Sold in Stores: 1952 Allstate Henry J

Perhaps one of the more unusual chapters in the American automobile industry is when Sears attempted to sell automobiles. Not service them or even accept trade-ins, but just to move product off the books as if it were a flannel shirt or a microwave. The strange marriage featured Kaiser-Frazer’s bare-bones Henry J with new badging and some cosmetic tweaks sold under Sears’ Allstate brand, and you can find this long-stored example here on craigslist for $6,650.

That’s quite a price increase for a car that was originally priced under $1,300, a requirement due to conditions attached to a government loan used to build the cars as Henry J’s by Kaiser-Frazier. When demand didn’t mean expectations, a plan was concocted to sell the Henry J’s in Sears stores branded as an Allstate and featuring options not offered on the extremely spartan Frazier models. Although this is mostly common knowledge, it bears repeating: the Henry J’s were so bare-bones that they lacked trunk lids and featured woven paper strands for seating material!

As you can see here, this example being a more upmarket Allstate model meant it included luxuries such as a trunk lid. You can imagine, then, why Kaiser-Frazier dealers weren’t exactly thrilled with a plan to create a rival dealership in Sears stores selling a better equipped model of the same car they were attempting to push onto consumers. The whole plan didn’t exactly materialize into any sort of formidable threat, however, with the distribution chain never living up to potential despite plans to sell the Allstate in every state. Kaiser-Frazier would ultimately exit the passenger car business in ’55, shifting its focus to utility vehicles.

The seller does not offer much in the way of information about this oddball Allstate. The body looks fairly solid in photos, but given the whole listing is a copy/paste from a Wikipedia entry, you’ll have to call to find out if the rare Allstate-specific bits are included. I doubt it, but if this example included any of the Allstate-branded equipment that came direct from Sears – tires, tubes, battery and spark plugs – well, that would be quite a find. Given the car’s project-grade condition, however, I’m fairly certain you’ll be hitting swap meets for quite some time to come up with the missing bits. Is this retail-oddball worth saving or is too much of an undertaking?

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Comments

  1. KevinW

    Might ruffle some feathers on this, but these cars look so bitchin’ as gassers. Maybe the now obligatory LS6(told you about the ruffled feathers).

    • Jerry HW Brentnell

      back in the day my father who run a garage business and sold used cars got stuck with 4 of these piles of crap they were new no miles! a dealer went broke that owed dad money and these things were his payment! they sat for a year nobody wanted them period! so dad handed me a cutting torch and have at it cut them up for scrap! which I took great enjoyment doing this was the end of ever having junk like this on his lot! he told me rare cars are sales flops when new and they don’t get better with age! still true today!!

  2. Joe Haska

    In Parker Colorado there is an avid collector of AMC, his place is called, The Rambler Ranch, his collection is almost beyond description (at least for my limited vocabulary). In the collection he has an all original perfect Allstate Henry J, and as fabulous as the collection is I walked away thinking, wow do I love that Allstate what a piece of history!

    • JACKinNWPA Jack NW PA Member

      Looks like the Rambler ranch is now ” Terry’s auto Museum”

    • Gerald Luck

      The November 2004 issue of Cars & Parts magazine did a story about a place in Utah that buys, collects, restores and sells all things K- F. The man that operates the place is Kaiser Bill Brown. It is called K- F- D Services and is located in Altonah, Utah. He has a extensive collection of cars and parts (NOS and used) .

  3. Andy

    I’ve never seen one of these–Allstate or Henry J–in the US, but I’ve seen at least three in Havana, including one with the top chopped off and advertising painted all over it. Considering I’ve never seen a big Kaiser there, that’s not bad. I also saw an Allstate-branded Vespa in Anchorage, AK, back in 1986. Sears sure was trying to cover a lot of bases back in the day.

