the factory with the deluxe wheel anyhow.
So I suspect that tail lights, like these deluxe steering wheels – “mandatory options” – and just a way to keep list price down.
And it took American automakers 60 more years to really figure out that people didn’t want their compact cars to be rolling penalty boxes, and to start trimming them out properly. Finally, now even a base-model small car has some amenities.
It’s important to understand here why the basic Henry J was so minimally equipped.
Kaiser had been interested in building a cheap, entry-level “people’s car” since before Kaiser-Frazer was formed and he was still interested in doing it after the war. There actually appeared to be a lot of interest in that idea in the late ’40s, which is part of why Nash, Hudson, et al decided to get into compacts at all. People would complain to dealers that the new cars were too big and too expensive; there was a lot of talk like, “Hell, my old Ford Tudor was all the car I needed and it only cost me $600.” I don’t think a lot of people grasped that the price escalation was due to inflation and that a smaller car wasn’t likely to have a “Suddenly, it’s 1939” price tag, but that was the mood.
In 1948, Henry and Edgar Kaiser went to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for a $40 million loan. Henry brought up the people’s car thing as an example of the great things he could do if they gave him the money and the RFC guys liked the idea so much that they made the loan conditional on Kaiser building such a car. Part of that stipulation was that the car had to launch within two years and it had to be priced under $1,200.
So, the reason the Henry J was so stripped down in basic form was that the Kaisers had agreed to this unrealistic but fairly rigid price target. Kaiser-Frazer couldn’t have adopted a Nash Rambler-style price strategy if they’d wanted to — it would have been a violation of the loan conditions. (As it was, the Henry J’s base price was still about $25 over the limit, but I assume the RFC decided it was close enough.)
Of course, you could say that Henry Kaiser was foolish to agree to such a condition or even to go back to the RFC in the first place; Joe Frazer had really not wanted to do it and the fact that the Kaisers insisted was a major reason for Frazer’s departure.
I think the fundamental issue was not so much that Kaiser figured his way was the only way, but that he didn’t really grasp the challenges of being in a highly competitive retail environment. He’d done a lot of enormous projects that had turned out very well, but they were all contract work, which is a whole different system. Joe Frazer understood that better than Kaiser did and had a more realistic grasp of what was feasible in terms of production, but in all honesty I don’t think Frazer had the vision to make the company survive in the postwar environment either. As with AMC in the ’60s, I think all that would have happened if Frazer had remained more involved was that K-F would have gone head-to-head with the big three and lost.
Exactly – Kaiser made his fortune with government contracts. A whole ‘nuther animal…one customer; bid to specs; the challenge is to estimate costs and time correctly and to sell the package to the purchasing officer.
Consumer goods is an entirely different animal – it changes everything from accounting structure to product focus. Kaiser and his people had no feel for public tastes – that was where Frazer was to come in; but Henry Kaiser wasn’t used to taking directions. Not even from people he hired for that purpose.
It’s interesting to note how, once Kaiser scaled back his auto ambitions and focused on Jeeps, with the bulk of his business coming from government bids…he did quite well. He could run a plant as well as build a dam; but what he just couldn’t grasp was, the variable, changing fickle, fashion driven aspects of the consumer auto market.
K-F’s biggest failure was under the hood. That six cylinder flathead Continental may have been a great engine in 1935, and was acceptable in the seller’s market 1946, but by 1950 it was definitely obsolete. And taking the losses of the ’49 model year insured that K-F would have money for either a small car, or a new engine, but not both.
Here again, Henry’s ego came thru. Back in the beginning (1945) he had promised a “people’s car”, and was determined to deliver, come hell or high water. So he took the more difficult, and wrong, path.
I’ve always loved the “constant clamoring for a cheap, bare bones, people’s car” – that was the equivalent of today’s “blogging for a diesel, manual transmission, rear drive station wagon” that so many Internet users piously claim to want. And in both cases, the yelling for such product always climbs until it’s time to actually have the shouters reach into their wallets and pay for the new (not used) car.
At which time, you can suddenly hear crickets chirping . . . . . . . .
Lack of a V8 probably hurt KF wrt the full sized cars.
I’m not sure the dated 6 made much difference with the HJ. The Nash/AMC straight six (the 196) dates from ’41 and was a flat head, so not much newer than the KF offering, and no more advanced. AMC used that engine well into the early 1960s as “obsolete” as it may have been. (If I’m not mistaken the 199 OHV 6 that came out in the ’60s to replace the 196 is still the basis for the Jeep I6 today)
I’m not sure econo car buyers cared very much about having an up to date engine.
KF couldn’t produce the HJ at a price that was acceptable for a small car.
I don’t know that the demand for a people’s car was all talk either. The Germans had some success with their KDF wagon.
