Q: Greg, who built the first hatchback car, and what year did it happen? I love the nostalgic car columns very much as they bring back great memories to this retired mechanic. L. King, email from New York.
A: Mr. King, as far as I'm concerned, I'd give that vote to the 1949 through 1954 Kaiser Traveler utility sedan (and sibling Frazer Vagabond from 1949-1951), which had all of the necessities to be called the "Godfather of the modern era hatchback."
As the photo shows, the Traveler came with a drop-down trunk, a flip up rear window and rear seats that also folded down. The interior featured wood skid strips that helped hold the cargo in place, and Kaiser advertising pointed to the fact that an owner could put a double bed in the pickup truck like cargo space.
Additionally, the rear license plate could be "flipped out" if driving with cargo so it would face down, and the spare tire on the '51 through '53 model was mounted underneath the floor in a special area.
I remember seeing the 1951 Kaiser Traveler in person, as my grandfather owned an economy and grocery store in the 1950s and 1960s in Ranshaw, Pa., and one of his customers had one. Since I was the official "store clerk" at the age of nine, I would always look forward to this gentleman showing up to fill his Traveler with a month's worth of groceries and dry goods, including a pair of shoes every now and then.
I would watch intently as I would help him load the groceries, and then he would pull away as I watched in amazement. Then my grandfather would explain to me about the car that doubled as a truck as I received a piece of penny candy (usually a Hershey chocolate "block") for helping the "Kaiser man."
And thank you, Mr. King, for the memories!