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Forebearer of the Henry J: Kaiser-Frazer’s compact car was based on this 1948 AMP prototype

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There are lots of interesting little details, including subtle traces of tailfins, that lend the AMP a very distinctive look. There are crease lines down the side of the body and one simulating a rocker panel, with another horizontal crease on the front fender. And with its uniquely shaped C-pillar, could this be the inspiration for the Hofmeister Kink as designed by Wilhelm Hofmeister, BMW’s design chief from 1955 to 1970? Maybe so. Photo credit: Richard Lentinello

The automotive industry is made up of hundreds of companies manufacturing all the various components and fasteners required to build an automobile. From small machine shops to large factories, they are the backbone of car companies everywhere.

One such company was American Metal Products, who supplied many of Detroit’s auto companies with automobile seat frames and springs. AMP was founded in Detroit in 1917 by Fred Mathie, who, like many visionaries, dreamed of one day producing his own automobile. Knowing that he really didn’t have the finances and wherewithal for full-fledged production, he did manage to build a prototype. His compact car was designed by Haber Stump Harris using a unique manufacturing method that employed large plastic dies to form the primary metal components. This was called the Steward Process, and was created to cut tooling time and costs in half.

AMP Protoype interior simple Kaiser Henry J

Plain and simple best describes the AMP’s interior, with its bench seat and steering wheel out of a 1941 Chevrolet Special Deluxe. Note the two-pane V-shaped windshield. Photo credit: Richard Lentinello

After the AMP prototype was constructed, Mathie contacted Henry Kaiser to see if there was any interest in having Kaiser-Frazer manufacture this small car. According the National Auto & Truck Museum in Auburn, Indiana, where this AMP prototype now resides, “Kaiser-Frazer was interested in building a small car but needed AMP to help procure a $44 million loan from the government-owned Reconstruction Finance Corporation. They then used AMP as a basis to build a car with many modifications for the 1950 Chicago Auto Show. After a name-the-car contest, the “Henry J” reached market using a Willys four-cylinder engine, and sold for $1,219.14.” Prior to introducing their Henry J to the public, Kaiser-Frazer contracted with noted stylist Howard “Dutch” Darrin to tweak the AMP’s design.

AMP Kaiser Henry J prototype front

If you squint your eyes, visions of the Henry J can clearly be seen, especially around the C-pillar. Photo credit: Richard Lentinello

This AMP prototype had been damaged in a warehouse fire while in storage and was then restored by Tom Wilson of Ypsilanti, Michigan, an avid collector and restorer of Kaiser automobiles. According to Kit Foster, who profiled the discovery and restoration of the AMP in his Lost and Found column in Hemmings’ Special Interest Autos magazine, issue #177, May/June 2000, he wrote: “So far, 57 pounds of burned rubber have been removed from the interior, the wheels have been refurbished and new tires mounted, and cleaning of the exterior has begun. The Continental four-cylinder engine turns over, although its internal condition has not yet been examined.

“As a built-up “mule,” many of its parts came from other cars. Tom has ascertained that the steering wheel was borrowed from a ’41 Chevy Special Deluxe, so is searching for such a unit. Fire damage, however, has made identification of some of the other components, like the instrument cluster, difficult. It will be a long and challenging project, eventually rising like the phoenix, from its ashes”

AMP is now the Lear Corporation, one of America’s largest manufacturers of automotive seating and electrical systems.

AMP Prototype Kaiser Henry J front and back seats

The B-pillar appears to be well constructed and strong, polished metal channel frames door glass, and a second bench seat in the rear makes this a compact car that was able to accommodate at least four adults. Photo credit: Richard Lentinello