Henry Kaiser was a hero of World War II, developing a method of turning out “liberty ships” in record time in order to supply U.S. troops around the world. Post-war, his bold adventures in car production came to a bitter end after just eight model years, 1947-55. Kaiser/Fraser was the first independent company to fail in the exploding market that followed the war, but before going under, they produced some fascinating designs, including the 1954 Kaiser-Darrin.
In the mid-twentieth century, Kaiser Corporation was a major U.S. aluminum producer and remains so to this day with sales of over a billion dollars annually. Though he couldn’t make cars any longer, Kaiser still wanted to sell aluminum to his former competitors, the American automakers. He hired famed designer Frank Hershey to illustrate speculative future cars showing how aluminum could be used in their construction.
Frank Hershey was a brilliant designer credited with the design of the 1949 Cadillac fins, an innovation that went on to rock the designs of American cars for a decade. After leaving General Motors, Hershey went to Ford, where he’s credited as being lead designer on the stunning 1955 Thunderbird. GM styling chief Harley Earl was sorry to lose Hershey. Legend has it that Earl had been considering Hershey for his replacement upon retirement.
After leaving Ford, Hershey accepted Kaiser’s assignment to illustrate a series of speculative dream cars. His impeccable illustration style combined with a keen design talent to produce a portfolio that perfectly encapsulates the mid-century auto design aesthetic, while remaking original visions. Kaiser had gorgeous, oversized reproduction portfolios printed in order to seduce key members of the auto industry into seeing the potential of using his metal. History doesn’t tell us how successful this all was in terms of sales of aluminum stock, but the spectacular artwork Hershey produced remains a wonder to fans of mid century American cars at their peak of artful design.
Written by Jim Cherry
We've also featured the 1954 Kaiser-Darrin on the Curbside.