My first book, Kaiser-Frazer: Last Onslaught on Detroit (New York: Dutton, 1975, reprinted 1980) was based on dozens of interviews with company engineers, stylists and executives, and packed with rare photos from prototypes to personalities. It won the 1975 “double crown”: the Antique Automobile Club of America McKean Trophy and the Society of Automotive Historians Cugnot Award. Kaiser-Frazer and Kaiser-Willys (1945-55) comprised a blip in automotive history, and some said their cars were the answer to a question nobody asked. You pays your money and you takes your choice, but if you want to hear the recollections of people who made Detroit what it was in the 1950s, this book may be illuminating.
It was my pleasure to speak on the writing of that book at the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club 2015 National Meet in Gettysburg in July 2015.
In life, nature and nurture do not suffice. Success requires they be joined, and their convergence is due to a third ingredient called luck. That is, being in the right place at the right time. Kaiser-Frazer was supremely lucky to have arrived when it did, and to recruit the people that were then available. And one of the most charming things about them, from Joe Frazer down to the lowest engineer on the totem pole, is that they never ceased saying so.
The company’s achievement is not just the result of the compulsive application of massive talent, but of a series of events at a unique time. “Luck” means, then, the innumerable things that happen which initially have little to do with talent or striving. In other words, we are awed by the phenomenon of K-F in part because it is filled with incidents that, were they part of a novel, would cause disbelievers to dismiss them as poetic license.
Imagine, then, a novel about a fictional company called Kaiser-Frazer. It will of course be ten years long: what used to be called a Victorian triple decker. For the first melodramatic detail that strikes the reader is just how long it lasted. Against truly formidable odds, the combined might of a major industry during the greatest period of economic expansion in American history. Except that it was not a novel. It was the Last Onslaught on Detroit.