Supercharged Six: 1954 Kaiser Manhattan

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Forced-induction engine technology has gone in and out of vogue in the automotive world on numerous occasions since Mercedes first bolted Roots superchargers to some of their production models in 1921. Superchargers offer an easy and affordable way for manufacturers to extract additional performance from an engine that might be lagging in the horsepower race. Manufacturers aren’t faced with the need to develop and test an entirely new engine, which can be expensive and time-consuming. That was the thinking behind the 1954 Kaiser Manhattan, and this car’s owner has recently listed it for sale here on eBay. It is located in Marietta, Georgia, and while the owner has set a BIN of $16,500, he leaves the way open for potential buyers to make an offer. A big thank you has to go out to Barn Finder Larry D for referring this rare classic to us.

The styling of the 1954 Manhattan followed fairly conventional trends of the period, although the three-piece rear window adds a point of difference. The full-length lower body trim also helped the car to look low and sleek. Finished in Blue Comet with an Arctic White top, the Manhattan recently emerged from a private collection in Texas. It presents well for its age, and while the paint doesn’t hold a mirror shine, it still glows pleasantly. The panels are as straight as an arrow, and there’s no evidence of any rust issues. The owner supplies some underside shots and apart from a dusting of surface corrosion, it looks as clean and sound as you might expect from a classic that has spent years in Texas. The exterior trim is in excellent condition, and there are no apparent problems with the tinted glass.

By the time this Manhattan rolled off the production line in Toledo, Ohio, the company was struggling in the passenger car market against the “Big Three.” There simply hadn’t been the funds available to develop a new engine for this model, and the 226ci flathead six that the company produced was languishing in the horsepower race. The Kaiser solution was to bolt a McCulloch VS57 supercharger to the motor, which boosted the output from 118hp to a more respectable 140hp. The build process for these motors wasn’t merely a case of bolting on the blower and hoping for the best. Kaiser inspected every component carefully before installation, and the company thoroughly tested each engine before the car could find its way to the buyer. The luxury leanings of this car are enhanced by the original owner’s decision to order the vehicle with the 4-speed Hydramatic transmission. Performance figures for the supercharged Manhattan were reasonably respectable, with the car capable of covering the ¼ mile in 20.8 seconds. The news with this rare beauty continues to remain positive. The owner says that the supercharged six starts easily and that the Hydramatic shifts smoothly. The car rolls on a new set of Coker tires, and it appears that it is ready to hit the road immediately.

If potential buyers consider this Manhattan as purely an original and unrestored survivor, its interior condition would be deemed more than acceptable. It is upholstered in a combination of Blue and Gray tweed cloth, and while there is some wear on the seats and some dirty marks on the Gray sections of the door trims, there is no evidence of rips or tears. The buyer might choose to pursue the idea of new upholstery, but it would be possible to throw a blanket or slipcovers over the seats to prevent further deterioration and to allow the car to retain its original survivor status. The carpet is in excellent condition, while the dash is spotless. For me, that’s the highlight of the interior. Kaiser was determined to endow the Manhattan with a luxurious appearance. There was no better way to achieve this than to highlight the dash with rich paint, ribbed padding, a pushbutton radio, a clock, and space-age controls for the heater and air vents. It might not push the vehicle into Cadilac territory, but it still looks pretty nice.

By 1954, the writing was on the wall for Kaiser. Rising labor costs and dwindling production numbers sealed the brand’s fate, and in this model year, they sold a mere 4,325 examples of the Manhattan. Of those, 4,107 were the 4-door sedan, the same as our feature car. Survivor numbers have decreased further over the past 67-years, and tidy examples rarely hit the market today. Although values have remained flat in recent years, a clean and unmolested survivor can generally fetch somewhere around $17,000. The record price for a 1954 Manhattan 4-door was set in 2013 at $26,400. That means that these are not a model that would make a spectacular long-term investment. However, if the buyer treats it with respect, they will be unlikely to lose money. Leaving that aside, it is just a clean and tidy classic that offers something different for enthusiasts compared to the contemporary models from the Big Three. If you like that idea, it might be worth pursuing it further.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. alphasudMember

    This car looks like a blend of American and French styling which made it stand out when it was new. Perfect car to take to car shows as I’m sure many people today have never heard let alone seen one. Would definitely be an attention getter.

    Like 32
  2. jmolsnMember

    Love the 54’s!!

    Like 8
  3. Bluetec320 Bluetec320

    Looks like the price has been lowered to $14500! Seems like a good deal to me.

    Like 15
  4. alan hubbard

    I always thought Supercharging or Turbocharging a Flathead was the way to go. But most of them have poor bottom end design, the added horsepower and torque would break the crankshaft.

    Like 7
    • Duaney

      There’s no record ever of engine damage to the Kaiser 6 from the supercharger. They came factory with heavy duty bearings, valve rotators, and the design was thoroughly engineered correctly. I do notice the distributor is installed incorrect, so I would question the talent of the engine rebuilder.

      Like 7
      • FraiserMember

        Is it installed differently because of the supercharger?

        Like 0
  5. Rodney - GSM

    You had me at “Widow’s Peak…”

    Like 6
  6. Fred W

    “The styling of the 1954 Manhattan followed fairly conventional trends of the period…” Hmmmmm- place the photo of this car next to that of a ’54 Chevy 4 door and say that again….