  4. George

    It is price out of the market. I wouldn’t give $500.00 for it so that means it will probably bring 5x’s that amount. When I used to miss the exact price I was seldom more than $100. but these days I find what people ask and what some will pay shocks non-essential liquids out of me.

  5. Puhnto

    I don’t know why but I’ve loved Henry-Js since they were new!

  6. packrat

    And their first foray into automobiles was well before that, over forty years before, when they built them. http://searsmotorbuggy.com/

    • Rolf Staples, Sr

      My uncle’s wife’s father had a Sears high wheeler. He used to drive it parades in the area. Quite a soght. That was 60 years ago. I wonder where it is now………..

    • MikeH

      Here in north Texas, we have an orphans car meet in early march. Last year, we had TWO 1903 Sears motorbuggies and an Allstate, There were only 2,363 Allstates made. I wonder how many survive. This one should be saved.

  7. Jeff DeWitt

    It would be nice to see this one restored or turned into an interesting restorod. Way WAY too many of these cool little cars have been ruined by being turned into gassers.

  8. Mitch

    Worth a total restoration. Much rarer than Henry J’s, & they’re rare enough stock, as a lot were turned into gassers. There even isn’t a model kit available as stock, as you can only build them as gassers.

  9. JW

    Here’s a Henry J at the KCI airport car show last fall. Don’t know if it was a Allstate Henry J.

    • JW

      Rear Shot

    • Gerald Luck

      This is a Henry J. The front grill was different for the Allstate. I know because my very first car was a 51 Henry J. There’s a man in Culpeper Va I know that’s restoring a Allstate.

  10. grant

    In 2001, I was renting a property in extremely rural Columbia county, Oregon. It was a former wrecking yard, with a few treasures still on the property. Aside from the Mustangs sinking into the dirt and the old Austin parked on the roof of an outbuilding (seriously) off to the side was a nearly complete Henry J. It was more intact than this one, but my repeated offers to purchase it were rebuffed by my landlord, as he was “gonna fix it up.” Drove past the place a couple months ago, the outbuildings are all knocked down and the rest of the cars are gone, but the Henry J is still sitting there.

  11. redwagon

    And there it is on photo #9 the cowl tag with Sears Roebuck clearly printed on it at the top.

    How can you sell a car at a dealership and not have a trunklid? Have woven paper for car seats? As a dealer if you see that you have to know your days are numbered.

    • Dovi65

      I never heard that the Henry J didn’t come with a trunk lid. What was in it’s place? Everyone I’ve seen has had the trunk lid. Paper seats? Sounds like the Trabant.
      I hope that this little guy gets restored, and not turned into a gasser

      • Gerald Luck

        The initial production vehicles in 1951 did not have a trunk lid. Instead they compensated by having a fold down rear seat and no package shelf. Much later in the production run they created a trunk lid. An excellent source of information about the Henry J and all things K- F is a book by Richard Langworth, The Last Onslaught on Detroit. I urge all readers here to please check it out. Its a fabulous resource.

      • Wayne ilnicki

        In 1973, I found a complete Henry j in the woods, about a half mile south of the general store in Exeter Maine. It was completely grown in at the time. It was behind some old 30’s panel trucks , wonder if it’s still there.

    • Dovi65

      Gerald .. you are correct; now the lack of trunk lid makes sense. I just didn’t think of it that way. For some reason my addled, middle-aged brain thought traditional trunk, sans lid. I should have known better, since I’m a huge fan of oddballs. I’d love to own this little guy

    • GOPAR

      I had a Chevy Vega with woven paper seat inserts. It wasn’t long before they self-destructed (kind of like the rest of the car).

  12. David Montanbeau

    Yep!! 1951 Love Henry and the J.
    Here is my grandson getting in his 1st unofficial race.

    https://www.facebook.com/811469312206797/videos/857471657606562/

    Like 1
    • Nova Scotian

      Now that’s cool!

      • Ck

        WAY KOOL!!!!! Thats what this Allstate needs .A good old fashion honest to goodness HOT ROD UPGRADE.

