MotorCities National Heritage Area


By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Various Auto Collectors, the Robert Tate Collection
Published 5.24.2023

1952 53 Aero Willys 1 

During the 1950s, many Americans were purchasing a new or second vehicle for their household. Some families wanted a smaller vehicle for their driving needs, and women were driving more frequently and becoming more independent. On the other hand, other Americans still wanted a full-size vehicle with more horsepower and large tail fins.

1952 53 Aero Willys 2The 1952 53 Aero Willys at an auto show

The Aero Willys models, manufactured between 1952 and 1955, were practical, clean-lined compact vehicles that some liked and some did not. They were designed by Clyde Paton and Phil Wright. Some automotive historians called the Aero Willys a design with monocoque construction.

1952 53 Aero Willys 3A 1952 53 Aero Willys promotional photo

The practical Aero Willys models were great-looking vehicles that offered all the best riding comforts represented in a compact vehicle. The Aero Willys sedan was made for the small car market, but its price was considered expensive, which led to poor sales. Other American small vehicles, like the Kaiser Henry J and Hudson Jet models, were also failures in the American market. The small car market did start to change later in the 1950s with the introductions of the Rambler Country Club and the very successful 1958 Rambler American in 1958 when the public began to be more accepting of smaller automotive designs.

1952 53 Aero Willys 4The 1952 53 Aero Willys (

Some automotive historians have said that Aero Willys had no real sales organization, with only a couple dozen truck dealers that made the car available. Aero Willys sold 31,000 cars for the 1952 model year and 42,000 units for 1953. In 1953, Aero Willys made some minor changes with the automobiles, including red-painted wheel cover emblems and a gold-plated “W” in the grille symbolizing the company’s 50th anniversary. The Aero Wing models were replaced by the Aero Falcon, and a new four-door sedan was developed for the Lark series.

1952 53 Aero Willys Robert Tate Collection 5A 1952 53 Aero Willys ad (Robert Tate Collection)

In 1954, Willys-Overland was purchased by Henry Kaiser, who integrated the company into Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, forming the Toledo-based Kaiser-Willys Sales Corporation. Later, the Kaiser-Frazer plant at Willow Run was sold to General Motors, and Kaiser automotive production was moved to the old Willys plant.

1952 53 Aero Willys Robert Tate Collection RESIZED 6A 1952 53 Aero Willys ad (Robert Tate Collection)

The 1954 Aero Willys models were the same as the 1953 designs, only this time with larger taillights and a new front-end suspension. The new suspension offered the driver and passengers a more comfortable ride, but sales dropped to around 12,000 units.

1952 53 Aero Willys Robert Tate Collection RESIZED 7Another 1952 53 Aero Willys ad (Robert Tate Collection)

By early 1955, Kaiser-Willys had decided to end Willys Aero production, which was now known as the Bermuda series. The model line was divided into the custom two or four door sedan models, which did not sell very well. The Bermuda series was advertised as the lowest-priced models, but only 2,215 units were built. The 1955 Bermuda models were changed with a new front-end look that was not well-liked. Some automotive historians have said that no one would take credit for the redesign of the 1955 Bermuda models.

1955 Willys Bermuda hardtop Private Collector 8A 1955 Willys Bermuda hardtop

The advertising for the Willys Aero models included messaging like “the shape of cars to come,” “Aero Willys now has 27% more power” and “I just realized what I’d been missing.”

In conclusion, the Aero Willys designs and tooling were sent to Brazil. Later, a redesigned model was developed by Brooks Stevens’ design company. While Aero Willys ultimately could not compete with the Big Three, their models did open the door for future compacts, including the Rambler American and the popular Ford Falcon. Today, the Aero Willys models are remembered as a part of our automotive history.


Flint, Jerry. “The Dream Machine: The Golden Age of American Automobiles, 1946-1965.” Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1976.

Langworth, Richard M. “Encyclopedia of American Cars, 1930-1980: 50 Years of American History.” Beekman House, New York, 1984.

1952-1954 Aero Willys original sales material. Courtesy of the Robert Tate Collection.

