Kaiser-Frazer was one of very few American car manufacturers to start up after the Second World War and achieve reasonable success, competing in a market dominated by the ‘big three’ Detroit companies. Starting in 1947, when Joseph W Frazer and Henry J Kaiser acquired the lease on the Willow Run plant in Michigan, a former B-24 bomber factory and at the time the largest building in the world, a range of interesting, well-designed cars emerged from that cavernous edifice, badged as both Kaisers and Frazers. Although the ambitious early plan for a front-wheel-drive car was dropped, nevertheless the new 1947 cars took the American public by storm, as they were among the first all-new post-war designs on sale. In 1951, Frazer left and that brand was discontinued. In 1953, Kaiser took over Willy-Overland, and in 1955 passenger car production ceased and the company, later renamed Kaiser-Jeep, focused on off-road and military vehicles.
The Manhattan was originally a name applied to Frazer-branded vehicles, where it represented the very top of the line. After the discontinuation of the Frazer name, the Manhattan became a Kaiser, where, as before, it was at the top of the line-up. Power came from a 3.7-litre straight-six, which developed 118bhp. Kaiser always made a big effort to be bold with their styling – they had to, to stand out as a small fish in a very big pond – and the Manhattan was no exception. Bright colour schemes were the norm, and the interiors were among the finest of any American car of the period, with high-quality materials and a unique ‘bamboo-effect’ vinyl on the dash. In addition to the styling, contemporary reports praised the roominess of the interior, the smooth ride and handling and the surprising frugality of the engine.
This 1953 Manhattan, a rare car to find in its home country, let alone in the UK, is in superb condition, having been completely restored inside and out in 2010. The engine and four-speed automatic gearbox have both been rebuilt, and in its striking colour scheme with a wonderful interior, it’s a car that’s sure to create interest wherever it goes, both for its appearance and its rarity. Fully UK registered following its importation, it comes with a V5c and a large file of relevant information.
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