    I had a restored ’51 Kaiser for a couple of years, real attention getter, looks like nothing else.

    Like 14
    • Terrry

      I owned a ’51 Kaiser Special back in the mid 70s..which was the entry level Kaiser. It had 3 -speed with overdrive, and it still is to this day, the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven.

      Like 11
  7. Mike

    Looks like a lot of 50’s style for the money. Great color, but the wire wheels are kinda throwing me off.

    Like 5
  8. Terrry

    I’ve always liked the 51-54 Kaisers. This is particularly an interesting car to say the least! Too bad it’s on the opposite end of the country from me or I’d pay the owner a visit.

    Like 3
  9. KurtMember

    Very unique and cool. Wish I had the cash.

    Like 2
  10. Duaney

    Also I understand that SMS has the correct seat material, so wouldn’t be difficult to redo the seat.

    Like 1
  11. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry

    Had an Uncle by marriage that owned several Kaiser’s and one Manhattan that I remember. It was deep green with white top. They always looked odd to me as a child in the fifties, but now not so much. If this car lasts another hundred years after we’re all gone it will most likely be worth a small fortune, but then we’ll never know.
    God bless America

    Like 4
  12. Gordo

    A beautiful 67 yr old collector car for only $14,500, hard to believe it hasn’t sold.

    Like 3
  13. David D. Taylor

    Can someone please explain the WHY of those after-market gauges under dash on driver’s side?

    Like 1
  14. jmolsnMember

    Just talked to the seller, deposit has been taken pending inspection!! I’ve got its exact twin but mine has been repainted where this one is original

    Like 1
  15. HoA Howard AMember

    Well, I’m not a fan of supercharging anything for the street, but one thing is certain, the world lost a great car when Kaiser went under.

    Like 4
    • Duaney

      Kaiser didn’t quite go under. They took the tooling for this exact same car to Argentina, and made the car there for many more years. Kaiser-Willys continued to make Jeeps in the United States until American Motors bought the company. Jeeps are still produced today.

      Like 0
      • Gordo

        Now that would be a Barn Find, a Kaiser Manhattan made in Argentina!I want one.

        Like 0
  16. 370zpp 370zppMember

    If you are ever wondering what would be the perfect car to do LSD and take a trip in, well based on the exterior styling and that dash, this would be my choice. Just sayin.

    Like 1
  17. chrlsful

    all ways loved these for their “widow’s peak’ windshield, orphan status, super charger, grill, triple pain rear window, and bein early in removing the wrap-round windshield’s intrusion into the front door backs. (in that order).

    Like 0
  18. PRA4SNW

    Ended with no takers at $14,500.

    Like 0
    • Duaney

      The majority of car collectors just don’t have any idea of how good a car the Kaiser is. Body integrity is amazing, like a strong unibody coupled with a efficient lighter weight frame. Doors open and close with authority. More streamlined than any other American car of it’s day. A Buick executive said that if they could slap the Buick name on the car it would sell amazingly well. Rugged Continental derived engine, the Kaiser offered a lot for the money.

      Like 1
      • KurtMember

        Are spare parts readily available?

        Like 0
  19. Duaney

    Kurt, all mechanical parts are, there are reproduction parts from the Kaiser club, and vendors, SMS is doing upholstery, some parts have to be found used in good condition.

    Like 1
    • KurtMember

      That’s a huge selling point for Kaisers! Packards are the same, members of Packards International make lots of repro parts.

      Like 0
  20. Paul D Brill

    Bought this car on 8/25/2021. Iconic styling. Waiting for delivery.

    Like 2
    • MattR

      Congrats Paul! It sure seems like a great deal on a unique and stunning car. Post a follow up when you can. And enjoy!!

      Like 0
    • KurtMember

      Paul you got a great deal, congrats !

      Like 0
  21. Paul D Brill

    Thanks guys, it’s still in transit. When it arrives First thing is to stand back and stare ! Then check all fluids including Supercharger, tire pressures. Wash and wax, for now keeping it as a survivor. I have to admit I’m excited. Will keep you informed. Paul

    Like 0
  22. Duaney

    Just a mention to Mr. Brill, the engine won’t perform correctly with the distributor installed incorrectly. The effect is a weak spark from the rotor out of alignment with the terminals in the distributor cap. To fix requires dropping oil pan and installing oil pump in correct alignment with cam. Refer to factory shop manual.

    Like 0
  23. Paul D Brill

    Thanks Duaney, I’ll check it out when I receive the car. So your saying I can’t time engine by turning distributor? Never heard of that. Paul

    Like 0
    • Duaney

      Yes you can turn distributor and time engine, but because the timing gears (oil pump to cam shaft) are mismatched, the rotor will point in between the spark terminals in the cap instead of directly across when the points open, causing a weak variable spark at the plugs. I can instantly tell this when I see how the distributor is installed, the vacuum advance should face directly to the left fender. Factory shop manual will show all this.

      Like 1
  24. Paul D Brill

    Hi again, very interesting. Are you saying the gear that meshes with camshaft is on the oil pump and not the distributor? If that’s the case its a first for me. I’ve been an auto mechanic for 55 years, Hot Rods & Classic Cars. An aircraft mechanic for 40 years recently retired. Gear was always on the distributor shaft. I’d like to talk with you a little more in depth. If you don’t mind, give me a call 425-445-2028, or send me your number and I will call you. Thanks very much for your time and expertise. Paul

    Like 0

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