The Almost Kaiser-Frazer Front Wheel Drive Cars
“Packaged Power” and “Torsionetic Springing”
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.