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
1917 Dodge artwork courtesy of the Robert Tate Collection
Published 5.17.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives and Ron Konopka
Published 5.10.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of GM Media Archives
Published 5.3.2023

by Brian Yopp, MotorCities Deputy Director
Images Courtesy of Don Nicolson
Published 4.26.2023

EDITOR”S NOTE: As Autism Awareness Month draws to a close, our Deputy Director Brian Yopp recently conducted an interview with Don Nicholson of Westland, whose son Edward is in the autism spectrum.

Don and Edward Nicholson RESIZED 1Don and Edward Nicholson

Don is the President of Don Nicholson Enterprises, which he founded in 2007. His business organizes a number of charity car shows, as well as the annual June All American Cruise along Wayne Road in Westland and Cruisin’ Hines every August in Wayne County’s Edward Hines Park. In addition, Don’s business has grown to include graphic design, along with in-house publishing and printing services. Don has also served as a longtime board member of MotorCities and many other organizations in Westland and around Wayne County. 

The Nicholsons at the Ypsilanti Auto Heritage Museum 2020 2The Nicholsons at the Ypsilanti Auto Heritage Museum, 2020

Edward was born on September 20, 1983 and was diagnosed with autism at age 2. Through his attendance at the Burger School for students with autism in Garden City, Don started to get involved in many ways to support both the school and the autism community. 

Don began organizing charity car shows and cruises while managing photo labs in 1993.

In the interview, Brian and Don discuss what a diagnosis of autism means, how it has affected Edward and their family life, and how Edward has developed various skills through working with organizations like the Judson Center and Services To Enhance Potential (STEP). 

You can watch the interview here.



By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives
Published 4.19.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives,,, and the Robert Tate Collection
Published 4.12.2023

by A. Wayne Ferens
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 4.5.2023

Ford Times October 15 1909 1Ford Times October 15 1909

The first monthly publication produced by the Ford Motor Company was the Ford Times magazine. The first issue was published and provided to Ford dealers and customers on April 15, 1908. Initially, the publication was 4x6 inches in size but later increased to 5x7 inches. It mainly focused on Ford's automotive products and its expanding model line. In the 1910s, it featured color printed covers from graphic artists with articles on Ford's dealer organization, Ford owners and their travel experiences, Ford's overseas business and pleas for better roads. These small Ford magazines ceased publication in April 1917 with America's entry into World War I. It would not be published again until 1943. 

Ford Times July 1914 2Ford Times July 1914


When the Ford Times resumed production, it would last another 50 years and was similar in content to Readers Digest, a very popular national publication (est.1922), and the Yankee Magazine (est.1935), the only magazine devoted to New England. With the company’s growing business and customer base, Ford expanded its publication department that included such writers as Edward Weeks, Cory Ford, Bernard De Voto and Edward Ware Smith. The new monochrome issues would include articles featuring destinations for sports and vacations, scenic road trips, gardening and dining, food recipes, camping, museums and historic places across America, as well as information about current Ford vehicles. 

After World War II, Ford Motor Company added a publication to include one for Lincoln-Mercury. One could subscribe for a free magazine through your local Ford dealer after purchasing a new car. In the 1980s, you could purchase them for a dollar, a price that increased in the 1990s to $1.50. 

Lincoln Mercury Times March April 1951 cover 3
Lincoln Mercury Times interior pages 4Lincoln Mercury Times 1951


In the late 1940s, Arthur Lougee became the art director of both the Ford Times and Lincoln-Mercury Times, as well as Ford's New England Journeys publication. Over the next several decades, the "Times" magazines featured many paintings and artwork from dozens of America's contemporary watercolor artists such as Frederick James, King Coffin, Maxwell Mays, John Whorf, Estelle Coniff, Edward Turner, William Barss, Eunice Utterback, Dorothy Manuel and Forrest Orr were often on the covers.

Ford Times August 1949 5Ford Times August 1949


Contemporary photographers and painters were also contributors to both magazines including Henry E. McDaniel and Charley Harper. Harper was a Cincinnati, Ohio-based American Modernist artist. He was best known for his highly stylized wildlife prints, posters and book illustrations. He did more Ford Times covers than any other artist with his subjects mainly natural, with birds prominently featured. Harper passed away in 2007 and an exhibition of his work was held at the Cincinnati Art Museum that same year

Ford Times covers from 1952 6Ford Times covers from 1952 by Charley Harper


The Ford Times magazine was last published and mailed to Ford owners and enthusiasts in January 1993. After 60 years of publication the magazine was most likely terminated due to consumer and cost cutting issues at Ford Motor Company. What started basically as a piece of advertising for Ford and its products evolved into an informative magazine for automobile enthusiasts and motorists across America. Below right is the cover of the final issue (upper left) of Ford Times dated January 1993.   