  13. Fred W.

    I vaguely remembered meeting an older gentleman at a Kaiser-Frazer meet who had a bone stock ’51 HJ that he entered in hill climbing races every year for 19 years! It took me about two seconds to find it on Youtube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NavUyWxlTVg

  14. Woodie Man

    You can only use Craftsman sockets on it though.

    • Howard A Member

      HA! I wonder if you broke these, they’d give you another one? No questions asked . :)

      • Wayne S.K.

        Maybe. Unless you were working on your outboard motor with it and it fell into the lake…

  15. Howard A Member

    To be clear, this was referred to as just the “Allstate”. There was no mention anywhere of Henry J or Kaiser. Back in the mid 70’s, I worked for an asphalt co. and the boss had all kinds of old trucks and road construction equipment laying around. Looking back now, the guy had some really neat pieces, including, in a shed, a Henry J, it was his 1st car. I went back there 10 years later, it was all gone. This is rare indeed, something like 2300 Allstates were sold. Great find. I hope it gets restored to original, and someday, our kids will say, before our lifetime is over, “wow, look, Sears must have sold cars before they went under”.

    • Jeff DeWitt

      Yep, you could have an Allstate car, Kenmore appliances, a garage full of Craftsman tools and be living in a Sears house.

      It’s really tragic what is happening to Sears.

      • Healeymonster

        Back in the 60s we lived in Los Angeles. I was still a young kid and every time we went to Sears I would get permission to slip downstairs to the toy department. I would then bug them till I got to take home the newest Hot Wheel car! At Christmas time Sears is where my dad went to buy bicycles for the family. Good times..

      • Britcarguy

        In the 60’s, Sears sold a limited line of sports car accessories including driving lights and a full MGA grille which caught my attention then because mine had bent teeth. I still have my Allstate TSD rally table book that listed the time to cover distances at a given speed.

      • MikeH

        Sears did sell high quality, knocked down kit homes 1908–1940. They were loaded on boxcars and shipped to mostly rural areas. You went down to the railroad depot, loaded the boxes on wagons, and took them to the farm where you [usually] assembled them yourself. They are highly coveted today.
        http://www.arts-crafts.com/archive/kithome/rt-searskits.shtml

  16. KeithK

    In 53 my dad was just exiting the army and enrolling as a Sears and Roebuck management trainee. His first new car was an Allstate of course. He told stories of body panels vibrating off and his regular use of snow banks to stop. For the next fourty years everything in the house was “Sears” EXCEPT for the car.

    • Howard A Member

      Hi Keith, it’s amazing how big Sears was. My grandfather bought everything ( also, except the car) at Sears. It was the original “Superstore”. Years ago, it was J.C.Whitney for car parts, Sears for everything else. Shame Sears/ Kmart is going down, ( closing 150 stores this year, so far) It was as American as Chevrolet.( or in this case, Kaiser)

  17. Rustytech Member

    There was one of these parked in a neighbors garage the whole time I was growing up. It sat there from the earliest time I can remember till after I was married and had my own kids. It never came out until the neighbor died. I think they sold it at the estate sale, but I don’t know what it sold for, or what became of it. I just remember that neat old car sitting in that lonely garage for all those years and hope it’s next life was better!

  18. JW

    I still have Craftsman tools I bought new in 1971 and have always bought Sears appliances until recently, my last 2 refrigerators were junk. The worst mistake Sears made was buying Kmart, my mom worked part time at Kmart after retiring and when I was running my landscaping business in the 80’s they would hire me to truck items from one store to another when one ran out of a sale item, Kmart was the worst run business I had ever seen and if Sears had not bought them I’m sure they would have been gone long ago but now they are dragging Sears down with them. I remember my dad saying Sears used to sell pre-fab houses in their catalog.

