Old Elegance: 1949 Kaiser Virginian

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Here’s one that I definitely missed, a 1949 Kaiser Virginian. I’m familiar with Kaiser-Frazer and have written posts about both sides of the house but have never heard of the “Virginian” until I stumbled upon this tip that was provided by Pat L. Considered to be an all-original, rust-free car, this interesting and rare (and I’m not whistling Dixie) four-door hardtop is located in Los Angeles, California and is available, here on craigslist for $11,500.

Offered between 1949 and 1952, the Virginian was a large four-door hardtop with similarities to the Kaiser Manhattan. Its distinctive traits in ’49 included a nylon roof covering – similar to vinyl tops that became popular in the ’60s and a narrow glass panel in place of the B-pillar. I have found various different production volumes but it appears that less than 1,000 copies (the seller claims 935) were assembled. Additionally, some ’49s were retitled as ’50 models so that causes some confusion behind the volume matter. After ’50, the Virginian name continued as a trim level on Kaiser Special and Deluxe models but the uniqueness of the original ’49 version was gone. The ’49 sales brochure for the Virginian looks more like an advertisement for “Gone With the Wind” with its pictorial of southern belles dressed in airy, flowing gowns. Such brochure tag lines include statements of, “The Southern Spirit of Pride and Importance“, “The Blueblood of all cars“, and “The Kaiser ‘Virginian’ portrays to perfection the elegance of the Old South“.

Today’s find does have an original bearing about itself, the black finish is faded in places and there are numerous scratches evident, the chrome and stainless trim is a bit dull, but it’s all here (except for the front passenger side parking light) and still presents a regal bearing. The most surprising aspect of the exterior, at least to me, is the condition of the roof covering – it’s hard to imagine that it’s original!

Parked in ’99 and having experienced 100K miles, the seller states, “Now it has been all serviced up, new battery, new oil, runs and drives real nice. No smoke or oil leaks“. The engine in question is a 226 CI, in-line, flathead six-cylinder unit that produces 110, 112, or 115 HP depending on the research source used. A three-speed manual transmission was the only way that Kaiser rolled in ’49 though there was an overdrive option available and this Virginian is so equipped.

Other than the dashboard’s peeling paint, the interior environment is better than expected. The carpet has been replaced but the rest is claimed as original and all of it, the seating upholstery, door panels, and headliner are in remarkable condition. The instrument panel is typical for cars of this era with its prominent chrome-plated trim and radio grille work.

The naming of cars after noteworthy locations has continued for years with such monikers as Delray, BelAir, Biscayne, Malibu, Bonneville, Catalina, Newport, New Yorker, Monterey, Yukon, Telluride, Tucson, Sante Fe, etc., so forth and so on. As for Kaiser’s reason for selecting the Old Dominion state as a naming convention for a new, and expensive (approximately $3,000) model is hard to say, it’s not a name that would have jumped off the page in a selection process that I would have initiated. Whatever the reason, it’s fascinating to peer into the facts, figures, and nuances of these long-gone manufacturers and this Virginian is perfectly representative of that era and I imagine, the thought process too. As previously stated, this model was a surprise to me (supposedly there was a Carolina model too), does anyone have any additional information on these south of the Mason-Dixon line models that they can share?

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  1. Grant

    A little piece of post war bliss. This car and I are the same age, but the car sure looks a lot better than I.

    Like 26
  2. Will Fox

    Had this been the convertible variant that was available in `49, in this shape it would probably be $75K-$80K if not more.

    Like 6
  3. Merlin

    The Virginian four door hardtop was only offered as a 1949 and 1950 model. The later Virginians were totally different. The wrong information is posted by people who have no idea of real history.

    Like 4
    • Gerard Frederick

      Virtue signalling much?

      Like 1
  4. JustPassinThru

    An interesting model name, and image, for the Kaiser company. Henry Kaiser, although originally from Upstate NY, was West Coast through-and-through. He had his fantasies about owning a car company for quite some time prior to his late-1940s entrance. What held him back, according to writer David Halberstam, was that the top offices of Kaiser Industries were in Oakland, as were most of their corporate components; and “None of us wanted to live in the East.” Otherwise, likely, Kaiser would have made his move around 1940 instead of 1946-48.

