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Rare Find: 1954 Kaiser Special Two-Door Sedan

There are a lot of great things about the old car hobby, but surely one of them is that rare doesn’t always mean expensive. Case in point: this 1954 Kaiser Special. This two-door is located in Gilbert, Arizona, and is advertised here on Autotrader for $2,500. Many thanks to Larry D. for the tip!

Kaiser Motors began its business life at the close of the Second World War as Kaiser-Frazer, as a partnership between Joseph Frazer, who at the time was president of Graham-Paige, and Henry Kaiser, a wealthy industrialist when those weren’t just words from old comic books. After a promising start in the late forties marketing new designs to a nation that hadn’t seen a new car in four years, the company began to founder, exposing an unspoken truth of American business: that an executive’s success is often situational, and can’t always be replicated at a new company. Only the purchase of Willys-Overland and the resulting Jeep production kept the company in the American automotive game after Kaiser bowed out of the passenger car market after the 1955 model year.

1954 was thus the second-to-last year for Kaiser, at least in the U.S. Minor revisions from the 1953 model were limited, including the extended tail lights (intended to mimic the tail fins appearing on the designs of the Big Three) and reworked chrome inspired by Buick concept cars. Yet the designers managed to do a lot with a little, turning out a car that was visually distinct from the previous year. This was all the more impressive considering that around 3,500 1953 models got the new trim and were sold as Specials in 1954. These are known among aficionados as “Early Specials,” and from the one-piece rear window, this appears to be one. Fewer than a thousand Specials were actually made in 1954.

Under the hood is a 226 cu.in. Continental “Supersonic Six.” It its heyday, it was good for 118 horsepower, which even Kaiser knew wasn’t sufficient. With in-house development of a V8 out of the question, Kaiser opted to buy Oldsmobile engines– but the fire at the Livonia assembly plant in 1953 meant none were to be had. Thinking fast, Kaiser mounted a supercharger to the L-head six. This boosted output to 140 horses, which was in range with some Chrysler V8s but fell far short of Buick’s Nailhead or the Oldsmobile Rocket. Kaiser promotional materials of the day bill the result as an entirely new engine, and not “simply the Kaiser engine with the addition of a supercharger.” Yet even if there’s not one under the hood, this might be important information for the next owner– since, according to most accounts, the supercharger was an off-the shelf item used in a number of makes and models, examples should be readily available. And, reliable as the Continental might be, it could definitely use a little more “Power-On-Demand.”

Comments

  1. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    Interesting car but I would think parts could be very difficult to find. Best route may be to hotrod/customize it. Could be a good deal if the seller throws in the TV on the front seat. :)

    Like 4
    • Andy Parrish Andy Parrish Staff

      I don’t know… body panels, trim, and glass would be the worst of it, I think, and the fact that these parts were shared across the whole product line should mitigate that somewhat. In fact, lots of those should be the same from about ’51 on. Those Continental engines were used in lots of places (four-cylinder Continentals were used on Lincoln welders for years), so parts for those might not be too bad.

      It’s never going to be fast– unless someone gets really determined– but it could be a great car for the right person.

      Like 3
    • Duaney Member

      Most of the parts are easy to find, from the engine also used in Jeep models and industrial applications, common transmissions and axles. Also big support from the active Kaiser -Frazer owners club. The only “hard to find” parts are some trim items, chrome, emblems, etc., that you’d still have the problem to find if the car was modified.

      Like 5
      • chrlsful

        damn, I’m havin trouble (int/ext trim) w/an ’85 (fox bodied too) !

  2. Kurt Member

    I’d want to find the supercharger that fits, without it this is sort of like most of the tug boats from that era, underpowered

    Like 3
  3. Gary

    I love the widows peak front and rear windshields. A guy customized one like this and had Gene Winfield no one of his fade paint jobs on it, beautiful car

    Like 4
  4. Howard A Member

    Don’t you just love the enthusiasm of the writers, but it’s spade calling time, in this instant gratification society today, very few are going to restore this, as is anyway. While I’ll admit, today’s hot button is unusual vehicles, and this certainly qualifies as unusual, it’s got a snowballs chance in Hades it will remain original. Now, say 30 years ago, this would have had a chance, but you know as well as I do, it’s LS something and clown wheels and some “puffy” interior. Ol’ Joe and Henry will be spinning in their graves if they saw what someone is going to do to to their pride and joy. I read, this car was called “the most beautiful failure”, and easy to see why. KF put everything they had into this car, typical of a car company on it’s last legs. It’s Resto-mod City for this, and I suppose it’s better than in it’s derelict condition here. They were great cars that Kaiser insisted on and treated his employees fairly. Makes a difference in productivity, and Henry Kaiser knew that. Besides, newly purchased Jeep was still #1, forget the cars, let the Big 3 have their way with cars, Jeep was a hit with very little re-tooling, and had no competition, except the Scout, well into the 60’s. You can’t wait for one of these to come down the auction, I doubt any exist. Cool( est) orphan find.

    Like 4
  5. James A Martin

    Well believe it or not. My friend bought about 200 kaiser Frazers and about 10 truck loads of parts. So if anyone needs parts he probably has it. They are located in peyton colorado.

    Like 11
    • b-rad jeepster

      hello James how can I get his info? I have been looking for an OD unit that willys and kaiser used.

      Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        A quick google search [Kaiser-frazer parts, peyton CO] turned up this listing:

        Kaiser-Frazer Mixed
        90 tons of new & used parts, Kaiser-Frazer. 80 Kaiser-Frazer autos for sale, $2,000-$52,500; 1951 K club coupe, $2,000. Walkers Auto Pride Inc, Mail: Box 134, UPS: 13115 Log Rd, Peyton, CO 80831, 719-749-2668
        (Peyton, CO)

        Like 2
  6. Larry D

    Wow! I have cars I contributed to BF today which represent totally opposite ends of the collector-car spectrum. The newish 1985 Buick LeSabre Limited with 18k miles that is spotlessly clean and has led an apparent life of luxury to this grand, old 1954 Kaiser Special which is terribly dusty and dirty and has apparently led a life of neglect for quite some time.

    But they also represent that there is something for everyone in collector cars these days and Barn Finds displays them all. Because there are probably lots of people, like me, who love them both.

    And all of the others in between.

    Like 5
  7. b-rad jeepster

    hello James how can I get his info? I have been looking for an OD unit that willys and kaiser used.

  8. Gerard Frederick

    I´ve always loved the Kaiser Manhattan and the Kaiser – Darrin was a jewel. Too bad market forces killed this great make.

    Like 2
  9. T. Mann Member

    Joseph Kaiser also built a 4 door convertible model and a “Traveler” model with big hatchback model in 4 doors and very rare 2 door Traveler

    Like 2
    • Terrry

      The Traveler was as close to a station wagon that K-F would make. It’s rear seat folded flat, in addition to having a hatch back. Fraser’s version was the Vagabond, made in ’48-49

      Like 1
  10. David Laker Member

    I once saw one of these with the ‘supercharger’. There was something that struck me as odd about the so-called supercharger. Perhaps someone familiar with it could describe it for us.
    Thanks

  11. chrlsful

    another with the single pane ‘widows peak’ style wind shield~
    Weren’t there a few others? Henry J? may B not…

  12. Terrry

    Kaiser did not produce any cars for 1955. What they sold as “55”s were re-serialed leftover ’54s.

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