Monday, April 6, 2009

The Henry J And Other Forgotten Cars

Cliff's tormented 6th grade teacher Aaron Werner at PS 177, discussed in Cliff's KV Notes, drove a Henry J

from wikipedia:
The Henry J was an American automobile built by Kaiser-Frazer Corporation and named after its chairman, Henry J. Kaiser. Production of six cylinder models began in July, 1950, and four cylinder production started shortly after Labor Day, 1950. Official public introduction was September 28, 1950.
The car was the brainchild of Henry J. Kaiser, who sought to increase sales of his Kaiser automotive line by adding a car that could be built inexpensively and thus affordable for the average American in the same vein that Henry Ford produced the Model T. The project also included a lot of government "designing" as various provisions of the 1949 government loan to Kaiser-Frazer specified various particulars of the vehicle. Kaiser-Frazer would be in violation of the loan terms unless the car in its base form retailed (including Federal tax and retail delivery preparation charge) for no more than $1,300.00. It had to seat at least five adults, it had to be available for retail sale no later than September 30, 1950, and had to be capable of going at least 50 miles per hour for sustained periods of time.
To accomplish this, the Henry J was designed to carry the fewest possible components, and built from the fewest number of parts. To save body stamping costs, early Henry Js did not have rear trunk lids; owners had to access the trunk by folding down the rear seat. Another cost saving measure was to offer the car only as a two-door sedan with fixed rear windows. Also lacking in the basic version were glovebox, armrests, passenger side inside sun visor and flow-through ventilation.
Power for the Henry J was delivered by a four-cylinder 68 hp engine; later models were available with an L-head six cylinder 80 hp engine. Engines were supplied by Willys-Overland; the four cylinder motor was the same engine used in the CJ-3 series Jeeps with only slight modifications to component parts; the block and internal components were interchangeable with the CJ-3 jeep.
In 1952, Kaiser began selling rebadged Henry Js through Sears, under the nameplate of Allstate. Allstates were nearly identical to Henry Js but carried a unique grille, hood ornament, hubcaps, identification badges and interior trim, and Allstate-brand tires and batteries. After two years of disappointing sales, Sears dropped the car. The car was also available in Japan from 1951 to 1954, through a licensing deal with East Japan Heavy-Industries, part of the Mitsubishi group.
The Henry J proved to be a disappointment for Kaiser. While the Henry J was priced low, a Chevrolet 150 could be bought for a few dollars more, and the price included operating rear windows and a trunk lid. The Chevy, Ford and other "low priced" competitors were also larger cars, offering more interior room. Kaiser-Frazer started offering the deck lid as part of an "Accessory Group" (preferred equipment group) during the 1951 model year, and a variety of other dress-up items but major advertising still focused on operating costs at a time when gas was unrationed and at about 27 cents a gallon. Sales declined each year the car was marketed. While the Henry J was inexpensive for consumers, its manufacturing and labor costs were high. Henry J. Kaiser had hoped to make a profit through volume; however, the cars' slow sales negated his plan.
While sales of the Nash's compact Rambler were successful, it was partly because Nash marketed it as an accessory-loaded convertible. The Henry J was a plainly-trimmed two-door sedan; consumers understood the difference between "inexpensive" and "cheap" and they perceived the Henry J in a negative fashion.
Front view. Note custom signal lights and painted grille insert and hood spike.
With the acquisition of Willys-Overland's vehicle operations in early 1953 by the Kaiser Manufacturing Company division of Kaiser-Frazer (the division changed its name at that time to Willys Motors, Incorporated), management decided to discontinue the car at the end of the 1953 model year. Efforts to sell off remaining vehicles were unsuccessful, resulting in an abbreviated run of Henry J automobiles by Kaiser Motors (Kaiser-Frazer got a corporate name change in May 1953) as 1954 models, using up more of the incomplete 1953 models scattered around the Willow Run, Michigan factory.
Frank Zappa recalls in his autobiography the torment and horror of travelling cross-country sitting on the bench-like rear seat of a Henry J (he called it an "ironing board from hell") in the 1950's.

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