Patience pays off in Kaiser Virginian Custom acquisition
By Brian Murphy (Reader Story)
This story begins almost 10 years ago when I was driving through the country and passed a property with 150-200 cars in the yard. Every one of the cars was a Kaiser or a Frazer. I passed this property several more times and finally decided to stop to learn the story behind the cars.
The woman who came to the door was Erma Walker. She explained that before her husband, Fred, had passed away, they had accumulated all of these cars. Erma showed me around the property including several warehouses with shelving stuffed with — you guessed it — Kaiser and Frazer parts. As far as you could see, there were NOS bumpers still wrapped in brown paper, NOS windshields, upholstery, pistons, steering wheels, etc. If there was a part you needed, it was there. Erma told me that she and her husband had operated Walkers Auto Pride, a business that sold Kaiser and Frazer parts.
Erma took me to another building on the property that had several convertibles and a number of other Kaiser and Frazer autos. This 1949 Kaiser Virginian hardtop sedan was one of them. I just loved how it looked and asked Erma if she might be willing to sell it. She just laughed and said Fred bought and sold many Kaiser-Frazer cars in the past, including several Kaiser-Darrins, but he always told her that this car was special and will never be sold. Fred told her there was no other Kaiser like this one.
I visited with Erma a number of times over the next several years. I heard that she had passed away and everything was being sold. The parts went in one direction and the cars in another. I inquired about the ’49 Virginian, but was told it would not be sold. The property was then sold and it happened that a friend of mine had purchased it. He told me that the Virginian was still in the barn. I learned that it had been left to her grandson, and I was eventually able to buy it from him. The title indicated that the Walkers had owned the car for 42 years. The previous owner was from Kansas and had owned it from 1957 to 1977, when Fred bought it.
When I finally bought the Virginian and really looked it over, I was upset that someone had apparently stuck the word “Custom” over the “Virginian” nameplate. The typeface didn’t even match that of the “Virginian” script! Anyway, I figured I would deal with that somewhere down the road. For various reasons, it took me nine months to finally get it out of the barn.
When I originally met Erma, the property next to hers also had old cars and I became friendly with its owner, a man by the name of Dwayne. I stopped by and told Dwayne that I had purchased the Virginian. Dwayne was very familiar with the Walkers as well as the Virginian. He told me that as far as he knew, this was the last Custom Virginian in existence. He told me that Fred had a lot of work done on the car, but it was never finished. The power windows never worked, the doors didn’t align correctly and it needed a whole host of other things. Dwayne said mechanically, it was done, although it had not run in many years. Dwayne figured it had less than 100 miles since the rebuild. Dwayne is actually the one who moved the Virginian for me.
In researching the car, I wrote to Jack Mueller, the historian of the Kaiser Frazer Owners Club International. He told me that Kaiser-Frazer produced a very limited number of Kaiser Custom Virginians just before the Truman inauguration of 1949. The cars were used for VIP use in Washington, D.C., prior to the inauguration. One of these cars ended up in the hands of Ronco Motors in Virginia and stayed in the family for many years. I have no information on any others, although in the book “The Last Onslaught on Detroit” written by Richard Langsworth, the author states that very few were built. My understanding is that each Custom Virginian was hand built at a cost of over $10,000 each. That’s in 1949 money! The book also references the word “Custom” being of a different typeface and being located above the word “Virginian.”
I plan on getting everything sorted out and driving it at least a few times. However, I believe this car belongs somewhere where people can see it and appreciate it.
Just a word to collectors out there — these are really good cars. Kaiser-Frazer doesn’t have the history of Packard or Studebaker, but believe me, these cars are worth fixing. When was the last time you saw one?
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