Posts Tagged ‘Kaiser Manhattan’

Fathers and sons – 1945

posted on June 16, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Edgar Kaiser, Henry J. Kaiser, Henry Kaiser Jr. at New York City debut of Frazer-Manhattan convertible, 1951-10-15; R1-13

Edgar Kaiser, Henry J. Kaiser, Henry Kaiser Jr. at New York City debut of Frazer Manhattan convertible, 10/15/1951.

On a rainy and snowy night in November 1945, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Emory Land dropped his famously brusque manner to confess that he was “overwhelmed with sentiment.”

While sentiment is not an emotion often associated with World War II, Land was referring to some deep bonds that bubbled to the surface as he surveyed the shipyard and oversaw the last wartime contract ship to be launched, the S.S. Scott E. Land.  

She had been built in the Kaiser Vancouver, Wash., shipyards, which produced 20 of these C4 cargo carriers and troopships.

“I’m sentimental about my father for whom it [the ship] is named. I’m sentimental about this magnificent shipyard. I’m sentimental about this young industrialist (Edgar Kaiser). I’m sentimental about these thousands of workers who came here from all parts of the nation to make the shipbuilding records possible.”

The war had been over more than three months, and the massive Home Front campaign was switching gears to a peacetime economy. The mighty Kaiser shipyards were finishing up war contracts, and everyone was uncertain as to what the future would hold.

An account in the shipyard newspaper The Bos’n’s Whistle gives us this touching account of that last launch on November 24th:

Both Land and Kaiser spoke of the strong father-son ties that influenced them so greatly. Kaiser pointed out that both their fathers were imbued with the spirit of the west and its potentialities. Land’s father, Scott E. Land, was a pioneer in the field of developing the west, and he raised his family in the early days of the West in Colorado. He was instrumental in starting its development as a recreational and scenic center, and envisioned its later development a generation ahead of Henry Kaiser, who has so materially carried forward the dream of western development.


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Kaiser-built 1954 sports car delights today’s collectors

posted on November 15, 2010

1954 Kaiser-Darrin donated to Oakland Museum by retired KP pediatrician Ed Schoen

By Ginny McPartland

When Henry J. Kaiser went into the car manufacturing business in the late 40s, he had big ideas, as he did in all his ventures.  Unlike his many successful start-ups – the most notable legacy being Kaiser Permanente – his foray into the automotive business seemed a failure at the time. He went on to make a success in producing Jeeps, but the economy sedans (the Henry J), luxury and family cars (Manhattan and Special), and the sporty, two-seater Kaiser-Darrin were no longer manufactured after 1954. The small Kaiser Motors Corporation had lost out to the big three: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

The happy part of this story is about the Kaiser-Darrin, which is living a charmed life today in the hands of avid collectors.  Earlier this year, a “supercharged,” red Kaiser-Darrin garnered a handsome $220,000 in a classic-car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. Other Darrins have sold in recent years for $100,000 to $176,000 at the same auction.

One of the first American sports cars, the Darrin has a fiberglass body, sliding doors that disappear into the fenders, a three-position soft top, bucket seats, and a low center of gravity good for cornering. Only manufactured in 1954, the Kaiser-Darrin came in four classy colors –yellow satin, cream, red and light green. To date, only 80 or so widely scattered examples of the Darrin have escaped the junk heap.

Famed automobile designer-to-the-stars Howard “Dutch” Darrin, an on-and-off Henry Kaiser collaborator, developed the prototype of the fiberglass-body beauty on his own and unveiled it to Henry Kaiser as a fait compli. Henry Kaiser was not pleased. He is reputed to have told Darrin the idea was scatter-brained.  But Kaiser warmed up to the idea when his second wife, Alyce “Ale,” piped up: “Oh Henry, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Kaiser agreed to produce 435 of the stunning vehicle that turned out to vie with the 1954-released Ford Thunderbird and the 1953 and later Chevrolet Corvettes.  These sports cars were America’s answer to British models, such as the Jaguar produced as early as 1948. The Kaiser-Darrin and the Chevy Corvette compete for bragging rights for the first fiberglass body – the Darrin prototype was developed in 1952, and the Chevy Corvette was first shown and produced in 1953.

1954 Kaiser Motors Corporation sales brochure

Fifty to 100 unsold Darrins, touted in the sales brochure as the “the sports car America has been waiting for,” were reportedly left in a forgotten snowy lot in Willow Run, Michigan, during the winter of 1954-1955. Darrin, whose heart was in the Kaiser-Darrin, later bought the abandoned roadsters from Kaiser. He put them in saleable condition and souped up many of them with Cadillac V-8 engines.  A Willys Jeep 6-cyclinder engine was standard in the Darrins produced by Kaiser.

