Revell 1/25 1951 Henry J Gasser
Scott Van Aken
2006 Reissue from Model King
an American automobile built
by Kaiser-Frazer Corporation and
named after its chairman, Henry J.
Kaiser. Production of
six cylinder models began in July, 1950, and four cylinder production started
shortly after Labor Day, 1950.
Official public introduction was September 28, 1950.
The car was the brainchild of Henry J. Kaiser, who sought to increase sales of
his Kaiser automotive line by adding a car that could be built inexpensively and
thus affordable for the average American in the same vein that Henry
Ford produced the Model
T. The project also included a lot of government "designing" as various
provisions of the 1949 government loan to Kaiser-Frazer specified various
particulars of the vehicle. Kaiser-Frazer would be in violation of the loan
terms unless the car in its base form retailed (including Federal tax and retail
delivery preparation charge) for no more than$1,300.00. It had to seat at least
five adults, it had to be available for retail sale no later than September 30,
1950, and had to be capable of going at least 50 miles per hour for
sustained periods of time.
To accomplish this, the Henry J was designed to carry the fewest possible
components, and built from the fewest number of parts. To save body stamping
costs, early Henry Js did not have rear trunk lids;
owners had to access the trunk by folding down the rear seat. Another cost
saving measure was to offer the car only as a two-door sedan with
fixed rear windows. Also lacking in the basic version were a glovebox,
armrests, passenger side inside sun
visor and flow-through ventilation.
Power for the Henry J was delivered by a four-cylinder 68 hp engine;
later models were available with an L-head six
cylinder 80 hp engine. Engines were supplied by Willys-Overland;
the four cylinder motor was the same engine used in the CJ-3
series Jeeps with only slight
modifications to component parts; the block and internal components were
interchangeable with the CJ-3 jeep.
In 1952, Kaiser began selling rebadged Henry Js through Sears,
under the nameplate of Allstate.
Allstates were nearly identical to Henry Js but carried a unique grille, hood
ornament, hubcaps, identification
badges and interior trim, and Allstate-brand tires and batteries.
After two years of disappointing sales, Sears dropped the car. The car was also
available in Japan from
1951 to 1954, through a licensing deal with East Japan Heavy-Industries, part of
the Mitsubishi group.
The Henry J proved to be a disappointment for Kaiser. While the Henry J was
priced low, a Chevrolet 150 could
be bought for a few dollars more, and the price included operating rear windows
and a trunk lid. The Chevy, Ford and other "low priced" competitors were also
larger cars, offering more interior room. Kaiser-Frazer started offering the
deck lid as part of an "Accessory Group" (preferred equipment group) during the
1951 model year, and a variety of other dress-up items but major advertising still
focused on operating costs at a time when gas was unrationed and at about 27 cents a gallon.
Sales declined each year the car was marketed. While the Henry J was inexpensive
for consumers, its manufacturing and labor costs were high. Henry J. Kaiser had
hoped to make a profit through volume; however, the cars' slow sales negated his
While sales of the Nash's compact Rambler were
successful, it was partly because Nash marketed it as an accessory-loaded convertible.
The Henry J was a plainly-trimmed two-door sedan; consumers understood the
difference between "inexpensive" and "cheap" and they perceived the Henry J in a
negative fashion. With the acquisition of Willys-Overland's vehicle operations
in early 1953 by the Kaiser Manufacturing Company division of Kaiser-Frazer (the
division changed its name at that time to Willys Motors, Incorporated),
management decided to discontinue the car at the end of the 1953 model year.
Efforts to sell off remaining vehicles were unsuccessful, resulting in an
abbreviated run of Henry J automobiles by Kaiser Motors (Kaiser-Frazer got a
corporate name change in May 1953) as 1954 models, using up more of the
incomplete 1953 models scattered around the Willow
Run, Michigan factory.
Frank Zappa recalls in his autobiography the torment and horror of travelling
cross-country sitting on the bench-like rear seat of a Henry J (he called it an
"ironing board from hell") in the 1950's.
you are as old as I, you can recall spending your Sunday afternoons or perhaps
Saturday evenings during the summer with your friends or date at the nearby drag
races. The air was full of the smell of rubber and fuel, the concessions were
inexpensive and if you wanted, you could enter your car and do some bracket
racing. Not all local tracks were 1/4 mile with a few being as short as 1/8
mile. It was at these events that one frequently had a chance to see some pretty
neat cars with the coolest in my eyes being the gassers. These were cars with
old car bodies and large engines, frequently fuel injected or even blown with
large superchargers atop the engine.
There were a variety of small bodied vehicles that included
Anglias, Ramblers, Falcons and one of my favorites, the Henry J, (subject of
Revell kits of the 60's were usually full of operating
features like steering, opening hoods and doors and they had quite fragile hinge
points, which, for a teen builder, often meant these features were glued solid
after breaking the hinges! Well, this is one of those kits. It has a rather
complete interior with doors that can be built to open or close. The front
suspension has moveable spindles and tie rod and the hood is designed to be able
to be opened and closed.
There is a nicely done engine and frame assembly and the
wheels are quite nicely done. Tires are vinyl or rubber and are well molded.
There are the usual plethora of bits and pieces one gets with a car kit. Chrome
parts are nicely molded and the chrome looks to be of good quality. Of course,
when one removes the mold seams, one will have to either replate the part, use
chrome foil or perhaps a repaint with Alclad II Chrome to return the shine to
really quite well done with well drawn construction steps and all the parts
named. There is color information for the various pieces so one can either paint
as one goes along or see what subassemblies can be built prior to painting it
all. Decals are provided for one car, which is, interestingly, not the car on
the box top. The markings are for the car on the side and end panels of the box.
Of course, one is not tied to the decals so many will probably paint it
something quite different.
Overall, it is nice to see this one back in circulation.
Thanks to Model King for paying companies to reissue some of this old iron as it
certainly takes the sting out of having to pay collectors prices.
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