1954-1962 Kaiser

The End of U.S Production and the Move to Argentine Production

 

The Kaiser Willys Merger - Overview

Kaiser bought Willys-Overland in 1953 for US$63,381,175, renamed it Willys Motors and combined the remains of the Kaiser product line into it.  Before the sale, Willys was hemorrhaging money and saw a steep decline in domestic sales of all models of Jeeps and cars.  In 1954, the Willys Motors business unit lost US$35 million and posted even lower sales. Although the Jeep line had solid foreign sales, U.S. and Canadian sales of Jeeps and Willys automobiles were uninspiring. The Aero was a very nice solid car but cost W-O far too much to keep in the marketplace.  Under Willys Motors, the necessary decision to discontinue all Willys and Kaiser passenger cars was made and, with the focus shifted to Jeep sales, Willys Motors did considerably better.  By 1956 Willys Motors had turned an estimated US$15 million profit (see footnote 1) and expanded foreign sales while cultivating a domestic market for Jeep products.

Kaiser Automobiles for 1954

 

1954 was not a banner year for sales of Kaiser automobiles.  Nor was 1953 for that matter.  About 3,500 1953 Kaiser Manhattans were leftover at the end of the model year and these were returned to the factory to be face lifted into 1954s with new front fenders and hood, new taillights and new paint.  These models were then sold as 1954 Specials, the entry-level low-priced models, which were a very good deal for the purchasers since they were trimmed as the high-end Manhattans.  By mid-1954 all of these Early Specials were sold and the Late Special, built on the 1954 body (the differences: a larger rear window than 1953, new dash and a much more Spartan interior), went into production.  929 Late Specials were built by the end of the model year.  The top-of-the-line Manhattan had seen some of its sales stolen by the bargain-buy Early Special but Kaiser also suffered from a lack of funding to complete their 288 cubic inch displacement (4.7L) V8 engine and found GM unwilling to sell them the Oldsmobile Rocket 303 c.i.d. (5.0L) V8 after what seemed to be promising negotiations. They then turned to McCulloch (renamed Paxton in 1956 using the middle name of their corporate leader Robert Paxton McCulloch) for their VS57 supercharger for the 1954 Manhattan to increase the horsepower of the venerable 226 c.i.d. (3.7L) Continental-designed L-head six. The normally aspirated 226 produced 118bhp but when equipped with a supercharger would deliver 140bhp.  Only 1,200 Manhattans were sold in the 1954 model year.

 

With the 1954 model year coming to a close Kaiser management had a dilemma. If they announced an end to passenger car production their distributor and dealer agreements required the company to buy back any new cars, parts and accessories held by these distributors and dealers. By manufacturing a 1955 model the company was relieved of a considerable expense. For 1955 a very minor cosmetic change was made consisting of casting a new hood scoop to make the '55 distinctive from the '54.  The only other change made to the car was the implementation of a new body numbering system for all Kaiser-Willys passenger cars and Jeeps.  The 1955s were also the first models to comply with a 1954 agreement between the AMA, the auto manufacturers and the US government to implement a new vehicle identification system replacing the use of the engine number to identify a vehicle for licensing (see "Kaiser Serial Number (VIN) Sequence" below for more information).  This new number, called the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), required a plate with this VIN to be attached to the body and to have this number also stamped several places on the frame.  Kaiser assembled 271 Manhattans for the domestic market (226 four-door 51367 models, 44 two-door 51467 models and one last Export 51363 model reclassified as a domestic) between February and June of 1955.  There were no Specials produced in 1955.

