Classic Cars Wiki
Classic Cars Wiki

The Traveler was a hatchback car made by Kaiser between 1949 and 1953.

The Kaiser Traveler was the brainchild of entrepreneur Henry J. Kaiser (who had 100 ideas an hour and about one of them was any good). The good ones, however, were worth pausing over.

During World War II, one of these was Kaiser's "cookie cutter" production line of Liberty and Victory ships, which broke the U-boat threat by sheer numbers; after the war, another idea emerged as the Kaiser Traveler which was the worlds first hatchback.

Henry Kaiser conceived the Traveler by tracing the outlines of its double-opening hatches with his finger in the dust on a sedan in the Kaiser garage in Oakland. At that point, the idea was simplistic enough to do. All you had to do was cut out the entire deck and rear window area, hinge half of it to lift up and half to flop down and let them meet about halfway on the deck. This lead to Kaiser introducing a new kind of utility car.

The problem was, it wasn't as easy as Kaiser planned. At least 200 changes had to be made to the basic sedan before the Kaiser Traveler could be built. It required stronger springs and shocks to handle the increased weight added by the extra bodywork, new floor pan wiring and reinforcement to replace the lost stiffness.

The detail execution on the Kaiser Traveler was clever. Harvey Anscheutz, Kaiser-Frazer's head of body development, spent three weeks with the laws of 48 states on his desk, devising a lighted license plate holder that would flop down when the deck was lowered without violating any position or visibility laws.

A big, T-shaped handle was devised to ease the operation of the hatches on the Kaiser Traveler and strong hinges strengthened the lower hatch. When open, this member was suspended by strong chains, (this was changed to cable in 1951), bagged in vinyl to prevent rattles. Anscheutz also created a folding rear seat by tilting the cushion forward against the front seats and lowering the backrest to extend the cargo platform to its seven-foot length. The seat folding is one innovation that is still used in wagons today.

The initial boxy body style with flat rear deck and spare tire against the rear door was revised in 1951 to be sleeker and included a dropped rear deck and spare tire under the floor.

The Traveler was offered in both the Special and Deluxe series for 1951, with two and four doors. Sales of two-door versions were minimal so Kaiser moved to build only four-door models in later years.

These four-door Kaiser Travelers continued through 1953, almost all in the lower-end series. Only a few thousand were sold between 1951 and 1953. Compared to the workaday station wagon, which still tended to be a boxy, truck-like vehicle made largely of wood in the late 1940s, the Kaiser Traveler was a revelation and probably did more to popularize the civilized, all-steel wagon than most people recognize.

The Traveler was fitted with a 3707cc (226ci) six-cylinder engine which produced 118bhp. The car was fitted with a three-speed gearbox and was rear-wheel drive. The Traveler had a top speed of 90mph (145kmh).

One big problem that Kaiser-Frazer never licked was the seals insulating the hatches from the rest of the body and from each other. Seal and rubber technology was not as advanced as now and because of this the Kaiser Travelers hatches leaked.

Another, minor contribution of the Traveler was its vinyl upholstery, pleated and embossed on the Kaiser Traveler Deluxe models and the 1953 Manhattan. The smooth vinyl of the Kaiser Traveler was heated and fed into a machine with refrigerated plates in the die design. The die then "kissed" the vinyl and immediately caused the design to set through heat transfer. The stuff was called "Dragon" and "Dinosaur" vinyl due to the pattern embossed on it.