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1949-1953 Kaiser Traveler and Vagabond


1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 Kaiser Traveler and Vagabond

Most Travelers were low-end Specials. Of the 3,500 made, about 1,000 were two-doors and 2,500 four-doors; of the 1,900 Deluxe Travelers, the ratio was 400 against 1500. These were very low numbers.

Thanks to new styling and an extended model year, Kaiser built some 140,000 of the 1951s: Travelers accounted for only four percent. Sales backed off again toward the end of 1951, so a handful of Travelers were recast as a 1952 model designated the "Virginian."

When the lightly facelifted "true" 1952s came out a few months later, the Traveler technically was available only on the lower-priced model, now called Deluxe. The upmarket Kaiser Manhattan saw a handful of Travelers with better trim and upholstery (factory sources say it was about five), all special factory orders.

For 1953, the Traveler was available only as a four-door. Again, a few Manhattan Travelers were built, probably to fill special orders -- a desperate company would build anything you wanted, if you were willing to wait for it. The production-model Deluxe Traveler sold 1,000 copies a year in 1952-1953.

The following year, despite a dramatic last-ditch facelift, the Traveler was dropped from the line. By then, of course, the all-steel station wagon had come into its own. A Traveler really wasn't a viable alternative to a Dodge Sierra, and Kaiser was winding up domestic car production anyway.

How good an idea was the Traveler? If you look at the thing as a Kaiser-Frazer groupie, or even as a car nut, it appeals. A sedan that turns into a station wagon is akin to Chevrolet's current Avalanche, which changes from a pickup to a sport-utility vehicle. But consider it as an automotive engineer and you have to ask yourself: Why bother? Why didn't they just build a station wagon?

Two reasons. One, they didn't want to revise the old sedan body. The Traveler came along when that body was almost four years old. Even the ebullient Henry Kaiser knew they'd have to spend big money on a complete restyle -- were, in fact, already planning it, for introduction as a 1951 model in early 1950.

True, Henry could tap plenty of money, his own and the government's. No one had a sweeter line with the various federal agencies charged with privatizing war assets and helping new industries replace World War II defense plants.

But he needed those resources to support the much grander idea that had driven him into the car business: a car that Everyman could afford to buy new. That was far more important than a utility model.

1953 Kaiser Traveler full view
The Traveler made its final appearance in 1953,
and then only as a four-door model.

The second reason was that the all-steel station wagon, soon to be one of the most popular body styles ever created, was in 1949 a virtually unknown quantity. In 1948, when the Traveler was dreamed up, Plymouth, Chevy, Pontiac, and Olds were still a year away from the first woodless wagons in the passenger-car field.

Why not a woody? Henry Kaiser's aversion to his Lake Tahoe wagon aside, Kaiser-Frazer cars were expensive enough in sedan form. The company could not have farmed out bare chassis to a body manufacturer and have sold the finished product for less than the price of a Cadillac. Undoubtedly the Traveler and Vagabond sold in much greater numbers than a Hercules -- or Cantrell-bodied wagon would have -- consider the low-volume woodies offered by rival manufacturers.

So despite some intriguing designs for station wagons from Kaiser-Frazer's prolific styling department, the company made do with the Traveler. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it needed a high-volume producer to put it over. A remark of Edgar Kaiser's is apposite in the Traveler's case: "Slap a Buick nameplate on it, and it would sell like hotcakes."

Find specifications for the Kaiser Traveler and Vagabond in our final section.

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