Ford Times November 1990 Arnold Palmer 7Ford Times November 1990 featuring Arnold Palmer 

Ford Times final issue January 1993 8Ford Times final issue January 1993

Note: Ford also produced a quarterly series of Truck Times magazines that contained stories that revolved around trucks. 


By A. Wayne Ferens
Images the Wayne Ferens Collection
Published 3.29.2023

Kaiser Traveler ad 1Sales brochure introducing the new Kaiser Traveler with a base price of $2,088. The Traveler/Vagabond generated 25 percent of Kaiser-Frazer sales in 1949.

Established after World War II, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was the result of a partnership between automotive executive Joseph W. Frazer and industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. Kaiser-Frazer was the only new U.S. automaker to achieve some success surviving less than a decade. Always operating with limited cash and a limited range of products, most of their models introduced in the 1940s and early 1950s were strictly based on a single four-door sedan body. 

There are several stories about the origins of the design of the Kaiser Traveler utility vehicle. One of them centered around H.J. Kaiser standing by a sedan and drawing the basic design in the dirt at the back of the car -- splitting the trunk lid and hinging it to allow the upper section to raise up and the lower section to fold down. This required finding a way to fold down the rear seat and modify the license plate so it can flip up or down under the lower lid. Another theory is that the Kaiser-Frazer engineers conceived it at the drawing board, most likely under chief body engineer Ralph Isbrandt, who spent his days and nights thinking of new ways to sell the conventional four-door sedan with fixed side window frames.

Isbrandt and his team came up several versions of the rigid sedan with a four-door "hardtop" version called the Virginian, the Kaiser and Frazer four-door "convertible," and a versatile delivery sedan called the Traveler/Vagabond. The Vagabond was an upgraded model in the Deluxe line. 

Dealers were complaining to the Kaiser-Frazer sales department to come up with something new besides sedans. Since cost considerations were always a priority with any new model, proposals for fastbacks, station wagons, sports cars and limousines never made it past the drawing board. The Traveler/Vagabond would have to do.  The 1949 model year was a disaster, with a $39 million operational loss.

Once the design concept was approved, the body engineers quickly began reconfiguring the back end by cutting the rear sheet metal from just above the rear window to just above the rear bumper pan. This deck section was then bisected horizontally at middeck hinging the two halves at the top and the bottom basically creating a two-piece hatch.

The rear seat was made to fold flat, and once the lower half of the back hatch was laid down, an eight-foot bed was provided, along with a spacious cargo compartment. Typically, the spare tire was bolted inside the trunk. In the Traveler, the spare was bolted inside the car to the left rear door. The door was welded shut at the factory and a fake door handle was installed.

A body development engineer named Harvey Anscheutz took on the challenge of designing an illuminated license plate holder that would comply with the laws of all 48 states. It flopped down when the lower half was opened and laid flat when the hatch was closed. Anscheutz spent three weeks on the design. A T-shaped handle was designed for the hatch and piano hinges were used on the lower part to provide support for additional weight. Wooden rub rails were used in the bed. Extra reinforcement was provided above the upper hatch to replace lost stiffness. The biggest problem was the sealing of the hatch. Customers complained of air and water leaks, wind noise and dust, and frustrated mechanics tried to repair them. In all, some 200 changes were made to the basic sedan, including relocating wiring harnesses and rear bumper guards, new openings for the rear window and suspension upgrades that included stiffer shocks and springs. 

Kaiser Frazer ad RESIZED 2When the Traveler/Vagabond was introduced in 1948, advertising was typically done on radio, in popular magazines, newspapers and sales brochures. Literature and paper ads relied on artwork to illustrate the style and color of the cars. In this ad, a photo illustration was used to show the versatility and ease of conversion. It took only 10 seconds to complete two simple operations.

