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)

Nash Metroplitan

With fuel prices at the levels they have been at for a good number of years, and not likely to to go much lower, car manufacturers, the buying public, and the government have all been interested in better car fuel efficiency. Some of the cars today that do well in this respect are among others, the Honda Fit, and the many now Hybrids on the market. All of these automobiles however were still larger than the Nash Metropolitan.

Back over fifty years ago the Nash Automobile Company came out with what I would term a subcompact automobile in the Nash Metropolitan. The Nash Metropolitan was surely offered as a subcompact car alternative in the 1950’s when cars in general were actually getting larger and larger.

nash metropolitan
Nash Metropolitan, public domain photo

The Nash Metrpolitan was thought to be America’s first subcompact. The cars wheelbase was even shorter than the Volkswagon Beetle and the engine was a four cylinder 1.2 liter. The Metropolitan was really designed and targeted as a family’s second car. Nash Metropolitans were built between 1954 and 1962. This was a combined venture between Austin who manufactured the engine, Pinin Farina, which did the design and Nash/Hudson/American Motors, which sold the automobile in the United States under various nameplates.

The beginning of the Nash Motors and the Nash cars is an interesting story. The company was started in 1916 by Charles W. Nash who had been president of General Motors. Nash took over the Thomas B. Jeffrey Company which had been struggling to survive. Nash changed the name to Nash Motors and was able to thrive as a niche automotive producer. Nash was credited with two important things. He was able to keep his company competitive during the Roaring Twenties when the field of auto companies was growing rapidly and he was able to keep the company going through the great depression years of the 1930’s. This was no easy feat since many companies went under in the 1930’s. In 1937, Nash was able to merge with the Kelvinator Corporation. By this time he was 73 years of age and the merger made sense. In fact, Nash became chairman of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and kept that title until he died in 1948.

The first compact car produced by Nash-Kelvinator was the 1950 Rambler. The Nash Rambler is one of the most popular vintage automobiles today. Prior to this time Nash cars had been much larger.This is a model name still remembered by most auto enthusiasts. The company at this point was run by George W. Mason who had been president under Nash. Mason was a big fan of the compact car concept although many of his engineers were reportedly not. Mason’s idea was to sell the rambler as a luxurious second car for high end buyers. The first model put on the market was a convertible with an electric retracted roof of fabric. While this design had been created, another secret design was being worked on in Utica Michigan.

1956 nash metropolitan automobile
1956 Nash Metropolitan, from author’s collection

The results of the focus group were promising. In addition to that, the Rambler, which was small but not as small as the NXI design, was being received pretty well by the public. Costs of producing the new subcompact was a different story. The new NXI prototype was extremely smaller than anything that Nash cars had produced to date and tooling costs became an issue. The answer would be to outsource the construction. George Mason made an arrangement where the bodies of the Metropolitan would be manufactured in England by Fisher & Ludlow, Ltd. The engines would be built by the Austin Motor Company. The result was that the tooling expenses were a fraction of what they would have been in the U.S. This resulted in the Nash Metropolitan being one of the biggest selling imports in North America. You may even remember that Lois Lane drove a Nash Metropolitan on the old 1950’s television series Superman. Obviously, this small unique classic car received a lot of publicity in the 1950’s.

Nash merged with the Hudson Motor Car Company. The new merged company was named the American Motors Corporation. The following years would see quite a lot of changes in nameplates. The Metropolitan model would be built under both the Hudson and Nash name. By the year 1957, AMC would phase out both the Nash and Hudson names although, with the Metropolitan, the name could be seen until 1962. American Motors Corporation would market only the Rambler

For all intents and purposes, the Nash Metropolitan was created due of the wide acceptance of the Rambler back in 1950. Total sales in the U.S. and Canada of the imported Nash Metropolitan were 94,986 between 1953 and 1962.

A great place to view restored Nash Metropolitans include the Metropolitan Pit Stop located at 5330 Laurel Canyon Blvd, North Hollywood California.You may also want to explore the Nash Car Club of America which has information on all Nash automobiles built.

1929 Ford Model A

After the Model T came Ford’s Model A. The Model A introduced itself in 1927 as a replacement for the wildly successful Ford Model T. What were the differences between the two models?

First of all there were many different styles offered the buyer with the Ford model A. These included a coupe, sports coupe, roadster, convertible, towncar, fordor, truck, station wagon and taxicab.

1929 ford model a
1929 Ford Model A

Under the hood was a four cylinder engine providing 40 HP. Mileage was between 25 and 30 MPG which isn’t too bad at all when you compare this to today’s modern models. The transmissions on the Model A was a standard three speed with a manual sliding gear. The fuel tank was mounted under the cowl in front of the fire wall.

The Ford Model A shown in this article is a 1929 model Roadster with a rumble seat. The rumble seat was really best for passengers not minding braving the elements. As you can see, rumble seat passengers were not protected by the roof of the vehicle nor from the wind. The rumble seat addition really gave passengers the option of riding as a sedan or a convertible all in one car. While being quite sporty, the rumble seat never really caught on in a huge way and was discontinued by most manufacturers in about 1939.

ford model a rumble seat
Ford Model A showing rumble seat area

As far as price went, when the Model A came out it could be purchased from anywhere from about $395 to $1,000 depending on the model. This was quite a good price for many working people when you consider that sporty cars such as the Stutz Bearcat back in 1914 could easily cost $2,000 or more.

Ford Motor Company really dominated the automotive industry, mainly because of their mass assembly system, right into the mid 1920’s. By that time several of their competitors were catching up. The introduction of the new Ford Model A was in answer to this competition. Additionally, the mid twenties was a time that the old Model T needed to be replaced regardless of competition. Ford’s goal for this new model was to create as much buzz with it as they enjoyed with the “Tin Lizzie”.

According to numbers from the Ford Production Department, the total number of Ford Model T sales from 1909 to 1927, including all the various models, cars, trucks and ambulances was 14,689,520.

ford model a interior
1929 Ford Model A interior

Some other sources may have slightly different figures. Between 1927 and 1931, about 4.9 million Ford Model A’s were sold. There was an entirely different Model A built between 1903 and 1904 and 1,700 of those vehicles were sold. These were the first cars sold by the Ford Motor Company. Beginning in 1932, Ford produced a Model B. These were produced between 1932 and 1934 and really represented an update of the Ford Model A.  Prices for the Model B ranged between $500 and $650. Today, the 1932 Ford Model B appears to be the most collectible model and many have been restored.

You may also enjoy the AutoMuseumOnline articles on the links below…

1914 Ford Model T Depot Hack

1922 Ford Model T


About Model T Serial Numbers and Registering Antique Vehicles

Interestingly enough today, parts for the Ford Model A are relatively easy and quick to get a hold of. There are several suppliers and parts can be shipped quickly. In addition to this there are several restorer clubs located around the country that encourages vintage car enthusiasts to join them in restoring historic and classic automobiles. Ford Model A restoring clubs are located by region in the U.S. Among the many car museums where the Ford Model A can be seen is the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners Michigan, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan and the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

(Article and photos copyright AutoMuseumOnline)