© Jerry F. Couch
The Crooked Road Cruisers car club held its most recent cruise-in at Giovanni’s restaurant in St. Paul. This location was very appropriate because the building now occupied by Giovanni’s was constructed for use as a Ford dealership around 1920. Here’s how it looked in a 1920’s postcard view of St. Paul’s unpaved Fourth Avenue (from the St. Paul Heritage Collection).
A number of interesting cars were on display at the cruise-in, including a newcomer that was particularly noteworthy – a 1953 Kaiser.
At the end of WWII, industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, in partnership with Joseph Frazier, secured government-backed financing and purchased the enormous Willow Run bomber plant near Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Kaiser-Frazier Corporation was born.
Kaiser’s goal was to convert Willow Run to produce a new, modestly-priced front wheel drive car. Domestic production of automobiles had ended in 1942 as manufacturers converted their facilities to provide equipment for the war effort. By 1946, Americans were hungry for new cars. With savings at an all-time high, they had money to buy them.
Unfortunately, Kaiser’s dream of an innovative new car proved impossible due to time constraints and the engineering effort required. Instead, a more conventional car was produced – but it was NEW and it sold very well.
When the post-war seller’s market ended, Kaiser-Frazier had trouble competing with “The Big Three” (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler). These companies enjoyed better economies of scale and their equivalnt products could be sold more cheaply. Kaiser needed a V8 engine to keep pace with the competition, but the company couldn’t afford to build one.
Despite attractive styling by famed industrial designer, Howard “Dutch” Darrin, the company was in serious trouble. Introduction of the compact Henry J and the innovative Kaiser Darrin didn’t spark anticipated consumer interest and production continued to decline. In 1955, US production of Kaiser cars ceased.
Because of their low production numbers, Kaisers are a rarity today. When was the last time you saw one?