 

Down but Not Out

 

Meanwhile, Kaiser's management was making deal to build Kaiser cars in a foreign country.  Starting in 1951 Argentina sent their emissary, Brigadier General San Martín, to the United States in an attempt to convince an auto manufacturer to build cars in Argentina.  In 1954 Kaiser was the only one to accept the offer with the rest believing the market was too small to justify the investment.  But they didn't have the rugged products Kaiser did.  On January 19, 1955 Kaiser and the government of Argentina signed an agreement to permit Kaiser to manufacture automobiles and trucks in Argentina.  In February, Kaiser created a wholly owned subsidiary named Kaiser Automores, the holding company which in turn owned part of the newly created Industrias Kaiser Argentina S.A. (IKA), the manufacturing and marketing arm.  Other partners in IKA included the government-owned vehicle manufacturer IAME and private investors.  In August Kaiser applied for and got an import license to bring in 1,021 completed cars, manufacturing equipment and spare parts from the USA.  Groundbreaking for the new factory was in March of 1955 with the first Jeep vehicle rolling out of the plant on 27 April 1956. (see footnote 2)

 

Back in Toledo, Ohio once the domestic production of the 1955 Kaiser Manhattan was complete in April, Kaiser began assembling export models of the Manhattan deleting the automatic transmission and the supercharger found on the domestic models and completed the assembly of these 1,021 cars in June. Once this last Kaiser was produced, the production line was shut down and its disassembly was started.  1,006 cars were ultimately exported to Argentina with six more sent to Argentina as company cars and six retained at the Toledo factory. One of these retained cars was requisitioned by design consultant Brooks Stevens and was still in his possesion up until 1995.  Anecdotal evidence suggests the balance of these cars retained in the USA were equipped with superchargers and Hydramatic automatic transmissions and used as executive cars. Interestingly, several more 1955 Kaisers were assembled between 1955 and 1957 from parts remaining at the factory. The first of which, serial number 11022, was built just before the assembly line was dismantled for George Harbert, the head of Toledo engineering, having all of the domestic factory options and domestic standard equipment installed along with being painted in an unusual three-color scheme.  Another two cars were assembled in the next few years with the last of which still being in existence with documentation from Kaiser Jeep confirming its assembly in 1957 and titled as a Willys rather than a Kaiser.

 

The new Argentine factory was built in the city of Santa Isabel in the province of Córdoba with the Kaiser Manhattan being rechristened the Kaiser Carabela - named after a type of Spanish sailing ship.  The USA vinyl and fabric interior was replaced with a more rugged leather interior, the speedometer was recalibrated in kilometers with the temperature, oil, and fuel gauge annotations in Spanish and the spring rates were increased to accommodate the unimproved Argentine roads.  Oddly, the dash castings with annotations for vent, heater, headlight and wiper controls remained in English.  No consideration was given to offering an automatic transmission due to the anticipated difficulty in obtaining service in remote towns.  Production started on the Carabela on 25 July 1958 and, in the remaining months of year, 2,158 cars were built.  IKA was also building Jeep vehicles at the Cordoba factory and assembled 20,454 Jeeps in 1958 alone.  The combined Carabela-Jeep production of 22,612 units was 81% of all vehicles manufactured in Argentina in 1958 with the only competition being a state-run utility vehicle/bus/truck manufacturer IMAE (Instituto de Mecánica Aplicada y Estructuras). Many have questioned the wisdom of building IKA automobile factory in remote Santa Isabel which was far from ports and transportation hubs but the principle reason is that Córdoba was General San Martín's home province and he had strong ties to President Juan Perón.

 

In 1962 the Carabela, the “Gran coche argentino” (the Great Argentine Car), ended production with some 15,000 cars assembled providing elegant transportation for the doctors, bankers and other notables in Argentina.  Unlike the U.S. operations, the Argentine operations also built Carabela limousines while independent body shops converted Carabelas into elongated chassis funeral flower cars and hearses. The Carabela had some stable mates in 1960-62 in the form of an Alfa Romeo 1900 sedan derivative named the Bergantin (another type of Spanish sailing ship) and an Argentine-manufactured Renault Dauphine (badged IKA Dauphine).  In 1962 Rambler variants licensed from AMC would replace all of these.  The final form of the AMC variants was the potent Torino which saw a lot of racing on international circuits.  The Carabela is to this day the heaviest, longest, and widest car ever manufactured in Argentina.

And the End

In 1970 Kaiser divested itself of all automotive operations selling the Kaiser Jeep Corporation in the USA to American Motors (with AMC being bought by Chrysler in 1987 for US$360 million), selling Willys do Brazil to Ford and Industrias Kaiser Argentina to Renault. The net profit from the sale of the all of the auto operations was US$145 million.

