The First Hatchback? 1951 Kaiser Traveler

Are you as much of a fan of Kaisers as I am? This 1951 Kaiser Traveler is a project, as you can see, but we know that most of the Barn Finds readers have restored vehicles in tougher shape than this one is in. This car is listed on Classic Cars For Sale and it’s located in Franklin, Indiana with an asking price of $2,000.

Apparently, this car was restored years ago but you can see that it must not have been a Pebble Beach-like job of replacing and treating metal, etc. Or, maybe it was just done so long ago and not taken care of that it’s started to rust through again. In either case, it looks like it’s in good enough shape that it could be brought back again with the help of someone with good restoration skills. The Traveler is a rare car, this car is worth the effort.

There is likely a fair amount of hidden, and not so hidden, rust on this Traveler. Kaiser-Frazer made the Kaiser Traveler, of course, but they also made a sister version for Frazer: the Frazer Vagabond. Dutch Darrin gave the Kaisers a much more unique look with the widow’s peak roof over the windshield and other features for the 1951 model year. I would love to have one of each, but an earlier car, a 1949 or 1950 would be my personal choice. Again, that doesn’t mean that I don’t absolutely love the 1951 Travelers because I do.

There are no engine photos of this car, unfortunately, but it would have been a reworked Continental L-Head 226 cubic-inch inline-six with around 115 hp. You can see that the interior needs a lot of work but being a two-door car is fairly unique and that may give this project a little more incentive for someone to save it, hopefully. The rear transformable interior is what this car is all about. They have been called the first hatchback and the unique two-piece tailgate hides a lot of storage space, enough to sleep in if a person, or two, needed such a thing. These are really unique cars and would be a jewel in anyone’s collection. Can this one be saved? With so few of these being made, hopefully someone will rescue it!


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  1. DRV

    Where did last weeks what is it go?

  2. boxdin

    First time I’ve seen a traveller in a 2 door, I thought all were 4 doors.
    Very Cool Find

    Like 1
    • Puhnto

      I was thinking the same thing, that the two door must be quite rare.

  3. Blyndgesser

    I think the spare tire mounts where the left rear door would otherwise be.

    • Gerald Luck

      Correct. And the drivers side passenger door wasn’t functional. Welded shut.

    • Scotty Staff

      You are correct, sir, but only on the 1949 and 1950 models. The spare tire was under the floor in the rear after that. I’m guessing that the “dummy door” on the LR side caused some head-scratching when it wouldn’t open.

      • Gerald Luck

        The last year of the Frazer, 1951, Vagabond, had the dummy LR door. There was a man in Lynchburg,Va that had one. I tried to buy it. It was up on blocks and hadn’t been driven in several years. He wouldn’t sell and has since died. Don’t know what came of the car….????

  4. Rich Truesdell

    Really interesting find.

    The photo above shows its potential, from a story I produced for Cars and Parts almost a decade ago. The updated version for the digital-only Auto enthusiast can be accessed here.

    Like the car available here, the one I photographed was a two-door. I called it the first crossover.

    • PaulG

      Great article and photos Rich; thanks for sharing!

    • Scotty Staff

      Thanks, Rich! I loved the American Motors Magazine, by the way.

      • Rich Truesdell

        Scotty, please contact me when you can at the address on the back cover of Legendary American Motors Magazine.

        Thanks for your support of LAMM.

        Happy New Year,


    • John and Pat Ruth

      Rich, I still have the 1951 Kaiser Traveler Deluxe, I moved to Oregon. The car for sale is a Special, without the wood slats and no clock, but they can be installed. The 2 door was only produced in ’51 so low build numbers but parts are available via the Kaiser Frazer club (
      In 1951 the car was redesigned so the spare tire was in a well in the rear of the car, previously it was next to the rear door.

      • Rich Truesdell

        John and Pat, small world. (Everyone, John and Pat own the car I photographed.)

