By on July 17, 2012

After checking out a bullet-riddled ’91 Mitsubishi Galant yesterday, I think it’s time to return to the inmates of the Brain Melting Colorado Yard that I visited on the Fourth of July. We’ve seen the ’48 Pontiac hearse, the ’75 Plymouth Road Runner, and the ’76 AMC Matador Barcelona so far, and today we’re going to admire a car that I’m dangerously tempted to buy for myself.
This is the greatest speedometer I’ve ever seen. Check out that font on the numerals!
All the emblems are gone, as is most of the trim, so I can’t say whether this is a Deluxe or a Manhattan (my Kaiser knowledge is spotty, but I think the low-end ’52 Virginian had a different grille).
The presence of a factory radio and automatic transmission suggests that this may be a high-rollin’ Manhattan. Kaiser-Frazer was taking a beating from the Detroit Big Three by 1952; the company’s rise and fall is chronicled in great detail by this excellent Ate Up With Motor piece.
Does this car have snakeskin door panels? How can I resist?
Pre-PRNDL automatic shifters are always interesting. This car has everything! Sorry, I couldn’t get the hood latch open, so no engine photos.

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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1952 Kaiser...”


  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Hi Murilee, great find. FYI – pic 05 is upside down.

    I’m glad you’re showing this car, as it shows that BMW wasn’t the first with the so-called “Hoffmeister kink” design characteristic (which, incidentally, was also present on early 1950′s Chrysler New Yorkers).

    Hope someone saves this fine vehicle.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    the roof line at the top of the windshield is not straight! it gives the car a sort of ‘hairstyle’ that to me is quite unique and pretty cool. not crazy about the font but then again it is unusual. sometimes unusual is good. the roof line is cool! i cannot imagine replacing the front windshield.

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      Strangely enough, the only contemporary equivalent I can think of is the new Kia Optima, whose windshield’s top edge mimics the “Tiger Nose” grille.

    • 0 avatar

      Trying again after WordPress ate my comment.

      These were designed by Howard “Dutch” Darrin (I think his son assisted). The peaked windshield is one of his signature elements. So is the “Darrin Dip” in the beltline of the rear door, but it’s hard to see in these particular pics because the primer grey obscures the contour. The rear window is peaked too, btw, and that’s a motif that really starts in the front bumper.

      I kind of prefer the ’54s with the teardrop headlight cluster that’s similar to some other ’50s cars like the Buicks of the same vintage, but this is a very handsome car with nice proportions and good lines. If I restomoded it, I might chop the roof an inch or two, but in any case the Kaisers were among the best looking sedans in the early to mid ’50s.

      Among other factors, though, having to buy engines meant they weren’t competitive as high compression OHV V8s started proliferating.

      Have you ever seen a Kaiser Traveler? It’s a cross between a sedan and a station wagon with fold down seats and a flat load floor?

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      That windshield curve looks like Anthony Davis’s eyebrow(s).

      And that IS the coolest speedometer ever.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Buy the damned car already! If there’s ever been a car that has no business sitting in a ‘junkyard’ this is it. That’s definitely a DeLuxe – the Manhattan would have had fancier seats to go with the “Dragon” (I kid you not) panels on the doors. And don’t feel bad about not opening the hood. The Continental flathead six was probably visually the most boring engine available anywhere after WWII. They weren’t worth looking at (or pushing the gas pedal down) until the supercharger was mounted in 1954.

    This one needs somebody who’s willing to take the time to do a good restoration. When you’ve got a 98% complete car, it’d be criminal to let it sit out and rot.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    That font. That windshield line. That horn button. That shift indicator. Those door panels. Any 3 are reason enough to go for it.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I’ve always wondered if the front end design of this car inspired the designer of the Citroen DS, or if their similarity is pure coincidence.

  • avatar
    volksman

    I have always thought that these Kaisers were one of the most beautiful cars ever built. It’s a shame that the deal with the V8 never happened. I think it could have been a hot car.

    It’s always fun when I’m talking older people and they are so impressed that I, in my 20s, actually know what a Kaiser is.

  • avatar

    Buy it, buy it, buy it!!!!
    I would if I were in the States… one of the nicest finds on your column so far.
    Even if there is no engine under the hood the style of the body deserves to be restored.
    Saludos!

  • avatar
    W.

    Please, buy this car. I wish I could, but I’m far away both financially and geographically, but someone that appreciates cars needs to own this piece of history.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    The first thing that came through my mind when I saw initial pictures was “that thing is still alive!”. Sure it’ll probably need some serious restoring efforts but it is practically complete and doesn’t look too rusty. It definitely deserves to live.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The side profile pic gives a pretty good idea of why 4-door cars were considered unattractive for so many years.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    The dashboard gages; love them!!
    Those are one of the koolest retro-gages I’ve seen in a long while.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Surprisingly complete example. Hard things to replace, like the radio and the speedometer (yes the font is fantastic!) are there; it is definitely a solid basis for a project. Hopefully the engine is still intact.

    Anyone know if the reference to the “hydramatic” transmission means that it is a GM unit of the same name or just a specific name gone generic? I don’t know much about the powertrains used in Kaisers/Frasiers.