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1955 Kaiser Serial Number (VIN) Sequence

 

In 1955 Willys Motors changed all of their product lines to a new vehicle ID system.  In 1954, at the request of the U.S. government, Willys Motors, along with all the other U.S. auto manufacturers and the Automobile Manufacturers Association, were involved in the creation of the new, standardized vehicle identification numbering system named the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) with an agreed upon digit sequence and concealed chassis markings of this VIN.  Up to that time, some states used the engine number to register and title cars and trucks which became a problem if the engine was replaced which was fairly common at the time. 

 

The VIN plate on a 1955 Kaiser is found on the left front door post (the "A" pillar).  The additional VIN markings are found in two places on the chassis:  On the top of the frame, right side, just behind the front crossmember and on top of the frame, right side, at the rear spring rear shackle.

 

The VIN sequence is as follows:

 

Example VIN:  51367-5001

“5” - model year ("5" = 1955) 

“1” - Kaiser-branded automobile (“2”= Willys)

“3” - 4-door sedan  (“4” for a 2-door Club Sedan)

“6” - 226 cubic inch (3.7L) L-head 6 cylinder engine 

“7” - two-wheel drive vehicle

The four additional digits provide an exclusive identification for each car

 

The numbering sequence for the Export version of the 1955 Kaiser Manhattans destined for Argentina (1,021 cars) deviated from the standard numbering system by making the last digit (that normally would signify two or four wheel drive) a "3" so all Export cars were numbered 51363-xxxxx (with a five digit production number unlike the four digit Domestic number).

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1954 Kaiser Serial Number (VIN) Sequence

The numbering sequence wasn't as detailed prior to 1955.  Below is the division between the three product lines sold in 1954,  The balance of the 1953 Manhattan product line that remained unsold by 1954 (estimated to be 3,500 units) were converted to 1954 Kaiser Specials by replacing the front fenders, hood and bumper, installing new tail light assemblies and repainting the car in its 1953 color or color combination.  These 1953-Manhattan-turned-1954-Specials were price positioned below the supercharged 1954 Manhattan.  Once these "Early" Specials were sold, production of the 1954 Special (commonly known as "Late" Specials) using the same body and dash assembly as the 1954 Manhattan was started.  These were much less luxurious than the Early Special and total production is estimated at 929 units.  All production numbers are estimates based upon the best information available,

The VIN plate is located on the driver's door "A" (windshield) pillar.  The Body plate in on the cowl under the hood below the build (paint, trim, accessories) plate.

Model

From Serial Number

To Serial Number

Manhattan

 

 

  VIN Plate

K542-001001

K542-005440

   Body Plate (4 Door)

5421-1001

5421-5225

   Body Plate (2 Door)

5424-1001

5424-1230

 

 

 

Early Special (Includes all 1953 production and 1954 conversion)

 

 

   VIN Plate

K545-001001

K545-022184

   Body Plate (4 Door)

5451-1001

5451-2925

   Body Plate (2 Door)

5454-1001

5454-2675

 

 

 

Late Special

 

 

   VIN Plate

K545-022185

K545-023114

   Body Plate (4 Door)

5451-1001

5451-1800

   Body Plate (2 Door)

5454-1001

5454-1129

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1954 Kaiser Manhattan Paint & Trim Codes  (see footnote 3)

Trim

 

 

Paint

 

 

 

 

 

 

5421

5424

 

 

 

4-Door

2-Door

 

 

(Upper = Top, Lower = Body, M = Metallic)

 

 

 

 

 

5320

5420

Copper Dust Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

218

Palm Beach Ivory

 

 

 

418

Onyx Black (lower) Mariner Gray (upper) - 4-door only

 

 

 

461

Palm Beach Ivory (lower) Copper Dust (M) (upper)

5321

5421

Signal Green Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

161

Gunmetal Gray (M) - 4-door only

 

 

 

226

Signal Green (M)

 

 

 

