One of Kaiser-Frazer's legacies to the industry was its novel hardtop, the 1950 Kaiser Virginian, patterned after the unique K-F convertibles and personifying "The Southern Spirit of Pride and Importance," according to sales brochures. (Incidentally, Kaiser's beautiful, oversize parchment broadsides won an advertising design award and are highly valued today.)
Though the 1950 Kaiser Virginian was unique, "hardtop convertibles" were not new -- the first attachment of a solid top to an open body dates at least back to the Kissel "All Year Top" of 1915-1921, though the first hardtop in the modern sense was built experimentally by Chrysler in 1946. Seven production Town & Country convertibles received steel roofs skinned from Chrysler club coupes, bolted on for "evaluation."
By 1948, General Motors was putting the finishing touches on the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Oldsmobile Holiday, and Buick Riviera. But the Chrysler version never made it into production, and the GM hardtops weren't offered until mid-1949, whereas the Kaiser Virginian made its entrance on February 23rd of the same year. And -- salesmen thought this most important -- the Virginian had four doors.
The 1950 Kaiser Virginian was simple in concept, though semanticists dispute the hardtop claim, since the side window frames were fixed and the little vertical pane of glass between them prevented an unobstructed, all-windows-down effect.
Like the Town & Country, the 1950 Kaiser Virginian carried a steel top coupled to a convertible body, lighter than that of the ordinary sedans and strengthened by crease lines designed to resemble convertible top bows. Padded nylon or cotton was applied over the roof to complete the convertible look -- a painted top was listed as a reverse option, but no such Virginians have been found. The car actually bore "Hardtop" script on its flanks before the name was settled.
This "blueblood of all cars" was the subject of fascination to Kaiser-Frazer fabric expert Carleton Spencer, who created a variety of special color combinations and upholstery materials -- at least 54, according to factory records.
Spencer even produced a "Custom Virginian" in low quantity for the first several months, with interior combinations of Stockholm and Volta cloth and mouton-like Imperial Crush floor and lower door panel carpeting. The custom 1950 Kaiser Virginian sold for $200 more than the standard model. Spencer put the production of this variant at fewer than 100 units.
Learn how Kaiser marketed its unique 1950 Kaiser Virginian on the next page.
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1950 Kaiser Virginian
The 1950 Kaiser Virginian was the subject of a splendid marketing campaign which provided instructions to salesmen on how to promote the car. Salesmen's facts books urged the trumpeting of Virginian's exceptionally fine visibility, achieved through an extra-large backlight divided into three sections, curving around the sides -- 17 inches high and 73 inches wide.
From the side, the 1950 Kaiser Virginian appeared to have "a single wide window extending from cowl to deck. The Virginian has the full rigidity of a conventional sedan. The support provided by the steel roof is augmented by special bracing in back of the front seat and by special construction in the rear."
From the beltline down the 1950 Kaiser Virginian was the same as other Kaisers, except that the windowsills were covered with chrome panels and a wide chrome rocker panel molding extended the length of the car and met the bumpers at each end. Chrome-plated exterior trunk hinges were a final touch.
At a base price of $2,995, give or take a few dollars with price fluctuations (and $3,195 for the Custom Virginian), the 1950 Kaiser Virginian faced very rough competition in the Cadillac-Packard-Lincoln market sector, where its anemic six-cylinder, formerly industrial engine was handily outclassed by big, powerful eights.
Leather upholstery added $400 to its price, overdrive close to $100, and power windows $75. As a result, the promise of this intriguing new body style, soon to become so indispensable to the Big Three manufacturers, was squandered by Kaiser-Frazer.
Production of 1950 Kaiser Virginians came to just over 900 for the combined 1949-1950 model year. Leftover 1949s were simply reserialed as 1950 models; the breakdown is probably six or seven to one, 1949 to 1950. Since about 1,200 Virginian bodies were built, even the reserialed 1950s were not enough to move them all out; an additional 152 were thus turned into 1951 Frazer Manhattan hardtops.
Check out the specifications of the 1950 Kaiser Virginian on the next page.
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1950 Kaiser Virginian Specifications
The 1950 Kaiser Virginian was one of the first hardtop convertibles, and although it barely made it past the production stage, its legacy lived on in the hardtops released by the Ford, Chevrolet and General Motors over the next decade. Check out the 1950 Kaiser Virginian specifications below.
Engine: sidevalve I-6, 226.2 cid (3.31 × 4.38), 112 bhp
Transmission: 3-speed manual; overdrive optional
Suspension, front: independent, coil springs, tube shocks
Suspension, rear: live axle, leaf springs, tube shocks
Brakes: front/rear drums
Wheelbase (in.): 123.5
Weight (lbs): 3,541
Top speed (mph): 90
0-60 mph (sec): 20.0