Permanente physicians drive Kaiser cars

The story of the Kaiser automobile intersects early on with the Kaiser Permanente saga.  As a perk of the job, Permanente physicians were given a Kaiser car to drive to work and for their personal use. In the days before 1952, doctors used the company car to make house calls ($5 per visit). The physicians had a choice of vehicles; most chose one of the sedans. But Ed Schoen, MD, a pediatrician who joined KP in 1954, saw the Darrin as an apt ride for a bachelor relocating from Boston to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Schoen had followed fellow resident and friend Cliff Uyeda to San Francisco where Uyeda was a KP pediatrician. Schoen joined KP in Oakland where he worked for 49 years, the longest tenure of any KP doctor. He became chief of pediatrics at the Oakland Medical Center in 1966 and regional director of newborn screening in 1990 before retiring in 2003.

Kaiser-Darrin postage stamp 2005

When the auto manufacturing venture ended in 1955, Kaiser offered to sell the cars to the doctors at bargain prices. The Darrin had originally retailed for $3,600. Schoen got his with 6,000 miles on it for $900. He would drive the unusual sports car exclusively for the next eight years, and he got a lot of attention driving around town. “People used to follow me home from work and ask me, ‘what is it?’” Schoen related. And as a bachelor, Schoen found that girls fancied a ride in the Darrin.

After meeting his wife, Fritzi, who came to the U.S. from Austria in 1958, Schoen took her many places in his cream-colored convertible. “I courted her in that car. . . She liked it,” he said. Ed and Fritzi married in 1960, and it wasn’t long before the Darrin was no longer practical. A daughter, Melissa, was born in 1963, and son Eric came along in 1968.

But Schoen kept the car and drove it to work for many years.  In recent years, he had it restored and preserved it in his garage. He entered it in car shows and won a couple of prizes competing with Ford T-birds and Chevy Corvettes. He also loaned the car for the 50th anniversary of Kaiser Permanente Vallejo and for display during another KP event in Oakland at Mosswood Park. The Darrin was never neglected:  Schoen took it out for a spin almost every weekend.

Rarity has its rewards

After owning the car for almost 50 years, Schoen donated his Darrin to the Oakland Museum in 2004 for the Henry J. Kaiser “Think Big” exhibit. The Darrin was shown along with a 1953 Henry J Corsair Sedan in the ambitious exhibit that covered Kaiser’s amazing life as a 20th century industrialist and co-founder with Sidney R. Garfield, MD, of the Kaiser Permanente health plan. Today, Schoen’s Darrin is in storage awaiting a new venue.

Schoen was interested to learn about the high bids cast for the $220,000 Darrin in the 2010 Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale. “When I donated mine in 2004 to the museum, it was appraised at $60,000 to $75,000,” he related.  He also noted the differences between his car and the one on the auction block. “The original Darrins did not have supercharged engines. Mine just had the 6-cylinder Willys Jeep engine . . . it was not a high performance car.”

To see a Kaiser-Darrin in action, go to:

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A Design to Match the Miracles

posted on March 23, 2010

by Bryan Culp

I recently attended a reception to celebrate the opening of the new Kaiser Foundation Research Center (KFRC) Hospital in Vallejo, California.  This hospital is Kaiser Permanente’s National Center of Excellence for people with disabilities, and it offers unique care to patients recovering from trauma, stroke, neuromuscular and orthopedic diseases.

“Many will rise and walk,” I remembered as I entered the new therapeutic gym, which is the at the heart of this facility because every new patient aspires first to return to mobility. The memorable phrase, evocative of miracle stories, was the title given to an article penned by science writer Paul de Kruif, who described for readers of Reader’s Digest in 1946 Dr. Herman Kabat’s experimental treatments for the disabling effects of polio.  Kabat offered a glimmer of hope to many afflicted with polio and neuromuscular diseases, Henry Kaiser, Jr., being one of them.

I walked from the gym into the open air of the roof-top terrace where patients on the path to mobility learn the pavement surfaces, curbs and cutouts a pedestrian encounters in daily routines.  I admired the recently installed, vintage 1953 Kaiser Manhattan in which patients learn how to transfer from a wheelchair to a car and how to maneuver in the confined space of an automobile. 

That's Tom Debley, Director of Heritage Resources, with the 1953 Kaiser Manhattan transfer vehicle.

For years the hospital had used a nondescript Chevrolet for this purpose.  But when the new hospital was in the design phase, the planners consulted with Heritage Resources with the idea to build-in to the new facility signature artifacts.  The Kaiser Manhattan was an ideal choice for a transfer vehicle.  The center’s therapists knew its heft and spaciousness offered real advantages, and true to history, the marquee had once served in this capacity in the hospital’s founding era. This particular example, with 76,000 miles on the odometer, was located in Arizona bearing a California heritage plate that read, “Henry.” After battery and oil were removed for safety, and adjustable seats were installed to aid patient training, the car was lifted into place on the roof terrace.

I can say confidently, having seen this new hospital close-up, that the mirror-like chrome on the magnificent Manhattan reflects more than past glory.  It reflects this stunning and entirely new facility that speaks to every patient, past and present, in so many words saying:  “We believe in you!”

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