462

Jade Green (lower) Signal Green (M) (upper)

5322

5422

Tropical Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

227

Island Green (M) - 4-door only

463

Palm Beach Ivory (lower) Island Green (M) (upper)

5323

5423

Blue Comet Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

224

Blue Comet (M)

 

 

 

465

Powder Blue (lower) Blue Comet (M) (upper)

 

 

 

467

Blue Comet (M) (lower) Arctic White (upper)

5324

5424

Persian Gray Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

140

Onyx Black

 

 

 

469

Arctic White (lower) & Persian Gray (M) (upper)

 

 

 

5325

5425

Green Pincrush Vinyl

226

Signal Green (M)

 

 

 

462

Jade Green (lower) Signal Green (M) (upper)

5328

----

Green Lamar & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

462

Arctic White (lower) & Persian Gray (M) (upper)

5330

----

Blue Lamar  & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

224

Blue Comet (M)

 

 

 

465

Powder Blue (lower) Blue Comet (M) (upper)

 

 

 

467

Blue Comet (M) (lower) Arctic White (upper)

____________________

1954 Kaiser Special ("Late Special") Paint & Trim Codes  (see footnote 4)

Trim

 

 

Paint

 

 

 

 

 

 

5451

5454

 

 

 

4-Door

2-Door

 

 

(Upper = Top, Lower = Body, M = Metallic)

 

 

 

 

 

5030

5230

Honey Beige Largo & Honey Beige

218

Palm Beach Ivory

 

 

Pincrush Vinyl

222

Jade Tint

 

 

 

226

Signal Green (M)

 

 

 

227

Island Green (M)

 

 

 

461

Palm Beach Ivory (lower) Copper Dust (M) (upper)

 

 

 

462

Jade Tint (lower) Signal Green (M) (upper)

 

 

 

463

Palm Beach Ivory (lower) Island Green (M) (upper)

5031

5231

Persian Gray Largo & Persian Gray

207

Persian Gray (M)

 

 

Pincrush Vinyl

224

Blue Comet (M)

 

 

 

229

Powder Blue

 

 

 

236

Bristol Red

 

 

 

239

Raven Black

 

 

 

465

Powder Blue (lower) Blue Comet (M) (upper)

 

 

 

467

Blue Comet (M) (lower) Arctic White (upper)

 

 

 

469

Arctic White (lower) Persian Gray (M) (upper)

Note:  Interior materials and exterior colors for the 1954 "Early Specials" (serial numbers prior to 22185) are in accordance with 1953 options.

____________________

1955 Kaiser Manhattan Paint & Trim Codes  (see footnote 3)

Trim

 

 

Paint

 

 

 

 

 

 

51367

51467

 

 

 

4-Door

2-Door

 

 

(Upper = Top, Lower = Body, M = Metallic)

 

 

 

 

 

5320

5420

Copper Dust Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

218

Palm Beach Ivory

 

 

 

461

Palm Beach Ivory (lower) Copper Dust (M) (upper)

5321

5421

Signal Green Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

226

Signal Green (M)

 

 

 

462

Jade Tint (lower) Signal Green (M) (upper)

5322

5422

Tropical Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

463

Palm Beach Ivory (lower) Island Green (M) (upper)

5323

5423

Blue Comet Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

224

Blue Comet (M)

 

 

 

465

Powder Blue (lower) Blue Comet (M) (upper)

 

 

 

467

Blue Comet (M) (lower) Arctic White (upper)

5324

5424

Persian Gray Luxura & Ivory Boucle Vinyl

140

Onyx Black

 

 

 

469

Arctic White (lower) & Persian Gray (M) (upper)

Note:  The Boucle Vinyl is being reproduced by SMS Auto Fabrics with all colors available.  http://www.smsautofabrics.com

There are no known reproductions of the Luxura fabric available, however, manufacturers to reproduce the fabric are being explored by the KFOCI.

