When Sears sold cars


No, I am not referring to the Sears Motor Buggy of 1908-1913. I am referring to Sears’ badge-engineered version of the Kaiser Henry J. If you have never seen one, it is because so few were sold during its two year production run.


The only one I’ve seen person was a drag race car. Small, light and easily hot-rodded, they made good “gassers”


Yes, but was it a garden-variety Henry J, or was it a grand-luxe Sears Allstate?


Garden variety, I think. I don’t believe I ever saw an Allstate!


Sears also sold a small motorcycle made by Puch I think . Also a step through scooter by Vespa .


Sears sold kit homes too https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sears_Catalog_Home . Nixon was born in a kit home, though one from a local lumber yard, not a Sears. Heath made kit airplanes.


They had an entire line of motorcycles from tiny 50 cc tiddlers to the mighty 250 cc Puch Allstate. Most likely made by a variety of makers. I remember browsing longingly at their motorcycles in their phone book sized catalogs when I was a young teen.
That 250 cc Puch had an interesting engine design. It was a “split single” also nicknamed a “twingle”. It was a two stroke engine with two cylinders that had the pistons moving up and down together but the combustion chambers were joined, effectively a folded opposed piston design. The front cylinder had the exhaust port and the rear cylinder had the transfer ports. The fresh charge would travel up the rear cylinder to the common combustion chamber and then go back down the front cylinder forcing the exhaust gasses out of the exhaust port during the scavenging cycle.
It was said to be really fuel efficient for a two stroke engine.


The first motorbike (scooter actually) I ever rode was a Sears Allstate back in the 60s. I think it was manufactured in Italy and had a couple of bicycle pedals to get it going with. Advertised in their catalogs at the time.

50 CC or something like that and about as fast as a garden slug.


I believe that the Allstate was mostly sold in Sears stores in southern states. I have only seen pictures of an Allstate. I did know a few people that owned the Henry J. In fact, there was one restaurant in my community that delivered food and had two Henry J automobiles.
I did ride in a Henry J. A mechanic my dad did business with bought a used 1951 in 1956. It was a four cylinder with the Borg Warner overdrive transmission.
The thing that really hurt the sales of the Henry J was its price. For very little more, one could buy either the bottom trim liine Chevrolet or the bottom trim line Ford. These low level trim line Fords and Chevrolet models did not have a passenger side sun visor, and the Chevrolet didn’t have an ash tray. but both had a trunk that opened from the outside and much better upholstery.
It wasn’t the size that hurt the Henry J, it was the cheapness. Nash brought out the Rambler and it sold reasonably well, even though it cost more than the bottom of the line Ford or Chevy. The Nash Rambler came well equipped with a radio, a heater that brought fresh air in from the outside and turning signals. These accessories were optional on Chevrolets and Fords of the early 1950s. Also, the Rambler did have a passenger side sun visor so the passenger didn’t have to squint. George Mason, the CEO of Nash, figured out that people would buy a compact car if it didn’t appear to be cheap.


I recall Sears selling Cushmans along with the European scooters and cycles. The Mo-Ped was popular here in the early 60s.

And Sears virtually introduced radial tires to the American market. Allstate radials were a real strange product when they first went on the market but soon Sears made them their top seller, bringing the Michelin brand onto the scene.


Sears might have made it in the car business if the car had been a quality product and Sears offered good service and a good stock of replacement parts. However, none of the big three automakers ( Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler) at the time would want to rebadge its product and have Sears compete with its dealers. However, Willys motor company came.out with a car that was a cut above the Henry J in 1952. Willys didn’t have a big dealer network. Building cars for Sears might have been beneficial for both companies. Willys also.made pickup trucks. Had Willys motor company supplied Sears with Allstate cars and pickup trucks, the Allstate brand might have caught on.


The Allstate wasn’t only sold in Southern States. The Sears store on Buffalo that was bounded by Main St Michigan Ave and Delevan Ave had a row of them parked outside diagonally on the Main St Sidewalk.

The Henry J and Willus Aero were designed as different cars by competing companies. The Willis had square fins unlike the pointy ones on the Henry J. It was also larger and was available in 2 dr, 4dr, and 2 dr hardtop.

Although designed separately before Kaiser and Willis Overland merger, the engines for both cars were supplied by Willis overland although I know the largest engine was a 226 cube Continental used by Kaiser-Fraser Cars and by Checker Cabs for many years after. The smallest 4 cylinder was the F head engine used in post war Jeeps in various forms until 1971.


I believe that the 4 cylinder engine you speak of was a semi-F head. The intake valve was in the head and the exhaust valve in the block.


And pretty soon Sears won’t be selling anything anymore.


I worked for the state forestry commission years ago. Many years before I worked there, they used fire towers. Someone had to sit in the tower and scan the horizon for smoke during times when the weather was favorable for higher fire danger. (I seem to recall you’re from New Mexico, so you’re probably familiar with forest fires. I once fought a forest fire on Ponil Creek near Cimmaron, NM if you’re familiar with that area - but I digress).

Anyway, there’s a small house located near a certain tower that the guys who kept the tower stayed in overnight. It’s reportedly a Sears “kit house”. I haven’t been there in 20 years, I wonder if it’s even still there.

Pretty amazing that Sears sold everything from underwear to houses at one time.


That is an F head, intake valves in the head and exhaust valve in the block. Hudson used them in the twenties and they made more power than either flatheads (Lhead) ,or overhead valves. There was no need for small combustion chambers because the gasoline of the day would not support compression ratios of much over 5 to one. The F head design meant you could use huge valves because you were not trying to squeeze two of them into the cylinder diameter like the overhead valve engines


One supposed advantage of the F head engine was that having the intake valve in the head made the engine more efficient than if the intake valve was in the block and having the exhaust valve in the block allowed the valve to run cooler than if it was in the head.


Literary types, including Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder, did this in the '50s and '60s. Mule trains resupplied them every 2 weeks. I got a ride from a woman who was doing it for Washington state some 40 years ago when I was hiking in the mountains and hitch-hiking out for supplies. When I visited a friend park-rangering at Shasta we spent a night in one on a hike. There’s one on Vetter mountain in the San Gabriels you can climb to the top of, though not in. At least some of them had automated scanners to look for smoke.


My grandmother found out that the Allstate was the cheapest car sold. So she went to the local Sears store, and ordered one, with no added options. Then to save the delivery fee, she took a train from California to the factory to pick up her car. When she picked it up, thank goodness some kind-hearted salesman convinced her that she had to have SOME extras, so she paid for a spare tire, an oil-filter, and windshield wiper blades. Probably a back seat, too, though that wasn’t passed down in family lore.