    Henry’s solution was simple: Send son Edgar out to run Willow Run and transform Graham-Paige into Kaiser-Frazer. Edgar was in his forties and ran one of the Kaiser Shipbuilding yards, so he had at least rudimentary managerial experience. Of course it would fall onto him to keep Joseph W. Frazer in check, and this didn’t happen.

    But, Kaiser, with his Can-Do West-Coast attitude, with his car’s logo proudly sporting a buffalo…chose to identify this model with the Old South. Perhaps it was his wife’s influence – she hailed from Virginia.

    But it was a curious crossing of signals. When decidedly Eastern GM was naming cars after California cities…Kaiser, a genuine Californian, was identifying with the antebellum South.

    Like 19
    • MattR

      Great post, thanks for the background. But just to quibble a little bit, knowing how fast Kaiser kicked out liberty ships in WWII, I would guess Edgar had a bit more than rudimentary managerial skills.

      Like 15
      • JustPassinThru

        Fair observation, but there are some specifics:

        –Edgar had always worked right under his father. When Edgar was a teenager, he was on some of the road-paving jobs…Kaiser’s first work as a contractor.

        –The fast-paced work, a new way to build ships, was the result of one of Kaiser’s supervisors having toured the Ford plant in Dearborn. It was decided to try to adapt some of the assembly techniques seen there. Of course they couldn’t move ship hulls on bucks, but they could move the men, having one job, only one job, go down the rows of hulls, one after the other. Welding of hull plating, too…now we know it’s stronger and safer; but it was a revolutionary idea. And it sped up construction.

        –Government contracting was/is far different from consumer-product marketing. THAT, more than anything, was what sunk Kaiser-Frazer. Kaiser understood contracts and job lots. Take an order for 30,000 widgets and make them, and then receive payment.

        Joseph W. Frazer was supposed to be the experienced auto man in the partnership, but when he warned that inventory was building, sales were dropping, and production needed to be cut, Kaiser refused. As a result, Frazer pulled out of the partnership. Also, later, Edgar told auto writers (by that time he was president of Kaiser-Jeep) that Frazer was right, and his father and he were dead wrong.

        –And that was the last, biggest issue. Edgar was a man, in middle age, but had never worked apart from Dad. From Oakland he was sent to Michigan, to work alongside Frazer…who had his own ego; and who viewed the key kernel of the new company, the old Graham-Paige, his own property. It wasn’t; he was the Receiver and then president of the recapitalized company; but he saw it as his turf, and the Kaisers there to bring capital, some design talent, and the Kaiser name. Which was significant, given Kaiser’s association with the Hoover Dam and Liberty ships.

        So, although Kaiser junior had management experience, he was going into a vastly-different new world, and it took him time – and failure of the Kaiser car line – to learn his work. He did bring Willys-Overland, which Kaiser purchased, into profitability, and rebrand it as Kaiser Jeep, but he’d have never gotten such a long time to learn, except that the company was family property.

        Like 15
  5. Todd J. Todd J.Member

    I wish this was closer to me. I can’t imagine it will be long before a Kaiser fan scoops this up.

    Like 5
  6. MattR

    This site kills me, every week I want a new car. This is a special find. I would not change a thing.

    Like 19
  7. Big Bear 🇺🇸

    I learn something new ever time I looked at this site. Thanks. Never heard of this one. I looked at the rear I see a Mercury then I see the front I see a Chrysler. Maybe it just me. This is a cool ride. I like the top it looks like a convertible. I know it’s a flathead 6 but I think dropping in a flathead V8 would be wild. Good luck to the next owner. 🐻🇺🇸

    Like 9
  8. Mike

    Looks already hot rodded. Fix the paint on the dash and drive as-is. Price seems ok. I would daily this.

    Like 8
  9. CCFisher

    The Kaiser/Frazer hardtops and convertibles were vanity projects for the Kaisers. In spite of the high prices, Kaiser lost a considerable amount on each one. It takes a certain combination of arrogance and automotive business acumen to be a successful auto executive. Lee Iacocca had it, Bill Mitchell had it Joseph Frazer had it. When the arrogance takes over, bad things happen. Henry Kaiser and John DeLorean are examples, and keep your eye on Elon Musk.

    Like 10
  10. Joe Haska

    It would make a fantastic cruiser I would make some minor changes. Then take it to all the local cars and coffees and Saturday night cruises and tell everyone it is a custom 49 Mercury.