____________

1955 Kaiser Domestic and Export Production (Reproduction of Service Department records)

 

 

                            KAISER WILLYS SALES DIVISION

 

 

 

                         PREPARED BY SEVICE DEPARTMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAY 9, 1955

 

 

              HIGH SERIAL NO. OF 1955 PRODUCTION BY MONTH

 

 

MODEL

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

JUNE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

51367 4 Dr Kaiser

5222

---

5225

5226

---

11022

 

51467 2 Dr Kaiser

5042

5044

---

---

--

---

 

51363 Kaiser 4 Dr Export

---

---

---

10001

10410

11021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-  Domestic serial numbers start at 5001; Export serial numbers start at 10001

 

 

 

 

-  44 Domestic 2 Door built in calendar year 1955

 

 

 

 

 

-  226 Domestic 4 Door built in calendar year 1955

 

 

 

 

 

-  The last Export model (#11022) was reclassified as a Domestic

 

 

 

 

 

-  Total 1955 Domestic production equals 271

 

 

 

 

 

-  Production for May and June estimated based on available information

 

 

 

 

-  According to Last Onslaught: 51363  Production:  May: 409,  June: 612

 

 

 

____________

Engine Color

For 1954-55 the color of the supercharged engine and the normally-aspirated engine was changed to dark red replacing the 1951-53 green.  For restoration purposes, the nearest color match available today is the MGA & MGB (through 1971) engine paint.  (Note: The MG TD & TF is a darker red with a brown tint therefore not correct for the Kaiser engine).  Here are some sources for the paint.  (Please use this list at your own risk.  I accept no liability for errors or omissions!)

Supercharged_Engine.jpgMaker - Color Name - Color Number

Ditzler - "Reno Red" - DQE 50782Y

Dulux Enamel - "Reno Red" - DAY

Duplicolor - "Dark Canyon Red" (very close)

Eastwood Powder Coating: MG Maroon

Krylon - "Maroon" (close)

Moss Motors - "Moss Dark Red Engine Paint" - 220-540

POR 15 - "MG Maroon"

RM - E3123M

 

 

The supercharger and the intake manifold should be the same color as the engine.  The exhaust manifold was raw metal (POR15 Factory Manifold Gray will improve the appearance of rusted or stained manifolds).  The oil bath air filter, Delco starter and Delco generator were black as was the voltage regulator cover.  The oil filter can was orange with a black lid.  Original decals for the oil filter and the air cleaner are available from the Kaiser Frazer Owners Club International Manufacturing Fund.

 

Note:  3,500 of the 1954 Kaiser Specials were leftover 1953 Kaiser Manhattans that received a new front clip, new tail light assemblies and were repainted.  These retrimed '53 Manhattans were then marketed as 1954 Specials.  Once that stock was depleted, 929 "real" 1954 Specials were made before the model year ended.  The most distinctive indications of the Early Special is a smaller rear window and different instrument cluster than the 1954 Kaiser Manhattan.  These Early Specials have green engines (1951-53 Packard Green is the equivalent) appropriate for their original date of manufacture.

____________

Kaiser-Willys Service Bulletins for 1954-55 Kaisers

The only formal service manuals that were issued for the second generation (1951-55) Kaisers were a complete manual for 1951 and an addendum to the 1951 covering the changes for 1952-1953 cars.  Changes for the 1954 cars were covered only by service bulletins.  Below are the Kaiser-Willys Service Bulletins specific to Kaisers.  The other numbered bulletins not included here covered issues with Jeep vehicles.  Service Bulletin #229 provides an extensive overview of the changes for the 1954 model.

Service Bulletin Index  Index of all bulletins covering 1954-55 Kaisers

Service Bulletin #224   Engine: Pre-ignition

Service Bulletin #225   Body: Paint Colors

Service Bulletin #229   Miscellaneous: Preliminary Service Information

Service Bulletin #230   Miscellaneous: Inspection of New Vehicle Delivered to Dealers

