From the Curbside Cohort: 1953 Kaiser Manhattan

(first posted 1/12/2012)    The 1951-53 Kaiser may be the most forgotten sedan from that period of time.  Which is a shame, because this car may be one of the most stunning and dramatic sedans of the early 1950s.

I will confess that I have neglected the many pages of great cars found by the Cohort.  After Paul started pulling some cars to feature, I took a look, and this one posted by Davo grabbed me by the collar.

I have a soft spot for these Kaisers.  After sixteen years of service to family and farm, my grandfather finally decided to replace his 1935 Ford sedan.  The Ford was the car that got my Mother’s family through much of the Great Depression and a World War.  His choice to replace it?  A beautiful blue 1951 Kaiser DeLuxe.  Probably a lot like the one right here.

The car was a stunner when it made its debut as a 1951 model.  This was a very low car for 1951, and it’s basic shape (particularly below the beltline) would soon be echoed by the most successful players in the industry.  Remember, this car came out two full years before the 1953 Studebaker Starliner.  But unlike the Starliner, this was not a sporty coupe, but a bread and butter sedan.  It was also popular, as Kaiser moved about 145,000 out the door that year.

As beautiful as the car was, it was otherwise pretty undistinguished.  A lot of the chassis was carried over from Kaiser’s original 1947 model, including an off-the-shelf Continental flathead six for power.  The ’51 Kaiser’s only other noteworthy feature was the interior design: Kaiser was an innovator in colorful and stylish interiors, and other carmakers would follow Kaiser’s lead here, as well.

This example is a 1953, the last with the original front end concept.  Note the widow’s peak over the one-piece windshield.  Also, this is not just a Kaiser, it is a Kaiser Manhattan – the high-end model that tried to plug the hole left by the Kaiser’s discontinued sister brand, the Frazer.

We can engage in a lot of ‘what ifs” with Kaiser.  What if they had spent the money blown on the Henry J on a modern V8 engine, or on a restyle of the beautiful 1951 car, or a hardtop and convertible to add to the line?  We will never know.  Kaiser sales dwindled to nearly nothing by 1954, and after a few leftover’s re-titled as 1955 models, the line was dead.

It is a pity, really.  By the mid 1950s, all of the independents were desperately trying to modernize tall, stubby, outdated designs from the late ’40s or early ’50s.  How many of those stylists secretly wished they had been able to start with something as long and low and attractive as the 1951-53 Kaiser?  Probably all of them.