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1951 Kaiser Henry J "Pain in the Gass" Nostalgia Gasser Is Pure Eye Candy

The drag racing scene is more diverse than it ever was nowadays. From funny cars that cover the quarter-mile quicker than you can say "Chevrolet Camaro" to no-nonsense "no-prep" racers, there's something for everyone. But to me, however, nothing compares to the good ole gassers that ruled the drag strip circuit back in the 1960s.
1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser 10 photos
Photo: THROTTLE POWER/YouTube
1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser
And there are many reasons for that. For starters, I'm pretty much an old fart when it comes to cars. Yeah, I like muscle cars from the golden era a lot, but I'm also into vehicles built from the 1930s to the 1950s. And the gasser scene included many cars (or shells to be fair) from that era.

Second, they look amazing to my eyes. I mean let's face it, what's not to like about a sexy oldtimer body on fat rear tires and skinny front wheels? Especially when the nose sits a bit high in the air and the hood has a massive bulge and blower in the center? If you don't like gassers, I don't even want to talk to you!

Jokes aside, gassers were also impressively fast back in the day. Before Pro Stock cars arrived to conquer the drag strip, the A/Gas cars were the quickest stock-appearing vehicles down the quarter-mile. Yes, gassers are no longer a thing in the NHRA, but drag strips across the U.S. still welcome them through nostalgia events.

And fortunately enough, we still have car shows that focus on gassers. The Bluegrass World of Wheels in Louisville, Kentucky is one of them and the 2023 edition of the show featured quite a few spectacular rubber shredders. The 1951 Kaiser Henry J you see here is one of them.

1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser
Photo: THROTTLE POWER/YouTube
Not familiar with this car? Well, don't beat yourself up, the Henry J is not exactly iconic as far as classic cars go. It was produced for only a few years in the 1950s and it was an economy car in an era of luxurious land yachts, so it doesn't get a lot of coverage in the automotive history books. But I'm going to tell you a little bit about it.

Built by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation from 1950 to 1954, the Henry J was named after the company's chairman, Henry J. Kaiser. And it was born out of his idea to increase sales by producing a small and very affordable automobile in the vein of the Ford Model T.

A compact car by 1950s standards, the Henry J was designed without many features that were considered common at the time. Early cars did not have rear trunk lids, glove compartments, and armrests, while the base version also missed a passenger-side sun visor and ventilation. To further reduce costs, Kaiser also offered the Henry J as a two-door sedan only.

While most automobiles built in the U.S. at the time employed inline-six or V8 engines, the Henry J debuted with a 134-cubic-inch (2.2-liter) four-cylinder mill rated at only 68 horsepower. Later models also included a 161-cubic-inch (2.6-liter) inline-six good for 80 horsepower. Both engines were sourced from Willys-Overland. The latter company also built a similar vehicle called the Aero from 1952 to 1955.

1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser
Photo: THROTTLE POWER/YouTube
First-year sales of 81,000 were promising, but the car got some bad rep due to its cheap-looking interior, the lack of a trunk lid, and the not-so-powered inline-four mill. The fact that the Chevrolet 150 could be bought for only $200 more (a 15% increase over the Kaiser) didn't help either. As a result, sales dropped to about 23,000 cars in 1952 and only 17,500 units in 1953. And Kaiser had to deal with leftover examples after each model year.

Much like the Nash Metropolitan, though, the Henry J was ahead of its time in an era when consumers were demanding big cars. Sales were much lower than expected and Kaiser discontinued the Henry J by the end of 1953.

Gassers based on this compact are far from common, but the Henry J boasts all the attributes that make it the perfect platform for a drag racer. Just like the Willys 77 and the Americar, both popular with the gasser community, the Henry J is compact, light, and easy to hot rod. And needless to say, this Kaiser looks awesome with its nose up into the air and a big blower atop the hood.

The beefed-up Henry J is more than just a nostalgia dragster. This bad boy was actually raced in the 1970s and somehow survived to get a proper restoration decades later. You don't see that very often.

1951 Kaiser Henry J gasser
Photo: THROTTLE POWER/YouTube
Unfortunately, we only get static footage of the dragster and there's no info as to what lurks under the hood, but the latter provides an important hint through its "427" decals. The 427-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) race-spec V8 is  based on a Chevrolet block, according to the brief info sheet next to the car, but damn, look at them pipes almost popping out from under the front fenders.

Hopefully, we'll get to see "Pain in the Gass" run full-throttle at the drag strip at some point, but until that happens, watch it sitting pretty at the 2023 World of Wheels show in the video below.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
Ciprian Florea profile photo

Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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