Henry J. Kaiser, the chairman of Kaiser-Frazer, was looking for a way to capitalize on the consumers interest of inexpensive vehicles during the 1950’s. He saw that Nash was having luck with the Rambler, Chevrolet with its 150, and Ford with its success of the Model T, so he thought he would design a car that would give him that kind of success and profit, as well. This is where the Henry J, named after the chairman, was born!
In order to finance this new vehicle project, Kaiser had to get a loan from the federal government. With this loan came specific regulations. The car being built couldn’t cost more than $1,300 including taxes and processing fees (about $11,500 today). It had to seat 5 adults, go 50+ miles per hour and be available by September 30, 1950. In order to make this happen and also make a profit, Kaiser had to use as few parts as possible. This is why the Henry J was built without a glove compartment, armrests, a passenger sun visor, and flow-through ventilation. It was also a 2-door sedan with fixed rear windows and did not offer a trunk lid; consumers had to access the trunk through folding down the rear seat. To meet the speed requirements, the Henry J came equipped with either a 134.2 cubic inch 4 cylinder 68hp engine or a 161 cubic inch L-head 6 cylinder 80hp engine. Both of the engines were by Willys-Overland and used in the CJ-3A Jeeps. The first Henry J was released September 28, 1950.
This model proved to be disappointing for Kaiser-Frazer. Even though it fit the specifications and had a low price, a Chevrolet 150 could be bought for a few dollars more and came with a trunk lid and working rear windows. Also, the Ford and Chevrolet offered bigger cars with more passenger room for low costs, as well. Consumers started to associate the Henry J with the word “cheap” and it started to get a negative reputation.
The one thing the car had going for it was its fuel economy. In 1953, the Henry J won the Mobil Economy Run because it was getting 25mpg while there was a ration on fuel from the War Production Board and fuel was $0.27/gallon (wouldn’t that be a nice number today!). This helped the car to get re-badged by Sears as the Allstate. The cars were identical except for the grille, hood ornaments, badging, hub caps, interior trim and the Sears version had Allstate tires and batteries. Due to low sales, Sears dropped the car in 1954. Mitsubishi also had a version of the vehicle from 1951-1954, but it also did not sell well.
Due to a sales decline each year, and the fact that the price war between Ford and Chevrolet was going on, which made it difficult for all independent car manufacturers, the Henry J model was to be dropped in 1953. After trying to sell off the remaining models, an abbreviated 1954 model was released using unsold 1953’s. While Kaiser-Frazer continued with its acquisition of the Willys-Overland, the Henry J was put to rest.