    BTW – Henry Kaiser, this car’s namesake, owned the Lake Tahoe waterfront estate that is Michael Corleone’s Nevada headquarters in the 1974 movie, “The Godfather – Part II”. The estate however is on the California side of the lake and not the Nevada side as portrayed in the movie.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      It is genuine product of GMs HydraMatic Division, which was a major supplier of automatics to the industry at large. The HydraMatic also appeared in Lincolns, Hudsons, Nashes and possibly some I’m forgetting, in addition to Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs and Cadillacs.

      The engines were made by Continental, an old-time supplier of engines for automotive, marine and stationary applications going back to forever.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    One of my earliest car memories was my dad’s Henry J. I think it was the “compact” model in the Kaiser line up. He traded in a Crosley wagon for it. Irony is always interesting.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    How crusty is the floor & chassis? If they’re both passable or better – BUY IT NOW!

  • avatar
    Ex Radio Operator

    When I was a kid back in the mid 50′s one of my baseball coaches had one of these. I thought the “widows peak” windshield was cool. Since we weren’t very big the whole team could ride in it. That man was the very epitome of the “cool Dad”. Great guy.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I don’t see many “goochie” cars anymore. “Goochie” is the name I gave them the first time I saw one when about 7 or 8 years old, as it was so different from any other car I have ever seen and had to invent a word to describe it.

    Must have been that windshield shape!

    Wonder what shape the underpinninngs are?

  • avatar
    skor

    If this was a two door, I’d fly out there to buy it myself. A four door would need to be in much better condition than this to get my interest. You could very easily sink a LOT more money into this than you could ever get back.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    I am tempted to join in with everyone-else saying buy this car now. Before I do I would like to see the bathtub Nash you have previously expressed an interest in.

    As a fan of the old, independent car companies I do find the Kaiser tempting, but it would be hard to choose between this and a 1949-50 Nash in similar or better condition.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I saw more than one of these back in the day that had had the boring Continental engine replaced by an Olds Rocket V8. I suspect that the Hydramatic transmission helped make the conversion easier.

  • avatar
    Pan

    Don’t disrespect the old flathead 6 engine. It was a Continental RED SEAL engine, also used by Checker Cab. My father was always proud that the Red Seal powered his Father’s Star. Does Continental still exist, and does it make industrial engines or anything else?

  • avatar
    50merc

    So Pan, your grandfather had a Star car–hey, so did mine! I have a 1926 Star Four.

    Continental supplied engines to about a hundred auto companies. The depression decimated the ranks of independents, and Continental suffered as well. It evolved into mainly a manufacturer of aircraft engines, and was bought in 1964 by Ryan Aeronautical Company. In 1968 Teledyne acquired Continental, chopped it into five enterprises, and in 2010 the Continental Motors component was bought by Avic International. It makes aircraft engines in Alabama.

  • avatar
    Pan

    Thanks 50 Merc, for the information. It’s always to nice to see that an old respected company has survived the ravages of time, even as part of another company.
    As to the Kaiser, I remember a friend of my Father’s buying a new ’48?? What impressed me most was the “slab” side, compared to other cars of that time, and the unique interior door handles —- round ivory buttons, with I think, a “pull” above them. I was in it once; but, those memories remained.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    I wish I could’ve finished my ’53, but there was no time nor space to do it at the time.
    Mine was owned by a jewelry store owner in San Jose who rear ended a flatbed truck. I bought it, replaced the sheetmetal and tried to refreah the crank bearings, but the shaft was too far gone and even with new inserts the oil pressure was inadequate when it warmed up.

    I sold it to a guy in town 20 years ago, havent seen it since.

    It still had the bamboo vinyl on the door panels and dash as well as the original vinyl headliner which, incidentally smelled like vomit.

    No radio, no heater, but more headroom than any car on the road. What a piece of sculpture!

  • avatar
    Alfasaab99

    BUY IT! Before it gets crushed!

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    jeez, even the interior isn’t half bad for a car that has been baking in the sun for a while. I’m sure that car drove onto this property under its own power.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    What is the minty green vehicle next to the Kaiser in shots # 10 and #15 ? I’m guessing that it is a 1954 De Soto club coupe , probably with the ” Powermaster ” six -cylinder . This is a rare car also , with production totals for both the ” Powermaster ” or ” Firedome ” V-8 versions in this body style of less than 10,000 . I don’t recall ever seeing one , and the body looks quite solid . Definitely a good candidate for restoration , and there’s some historical signifigance as I think it was the last year for the six – cylinder in a De Soto .

  • avatar
    KF Guy

    Just some info on some of the previous comments. The lack of large roung bumper bullets on the ends of the “humped” bridge on the front and rear bumpers indicate it’s not a Manhattan. The painted lower dash and ashtray also indicate it’s not a Manhattan as those peices were chrome on a Manhattan. Radios and Hydramatic transmission were options on all models of Kaiser in 1952 so those things do not indicate which model it is. I’ve seen a number of 3 speed, no-radio Kaiser Manhattans. Also, it was alluded to in the original post the “low end model” in ’52 was the Virginian – not true! There was a ’52 Kaiser Virginian. The 1952 Virginians were those left over ’51 Kaisers that had not sold by the end of the 1951 model year. To get these cars sold, Kaiser updated them with a new hood ornament and a stylish Continental spare tire on the back. The 1952 Virginian was available in standard and deluxe models as well as hatchbacks.


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