Some interesting automotive trivia

While Tridaq & I (and possibly one or two others in this forum) have fairly vivid memories of some of the old independent automotive marques that disappeared back in the '40s & '50s, I thought that some of the younger members might be interested in some fairly obscure auto-related trivia from the '40s, '50s, & '60s:

Graham Motors (also known as Graham-Paige) manufactured popularly-priced cars with fairly high performance, due to their use of superchargers as early as the late '30s. However, this marque was not a big seller, and they continued to circle the drain as the '40s approached. Due to a lack of funding for a major redesign, they joined forces with the Hupp Corporation (manufacturers of the Hupmobile, another good-quality car), and together they adapted the body design of the now-dead Cord for their 1941 models.

Even though the Cord had been FWD, and both the Graham and the Hupmobile were RWD, the resulting body style was decent-looking, even if it lacked the “coffin nose” of the old Cord. The Graham & the Hupmobile had identical bodies for 1941 (only the grills differed slightly), even though they were two separate companies with separate factories. However, the new body style was not enough to save them, and both companies ceased car production in 1941, after manufacturing only a few hundred cars.

Now…fast forward to 1945, when ship building magnate Henry Kaiser decided that he wanted to go into the car business after WWII. Because he lacked automotive experience, he hired Joe Frazer (no, not the boxer!), who was the last CEO of Graham-Paige Motors, to run the new enterprise, and, in 1946, their first new cars rolled off the assembly line. While many folks know that Kaisers were made in the gigantic Willow Run factory (previously used by Ford for airplane production during the war), the Willow Run factory was not ready right away, and as a result, the first Kaiser & Frazer automobiles were made in the old Graham-Paige factory which had been idle for 5 years or so.

What I find truly interesting is that the first few runs of these new, “clean-sheet” Kaiser/Frazer designs bore a plate on the firewall identifying them as Graham-Paige automobiles! Why this was the case, I don’t know, but the fact remains that, while the bodies bore Kaiser or Frazer nameplates, the corporate plate on the firewall called them Graham-Paiges. Curious, isn’t it?

After some interesting designs in the early '50s, Kaiser ceased production of their passenger cars, but their story does not end there, as Kaiser had purchased Willys Motors by that time, and they stayed in the automotive business in the US by producing the old 4WD designs of Willys. And, the Kaiser body dies and other machine tools were shipped to South America, where the old Kaiser automobiles stayed in production for at least another decade.

So…by the mid-'50s, Kaiser Motors was now dead in the US, and…obviously…so was Graham-Paige–right?

Graham-Paige dropped the “Motors” from its name and went into real estate, buying up such properties as Roosevelt Raceway in New York, and Madison Square Garden. In 1962, the firm changed its name to the Madison Square Garden Corporation.

While the info about Graham-Paige’s involvement in real estate is somewhat obscure, it is factual, and just seems intriguing to me.

Three workers were walking into their factory for a Saturday shift to make a little extra money for the holidays. The men, who all were planning nice Christmas gifts for their wives, were comparing ideas on how to best show their wives how much they loved them.

The first man decided he would buy his wife a new car. “I’m going to buy her a Frazer and amaze her.”

The second man also thought a car would be a great idea. “I’m going to buy her a Kaiser and surprise her.”

The third man chimed in and said “I’m going to buy her a Tucker…”

I don’t remember all the names involved but I also think it’s interesting that many of the designers and engineers that worked for these “orphan” brands went on to create some of the most memorable designs and innovative features of the Big Three carmakers after the little guys went out of business.

Interesting. I’m a little fuzzy on that time period.

I lived in Holland during the immediate post war years. Kaisers were very popular since they were assembled in Rotterdam at that time for distribution in Europe. The parts were mostly imported, of course with tires, batteries and other items locally made. In my village 30% of the cars were Kaiser-Frazers.

The Henry J that was added later was a disappointment. People associated American cars with a luxurious and quiet ride. The Henry J was Spartan, noisy, and did not even have a trunk lid. However, it was the first American compact, followed by the Nash Rambler and the Hudson Jet. The Willys was considered more of an intermediate at that time.

