Joe Frazer, Father of the Jeep, Part 2
continued from part 1…
Seeing an opportunity to run his own company, Frazer took control of moribund Graham-Paige in 1944, and two years later merged its automotive interests with a new corporation he and Henry Kaiser had formed, leasing and then buying the gigantic ex-bomber factory at Willow Run, Michigan. During Frazer’s 1946-48 presidency, Kaiser-Frazer was the fourth largest car producer in the world, and ranked eighth in production by make, ahead of all other independents. He stepped down as an active officer in 1949. The company never again recorded a profit.
By the 1950s Joe retired to his beloved Newport, from where he had commuted back and forth to Detroit much of his working life. One of the things he was proudest of, when I knew him in the late Sixties and early Seventies, was being the only living man at that time with over 100,000 cars bearing his name.
A few of us were fortunate enough to visit him in his last years, I mainly to prepare my first book, Kaiser-Frazer: Last Onslaught on Detroit. But of all the companies he worked for, he spoke most warmly of Packard. “It was catastrophic,” he said, “that this grand old company went down the drain the way it did. It shouldn’t have happened—didn’t have to happen. The loss of Packard was one of the great tragedies of the industry.”
Joe Frazer had another characteristic probably associated with his aristocratic Southern upbringing: he was a gentleman. He never spoke ill of anyone, even those who had disappointed him badly. His grasp of history, his continued interest in and perception of the industry even at advanced age, his humor and wit, and most of all his kindness us car nuts, to whom he opened his doors as fellow lovers of the automobile, made him, in our eyes, a beloved figure.
There’s an old song about the “Giants of Old.” How fortunate the auto industry was to have had men like this in its glory days. Joe’s memory lives on with those who knew him, but his favorite aphorism will serve for all those who did not: “Security is but an illusion; repose is not the destiny of man.”
Concluded in Part 3…
In April 2012, Joseph Washington Frazer (1892-1971) will be inducted, belatedly, into the Automotive Hall of Fame, with his erstwhile partner, Henry J. Kaiser, co-founders of the world’s fourth-largest auto manufacturer during 1946-48. This article is updated from the obituaries I wrote for JWF on his death in 1971. For more on Frazer, see my book, Kaiser-Frazer: Last Onslaught on Detroit.