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How Frazer Cars Work


1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951 Frazers
eggcrate grille and rectangular parking lamps.

The Frazer never really went much beyond its original formula. Indeed, the '48 models changed only in detail yet cost even more: $2483-$2746. So though the postwar seller's market was still in full swing, Frazer volume dropped ominously for model-year '48, from 68,775 to 48,071.

Then, a gross miscalculation. Knowing his firm could field only facelifts against all-new models from the Big Three and Nash, Joe Frazer recommended cutting 1949 production, then coming back with all-new designs for 1950. But Henry Kaiser wouldn't hear of it, declaring, "The Kaisers never retrench!"

Predictably, Henry won. In protest, Joe stepped down to the meaningless position of board vice-chairman, and Henry appointed his own son, Edgar, as president. K-F duly tooled for 200,000 cars, but ended up selling just 58,000 for '49. A long downhill slide had begun.

The '49 Frazers took on an eggcrate grille, prominent rectangular parking lamps, and large two-lens vertical taillamps. There was also a new four-door Manhattan convertible, but it was a makeshift job at best. Directed to do or die, engineers John Widman and Ralph Isbrandt sheared the top off a sedan, retained B-pillars with little inset glass panes, and purchased beefed-up X-member frames at an inordinate price. But at over $3000, the four-door flop-top Frazer simply couldn't sell in viable numbers.

Nor could any '49 Frazer. As a result, some 5000 '49 leftovers were reserialed for a brief 1950 run that ended in the spring of that year. Production for the two seasons came to just under 25,000 units, including a mere 70 Manhattan convertibles. It's estimated that only 15 percent of the total were sold as 1950 models.

Frazer's 1951 was abbreviated, too, but the cars looked startlingly different, thanks to an effective front and rear redo by Herb Weissinger of K-F Styling. The intent was to use up remaining 1949-50 bodyshells. Thus, leftover Kaiser Vagabond utility sedans (with double hatchback and folding rear seat) became standard-trim '51 Frazer Vagabonds, while Kaiser Virginian four-door "hardtops" were made into 1951 Frazer Manhattans.

Pillared sedans were assigned to Frazer's standard line, but trimmed like 1950 Manhattans. Encouraged by the belated arrival of Hydra-Matic as a $159 option, dealers ordered 55,000 of the '51 Frazers, but received only 10,214. The Frazer was dead.

The 1951 Frazer Manhattan had attractive features but arrived too late to save Frazer.

K-F stylists had created numerous renderings for future Frazers based on Darrin's sleek and low 1951 "Anatomic" Kaiser. But these and other plans were rendered stillborn when Joe Frazer left the company in early '49. Two years later, the Kaisers were busy with their new small car, the Henry J -- and leftover '51 Kaisers. In retrospect, they really should have listened to Joe.

For more on defunct American cars, see:

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