1953 Henry J Corsair. Click image to enlarge
Review and photo by Bill Vance
Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph Frazer were two men who knew there was going to be a huge demand for cars after the Second World War, since all North American automakers had made military supplies instead of cars during the conflict. Kaiser was a self-made millionaire from construction and shipbuilding. Frazer was a super salesman who had worked his way up from a Packard mechanic to the presidency and chairmanship of Graham-Paige Motors.
At war’s end, Kaiser and Frazer joined forces in an attempt to crack Fortress Detroit and cash in on the postwar shortage of cars. They formed the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation in 1945, with Kaiser bringing his money and enthusiasm, and Frazer his automotive knowledge and Graham-Paige interests. They acquired the giant bomber plant in Willow Run, Michigan on favourable terms for production.
Henry Kaiser’s dream was to build an economical car for the masses, a kind of modern Model T, but he would have to wait a few years to see his vision fulfilled. The first 1947 Kaisers and Frazers were standard- sized cars competing with full-size models from the “Big Three” of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, and smaller firms such as Nash and Studebaker.
Henry’s small-car dream finally came to fruition in 1951 with Kaiser-Frazer’s new Henry J compact. It came as a two-door fastback only, a style that was going out of vogue by that time.
To keep the price as low as possible, the first Henry Js were pretty Spartan. While they had a certain family resemblance to the beautiful full-sized 1951 Kaisers, their short, 2,540 mm (100 in.) wheelbase, the same as Nash’s recently-introduced Rambler, made them look somewhat tall and stubby.
Cost-cutting measures were evident in the lack of a trunk lid, glove box and ventilation system, and a drab, cheap-looking interior. The most distinctive styling cues were the controversial pointed fins at the tips of the rear fenders, and the little “Darrin Dip,” a swoop in the beltline just behind the doors, named for stylist Howard “Dutch” Darrin.
The Henry J came in Standard and Deluxe series. The Standard was powered by a 68-horsepower four-cylinder engine, while the Deluxe had an 80-horsepower six. Both engines had side valves and were purchased from Willys-Overland.
The performance of the four was minimal, its purpose being to deliver economical transportation. The six, on the other hand, was fairly spirited.