The 1952-1953 Allstate was an odd car that is remembered today (if it's remembered at all) for being Sears, Roebuck & Company's misguided attempt at entering the auto market.
Sears usually goes to great lengths to hide the origin of proprietary products -- those built by some other famous company but wearing a Sears brand. But there was no disguising the origins of the Allstate. It was, of course, the Sears version of Kaiser-Frazer's compact Henry J.
Most people, however, got their first look at it in the ubiquitous Sears catalog, and many never actually saw a real one. With a total production run of about 2,400 units, Allstates weren't exactly the most common automobiles on the road.
Theodore V. Houser, a Sears executive who also owned some Kaiser-Frazer stock, had been asking Henry Kaiser to build Sears a car since the west coast construction tycoon had entered the auto business in 1945. (This was not the first attempt by Sears to produce cars: a pretty little high-wheeler had carried the Sears name back in 1912.)
Houser and Kaiser had earlier collaborated when the latter's steel mills produced pots and pans for Sears' kitchenware department. Design renderings of early, slab-sided Kaiser-Frazer sedans with Allstate labels were completed, but nothing came of the idea until Kaiser-Frazer produced the Henry J, announced in early 1950 as a 1951 model.
The Henry J looked ideal to Sears because of its middle-class, economy-minded clientele, and Henry Kaiser agreed to produce a version for Sears. This decision caused dismay within the Kaiser-Frazer dealer organization, which fretted about competition from the giant department store and catalog merchandiser.
Henry's son Edgar, Kaiser-Frazer's president, was sent to mollify the dealers: Allstates would be produced in small quantities, he told them, and would be marketed mainly on a test basis in the southeast part of the country (where Kaiser-Frazer's dealer network was notably sparse). The dealers remained unconvinced. As things turned out, Edgar was right.
Go to the next page to read about the Allstate's styling and sales success (or lack thereof).
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To create the 1952-1953 Allstate for Sears, designer Alex Tremulis was asked to contrive a hardware shuffle to give it a different look from the Kaizer-Frazer model that it was based on -- the Henry J. This involved, as Tremulis recalled, mainly "a new face. I did a hurry-up remake of the grille, putting in two horizontals and a little triangular piece, made up a jet plane-type hood ornament that looked nice, and put on the Allstate logo with a map of the U.S. Voilá, there it was!"
Other distinguishing exterior details were smooth hub caps or wheelcovers without the "K," special door locks, standard decklid (this was not standard on all Henry Js!). Under the hood the Willys-designed flathead engines were painted blue with orange "Allstate" lettering.
Allstate departed more from Henry J design on the inside, which Houser had wanted to be of slightly higher quality. Kaiser-Frazer's interior trim specialist, Carleton Spencer, developed a colorful plaid Deluxe interior using a new material: coated paper fibers soaked in vinyl -- an impervious material that had proven its durability in none other than the transatlantic telephone cable!
Spencer combined this heavy-duty material with quilted saran plastic. The idea was to save Allstate owners the cost of slipcovers, which almost every new car buyer installed in those days. Of course you had to order the Deluxe to get this interior; cheaper models had more austere upholstery. Other unique interior features included plain (no "K") horn button, standard glove box (again, not always found in Henry Js), and special armrests and sun visors.
Everything automotive that Sears, Roebuck sold was naturally applied to the new car: tires, tubes, battery, spark plugs, each with their generous Sears guarantee. The Allstate as a whole was guaranteed for 90 days or 4,000 miles by Kaiser-Frazer -- "which was as long as anybody would want to guarantee one of the things," as one critic of the Henry J put it. That's being unfair, since the Allstate, like the Henry J, had a good service and repair record.
If you can find a 1952 Sears catalog, you'll find the Allstate on the back cover. It didn't reappear in the 1953 catalog because the project was already winding down. Technically available anywhere, the Allstate was delivered almost exclusively in Dixie; if you lived, say, in Minnesota, you would have had a hard time getting one.
Price was against it, too: the lowest you could pay was $1,395, and in practice most sold for about $1,600. At a time when a two-door Ford V-8 cost $1,500 and a Chevrolet about $1,550, the Allstate was up against very tough competition. Of the minuscule production, about three of every five cars were fours and the rest sixes.
To read the specifications of the 1952-1953 Allstate, go to the next page.
For more information on cars, see:
1952-1953 Allstate Specifications
The 1952-1953 Allstate was largely the same as Kaiser-Frazer's Henry J, and, as such, not a high-performance machine. Find specifications for the 1952-1953 Allstate below:
Engines: flathead I-4, 134.2 cid (3.11 × 4.38), 68 bhp; flathead I-6, 161.0 cid (3.13 × 3.50), 80 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.): 100.0
Weight (lbs): 2,300-2,455
Top speed (mph): 4: 75; 6: 80
0-60 mph (sec): 4: 25.0; 6: 20.0