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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Rolling Roadblock: 1953

Rolling Roadblock: 1953

October 1953, on US 61 south of Hastings, Minnesota. The new Henry J with Wisconsin plates is flailing along on all four cylinders, but getting great gas mileage. We'll pass as soon as we get around this curve. Who remembers bug deflectors? View full size.

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Interestingly, the 1946 Crosley shown below pioneers the 'modern' slab-sided look usually credited to the 1949 Fords.

Never a Roadblock

My friend Roger B. in Altoona, Pa., way back when, dropped a 327 cubic inch Chevy V-8 and a four-speed transmission into a Henry J. Much fun ensued, especially when "faster" cars thought they'd just go ahead and blast past that little Henry J on one of the many mountain roads around Altoona.

J is for Jalopy

I have just returned from the world's largest antique car show (complete with record-breaking rains) in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Saw one Henry J there but it was not as photogenic as other "orphan" cars that were there—Kissel, Jordan, Roosevelt (named after Teddy, not FDR), Rockne, Oakland, Muntz.

I had a friend who worked as a stylist for Howard Darrin when the Henry J was not-so-much designed, as congealed. Apparently it was almost like today's reality TV—with deadlines, drama, etc. He showed me which body panels they "lifted" from various contemporary cars.

For undisclosed sentimental reasons I did snap another WWII magnate's attempt at an underpowered and under-styled car, the Crosley.


The Allstate wasn't the first time Sears sold a car through a catalog. They did it early on during the 20th century. They almost did it again around 1979 with the Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf.

The interesting thing about the Sears version of the car was that they used Sears batteries and other parts (which were good parts....I had my car serviced through Sears up to the 1980's) and they charged less for the car than the Henry J.

Even then, it seems most people didn't want a basic car. The reason the Nash Rambler succeeded was that their base model had several options that were standard and made it a trendy vehicle. A base model Rambler was made only after initial sales took off.

Bug screens

I don't remember seeing bug deflectors like that, but when we'd drive out to Kansas in the summer, a lot of the cars had screens that attached in front of the grill, to catch bugs.
I thought they were "cool," but my father wouldn't get one. Instead, he'd open the hood and pull the dead bugs off the radiator when needed.

Too, remember the wind deflectors for the front side windows, and wing windows.

First Car first car was a 1952 Henry J.
My father bought it for me in 1963 for $50.00. I drove it in the field in the back of our house to learn how to use a manual (3 on the tree) shifter. I always remember the sound of the flathead 4 willies engine wailing away...
I sold it to the next year when I was 16 and got a 1958 Impala...Pale yellow with a white roof and turquoise interior...

Bug Deflectors and Sun Visors

I remember those bug deflectors, as well as those full width sun visors across the top of the windshield that were popular in the early '50's.

Origins of Henry J

When Henry J Kaiser envisioned a mass produced 'people’s car' he went to the federal government for money in 1949. The treasury was happy to oblige, but with the money came a list of---surprise, surprise---requirements the feds thought appropriate. Those requirements played a partial role in the car’s overall design. Attached are pics of Dutch Darrin’s proposal, and the prototype (the AMP) that the production Henry J was eventually based on. Henry J sales were so bad that old man Kaiser struck a deal with Sears and they marketed the product as the Sears Allstate. It was all much too little and way too late.

61 runs pretty much parallel to the old Milwaukee Road River Sub between Hastings and Lacrosse, Wisconsin. It's a beautiful ride in fall, particularly on a bike. Much of the time the Mississippi and its traffic is visible as well.

Highway 61 Visited

Deep in the backseat of that Corsair is twelve-year-old Bobby Zimmerman of Hibbing, making mental notes about the things he saw along the way, such as Wabasha, the walls of the Red Wing Boy's Reformatory, and a bored gambler trying to create the next world war.

Road Lip

Am I wrong or is there a bit of a lip on the highway on the left side. I remember when there were highway lips and then when the lips were removed because of safety. Maybe it was a Minnesota thing.

Deee-Luxe Model

Wow, that was the Corsair Deluxe Henry J. It came with a trunk lid AND back-up lights! The plain Jane versions didn't even have gloveboxes or armrests. But what can you expect for less that $1,300 in 1952? One uniqueness: the "widow's peak" rear windshield.

Those bug deflectors really worked; note how clean the windshield is in the photo. Their worth was confirmed for us on a family vacation in my dad's Hudson when some horseplay at a rest stop broke ours off. The bugs started piling up. Finally dad stopped at a Western Auto store and bought another.

Bugs Away

I remember bug deflectors; my dad had a green one on our '48 Chevy. When hood ornaments disappeared there was no longer a place to attach one. I also remember Henry J's, and wing vents; note the open one on the Henry J's driver side.

The bugs are asleep

Never seen a bug deflector like that but the trees looked about the same today on the same stretch of US 61.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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