Henry J Still remarkable Still inexpensive


Traveling around the Oregon Coast, I happened upon this 1952 restored Henry J [Kaiser-Fraiser] and had to spin the car around to grab a few pictures. Still a remarkable car after all these years. Love the detail in the rear window.

1951 Henry J

Henry J – 1952

More on the car. [Thanks, Wikipedia)

The Henry J was built by the Kaiser-Fraiser Corporation and named after its chairman, Henry J. Kaiser. Production of six-cylinder models began in July 1950, and four-cylinder production started shortly after Labor Day, 1950. The Henry J was the idea of Kaiser, who sought to increase sales of his Kaiser automotive line by adding a car that could be built inexpensively and thus affordable. The goal was to attract “less affluent buyers who could only afford a used car” and the attempt was the Kaiser Frazer, the pioneering American compact car.

To finance the project, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation received a federal government loan in 1949. This financing specified various particulars of the vehicle. They were to design a vehicle that in its base form retailed (including federal tax and retail delivery preparation charge) for no more than $1,300.00 (US$12,941 in 2016 dollars).

It was to seat at least five adults, be capable of going at least 50 miles per hour for sustained periods of time, and available for retail sale no later than September 30, 1950. To accomplish this, the Henry J was designed to carry the fewest possible components, and built from the fewest number of parts.

To save body stamping costs, early Henry Js did not have rear trunk lids; owners had to access the trunk by folding down the rear seat. Another cost-saving measure was to offer the car only as a two-door sedan with fixed rear windows. Also lacking in the basic version were glove compartment, armrests, passenger-side inside sun visor and flow-through ventilation. Powered by a 134.2 cu in (2.2 L) four-cylinder 68 hp (51 kW; 69 PS) engine.

Later models were available with a 161 cu in (2.6 L) L-head six-cylinder engine producing 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS). This standard engine could achieve up to 35 mpg‑US (6.7 L/100 km; 42 mpg‑imp) when driven conservatively.

The engines were supplied by Willys-Overland; the four-cylinder engine. The Henry J production provided a substantial revenue source for Willys-Overland. Ironically, Kaiser acquired Willy’s and discontinued the Henry J shortly thereafter.

The Henry J proved to be a sales disappointment for Kaiser. Leftover 1951 models were modified with an outside continental tire and an upgraded interior, to be marketed as the 1952 Henry J “Vagabond” versions. Available in either four- or six-cylinder engines, a total of 7,017 were sold. In 1952, Kaiser began selling rebadged Henry Js through Sears, under the nameplate of Allstate. Allstates were nearly identical to Henry Js but they carried a unique grille, hood ornament, hubcaps, identification badges and interior trim, and Allstate-brand tires and batteries.

After two years of disappointing sales, Sears dropped the car. Sales declined each year the car was marketed. In 1950 it had 1.35% of the market while in 1954 it achieved only 0.02%. While the Henry J was inexpensive for consumers, its manufacturing and labor costs were high. Henry J. Kaiser had hoped to make a profit through volume; however, the cars’ slow sales negated his plan.

In September 1953, the Henry J was described in a small car comparison by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance as “in trouble … the closest thing to a “basic transportation” car on the road today, and as such, does not appeal to today’s car buyers … In trade-in value, it ranks among the lowest.” This at a time when American car buyers insisted on very large, very comfortable cars. End of the car. A restored Henry J like the one pictured might sell for $7500 – $9500. Still a bargain for a vintage car.

For more information on the remarkable Henry J. Kaiser, click here.


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