Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Kaiser Manhattan, originally uploaded by William 74.

When you're the little guy you have to stand out from the crowd, and that's what Kaiser-Frazer did in the immediate postwar years. The Big Three of Ford, GM, and Chrysler owned the American market, leaving the independents to fight for remaining sales, and to do that they had to differentiate themselves from the mass market. K-F did this, in part, through charmingly idiosyncratic styling.

The Kaiser Manhattan owes it's name to the Frazer Manhattan, which was built through 1951, when the Frazer nameplate was retired. The all-new Kaiser Manhattan debuted in '52, and was available in two and four door forms, as well as the much rarer two and four door hatchback "Traveller Utility Sedan". Famed stylist Howard "Dutch" Darrin had a hand in creating the Manhattan's body, which traded previous Kaisers' dowdy looks for a sharp new lines. His hand is all over the Manhattan, from the "Darrin Dip", a kink along the fender line, to the "sweetheart dip" in the front and rear windshields, both characteristic of Darrin designs. Other neat details are the reverse kink in the C-panel (years before BMW did it), the thin, blade like grille, and the little chrome fins and cutout taillights at the back. Combined with the bewildering array of colors and trim options Kaiser offered (another way of standing out from the pack) and you have a distinctive, attention getting car.

This Manhattan is a sedan, and is the worse for wear. It's sitting in a field, and appears to have just been parked there, pushed off to the side. The grass is very long, covering up the distinctive chromed grille, almost making the car appear to be sailing in a sea of green. I have no idea how long it's sat there, or why it's been sidelined. Was there a serious engine problem? Did the transmission pack it in? Terminal rust? Or something sadder, a reminder of a loved one passed?

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