The Rare 1953 Kaiser Manhattan / Photos and Specs

The automobile featured in this article is a 1953 Kaiser Manhattan. The Kaiser Manhattan was produced for the 1952 and 1953 model years. Another supercharged Manhattan model came out in 1954/55 but is separate from the 1952/53 series. Only a total of about 4,000 supercharged Manhattans were built in 54/55.

1953 kaiser manhattan

1953 Kaiser Manhattan

The Manhattan was advertised by Kaiser as being the safest car on the road. This basic design, as mentioned above, continued in the Kaiser line until the company discontinued building U.S. passenger cars in 1955.

The Automakers Post War

After the end of World War Two, the independent automakers had to spend a lot of money to keep up with the Big Three. The Kaiser Motor Corporation, formerly the Kaiser -Frazer Corporation, was one of several independent auto makers who fell victim to the Big Three when the post World War Two car demand began to wane.There was such a pent up demand for automobiles when the war ended that essentially everyone was selling cars. When that demand began to wane, the smaller independents started having problems. In 1951 Kaiser-Frazer came out with the low priced economy "Kaiser J" model to try to help the sagging sales numbers. The Kaiser J gave the buyer a choice of a four or six cylinder engine.

kaiser manhattan trim

A good view of the Manhattan's chrome trim

The biggest challenge for the non-three major auto makers, Ford GM and Chrysler, was having the financial resources necessary to tool up for new designs. As an good example, a Kaiser-Frazer press release stated that $10 million was spent to make the 1949 models more sleek and modern looking.  After the first post war designs hit the showrooms changes were made more rapidly especially during the 1950's. The Big Three were taking the lions share of business during the 1950's and the independents that were still around were fighting over the table scraps.

Kaiser-Frazer Willow Run Factory

Kaiser-Frazer automobiles were built at their Willow Run facility just about 25 miles west of Detroit. Ford Motor Company had used the facility to build bombers during the war and the plant was massive. Ford gave up the factory after the war and the government leased it to Kaiser-Frazer.

The Kaiser Manhattan

The Kaiser Manhattan was the vehicle that kept Kaiser-Frazer going during the early 1950's. The Manhattan model actually hit the showrooms in 1950 as a Frazer Manhattan. The model was transferred to the Kaiser nameplate in 1952. In 1953 the Kaiser Manhattan could be ordered as a two-door club sedan, a four-door sedan, and a Traveler sedan.

kaiser manhattan engine

Original Kaiser Manhattan Supersonic six engine

The Manhattan, representing the top trim level for 1952 and for 1953 the mid-level version below the luxurious Dragon model. As far as changes with the Kaiser Manhattan from 1952 to 1953, the latter models had widened chrome headlamp rings, counterbalanced trunklid hinges, redesigned white-on-black instrumentation, a new hood ornament and a lowered rear seat cushion for better headroom.

The lower bodies of the 1953 models had a wide chrome band, there were small chrome tail fins that sat atop the rear fenders, and the car's front fenders were decorated with script nameplates.

1953 Kaiser Manhattan Specifications

Both the 1952 and 1953 Kaiser Manhattans were outfitted with the "Supersonic Six," the long-running 226 cubic inch L-head straight-six cylinder engine. The engine was engineered and designed by Continental. Horsepower was rated at 118. Regarding the name of the engine. the "Supersonic Six", the American automotive industry pretty much wrapped itself around all things aerospace. The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 is a good example.

The standard transmission on the Kaiser Manhattans was a column shifted three speed manual Borg Warner unit. Available as an option was a four speed Hydra-Matic automatic from GM.

kaiser manhattan interior

53 Kaiser Manhattan dashboard

Brakes on the Kaiser Manhattan were four wheel Bendix drums.

Front suspension were independent coil springs and tubular hydraulic shocks in along with a linkless anti-roll bar. Rear suspension was a solid axle suspended by semi-elliptic longitudinal leaf springs and canted tubular hydraulic shocks.

Kaiser offered a wide selection of colors and upholstery choices. As a result the buyer could make his or her interior very personalized.

The Kaiser Manhattan had a wheelbase of 118.5 inches. The overall length was 211.1 inches ( compared to the 208.5 inches in 1952) and the width was 74.875 inches. The curb weight varied and averaged about 3,400 lbs.

The Kaiser Manhattan new car price averaged about $2,600.

You may also be interested in the AutoMuseumOnline articles on the links below...

The Kaiser Dragon

A Restored 1953 Studebaker Champion

Locations of VIN Plates and Stamps on Vintage Vehicles

1964 Rambler Ambassador Cross Country Wagon

kaiser manhattan design

Good view of the rear window design on the Kaiser Manhattan

The Kaiser Manhattan Collector Car

The Kaiser Manhattan's are popular collector cars and they are rare. Produced only during the 1952 and 1953 model years there was only a total of 37,000 vehicles built which included all Manhattan models.