    • Gerald Luck

      I can remember that many years ago, people, especially those that lived in rural areas referred to the Sears catalog as their “wishbook” . For many years Sears tried too be all things to all people. Wal-Mart appears to be doing the same thing today. At least when you went to Sears you got good customer service.

    • whippeteer

      It was Kmart that bought SEARS. At the time, Kmart was very strong. SEARS main direct competitor, Montgomery Wards, had already gone under. http://money.cnn.com/2004/11/17/news/fortune500/sears_kmart/

      • JW

        My mistake but I still hold to my belief that Kmart has caused Sears downfall, as I’ve stated from experience dealing with Kmart management, they are totally out of the loop when it comes to keeping their stores running smoothly. Since the merger our Sears/Kmart has closed and the nearest Sears is 35 miles away in a mall and it has fallen off dramatically when it comes to customers. I quit even going in to look thru their tool dept.

  19. Rustytech Member

    JW I would certainly agree with you on that, why else would Sears decide to sell the Craftsman tool line, the only real money maker they have left

  20. RoughDiamond RoughDiamond Member

    “Wishbook” was I believe the name of the annual Christmas catalog that Sears distributed every year.

  21. Healeymonster

    I think Costco has kind of taken over what Sears was as a powerhouse retailer. Many people don’t know that several years back Costco sold a car too! And not just any car mind you. It was a all aluminum body AC Cobra. Costco sold Kirkham rolling chassis AC Cobras online. You supply the engine and trans. Built in a Polish ex fighter jet factory. They were around 90k or so. It lasted for a couple years and then disappeared.

  22. Joe

    Years ago there was an Allstate in the lobby of Allstates HQ in suburban Chicago

  23. Bobby

    Back in or about 1974 my dad had an Allstate on/ off road bike. I think it was on/ off road originally, but it was strictly for dirt when my dad owned it. It was a Seats Allstate 250. CC’s.

  24. Wayne

    When I was just a little guy. There was a Henry J sitting in out 2 car detached garage out back. (one side concrete and the other side dirt) One morning I noticed that there was only a chassis sitting on the concrete. And the body on it’s roof on the dirt side. A few weeks later there was a clean and bright (gold) Hot Rod Olds (Rocket 88) V8 between the frame rails. And a Ford rear differential in the back. It sat that way for many years. Until Mom’s car needed a new engine. Mom got the hot rod engine and the chassis disappeared after a while.
    40 years later when going through Dads stuff after he had passed on. I found a packet containing all the receipts of the engine rebuild and the brochure and order form from Devin. That listed the Body available for installation on the Henry J frame. Now I remember the his excitement when we started rebuilding Corvettes and his love of fiberglass. (And if I remember correctly it was a fully boxed frame.)
    Rest in peace Dad I miss you!

    • Kreg

      I just bought this ’51 Henry J Devin special. It has been sitting in a garage in Kansas for 45 years. It has a Willys/Kaiser flat four “Go Devil” engine. Was the car you mentioned ever built with a devin body?

  25. Bob

    Henry J was big on drag strips with complete engine and transmission changes. They were small, light, and fast. That was in Chicago area in 1950-60s. Kaiser was nice looking car that never caught on. It had a pop off windshield for safety? The Fraser was an bad looking car that had a trunk lid that opened up something like a station wagon. The Henry J was named after Henry J. kaiser who made his money with steel mills on the West Coast during WWII and the 50s. My facts are from memory and I never own these cars. Correct me if you know better. Bob

  26. John C.

    Yeah these old cars have race car or hot rod written all over them! There are still a few in my area. As for sears there is a sears prefab metal 2 car garage on my street behind a house, still in good condition, it’s been there since at least the mid 1950’s. I heard they already sold the Craftsman tool line to another company.

  27. Wayne

    When my father died I was going through his files. I found a sales brochure for a Devin body to go on the Henry J frame that we moved around to 3 different homes. He never was able to complete his dream. But we did rebuild 2 Corvetts together.

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