What Is This Car’s History? 1951 Henry J Custom

The seller of this 1951 Henry J custom thinks that it may be a prototype of some sort, possibly made for a movie star and another idea is that it may have been made for Walt Disney. Maybe one of you knows the history of this interesting car. It can be found here on eBay in Yorba Linda, California with a current bid price that’s about what a pair of Berluti Eclair Leather Chelsea boots

This looks like a classic 1950s custom to me, I can’t imagine that it’s a Kaiser factory prototype, unless it was made for some sort of promotion or auto show maybe? I absolutely love the look of this car, at least everything but the Continental kit on the rear – I’m not a fan of those but that’s just a personal preference. I think that it really detracts from the otherwise sleek, forward-look styling of the Henry J, but it was a trendy 1950s thing so I can see why it’s here. How about that custom grille, though!

The side profile is my favorite, those cut-down doors and carved-out panels really make this look like a tropical island car to me. Maybe it was built for someone who lived on an island and they didn’t want a Fiat Jolly with the doors actually cut down as far as the red bottom portion. Some bamboo-like inserts on the tan part of the door would have been a nice touch. If you’re going to go big. GO BIG. The story goes that someone in Indiana bought this Henry J brand new and brought it across town and plunked down $20,000 to have it turned into this creation.

Here’s a photo of what the car used to look like in the 1980s after a previous owner restored it. That rear windshield isn’t backwards, it’s in the rearward position so that back seat passengers could get in and then they would pivot it over their heads so it’s in front of them to act as a rear windshield. It’s an interesting concept. It sure would catch the wind in the rearward position, though.

There are no engine photos which is really unfortunate. The seller says that it’s Kaiser’s Supersonic which was a Willys-Overland 161 cubic-inch inline-six with about 80 hp. I would think that a custom car would have a custom engine but we don’t know anything about it. The interior is interesting, it has what appears to be a standard Henry J gauge cluster in front of the driver and an intricate-but-in-need-of-restoration dash face. The rest of the interior shouldn’t be too much of a problem to restore. Here’s a photo of what I’m assuming is the seller showing us the driver’s door, it looks a little rough in spots. The drivetrain and general history of this car are a mystery. Have any of you see this car before? What is it and why do I like it so much? The car, not the shoes.


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  1. art

    The door treatment reminds me of the Kaiser Darrin.
    I love this car!

    Like 11
    • Will Fox

      Darrin-bodied Packards etc. of the late 30s-early 40s had it too; it was literally called the ‘Darrin Dip’. Darrin did the same treatment on a couple custom Cadillacs & at least one `39 Graham Supercharged cvt. as well.

      Like 3
      • Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

        I had put those hubcaps on my mother’s 1970 Checker Marathon. Yeah I know. No comments please. I was 17.
        @Ic. Those taillights are reminincent of 1949 Plymouth taillights

        Like 4
  2. Barney

    This is a really cool car and I think it would be fun to own. All the different stories regarding its origin on the other hand is BS. The fact of the matter is that the seller has no clue as to how the car came about and he wasted a lot of ad space with phony guesses to hype the car. More pictures would have been a better use of the space

    Like 12
    • Will Fox

      Everyone is avoiding the most logical place to start where digging up this Henry J’s origins is concerned: Ask the K-F club members! If anyone would know, one of them might.

      Like 6
  3. James Turner

    I cannot imagine after spending all that money, ( $20,000 ) and not even designing a roof for it that would have prevented a lot of interior damage. That center nose cone is reminiscent of the Edsel horse collar grill design. Also, Those flipper hubcaps detract from the design of the rest of the car. It looks like they were an afterthought.

    Like 2
    • 86_Vette_Convertible

      I’ve seen hubcaps like that before. IIRC it was on a 40’s Lincoln at a car show a number of years ago. I don’t know if they were OEM or aftermarket though.
      The car is different, not to my taste though. I’m sure someone will like it but who knows if enough to buy and restore it.

      Like 1
      • Will Fox

        Not positive, but I think those art deco wheel covers are `34 Cadillac, `30s DeSoto, or aftermarket custom of the period.

        Like 1
  4. MoparMatt

    It looks like it is the idea that evolved into the Kaiser Darrin.

  5. Little_Cars

    Looks like the front end treatment takes it cue from some Edsel AND Tucker prototype drawings before the cars were ever built. This also looks like something we might see in “Cars,” “Toy Story” or one of the multitude of other Pixar movies. The animators at Pixar are real car nuts.

    Like 2
  6. lc

    Taillights have me a bit baffled?! they don’t look like anything I know yet somewhat familiar….any guesses?

    • bog

      lc – I’m with Cadillac Diva…Plymouth of ’49-’51 vintage very likely. I saw many Henry J’s during my childhood, obviously none like this one. Then during my teenage years many were turned into “Gassers” and “Altereds”. Showing up with many HiPo engines at the drag strips I went to. Whomever had this one built likely had an affinity for powerboats, in my humble opinion.

  7. That Guy

    The builder knew their way around sheet metal, and had styling abilities too. This is probably not some backyard chop job. I’d guess this would have been documented somewhere in period, in custom car magazines or car show reports.

  8. Ken Carney

    Maybe it’s a prototype for a Henry J ragtop. K-F was experimenting with a
    drop top version of this car as early as
    ’51 but running driving prototypes weren’t
    available til ’52. I’ve seen at least one ’52
    and several ’53 ragtops over the years
    and I can tell you that they command top
    dollar when restored. The last one I saw
    was in Oklahoma 15 years ago. It was a
    ’53, and was more conservatively styled
    than this one. The owner knew what he
    had and price it accordingly. $20K for
    nothing more than a gutted bodyshell
    with a rolling chassis. Whatever it is, I
    guarantee you that you’d be the center
    of attention at your local car show.

  9. dr fine

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