    Like 5
    • Alyce Vollmar

      Hahaha! Just don’t try that at the Woodward Ave. Dream Cruise! Tar and feathers aren’t a good look…

      Like 3
  11. duaney

    All of the Kaiser and Frazer convertibles and hardtops were “halo” cars, hand built, derived from 4 door sedans. All had unique heavy duty frames. These low production models were intended to help bring customers into the showroom, and help sell the regular sedans. It’s said that each of these cars cost $10,000 to build, in 1949 money, so they’re really special. KF said they are hand built, so not kidding there. Many manufacturers build “glamour” models to create customer interest.

    Like 7
  12. Johnmloghry johnmloghry

    I had an Uncle by marriage that was a fan of Kaiser/Frazier cars. He had several; a green Manhattan, a blue Virginian, and many others. He always bragged about the engines claiming they were better than Ford or Chevy engines, but then he was a wrecking yard owner so who knows. Anyway I like this car for nostalgic reasons. It’s a representative of a time gone by. A history lesson in person. The overdrive is a nice feature, but these cars were built before the interstate highway system was constructed so don’t expect highway speeds for long distance driving. IT’S A MUSEUM PIECE and that’s where it belongs.

    God Bless America

    Like 4
    • Vincent H

      With o/d it is very capable of highway speed.

      Like 4
  13. TheOldRanger

    This one brings back some forgotten memories. The manager of the 7Up plant in Wichita Kansas owned this model and he was certainly proud of it…. he owned 3 Kaisers, and I was wowed that anyone would own 3 cars. We barely could afford one, and it was never new. Beautiful car…..

    Like 7
  14. John

    Wow, nobody mentioned that the side views of this beautiful car looks like a ’48 to ’50 Packard? The people on this site have way more knowledge than I have and I totally enjoy reading the comments.

    Like 4
    • moosie moosie

      John, When I first saw this car that’s exactly what I thought I saw, a Packard, the profile is very similar. This Kaiser is a beautiful car that needs a sympathetic restoration and then enjoyed , driven & cared for. The classic car lover in me says it needs to be preserved while the hot rodder in me keeps screaming RESTOMOD.

      Like 2
  15. Lee

    I could see Jack Nicholson driving this in the movie “Chinatown”. (A movie about the water grab for Los Angeles.)

    Like 3
  16. GitterDunn

    I’m just a little skeptical of the black “original paint” with the red paint (not “factory primer”!) showing under it. In addition, it appears that the door cards were originally red, and have been dyed black. It also looks to me like the headliner was dyed. It has newer carpeting; was the original carpeting red?

    It’s a great-looking car, and it looks impressive in black. If it were mine, I’d probably have it repainted in black – just not by Earl Scheib!

    Like 2
    • Fred

      Look at the under hood pic there is red all over
      Nice looking car however.

      Like 1
  17. Burger

    When I came of driving age, Widdo Bwudder and I (and some friends) were interested in old cars. A friend’s Dad was into tri-five Chevys before they became uber popular, and the restoration idea rubbed off on us. Except we were drawn to stuff more unusual than that. We often pooled some gas money and just drive around, looking for cars. On one of these jaunts, we found a guy who really knew what special cars were, and had amassed several long barns full of show cars, special builds, etc. like this. In the mix was a Kaiser Virginian convertible. All these cars he had were bought as nice used cars, and his long barns were special built for moisture and rodent control. Not really a fan of “bathtub” styling, our interest in the Kaiser was one of novelty and hearing its backstory. My one standout memory was those removable glass pillars.
    Widdo Bwudder ended up buying a custom bodied 53 Commander that Studebaker paraded around the car show circuit that year. I wonder what ever became of the collection and that Kaiser.

    Like 4
  18. William James Sr.

    I love it… Burger, just where were these ;long barns; and have you done any research to see if they still exist??? You may hold the answer to many of our dreams,,, Wouldn’t that be a hoot.

    Like 2
    • Burger

      Smokey Point, Washington. I moved away years ago. My car interests turned to early cars, so I never went back. Good luck to any sleuth that hunts these down !

      Like 1
  19. C Smith

    I remember when the Henry J first came out. There was a contest on who could name the new car would be given a new Henry J. It was named after Henry J. Kaiser by a woman. Lucky winner.

    Like 2
  20. MattR

    The Craigslist ad has been deleted. Someone got a nice car.

    Like 0

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