At $2,088 for the Traveler and $2,288 for the Vagabond, the vehicles were priced considerably less than the competition, with the only exceptions being the new Plymouth Suburban station wagon and the Nash Rambler wagon. The Vagabond was an upgraded Traveler that included a deluxe dashboard, fender skirts, and a pleated vinyl interior with the option of genuine leather. 

Frazer Vagabond ad 3A 1951 Frazer Vagabond ad. 

The company was in turmoil in 1949, selling just over 58,000 units. Unsold models were reserialed as 1950 models, and many of the unsold vehicles were Travelers and Vagabonds. There were also changes in company management and board members in addition to the financial losses.

In the spring of 1950, Kaiser introduced the restyled 1951 models conceived by Dutch Darrin working with Kaiser-Frazer stylists Herb Weissinger, Robert Robillard and Buzz Grisinger. The 1951s came in two and four doors, as did the Traveler, and were available in Special and Deluxe trims. The L-head 226 cu. in. six-cylinder engine had a small boost in horsepower to 115. The new models also had a five-inch shorter wheelbase at 118 inches and were some of the best designed cars of the early 1950s. 

Kaiser built some 140,000 of the 1951 models, with just 3,500 Travelers produced. Most were the low-end Specials, with the rarest model being the two-door with only 1,000 sold. In 1952, the Traveler was available only on the lower-priced model, now called Deluxe, and again only a total of 1,000 were sold. Some special factory orders were built using the Traveler design on the upmarket Kaiser Manhattan. Only five were said to be produced with the upgraded Manhattan trim and upholstery.

In 1953 the Traveler was available only as a four-door with 1,000 Deluxe models and a few Manhattans sold. The Traveler was discontinued the following year. 

Kaiser Traveler ad RESIZED 4The last Kaiser Traveler came in four-door only as shown in this rare Kaiser sales brochure with photo illustrations that were the innovation of Kaiser-Frazer's advertising agency, Swaney, Drake and Bement.

A restored 1950 Kaiser Traveler 5A more recent photo of a beautifully restored 1950 Kaiser Vagabond in Executive Green with the fully-opened split hatch showing the fold down rear seat, wooden rub rails, relocated bumper guards, T-handle, fender skirts, spare tire bolted to the left rear door and the hanging (with hatch down) license plate frame.

With the introduction of the 1954 Kaiser models, the company was basically on life support. Heavily in debt, short of cash and the competition now producing all steel station wagons with tons of cargo space and powered by more powerful engines, Kaiser signed a Letter of Intent with Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA) to move car production down there.

In 1955, the final year of car production in the United States, Kaiser built about 1,200 cars. The new source of income for the Kaisers was Willys Motors (formally Willys-Overland) that merged with Kaiser in 1953. 


Clark, R.M. “Kaiser-Frazer 1946-1955.” 1997.

Mueller, Jack. “Built To Better The Best: Kaiser-Frazer Corp.” 2005.

Holiday Magazine, June 1951

Ferens, A.W. “Kaiser-Frazer and Darrin.” 2018. 

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Historical Archives, Studebaker Museum, Ford Motor Company Archives, Classic Mini Archives, and Walter Chrysler Museum
Published 3.22.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Scottish News, and Various Other Websites
Published 3.15.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives,
Published 3.8.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Nellie Goins, Ebony magazine, NHRA
Published 3.1.2023

by Brian Yopp, MotorCities Deputy Director
Photos Courtesy of MotorCities
Published 2.24.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Chrysler Archives
Published 2.22.2023

by Brian Yopp, MotorCities Deputy Director
Photos Courtesy of Ford Motor Company, MotorCities
Published 2.17.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the US Office of War Information, Tamiment Library NYU, The National WWII Museum, National Park Service photo/Luther Bailey and many others
Published 2.15.2023

by Brian Yopp, Deputy Director, MotorCities
Images Courtesy of MotorCities, Robert Tate Collection
Published 2.10.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Don Radbruch Collection, Podurgiel Collection
Published 2.8.2023

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we begin Black History Month by sharing an interview recently conducted by Brian Yopp, MotorCities’ Deputy Director, with Crystal Windham, Executive Director of Global Industrial Design.

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives & Roy O’ Brien Ford
Published 1.25.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of GM Media Archives and Mecum Auto Auctions
Published 1.18.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 1.11.2023

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of GM Heritage Archive, Newport Car Museum,
Published 1.4.2023