You should be able to find Kaiser Manhattans for sale in a wide range of conditions. Finding one in top condition might not be as easy. AS of this writing, asking prices for the 1952/53 models may range from $2,500 to $40,000. This range covers non restored vehicles needing an engine rebuild to museum quality vehicles.

As of this date, a drivable 54 model in need of repair and restoration is being offered for about $8,000. A couple of other 54 models with rebuilt engines are in the range of $15,000 to $25,000. Also, a 1953 model in very good condition has an asking price of $15,000. A 1952 Manhattan is priced at $9,000. As you can see from the above, prices are in a wide range depending on both mechanical and cosmetic condition.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 AutoMuseumOnline)

Kaiser Auto / Kaiser Dragon

The Kaiser Motor Corporation, formerly the Kaiser -Frazer Corporation, was one of several independent auto makers who fell victim to the Big Three when the post World War Two car demand began to wane. The biggest challenge for the non-three major auto makers, Ford GM and Chrysler, was having the financial resources necessary to tool up for new designs.

The 1953 Kaiser Dragon was offered in two tone colors

In other words, to keep pace with their peers, the independents had to spend large sums of money to produce new models which the public demanded. During the time that Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph W. Frazer were partnered tofether the company produced automobiles under each name. When Frazer departed the company in 1953 because he and Kaiser couldn't get along well, the Frazer nameplate went as well.

All of the cars built by Kaiser-Frazer and then by Kaiser Motor Corporation were built at the company's Willow Run factory. The Willow Run plant was located about 30 miles west of Detroit Michigan. There really is a lot of history connected with Willow Run and World War Two. An aircraft factory was built there in 1941. The Willow Run plant was producing an incredible one bomber per hour by August 1944.

1953 Kaiser Dragon

Willow Run had also been the major Detroit airport prior to the building out of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, several miles closer in to the city.

The Kaiser Dragon shown was a luxury hardtop model. Included with this car was a gold plated hood ornament, a glove box nameplate and power steering. The engine, a flat head six cylinder, put out 118 HP. Prior to the 1953 model year, the Dragon was simply a trim option in 1951, not a separate model. Beginning in 1953, the Kaiser Dragon was a new model. This coincided with the new name of the Kaiser Motor Corporation.

The two things that the Kaiser Dragon had going against it was it's relatively high price and the fact that it's speed time from 0 to 60 MPH was considered slow. Kaiser's main competitor would have been GM's Buick. Most people would consider the Kaiser Dragon as a sales failure although it's a great vintage car for today's auto collectors. The best estimate of sales figures for the 1951 trim package model and the 1953 full model was about 1,600. This fact by itself makes the 1953 Kaiser Dragon a rare find.

When a vintage car collector talks about the Kaiser Dragon, he or she is really talking about car interior designer Carleton Spencer. The Kaiser Dragon's interior was a Carleton Spencer creation form A to Z. It was said the Spencer based many of his interior design ideas from House and Garden Magazine.

Kaiser Dragon

Spencer was well known for his unique color selections. Spencer however is best known for his unusual alligator-pattern synthetic material called "Dragon Vinyl." The term Dragon Vinyl was used so that buyers wouldn't think they were sitting on real alligator skin. As mentioned above, this Dragon Vinyl was introduced as a trim option in the 1951 Kaiser models. That trim option in 1951 cost $125.

At about the same time that the company's name was changed to Kaiser Motor Corporation in 1953, Kaiser picked up the assets and liabilities of the Willys-Overland Corporation. Willys-Overland was the builder of both passenger cars and jeeps. The name was then changed to Willys Motors. Willys had a manufacturing plant in Toledo Ohio.

In 1955 the company was put under the holding company of Kaiser Industries. Among other things, Kaiser had been a large west coast shipbuilder during World War Two in Richmond California. Kaiser was also a major steel maker.

The Kaiser designs eventually became outdated and as mentioned above, the retooling cost needed to keep pace with the Big Three was staggering. Nash Motor Car Company had the same problem which eventually led them to be a part of American Motors Corporation. The end of Kaiser as an independent United States auto builder came in 1955 when all passenger cars under the Kaiser and Wiilys nameplate was stopped. The Willow Run plant closed but the company continued to build jeeps out of the Toledo factory. In 1963 the jeep brand name was changed to Kaiser Jeep. In 1969 Kaiser Industries left the automobile business entirely and ended up selling the jeep line to American Motors Corporation.

(Photos from author's private collection)