Thursday 28th September 1950
The Kaiser-Frazer Corporation officially introduced the Henry J as a new marque. Named after its chairman, Henry J. Kaiser, production of six-cylinder models began in July 1950, and four-cylinder production started shortly after Labor Day, 1950. The car was marketed through 1954. The Henry J was the idea of Henry J. Kaiser, who sought to increase sales of his Kaiser automotive line by adding a car that could be built inexpensively and thus affordable for the average American in the same vein that Henry Ford produced the Model T. The goal was to attract “less affluent buyers who could only afford a used car” and the attempt became a pioneering American compact car. To finance the project, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation received a federal government loan in 1949. This financing specified various particulars of the vehicle. Kaiser-Frazer would commit to design a vehicle that in its base form retailed (including federal tax and retail delivery preparation charge) for no more than $1,300.00 (US$12,786 in 2016 dollars). It was to seat at least five adults, be capable of going at least 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) for sustained periods of time, and available for retail sale no later than September 30, 1950. To accomplish this, the Henry J was designed to carry the fewest possible components, and built from the fewest number of parts. To save body stamping costs, early Henry Js did not have rear trunk lids; owners had to access the trunk by folding down the rear seat. Another cost-saving measure was to offer the car only as a two-door sedan with fixed rear windows. Also lacking in the basic version were glove compartment, armrests, passenger-side inside sun visor and flow-through ventilation. Power for the Henry J was delivered by a 134.2 cu in (2.2 L) four-cylinder 68 hp (51 kW; 69 PS) engine. Later models were available with a 161 cu in (2.6 L) L-head six-cylinder engine producing 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS) . The engines were supplied by Willys-Overland; the four-cylinder engine was the same engine used in the CJ-3A series Jeeps, with only slight modifications to component parts; the block and internal components were interchangeable with the CJ-3A engine. The Henry J production provided a substantial revenue source for Willys-Overland. This standard engine could achieve up to 35 mpg-US (6.7 L/100 km; 42 mpg-imp) when driven conservatively. Before the Henry J was released to the market, the first production models were taken to Arkansas and driven over roads that experts computed that each 100 miles (161 km) of the roughest roads would equal 5,000 miles (8,047 km) of normal driving.Kaiser’s effort to boost sales in the low-priced market segment by adding a small car to its product offer came at a time when consumers were demanding big cars. With the acquisition of Willys-Overland’s vehicle operations in early 1953 by the Kaiser Manufacturing Company division of Kaiser-Frazer (the division changed its name at that time to Willys Motors, Incorporated), management decided to discontinue the car at the end of the 1953 model year. Kaiser also leased the Willow Run factory to General Motors (a fire had destroyed its automatic transmission plant in Livonia) and Kaiser’s vehicle assembly was consolidated at Jeep’s Toledo Complex. However, production of the Henry J was not moved from Michigan to the Ohio factory. Instead, the Willys Aero was a similar vehicle that continued to be made in Toledo. Efforts to sell off remaining vehicles resulted in an abbreviated run of Henry J automobiles as 1954 models that used up leftover or incomplete 1953 cars. They can be distinguished from the 1953 version only by their “54” prefix in the serial number.