The 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible was the most luxurious model of the company founded by Joseph Washington Frazer, scion of the Virginia Washingtons and Clan Fraser of Scotland.
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Frazer was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but spit it out early and joined the auto industry. Honing his sales skills at Packard and General Motors dealerships, he joined Walter P. Chrysler's fledgling company in 1924 and, in 1928, named the Plymouth, Chrysler's new economy model.
Later, Frazer revived Willys-Overland with the Americar and the Jeep. Then, during the war, he and some associates gained control of moribund Graham-Paige Motors, which he teamed with Henry Kaiser and then folded into the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation.
Even before the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible, Kaiser-Frazer hit the postwar seller's market like a mini-tornado, outproducing all the other independents. By 1948, K-F stood eighth in the industry, producing over 180,000 cars (about 50,000 of them Frazers), and looking like a sure thing to become a fourth member of the auto world's "big four."
But things went sour in 1949, when Kaiser went into debt to finance his compact Henry J and a new full-size car design. Frazer departed as an active management official that spring, and K-F discontinued the Frazer car as soon as it could decently do so.
The most opulent Frazer was the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible, carved out of a four-door sedan bodyshell (because it was the only shell K-F had), and heroically reinforced "all over hell" by engineers John Widman and Ralph Isbrandt.
"We had instructions to do no reinforcing of the sedan shell-no X-frame," Isbrandt said about the design of the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible. "Even the pillars and headers were sedan parts .... [The first prototype] was like a bowl of jelly. I finally convinced [K-F president Edgar] Kaiser that GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc. weren't putting X-member frames and special pillars on convertibles for the fun of it, and then we began to get results."
Isbrandt even went so far as to purchase a prewar Packard convertible "to use as a benchmark .... I wanted to know what they did, and apply it to ours." In production form, after extensive reengineering, the convertible proved quite solid.
To learn more about the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible, keep reading.
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The 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible was certainly deluxe, but it wasn't easy to build, fraught with design expense and multiple engineering hurdles.
One of the engineering problems that gave the designers pause was how to tie the door pillars to the roof. Prewar four-door convertibles had used steel pillars, but stylist A.B. "Buzz" Grisinger had a more elegant solution for the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible: a metal-framed glass panel between the front and rear side windows. This remained in place (along with the side window frames) with the top up or down, providing good visibility.
K-F's ingenious interior designer Carleton Spencer coordinated the Frazer Manhattan convertible's glorious array of fabrics and colors -- probably the most deluxe materials that went into any cars of this period, maybe any period: top grain, color-back leather, fabrics suitable for fine furniture, handcrafted and installed with care, combined with vivid paint jobs to make the Frazer an eye-catching car. An impressive eggcrate grille and jumbo taillights added to its look of luxury.
Unfortunately, under the hood of the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible lurked a low-powered flathead six that had originated as an industrial engine, powering stationery machinery or vehicles like forklifts. The six was never up to the looks and glamor (and high price -- $3,295) of the Manhattan convertible.
Although Joe Frazer had given the ragtop his blessing before he departed as an active manager ("We thought it would sell because it didn't have the four-door competition"), he looked upon it in later life as a good idea gone wrong.
His nephew, Hickman Price, Jr., snorted at the convertible project as a colossal waste of money, believing that the funds expended might have better gone into the 288-cubic-inch V-8 that K-F developed but did not build. When reminded that the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible was very rare, Price was wont to reply, "I have no doubt -- so is the ossified egg of a dodo bird."
Rare it is, though -- and a striking car for its time. Total production of four-door convertibles, including the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible, by K-F was 253. Of these, 124 were 1949 models, an estimated 70 being Frazers and the rest Kaisers. Some of these were reserialed as 1950 models. The balance were fitted with facelift trim and marketed as 1951 Frazers.
Check out specifications of the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible on the following page.
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1950 Frazer Manhattan Convertible Specifications
Despite magnificent styling and a daring convertible design, production expense simply overwhelmed the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible. Check out the 1950 Frazer Manhattan convertible 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): 3,726
Top speed (mph): 90
0-60 mph (sec): 22.0