Service Bulletin #233   Body: Headlining Bows

Service Bulletin #234   Fuel: Carburetors

Service Bulletin #238   Transmission: Gearshift Linkage Adjustment

Service Bulletin #239   Electrical: Instrument Bezel Nut Wrench W-248

Service Bulletin #241   Fuel: Accelerator Linkage and Fuel System

Service Bulletin #242   Transmission: Gearshift and Selector Linkage Adjustment

Service Bulletin #245   Miscellaneous: Bumper Jacks

Service Bulletin #247   Electrical: Instrument Panel Control Knobs

Service Bulletin #248   Sheet Metal: Hood Adjustment

Service Bulletin #251   Transmission: K-53 Hydra-Matic Overrun Control Valve Spring

Service Bulletin #252   Body: Sport Topping (K530 Dragon)

Service Bulletin #254   Electrical: Instrument Panel Control Knobs

Service Bulletin #256   Engine: Air Cleaner to Supercharger Hose

Service Bulletin #259   Transmission: Hydra-Matic Transmission Information

Service Bulletin #261   Fuel: Carburetor Enclosure Venting

Service Bulletin #262   Engine: Ignition Timing Pointer

Service Bulletin #264   Lubrication: Steering Gear Lubricant Level

Service Bulletin #272   Electrical: Delco-Remy Distributors

Service Bulletin #273   Electrical: Headlight Aiming

Service Bulletin #275   Miscellaneous: Service Publications

Service Bulletin #276   Electrical: Engine Performance

Service Bulletin #279   Engine: Kaiser Supercharger Manual

Service Bulletin #283   Transmission: Hydra-Matic Transmission Information

Service Bulletin #287   Fuel: WGD 2052S Carburetor

Service Bulletin #288   Fuel: Accelerator Linkage Adjustment

Service Bulletin #289   Engine: Oil Consumption During Piston Ring Run-in

Service Bulletin #294   Wheels & Tires: Recommended Tire Air Pressure

____________

Technical Information -  Subsystem Service Manuals

These are service manuals covering various subsystems on the 1954-55 Kaisers.  Some of these are very large files and may be slow to open/download.

Carter Carburetor Specifications   Carter WCD 2146S Supercharger Carburetor Spec Sheet

K53 Hydra-Matic Service Manual   Service manual for the K53 Dual Range Hydra-Matic (file size 27 Mb)

Kaiser Power Steering Service Manual   Detailed service manual for Kaiser power steering (file size 24 Mb)

Borg-Warner Overdrive Service Manual   Detailed service manual for Kaiser overdrive (file size 23 Mb)

____________

Owner's Manuals

As time permits, other Owner's Manuals for 1954-55 Kaisers cars will be added to this section.

1954 Kaiser Special Owner's Manual   Complete owner's manual for the Late Special (file size 5 Mb)

____________

Photos and Advertising

1954 and 1955 Kaiser Factory Photos and advertisements - some international - for Kaisers

1954 Kaiser Factory Photo  1954 factory photo of a Kaiser Manhattan at the University of Michigan

1955 Kaiser Factory Photo #1   Factory photo frequently used in Kaiser-Willys advertising

1955 Kaiser Factory Photo #2   Same factory photo as 1955 #1 but the image was painted by Kaiser's art department

1955 Kaiser Factory Photo #3   Early 1955 factory photo with 1954 hood scoop and generic wire wheel hubcaps

1954 Kaiser Advertisement   Questions and Answers about Kaiser's supercharged "power on demand"

1954 Kaiser Advertisement   Power on Demand... one of 6 exciting exclusives... yours only in the new '54 Kaiser

1954 Kaiser Advertisement   Two-panel ad with Lowell Thomas: "The new car with the big change"

1954 Kaiser Advertisement   Kaiser ad published in the Cuban magazine Razon en el mundo (July 1954, pp. 51)

1960 Kaiser Carabela (IKA) Advertisement   "Desde Jujay a Tierra del Fuego" (From the farthest north to the farthest south of Argentina)

____________

Footnotes:

1.      "Pulling Willys off the Rocks", Business Week, 15 December 1956, pp.111-112.

2.      According to Franco H. Cipolla, Investigador de Historia de IKA

3.      KFOCI Handbook Version 4.0,  Kaiser Frazer Owners Club International, 2009

4.      Kaiser-Willys Sales Corporation Trade Letter K54-5, June 7, 1954

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