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Introduction to the 1951 and 1953 Kaiser Dragon


Declining Sales and the Kaiser Worldways Cars
The "South Seas" model had a tropical aura.
The "South Seas" model had a tropical aura.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

After the popular 1951 model buying season, Kaiser-Frazer suffered from declining sales, and the Worldways Cars were introduced at the 1951 Chicago Auto Show to try to Kaiser-Frazer back on track.

The price disadvantage that always surrounded Kaiser-Frazer products, owing to management's extravagance and high overhead at Willow Run, were key factors in Kaiser-Frazer's eventual demise.

The "Explorer" had an arctic theme, with a polar bear fur interior.
The "Explorer" had an arctic theme, with a polar bear fur interior.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The best month in the firm's entire history was October 1950, when production topped 22,000 units -- the height of the 1951 model buying season and of the 1951 Kaiser's popularity After April 1951, Kaiser-Frazer never built more than 9,000 cars a month; in most months it was closer to 5,000.

Despite declining sales, or maybe because of them, Kaiser-Frazer went all-out at the 1951 Chicago Automobile Show. "K-F presents Worldways in Motoring," read the sign above four sumptuously trimmed Kaiser four-door sedan showcars.

The "South Seas" was upholstered in straw-like tropical vinyl and a Hawaiian-pattern linen weave; it also boasted a fishnet headliner, straw floor coverings, and a lucite rear picnic table with barometer, compass, and topographical map of the Hawaiian Islands.

The "Explorer's" blue-green Academy Blue body was set off by a roof covered in white canvas.
The "Explorer's" blue-green Academy Blue body was set off by a roof covered in white canvas.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The "Explorer" was finished in Academy Blue metallic, set off by seats covered in polar bear fur; it was even shown with a pith helmet on the front seat.

Zebra and lion pelts lined the inside of the "Safari," which K-F later sold, appropriately enough, to wild-animal tamer Clyde Beatty.

Last, but certainly not least, was the "Caballero," flourishing palomino and unborn calfhides, western buckles on door-mounted saddlebags, and spurs for window winders.

The "Safari" was clad in lion and zebra fur.
The "Safari" was clad in lion and zebra fur.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

While the first three were one-offs, K-F built at least three Caballeros -- for Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and an executive who owned a Texas cattle ranch. All presumably disappeared back home on the range -- the cars, that is.

Reflecting later on the "Worldways" cars, the late stylist Alex Tremulis was quoted saying: "We had a ball with 'em. I had to give the Safari a haircut, as the lion fur stuck out when the door closed. Buzz Grisinger and I dressed up in the zebra skins and went galloping through the halls nose to tail. There was a secretary about eight months pregnant and she darn near had it right there. The Explorer's outside door sills of polar bearskin and the Safari's lion fur were untreated, and they stunk like hell after awhile."

The "Caballero" interior bore a look inspired by the American West.
The "Caballero" interior bore a look inspired by the American West.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Another former K-F employee, Art Wrightman, remembered that he took a leftover lion's paw home for his wife. "She used it as a back scratcher." Until it started to stink, presumably . . .

The 1951 Dragon Series featured another invention by Carleton Spencer -- Dino (Dinosaur) vinyl. The next page gives more details about this interesting feature.

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