1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 Kaiser Traveler and Vagabond Development

The sales department at Kaiser-Frazer was crying for something to sell besides sedans. Styling came up with dozens of proposals, including sports cars, convertibles, fastbacks, hardtops, wagons, and limousines. Cost considerations stopped them all at the drawing board. So the engineers said, "Here, let us try," and went to work on the sedan body.

They cut the rear sheetmetal from just above the rear window to just above the rear bumper pan. This piece was then bisected horizontally at middeck, the two halves hinged top and bottom.

1949 Kaiser Vagabond side view
The $2,088 Traveler was part of the Kaiser Special
series, but for an additional $200, a customer could
step up to the Vagabond in the Deluxe line.

A body development engineer named Harvey Anscheutz spent three weeks devising an illuminated license plate holder that met the laws of all 48 states. It flopped down when the lower hatch was opened, laid flat when the hatch was closed.

The rear seat was made to fold in the same pattern you can find recently on a 2003 Saab 9-5. That left a nice, clean bed, up to eight feet long with the back hatch laid flat -- except for the spare tire.

In sedans, spares were bolted conventionally in the trunk -- there was no tire well. In the Traveler, however, the only thing to do with it was bolt it to the left rear door. The door was welded shut (though some restorers have found them simply closed and locked) and equipped with a fake door handle to mislead the uninitiated. It wasn't elegant, but it worked.

In all, more than 200 changes were made to the basic sedan in the process of creating the Traveler. Strong springs and shocks were essential. The wiring on the floorpan and the rear bumper guards had to be relocated. New openings for the rear window and new dies for the split decklid were required.

Reinforcement was installed above the upper hatch to replace lost stiffness. But sealing the gaping hatches proved difficult, and service bulletins multiplied as mechanics tried to cope with thousands of complaints about water, dust, and air leaks.

A T-shaped handle was devised for the hatch, and piano hinges were used on the lower part to provide support when it was used as a horizontal platform. People would use that platform to hold heavy objects, so it was suspended by strong chains, bagged in vinyl in a vain attempt to stop rattles.

The base-model Traveler had smooth, heavy-duty vinyl upholstery and headliner and varnished wooden rub rails in the bed to ease the sliding of payloads. The Vagabond was a more luxurious Traveler with the ornate Kaiser Deluxe dashboard, fender skirts, pleated vinyl upholstery, and the option of genuine leather.

Check out the next page to find out how Kaiser marketed their new creations to the public.

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