The demand wasn’t all talk, but I think a lot of the people who said they wanted compacts in the late ’40s were hoping for a price under $1,000. A big percentage of those people dropped off for each additional $100 the cars actually cost.
The Volkswagen didn’t really take off in a big way until several years later, due in part to the ’57 recession. AMC benefited from the same thing (aside from the fact that the Rambler now had the domestic compact market mostly to itself except for captive imports).
In the early 50s Americans bought thousands of british Austins and sidevalve Hillmans both poorly equipped and underpowered cars by US standards VW took that market probably the one the HJ was aimed at cheap imports
Small British sedans didn’t sell in the US in the early 50s. Notably, Austin made a big push in the US and flopped.
The 199 was a destroked 232, the modern replacement for the old 195.6, which was still available in flathead and OHV form through 1965. The 232 appeared in mid-1964 and the 199 shortly thereafter. You are correct that the 232/199/258 was the basis for the venerable Jeep 4.0, which went out of production in 2006.
Here in wonderful Wisconsin, Henry Js quickly converted to iron oxide.
Again, the RFC didn’t leave the Kaisers much choice in that regard. To meet the loan conditions, the Kaisers had to build a compact and it had to be cheap; they didn’t have the option of saying, “No, never mind, let’s build a V-8 instead.” They could theoretically have refused, but the result would have been not getting the loan or getting a lot less than they wanted. (About $12 million was earmarked for the compact car project.)
“I’ve always loved the “constant clamoring for a cheap, bare bones, people’s car” – that was the equivalent of today’s “blogging for a diesel, manual transmission, rear drive station wagon””
Oh no, not here on Curbside Classic, too! The horror! The infection!
Thing is, no truer words in the automotive world have ever been spoken.
I do hear crickets…
I almost took the bait and replied to that comment, but I thought better of it. 🙂
I see plenty of Jetta TDI wagons around, but they’re not RWD and there’s no way of telling what trans they have from the outside in traffic (other than maybe looking for the telltale sitting at a stoplight with no brake lights, still not a sure thing).
The independents didn’t count on two external factors with their compacts – the Korean War and the resultant shortages which made profit-per-unit crucial to them just as plans to sacrifice that for volume came to fruition, and the Ford/Chevy price war that they couldn’t match. That’s where Rambler’s “premium compact” strategy paid off.
Heck, how about just a plain ol’ wagon?
The full size Dodge and Plymouth had a flathead six as standard until 1960, and Plymouth had no available V-8 until ’55. Pontiac’s six and eight were also flathead until ’55, but you could get Hydramatic. The big three simply had the volume, financial and engineering muscle to crush the independents.
Very pretty color too. If it lost the spare tire on the back I’d really be interested in cruising around in it.
Its old enough that the average joe won’t look at it as the POS Sonic or Accent of the day, but just see it as a cool old car.
So if I read right, the car had no trunk lid but yet the ad shows all the space it had behind the rear seat?
Yup. The base Henry J had a fair amount of cargo space, but there was no opening trunk lid — the tail was originally sealed like an Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite.
I can only say: Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes!
And thanks for the additional info you have posted!
An opening trunk lid was either an added cost option, or added in a later model year. The featured car has one. The Henry-J was also sold through Sears as the Sears Allstate. I believe that that version was never offered with a trunk lid, but could be mistaken about that.
I was waiting to see if anyone mentioned the Sears version of the Henry J, the Allstate, sold through the good ol’ Sears & Roebuck Catalog.
Hi Carmine. Yes, in the U.S., Sears sold the Henry J under its’ own brand called “Allstate”, for 1952 and 1953. Here is an advertisement for the 1953 model, and a photo of a 1952 Allstate (in blue).
Check the comments on the prior Kaiser post.(lol)
The opening trunk lid originally came from the Kaiser-Frazer Export people. Hickman Price, the head of the export operation, had the tooling for export cars done in Rotterdam without telling the home office. However, having an opening trunk was such an obviously good idea that it became optional on U.S. cars before the end of the year and all the later Henry J Corsair-badged cars had it. (It’s tricky to say “all the ’52 and later cars” because Kaiser kept having to reserial leftovers and sell them in the following model year.)
Standard-trim Allstates had a sealed trunk, but the trunk lid was included on Deluxe models.
The problem wasn’t the engine in the Henry J; the problem was the Continental flathead six in the regular Kaisers, which were priced against Buick. They needed a V8, and the money would have been far better spent on that.
Actually I was referring to the big Kaisers; the benefit of a V8 in the Henry J would have been negligible, and have made it even more expensive.
