Gear Head Tuesday – The Almost FWD Kaiser-Frazer

Gear Head

The Almost Kaiser-Frazer Front Wheel Drive Cars

“Packaged Power” and “Torsionetic Springing”

Via Hemmings and The Old Motor

In our Gear Head Tuesday post about the orphan Kaiser-Frazer cars, we wrote about the K-85, which would have been a front wheel drive car featuring torsion bar springing. Two prototypes were built and famous auto writer Tom McCahill at Mechanix Illustrated drove one of the prototypes. He criticized the heavy steering and noisy transmission of the prototype. The prototypes were not fitted with power steering, nor were the production cars likely to be fitted with power steering. Power steering was still mostly in the concept stage at most manufacturers at the time – immediately after World War II – and it had not been offered as an option on even luxury-level cars.

The Kaiser-Frazer front wheel drive cars would have had a number of cutting edge features. They were planned to use unitized bodies rather than the conventional body-on-frame construction and they were to use a type of torsion bar suspension at both the front and the rear.

When we published our Kaiser-Frazer story last November, we did not have photos of what the K-85 would have looked like. Now, via Hemmings and The Old Motor, we have images of the K-85 and details of the planned power train. One thing that would have doomed the FWD Kaiser-Frazers is the engine – the same ill-suited Continental “Red Seal” six that powered the production K-Fs. That engine was fine for what it was designed for: fork lifts! But it was a poor choice to power automobiles. Kaiser was stuck with this engine right at the peak of the V-8 boom and that engine helped kill Kaiser as a car builder. The Old Motor article on the K-85 shows that the styling would have been of the “bathtub”  genre that also infected Nash and Packard in the post-war years. The styling was little different from the actual production Kaisers and Frazers, though the production cars resorted to the conventional body-on-frame construction rather than the unitized body of the prototypes.

Had Kaiser-Frazer been able to sort the car out properly, the FWD K-Fs might have given the fledgling company a path to success.

FWD Kaiser

FWD Kaiser engine

FWD Kaiser suspension


Via “B-Squared”:





Add yours →

  1. Great article. I had never heard of this one either the K-85. You mentioned Tom McCahill. When I followed Tom M I didn’t realize he had been writing for MI for that many years. I think I started reading him in about 1953-54.So many ideas and forward looking ideas in the older cars as they morphed into what we have today.
    With all the faults of modern cars I must admit over the years the improvements show. I was telling my grandson last night when I was his age the best you could expect from the average engine was 65-80K before a major overhaul. His car now has 200K on it and going strong.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the article. My brother liked the Kaiser.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. great article, we had a frew Kaisers – Frazers, they were pretty good. My uncle had a Frazer Taxi body by Manhattan, my dad had a 48′ Frazer, I had a 47′ Kaiser which I cut the rear body off and made a pickup out of it to haul my lawn mowers when I was 16.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a long-time member of the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club, I need to defend the 226 engine. It was a good engine, as most flathead sixes seemed to be at the time. There was some teething problems in the beginning that required the fuel pump to be moved from the rear of the block to the front. Other improvements were made over the years, including a McCullogh supercharger in 1954, but a V-8 would’ve made the Kaiser much more viable in the marketplace. And, of course, when Kaiser bought Willys, the Aeros and trucks got the 226 engine installed, making the Aero a bit of a hot rod.
    Rumor had it back in the very early 1980’s that one of the prototypes was still in existence in a junkyard in the mid-west somewhere, perhaps Kansas. Never got enough details and all those that knew about it are gone now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The main problem with that engine is it was underpowered for auto use. It was fine for industrial uses – how high does a fork lift engine need to rev? It was never intended to produce the power – or the revs – needed in auto applications. • It would be neat if that other K-85 prototype could be found! • It’s sad that Kaiser didn’t produce the V-8 their engineers developed. If I recall correctly, it was 288 cubic inches and was similar in layout to the Buick “Nailhead” V-8. If they had put that V-8 into the Darrin body of the ’51 – ’55 Kaisers, they might have lasted longer in the U.S. as an auto producer. • I’ve always admired the Aero-Willys, especially the hardtop. It was – and remains – one of the best designs of the ’50s.


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