Sunday, April 10, 2011

1951-1952 Henry J

"Your Kaiser-Frazer Dealer has ready for you to see and drive, what we believe to be the most important car that America has produced since the automobile became a necessity of daily living. It fills the needs, the wants, the purchasing power of all America as no other car has done in the last ten years. It is rugged. It has outstanding maneuverability, handles and parks easily, and is powered with new Supersonic engines which deliver up to 30 miles to the gallon. Our new low-priced car has the full, generous proportions to which Americans are accustomed. We have given it the best combination of performance, comfort, styling and economy of operation. It is the car that you and every American family can afford to buy, to operate, to maintain  . . .  and be proud to own."

In history, there are quite a few occasions, where someone pioneered with a brilliant idea – and failed, leaving the field to more successful followers. Meet the Henry J, one of the first american compact cars, which simply came to life in the wrong decade.

In his life, Henry J. Kaiser, born in 1822, became a significant industrial tycoon, active in many fields, and somehow exemplary for the American dream, as he literally made it from a nobody to the top of a huge industrial empire. Friends and rivals alike were repeatedly astonished by his instinct for the unusual, which was probably the driving force behind his tremendous success. Interesting enough, Mr. Kaiser made most of his earlier fortune in Cuba, when he secured a 20-million dollar road-building contract in 1927. Major cuban roads are originally constructed by a Kaiser enterprise. Perhaps a fair share of that earned money circulated directly back to Cuba in form of bribes for dictator Gerardo Machado, who had initiated the road-building venture.

Right timing often is an essential part of success, and before World War II, Mr. Kaiser definitely had a sense for the right timing. In 1939, he entered the shipbuilding business, which made him really rich almost overnight, when the demand for his fast-to-build "Liberty" freighters soared during the following second world war. Automotive business didn't come to Mr. Kaiser's mind before the early 40s. In 1945, he teamed up with Joseph Washington Frazer, another entrepreneur in the automotive world, to form the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, and to produce some interesting cars under both the Kaiser and the Frazer brand-names. One of Kaiser's initial ideas was a lightweight, compact and economic "people's car". However, Mr. Kaiser now seemed to have lost his sense for the right timing.

Boastfully named after himself, the concept behind Kaiser's Henry J was, in theory, brilliant, and while this idea wasn't so new in other countries, it was new to America: to build a car, that is cheap enough to catch the less affluent customers that typically only could afford a used car, and at the same time increase the production volume of the Kaiser brand. In practice, though, this idea got messed up big style. To finance his small-car project, Henry J. Kaiser took government loans in 1949, which he received together with a list of restrictions that should influence the whole project. Among them was the demand that the car should carry five adult passengers with a constant speed of 80 km/h (50 mph), and all this for a price of maximum 1.300 Dollars. To reach these goals, Kaiser's engineers had to apply strict cost-saving measures. The way they did it, didn't make the product any more desirable. The Henry J was only available with two doors, and to save tooling costs, initially it didn't even have a trunk lid, forcing the customers to crawl through the whole interior when they wanted to access the luggage compartment behind the folding rear seats.

When the car was presented in September 1950, the Henry J could be best described as "spartan": door armrests and a flow-through interior ventilation were missing as much as a passenger sun visor, a glovebox and other items that were standard in other cars of that time. With its 4-cylinder engine, the Henry J offered brilliant economy, but all too soon, the buying public should discern inexpensive from cheap. In comparison, an entry level Chevrolet would cost just a few dollars more than the Henry J DeLuxe, but was a well-equipped, good looking fullsize car. Long story short, the Henry J didn't have the impact on the american car market that Mr. Kaiser had hoped. A facelift for 1953 didn't help much to raise the popularity of the car. Henry J. Kaiser, not short of ideas, made a deal to sell the Henry J slightly modified as the Allstate through the Sears & Roebuck department stores in 1952. The success was marginal, and already next year, the Allstate disappeared from the catalog pages. In late 1953, the production of Henry J ended after an estimated total production of 30.000 cars, but around 1.100 leftover cars which couldn't find a buyer, got new serial numbers and were sold as 1954 models.

1 Kommentare:

balcon cubano said...

Wonderful pictures, interesting stories, a really cool blog...