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Harold LeMay was a renowned collector, which prompted many people to ask him if he wanted to “look at a car” that was for sale. Harold heard about this specific vehicle while visiting in Pennsylvania where it was mistakenly described as a sedan disassembled in boxes. He didn’t expect it to be anything too special, but to “be kind,” he and Nancy LeMay said they’d take a look at it. Upon their arrival, they were surprised to find that this vehicle was actually a convertible! This vehicle was restored at the Harold E. LeMay Restoration Shop and was the Feature Car for the 15th Annual LeMay Car Show held on August 29, 1992.
The car’s Indian Ceramic color originated with Carleton Spencer, a pioneer in color and trim. Spencer surveyed what women liked in cars (a novel idea for the time period) while working for Kaiser-Frazer on the Dragon. The survey results correlated closely with a similar study for the House and Garden publication, so he worked with the magazine to develop materials and colors suitable in both car and house. What Kasier-Frazer called “Indian Ceramic” (an extraordinarily bright puce-pink paint similar to Native American pottery color) was identical to a household finish that House and Garden called “Flame.”
Henry J. Kaiser became successful in the construction business and in building military transport ships during World War II (WWII). After WWII, he lost over $100 million, building nearly a million cars over 10 years in the car business. Kaisers were not recognized as particularly beautiful vehicles, but they did have ground-breaking body shapes and were considered the best ride short of a Cadillac or Packard. They were also appreciated for their interiors that altered industry standards for spaciousness and color.
The pent-up demand for automobiles after WWII meant that auto makers were able to rapidly sell their products. However, after that demand subsided in 1948, Kaiser had to develop a vehicle to compete with the other auto makers. With only one body style at the time (the 4-door sedan), he came up with a convertible and hatchback design (Travelers and Vagabonds, the forerunners of the modern-day hatchback) made from the sedan. After WWII, no other manufacturer marketed a 4-door convertible until the 1961-1967 Lincoln Continental.
Only 42-44 Kaiser 4-door convertible sedans were produced from 1949-1950 at $3195 each, compared to 37,660 4-door sedans at $2195. It is difficult to obtain accurate production numbers on these convertibles since Kaiser removed sedans from the assembly lines and had the tops cut off to create the convertibles. Also, the factory combined productions numbers for their 1949-1950 model years. It is estimated that there were only 22 produced for the 1949 model year and that Kaiser also lost $5000 on every convertible built.
Kaiser may have believed that simply removing the top of a sedan, chrome trimming the windows, and installing a convertible top would be all that was needed. As Ralph Isbrandt, the chassis engineer, described it, “We had instructions to do no reinforcing of the sedan shell, no X frame. Even the pillars and headers were sedan parts. The windshield was taken right from the sedan and cut off a few inches back, leaving some of the sedan roof attached.”
The first ride in the prototype for this vehicle was described as “like a bowl of jelly.” Engineering staff convinced Kaiser that GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc. were putting X-member frames and special pillars in their convertibles for practical purposes.
Kaiser finally bought an old Packard convertible and took it apart to see what they had done, one the recommendation of a Kaiser engineer who said that Packard was the best convertible he had ever driven.
After this inspection, Kaiser ordered the X-frames from the same Packard supplier at $600 each. Kaiser continued to add other reinforcements – making the vehicles exceptionally solid and heavy at 4000 lbs.
- Number 17 of 42 Kaiser Deluxe convertibles produced in 1949-50
- Continental L-head Supersonic Six
- Car color written in script on fender
- LeMay Car Show Feature Car: 1992
- Price new: $3,195