        That was a fun shoot at the McDonalds in Downey. I think that McDonalds opened in 1953 and is almost unchanged since then, save for the addition off to the right.

        Thanks for the link to Kaiser Frazer Club, I’m going to check it out today. I ran into another Traveler last year at the Huntington Beach Concours d’Elegance. I’ll attach a photo here. You probably know of the car and the owner.

  5. boxdin

    That is a very nice article w exc pics too.

  6. Fred W.

    My last classic was a ’51 Kaiser, a regular 4 door. I consider it one of the better looking four door sedans ever produced.

  7. Brad C

    Love the Mickey Mouse foreheads on these. Quirky functionality, too. Just fun.

  8. Wayne Thomas

    listed on Classic Cars For Sale


    My goodness what an absolutely terrible website to look for classic cars. There is no way to organize the cars by year, price, location….anything. Like a person has all the time in the world to wade through sometimes 49 pages when it would take less than 1 minute to filter the cars to see what you can even have a chance at.

    Great car but terrible….terrible website.

    • Ikey Heyman

      I discovered that some of those websites just aggregate listings from other sites, usually without the knowledge of the seller – the last seller I was able to contact through one of those sites had sold the car listed a year earlier!

  9. Rex Kahrs Member

    There was a Vagabond located north of Tampa advertised on craigslist a while back. I drove up there but the poor thing was really in the weeds in an abandoned junk yard. The hatch mechanism still operated, but man what an effort that car would have been.

  10. gbvette62

    For many years, there was a 49 Traveler sitting in a local junk yard here in South Jersey. The car was pretty complete, and the wood cargo floor was in good shape. The 49 & 50 Traveler’s weren’t anywhere near as attractive as the 51-53’s, but are still interesting cars.

    It’s been 10-12 years ago since I stopped by the junk yard, I wonder if that Traveler is still there? I may just have to run over and see.

  11. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Funny, 65 years later and the backseats in my Grand Cherokee fold down the same way.

  12. Mr. Bond

    @Rich Truesdell: Just curious, did John and Pat sell the original Traveller they were restoring, or do they have a bit of a collection going now?

    • John and Pat Ruth

      I sold it although later I bought a ’53 4 door Traveler with power steering. Kept the 2 door as it looks the best but miss the power steering.

  13. Gerald Luck

    I have always loved all things K- F.ever since I was a little boy. My father bought a new 52 Kaiser Manhattan and I thought it was the most beautiful car I had ever seen. Later on in life, I bought a 51 Henry J. It was my first car and I was a senior in high school. Hence my user name: kfcarlover. A excellent resource for K- F is a book by Richard Langworth, The Last Onslaught on Detroit. (Available through Amazon) . Parts are plentiful and available through KFOC. I hope this helps someone in restoring this Kaiser.

  14. jaygryph

    Wow, that looks suspiciously like one that was at a Pick-N-Pull a few years back here in San Jose. I probably still have a picture of it somewhere. It was that same yellow and mostly complete with some body damage and rust and a funky ‘redone’ interior that was in shambles. I didn’t think to look and see if it had the hatch back as I wasn’t aware that was an option, but this car does look very similar otherwise. Wonder if it’s the same one. Glad to see someone bought it out of their car lot section and saved it if so.

  15. John and Pat Ruth

    Rich, the blue HB car was the ’53 I had.

    • Rich Truesdell

      Very small world John.

      Happy New Year to you and Pat.

  16. Larry Dickman

    Actually the first hatchback was the 1949 Kaiser Traveler and Vagabond (the upscale version). The 1949/50 Kaiser and 1951 Frazer hatchbacks all had the spare tire mounted on the driver side rear door which did not open. The 1951 Kaiser hatchback (and later) had the spare tire mounted in a well in the trunk floor, same as the sedans.

  17. corey Brown

    That was my grand father’s car , it sat in his yard for years along with alot of other cars of that era until my mom basically gave them away

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