Car History Year 1952
Date: Monday, September 27 @ 00:04:04 UTC
Many US industrialists profited hugely from government contracts during the Second World War, and one of the most famous was Henry John Kaiser who had interests in ship-building and construction. Like other tycoons who made vast fortunes over the years, Kaiser thought he could take on the established Detroit auto makers and beat them at their own game. And, just like a!l "outside" attempts to launch a new post-war car. Kaiser's venture ended in failure.
Henry Kaiser's dream was a small, cheap car that would provide basic transportation for everyone. In the early 1940s, he had predicted that he would produce a new car for $400 - a suggestion which proved to be totally unrealistic, yet one Kaiser often repeated in his quest for publicity. It was in an attempt to revive the flagging fortunes of his auto company, that he decided to launch the new small car in September 1950 and borrowed 44 million dollars to finance the tooling required.
Stylist Howard "Dutch" Darrin produced a prototype based on his 1951 full-size Kaiser design but, instead, Henry decided to go with another concept put together by American Metal Products of Detroit. Based on a 100 inch wheelbase chassis, the compact Henry J (as it came to be called) 2-door sedan was notable for its sloping fastback and small tail fins. The fins were part of Darrin's attempt to improve the looks of the car, and he made several other changes, including his trademark feature -a slight dip in the bodywork just behind the door. Power for the Henry J came from either a 68hp flathead Willys 134 cu.in. four cylinder engine or a 161 cu.in. six that gave 80 horsepower.
Initially it seemed as though Kaiser had come up with a winner as almost 82,000 Henry Js were sold in 1951. However, that seems to have saturated the market, as sales more than halved in "52, despite a deal with Sears Roebuck to market the car using their Allstate brand name. The Allstate had a different grille and interior, but despite aggressive promotion, less than 1,600 were sold in 1952, and the scheme was dropped in '53 after fewer than 800 orders had been taken. In '53, sales of the Henry J halved again, and in 1954, the car's last year, only 1,123 in total were sold, and that proved to be the end.
Henry Kaiser's mistake was to believe that there was a huge market for a cheap car with no trimmings. He was quoted as saying, "We feel that we have accomplished our goal at a price which will be within the budgets of millions who have never been able to afford a new car." But Kaiser had failed to understand that most Americans in the early Fifties preferred to own a car that looked glitzy and expensive, rather than one that classed itself as "a poor man's automobile."
While Kaiser's aim was to produce a cheap, no-frills automobile, that didn't prevent his advertising copywriters from filling the company sales literature with fulsome descriptions. Calling the mundane flathead engines "Supersonic" was pretty par for the period, but stating that the feeble four cylinder "Lunges like a lion (without the roar!)," was definitely over the top! Other animal connotations were used, such as "Tough as an Ox, nimble as a Kitten" but, in a misguided attempt to make the Henry J appeal to as wide an audience as possible, there were also statements like "You'll be the object of envy at the doors of the smartest shops."
As well as being a family car, the Henry J also saw some international competition use. Three cars were entered in the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally, and one actually finished in 20th place - an incredible achievement considering its lack of performance. But even had a Henry J won the event outright, it would not have been enough to stop Kaiser's dream becoming a nightmare.
Sales plummeted and debts mounted. Kaiser amalgamated with Willys-Overland in 1954, and the following year Kaiser-Willys ceased manufacture of passenger cars. Henry J. Kaiser's venture into the automobile world was estimated to have lost 100 million dollars in a decade.
KAISER 'HENRY J' CORSAIR DELUXE
Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line
161 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
2 door sedan
No. of seats
KAISER ALLSTATE FOUR
Cast iron - 4 cylinders in line
134.2 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3.11 x 4.38 ins.
2 door sedan
No. of seats
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