Henry J

1951 Henry J Deluxe

Offered by Mecum | North Little Rock, Arkansas | June 16, 2012

Henry J. Kaiser’s vision of what his post-war automotive empire would look like was, well, optimistic. Kaiser, along with Joseph Frazer, took the remnants of Graham-Paige and bought Ford’s wartime Willow Run production plant to build automobiles under the Kaiser and Frazer nameplates. In 1950, Kaiser decided to try and bolster production of his cars by pulling a play out of the Henry Ford playbook: build a small, inexpensive car for the masses. The Henry J was born (and it was marketed as its own make).

So how did they do it? Kaiser wanted a car that seated five adults and could do 50 mph “for sustained periods of time.” It also had to retail for $1,300 (about $12,500 in 2012). To hit these marks, they had to cut some corners: there was no trunk lid – you had to go through the rear seats, which was probably difficult as the car was only offered with two doors. The base model also lacked armrests, a glove compartment, a sun visor and flow-through ventilation. Fortunately, the car you see here is a Deluxe model.

Which means it has the straight-six (instead of the four-banger). It’s a 2.6-liter making 80 horsepower. Unfortunately, even though it was very cheap, it only cost a few dollars less than a Chevrolet 150 – which had a functioning trunk, armrests, and more interior room. Sales declined steadily through 1954 when the Henry J was axed.

They didn’t build millions of these cars – which was part of the problem originally, as Kaiser needed mass production to make a profit. He didn’t get it and the Kaiser nameplate disappeared from passenger cars in 1955. The company went on to focus on it’s recently acquired Willys and Jeep business, which went on to become part of AMC.

It was a pioneering compact car, but you just don’t see Henry Js everyday. And this one looks to be in exceptional condition. We’ll see what it brings when it sells. For more information and photos, click here. And for more on the Salmon Brothers Collection, click here.

Update: sold $16,000.

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