@VDCdriver brought up some interesting information about the Graham-Paige. My dad and three other fellows bought a Graham-Paige sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s. They had a male quartet and toured a lot of the country giving performances. I think I have a picture somewhere of this car. Back in the early 1950s, the custodian at the church I attended had a 1936 or 1937 Graham. He began having problems with the Graham, so he sold it and bought a 1939 Chevrolet.
Kaiser had originally intended the Kaiser and Frazer cars to have front wheel drive. However, the prototypes that were built didn’t work out as planned, so he went with a conventional design. Initially, the Kaiser and Frazer cars sold well, but were expensive. Kaiser was willing to pay anything to get the parts and supplies after WW II to get his cars into production. The Frazer was the more expensive of the cars and had a different grille, but the cars were the same otherwise. The engine was made by Continental and was a flathead 6. Joe Frazer could see marketing trends and while the Kaiser and Frazer had a fresh new look when these cars appeared in 1947, Frazer could see that the other manufacturers would be coming out with fresh designs in 1949 and urged Kaiser to cut back production. Kaiser wouldn’t do it and there was a surplus of unsold vehicles after the 1949 run. The unsold cars got new serial numbers and became 1950 models. About May of 1950, an all new Kaiser appeared which I thought was a very nice looking car. This car was the 1951 model Kaiser. The Frazer received a restyled body for its final 1951 appearance. In late 1950, Kaiser brought out a small car which was called the Henry J. It came standard with a 4 cylinder engine bought from Willys. A six cylinder was optional as was an outside trunk lid. Unfortunately, the lowest trim line Chevrolet and Ford were only about $100 more. In 1952, Kaiser and the CEO of Sears got together and the Henry J was marketed through some southern Sears stores as the Allstate. The Allstate had a different grille, had an Allstate battery and Allstate tires, but was, for all practical purposes, a Henry J. I think had Kaiser put the resources into developing a modern (for the times) overhead valve V-8 engine instead of putting the resources into the Henry J, we might still have a Kaiser automobile. I also remember in the fall of 1954 when my mother went back to work and my parents needed a second car, my dad found a 1951 Kaiser in great shape with about 40,000 miles for $495. He turned it down, because the Kaiser had an automatic transmission and he was worried that parts might be hard to obtain for that transmission. What he didn’t know was that the automatic transmission in the Kaisers was a GM Hydramatic–Kaiser bought its automatic transmission from General Motors.
@asenaster brings up an interesting point. The Nash, Hudson, and Packard of the 1940s and early 1950s had some really great features that weren’t offered by the “Big 3”–Ford, GM and Chrysler. Willys, maker of the Jeep, had, in my opinion, the first SUV in tis all metal station wagon introduced in 1946. I think had George Mason, who became president of Nash-Kelvinator had been able to develop his dream of having an auto company combining Nash, Hudson, Studebaker and Packard into one large company with cars spanning the entry level Studebaker to the high end Packard, the competition would have been healthy for the “Big 3”. Mason was only able to merge Nash and Hudson before he died quiet suddenly. George Romney took over this newly formed merger, called American Motors. American Motors did quite well until Romney decided he would rather be governor of Michigan.

Triedaq got it mostly right.

Actually, the FWD car was going to be the Kaiser, and the Frazer was going to be a larger, much more conventional, RWD car. Because of severe torque steer and other issues that were seemingly insoluble at the time, the decision was made to drop the FWD concept, and, instead to do two very slightly different cars labeled as Kaiser and Frazer.

Because of the dispute over production target numbers for 1949 (in which case, Frazer was proven to be correct, even though Henry J. Kaiser hated to be proven wrong), Frazer left the company in a huff, although he continued to sit on the Board of Directors.

The 1951 Kaisers were dubbed the, “anatomical” Kaisers, although I’m not quite sure what that reference actually meant. In any event, the new-design '51 Kaisers handled better than any of their US competitors, and had much more glass area, meaning that the driver was much better able to see all around him in those cars.

And, yes, most industry analysts believe that if Kaiser (and Hudson!) had spent money on developing a modern OHV short-stroke V-8 instead of compact cars (Kaiser’s Henry J and Hudson’s Jet), they both would have been much better-off, and would have been around for more years.

