Monday, July 8, 2013

Frazer's Only Facelift

The only successful American automobile company established after World War 2 was Kaiser-Frazer Corporation.  (I'm not counting American Motors and Studebaker-Packard, that were the result of mergers of existing companies.)  And by "successful," I mean relative success in that the company survived in its initial form for the better part of a decade and built more than half a million cars.  (Kaiser bought Willys and its Jeep line in 1953 and soon ended Kaiser and Willys production in North America.)

Because Kaiser-Frazer was for all practical purposes a new company when production started in 1946 (technically it was created on the ruins of Graham-Paige), its cars had to make use of a new body design.  All other automobile companies marketed facelifted pre-war designs for varying lengths of time until the 1949 model year, when virtually every model was finally re-styled.  Kaisers and the more up-scale Frazers shared the same body and differed only in trim.  The initial 1947 design was "modern" in that it featured fenders that flowed from headlight to taillight, something anticipated pre-war, but not in production when car manufacturing ceased early in 1942 for the war's duration.

Besides the flow-through fenders, the other main styling feature was that no hood ornament was present.  This shocked some people because hood ornaments were an expected feature in those days.  Eventually Kaisers and Frazers had them added, probably in an effort to please potential buyers.

Overall appearance was awkward despite the modern fender line.  Kaisers and Frazers were fairly tall, so the nearly plain, slab-like sides helped emphasize their height, poor surface detailing and body panel fits.  But initial sales were good because there was strong demand for almost any kind of car after the war's production curtailment was over.

By the end of the 1940s the post-war seller's market had ended and potential buyers were becoming picky about styling and engineering details.  Kaiser-Frazer's styling was looking dated and other manufacturers, especially Studebaker, Ford and General Motors, were building cars that were sleeker and generally more attractive.  So it was time to do something.  K-F's main effort was the completely restyled 1951 Kaiser, a design that deserves to be the subject of a separate post.  As for Frazer, it had been decided that the brand would be scrapped.  But there were spare bodies that needed to be sold, if possible, so Frazer was given a major facelift for 1951.  I'm not sure how cost-effective this was, but the result was that Frazers looked to most people like they too had been given a re-styling.

Let's take a look:


1948 Frazer four-door sedan

1950 Frazer Manhattan
Aside from the grille and a few other details, 1950 Frazers didn't look much different than earlier ones, as a comparison of the cars shown above indicates.

1951 Frazer four-door sedan

1951 Frazer Vagabond
The facelift included a new front end design, some of this tooling shared with K-Fs new Henry J compact car.  The fender line was altered.  Changes included a wind split along the side of the front fender, a "kick-up" in the fender line starting behind the rear doors, and sharp, reverse-curve at the rear with the tail light positioned at the top.  These changes made the car look longer and more graceful.  If they had appeared in 1949, say, along with a V-8 motor, Kaiser-Frazer might have produced Frazer automobiles for several more years.

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