Classic Cars: The Mustang That Got Away

posted on April 4, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

 

Ad for Henry J. car, circa 1950

When Henry J. Kaiser and Kaiser–Frazer Motors released their entry-level passenger car in 1950, its name was the subject of a national contest that raised money for cancer research. The winner? “Henry J.”

But historical interpretation is full of “what ifs,” and recent research has turned up a startling alternate set of names for this humble little car that took on the Big Three automakers. An interoffice memo from Edgar F. Kaiser, Henry’s oldest son, to his father and Gene Trefethen — a lifelong Kaiser right-hand-man and corporate executive — reveals a charming detail of this high-stakes branding challenge.

Henry Kaiser partnered with industry expert Joseph “Joe” Frazer in this automobile venture, and Joe knew a thing or two about sales. While the naming contest was going full bore, Edgar and Joe were trying to make sure that whatever name was selected would have some traction.

Almost two months before the announcement of the winning name, Edgar spent several hours with Joe Frazer reviewing the 2,500 names at the top of the list.

Joe’s preference for first choice?

“Mustang.”

Edgar goes on to tell his father, “At the moment I favor calling the car ‘Kaiser Mustang’ but I am not sure that it will last with me.”

What ifs.

 

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