Incidentally, when Hemmings Classic Cars did a comparison test of the Rambler, the Henry J, and the Jet, they named the Jet as the clear winner. Now, if the Jet hadn’t looked like a badly-proportioned, shrunken version of a '53 Ford, and if it hadn’t been so expensive, Hudson could (possibly) have wound up with a successful compact car, instead of one that was made for only 2 years.

Here’s another little bit of trivia from that era: The Hudson Italia (of which only ~25 or so were made), while built in Italy, with an aluminum body, was built on the Hudson Jet chassis.

Here is a link to a photo of a '41 Graham Hollywood. Those who are eagle-eyed will recognize that it has the body of the old Cord Westchester sedan, but with a different (cheaper to produce) nose assembly.

…and here is a '41 Hupmobile Skylark, which shared the old Cord body with the Graham Hollywood, but the two cars had different engines.

@VDCdriver–you mentioned the Hudson Italia. Kaiser had its sports car–the Kaiser Darin and Nash had its Nash Healey. These cars were much more exciting to me and seemed more like sports cars than the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette which only came with the 2 speed PowerGlide automatic transmission. The Chevrolet 6 in the Corvette, in my opinion, was not nearly the dual carburetor Nash overhead valve 7 bearing six cylinder engine in the Nash Healey. To me, the early 1950s were interesting times in automobile development.
One problem that the independent manufacturers had back in the early 1950s was the trade-in value of their products. The percentage of depreciation of the Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, Kaiser, and Packard was much greater than that of the cars manufactured by the “big three”. Chevrolets at this time held their value particularly well. However, according to Consumer Reports in the early 1950s, the independents often had a better repair record that cars produced by the “Big 3” (Ford, GM and Chrysler). For instance, in 1952, all of the independents offered an automatic transmission and all had engines that had full pressure lubrication. The Chevrolet of 1952 had a splash lubrication system, the Plymouth didn’t offer an automatic transmission as an option and the rest of the Chrysler line only had the “lift and clunk” semi-automatic transmission. With this transmission, you had a clutch to put the car in driving range, then accelerated to 15 or 20 miles per hour, released the accelerator and waited for the car to drop into high gear. All of the independents offered the Borg Warner automatic overdrive, but only Ford and Chrysler made this transmission available. Studebaker even had a lock-up torque converter on its automatic transmission at the time, had self-adjusting brakes and a modern overhead valve V-8 engine in its Commander line.

How did the prices of the independent cars compare to the Detroit 3 analogs? I suspect that they were more expensive (at least to build) and that is what doomed them. Almost all people seem to prefer a less expensive car and will not pay for innovation. That’s what killed Saab.

@jtsanders–the Studebaker Champion was priced competitively with the Chevrolet and Ford in the early 1950s. A Nash Ambassador cost as much as a Buick Super. One problem was that the rate of depreciation for the independents was far greater than for the GM and Ford products of the day. Back in the early 1950s, many people traded cars every two or three years and trade-in value was important.

@jtsanders…you can have all the innovation in the world but when you market it in an ugly package…it will fail.

Gotta agree with that. History is litered with ugly cars that never sold. If it would have been up to Henry Ford, he would still be selling the Model T and never would have converted to the Model A.

The Henry J was popular for a while with drag racers who turned them into altereds. The Willys coupes of course were extremely popular as gassers, and are enjoying a resurgence as streed rod material. you can get fiberglass repops of them.

Crosley’s were popular for a while…

That reminded me, the last time I called the credit union for a travel note, I had to set up security questions. She wanted to know what my first car was. I told her a Morris Minor. I had to spell it for her. She’d never heard of one. Guess she expected Ford or Chevy. Oh, the young, what they have missed. Now who would ever guess that as an answer to my security question except a few of you folks now.

@missileman, Studebaker failed in spite of good looking cars. While their late 40s and early 50 s cars were ugly, so were many cars at that time. And I think that Studebaker’s mid 50s cars were all quite good looking. More to it than that.

The 1957 Studebaker Commander was, I thought, a very good looking car. They were very popular for a long time with the folks who run at the Bonneville Salt Flats because they were fairly aerodynamic. You’ll still see them out there.

Nice. I’ve always liked the looks of that era of Studebaker; not so much with the one like my parents had when I was a kid. I forget the year and model but it was one of those 1951 or so bullet-nose jobs in a grayish/green color.