The problem is, KF could not have spent the money on a V8. People make this comment all the time but the issue was KF was hurting and bleeding after the 1949 model year. The only way they could stay in business was if they got a loan. The only loan they could get was from the government (The Reconstruction Finance Corp) and the terms of that loan stipulated that it must go toward producing “an affordable car” which would cost “$1300 or less.” The only thing that kept KF going from 1951-55 was the fact that they built the Henry J. But yes, the cars did not sell because they lacked a V8 but they had no money to spend developing one.
Nice discovery,right car wrong time?I remember seeing a model kit of a Henry J as a drag racer as a kid
A lot of them ended up that way. The Henry J was very light, fairly sturdy, had room for a V-8 under the hood, and by the ’60s could be had for dirt cheap. For a long time, I’d say there were probably more hot rods than original survivors.
I’ve seen a few on ebay over the years with Chevy V8s in them.
I’m convinced that there is nothing on Earth with four wheels that hasn’t had an SBC shoved into it at least once.
My parents bought a 10 year old used henry j in ’61. I was always embarrassed to have been seen in it. It was flat robin egg blue. But nothing would kill that car. It would shake, rattle, and just keep on rolling: rain, snow or 100degree heat.
It is true in the fifties turning lights could be optional, likewise reverse gear for backing up. Depending on the state you still had to know hand turn signals to pass a drivers license test well into the ’70s.
To me this is not a classic just memories of an ackward youth.
The “Vagabond” four? Why stop there?
Try the “Okie,” that’s actually a ’31 Model A, or the super-efficient unpowered “Hobo” model.
I hear they had trouble with the emissions on the Hobo model.
I was thinking the same, here’s the Gutter Dweller, Scumbag, the Urchin and the Shiftless Layabout(the automatic version) models
Who were they aiming these at? Hobos that just got back on their feet?
Maybe they should have just has fire burning under the dash instead of a heater?
That could be why they didn’t have a trunk, they were going to offer and old tablecloth and stick so you could carry your possessions,
The Henry J! Easier than hopping on a freight car! And it stops quicker too!
You should get a free bowl of soup with this car!
They were aiming it at anyone who would clear out the stocks — the Vagabonds were all orphaned ’51 leftovers that the sales organization was trying to get rid of.
Thanks, Aaron, though that’s hardly less silly than what we’re proposing. Paging Bruce McCall… 🙂
Sound system was a harmonica?
Trailers for sale or rent….rooms to let 50 cents…..
I ain’t got no cigarettes . . . Damn, have not heard that one in awhile.
no phone, no pool, no pets
That’s right, kids, when Pops hums the first few bars of “King of the Road,” what time is it?
“IT’S HENRY J SHADOW PUPPET THEATER TIME!”
(Brought to you by Eveready flashlights, because you’re too cheap to buy a television or a car with a trunk lid.)
OK, OK, I’ll stop now…
We can cook what we run over on the manifold!
You laugh. That’s what the old-timer railroaders who trained me, used to do! Pack a can of stew up against the air pump; or, if it was a meat sandwich needing some toasting, set it (in tinfoil) up against the exhaust manifold. On a locomotive that was on top of the huge V engine.
Another reason for the failure of the Henry J (and all of the other early 1950s compacts) was the Studebaker Champion. The Champion was always smaller than a Ford or Chevy, and had a very small inline 6 (169 cid). The ’51 Champion won the Mobilgas Economy Run (overall, not just its class) with an average of just under 29 mpg (with overdrive) which was insanely good gas mileage for the time for a standard American sedan.
The ’51 Champion business coupe actually undercut the Henry J on price, and a 6 passenger coupe was only $40 more than the 6 cylinder Henry J. Plus, you got a bigger car made by an established brand with a good reputation and a decent dealer network. Studebaker sold over 144K Champions in 1951 (the 5th year of that body cycle).
Wow, 29 mpg from a 6 cylinder in the early 50’s? That was pretty sweet.
I wonder what was the highest MPG they ever acheived for a stock domestic mid to full size car in one of those Mobil Economy runs? I know the early 60’s compacts got into the low 30’s?
I used to love those old commercials featuring Bob “out of gas” Hope or some other cute sub-phrase he used when he would show up on the TV screen driving a frame with four wheels and an engine!
Don’t recall which company, but they were still funny and an old buddy and I still talk about them to this day. Classic in so many ways and something one no longer sees.
Probably Chrysler, Bob Hope was a big spokesperson for Chrysler until the early 80’s even, Bob was still working, even at the ripe old age of 135 ,he also shilled for Texaco for a long long time.
Yes, I’m told that Hope was something of a car guy who worked for Chandler at one time. His TV show was once known as “The Bob Hope Buick Show” and I remember a lead in to an ad featuring Bob wearing a turbine and talking about Buick Dynaflow.
