Junkyard Gem: 1947 Frazer Manhattan


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Cars bearing the Kaiser badge— with its Je suis prêt (I am ready) slogan— were sold for just the 1947 through 1951 model years, so you won't find many in your local car graveyard these days (though I did manage to find a discarded '51 Frazer Vagabond a decade ago). That's a shame, because the contemplation of a weathered Frazer opens a fascinating window into some important automotive history. Here's one of the first cars ever produced by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, now residing in a Denver self-service yard.

Joseph Washington Frazer— yes, that middle name derives from an ancestry that included the first President of the United States— isn't a household name now, but he played a pivotal role in the formation of Chrysler Corporation (it was Frazer who thought up the name for the Plymouth Division), went on to run Willys-Overland (where he trademarked the Jeep brand) during World War II, and then took over Graham-Paige with the plan of building millions of civilian cars after the war. Lacking capital, he joined forces with industrialist Henry J. Kaiser (who masterminded the company that cranked out 2,710 Liberty Ships during the war) and the two men created the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation.

The company leased the vast Willow Run plant in Michigan, originally built to manufacture B-24 Liberator bombers during the war, and— in true Liberty Ship fashion— came up with designs for two all-new cars seemingly overnight. One was a radical unibody-chassis machine with front-wheel-drive that never made it into production despite plenty of hype during 1946, while the other was a conventional body-on-frame sedan with rear-wheel-drive and a parts-bin powertrain. The second design went into production at Willow Run as a 1947 model, with the Frazer versions priced higher than their Kaiser counterparts. The Manhattan was the top-of-the-line Kaiser-Frazer model, priced at $2,550 (about $35,145 in 2022 dollars) that year. You could buy the lower-zoot Kaiser Special version for a mere $1,868 ($25,745 today).