My Dads new 54 Velox recorded 30mpg imperial he was rapt it was better than the 4cyl Wyvern with the same body
The penny a mile ad caught my attention. Not much to brag about for such a small car when gas could still be bought some places for under $.20/gal. I still was able to do that in 66 with a cross country trip with a new vw. Later the stakes went up. One needed a 25 mpg car to do it in Panama till 75 when things went crazy. Guess Saudis might still be able to but the mileage could have been unremarkable back then. It was more the price of gas. Any idea what it was capable of?
The Henry J, as said previously, made a better mark on the dragstrip than the driveway. Before the advent of the sbc, I remember someone with an olds v8 and hydramatic. The thing flew.
One other correction I just noticed: The Vagabond was not the name of the ’52 four-cylinder car; there was also a six-cylinder Vagabond. What the Vagabonds were was an attempt to clear out unsold ’51s by dressing them up a bit. Leftover ’51s were all fitted with the Accessory Group, if they didn’t have it already, plus a Continental kit and new ornamentation and marketed during the ’52 model year. (This was neither the first nor the last time Kaiser-Frazer had to resort to that kind of thing.)
Correct! The Vagabond was a left over ’51 which had not been sold. They were simply updated with an new hood ornament and those that sat on KF’s lot got a continental tire on the back. Those which were converted at the dealships may or may not have gotten the tire on the back. Of the 7,000 that were converted to ’52 Vagabonds, 3,000 were four cylinder models and the other 4,000 were six cylinder (deluxe) models.
Speaking of these being used as drag racers in the 50s & 60s, I found an Allstate (Henry J sold through Sears-Roebuck) drag car at a recent car show and took photos but can’t find them.
To my four year-old mind, Henry Js were a joke. As others have stated, it was a rolling penalty box. Henry Js with fender skirts, Continental kits, and whitewall tires? I don’t think the term “irony” had been invented then. The handyman that my dad would hire from time-to-time Had one of these. No trunk lid. Fuzzy maroon, sort of like a plum.
The problem wasn’t just that these things were marginally more expensive than penalty box Fords and Chevys, but for about the same money you could buy a couple of year old Olds 88 convertible with a Rocket V8. Even dweebs could get some action driving one of those. Henry J, eh, not so much.
I recall the winter of 1951that my dad rented half our two car garage to a young lady in the neighborhood who had a new Henry J. After a particularly heavy snowstorm one day she got the car stuck in an uncleared part of the driveway. I watched as my dad and another fellow lifted up the back of the Henry J by hand and set it down in the shoveled area to the right of the car. I thought that was pretty neat and also liked the fact that our garage now housed both a Henry J and a 1949 Kaiser Special.
Spotted two Henry J’s last weekend at the Syracuse Nationals. One was stock, the other not so much.
Hot rodded Henry J.
As is often the case when reading an article about KF products, there are errors in this one. Example, this article states “For the 1952 model year the 4-cyl. was renamed Vagabond and the six was temporarily discontinued.” I don’t know where that information came from but it’s totally false. What happened was KF over-produced (as they often did) and by the end of the ’51 model year they still had 7,000 (approx) 1951 Henry Js that had not been sold. In order to sell them, they changed the hood ornament and added a continental spare tire to most of them then re-tagged them as 1952 Vagabond models. There were 4,000 six cylinder (deluxe) Vagabonds and 3,000 four cylinder (standard) Vagabonds converted. The “real” ’52 models were on sale in March of 1952 and the six-powered version was the Corsair Deluxe, the four was simply Corsair. The four had cheaper interior but “… the cheaper interior of the previous Vagabond” is a false statement as many Vagabonds had fancy all-vinyl upholstery.
Henry Kaiser wanted his new car to be based on a small, dreary prototype created by American Metal Products, whose main business was auto frames and springs (see picture). A reluctant “Dutch” Darrin was given the task of making something out of the AMP car, and that’s how the Henry J came to be.
Same problems as the Hudson Jet -put forth by men with outsized egos rather than market reality. It didn’t help that both the Jet and the Henry J were stubby, ugly little cars.
Well, one could say that about Tesla, could they not? While the current Teslas are not stubby, ugly little cars, they are certainly high priced, bleeding edge technology. And personally, they are not that attractive. Certainly not ugly, but not pretty and not much different from the other cars out there. I agree with a recent comment that the S looks like almost every other larger sedan, like a Jag especially, and does not have styling that sets it apart. But ego, yeah, it shares that in spades with the Jet and the Henry J….Take Musk out of the company and see how fast financial support for it would collapse.
You know you’re getting old when you can remember the days when Henry J’s were about as common a sight as Daihatsu Charades or Daewoo Leganzas were 25 years ago. And they had about the same reputation.