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1954 Kaiser Darrin news, pictures, specifications, and information

Sport Convertible
Chassis Num: 161001181
 
Sold for $165,000 at 2009 Gooding & Company.
Sold for $121,000 at 2011 RM Auctions.
A woman's 'intuition' can be a powerful thing. It can sense danger, but it can also determine what would sell cars. It is also important to have a woman in one's corner for support. In the case of 'Dutch' Darrin, the woman in his corner ended up being the wife of Henry Kaiser.

Darrin and Kaiser, though they worked together at times, had also been at odds and didn't particularly see eye-to-eye most of the time. When Darrin designed his roadster in 1954, Kaiser wasn't all that interested. Henry's wife, however, thought it was one of the most beautiful designs she had ever seen. The weight of his wife's impression led Kaiser to decide in favor of Darrin's roadster and production began.

A noted designer starting in the 1940s, Darrin's cars all had signature, or, 'hallmark' designs. One easily recognizable Darrin design is the 'dip'. Darrin's designs had a fender line that swept back along the car, gently descending until it reached the rear fender. The descending line of the front fender made a 'dip' at the front edge of the rear fender. This design feature would make Darrin well-known and recognizable.

Because of the strained relationship with Kaiser, Darrin used his own time and money to build what had come to his mind. Darrin had also heard about a new body construction material, which would become known as fiberglass. Darrin set out in 1952 and started building the new design. Darrin's new roadster retained this easily recognizable design feature, but it also included something new. Darrin's new roadster had doors unlike any other car, even today. With a twist of the handle, the door didn't open forward, backward or upward, but in. The door disappeared into the bodywork extending back from the fender.

When the car was finished, and after Henry's wife had to step in, Kaiser put his name on the car, and production began. As it headed to production using a fiberglass body, the Darrin roadster earned the distinction of being the first American sports car to use fiberglass. It had even beaten Chevy's Corvette in this category.

Despite being a beautifully designed car, sales were low. One of the major contributors to the slow sales of the car was the fact it was not a cheap car. In fact, the small sports car was more expensive than some of the luxury cars of the day. The price was offset, somewhat, by what the Darrin offered. The car came with such extras as a tachometer, three-positioned Landau top and a tinted windshield.

Although the car was truly unique in design and offered a number of features, the Darrin roadster was cancelled at the end of the 1954. Some remaining, unfinished cars were set to be scrapped. However, Darrin would have none of that and ended up purchasing 50 of the remaining cars and set out to try and regenerate interest in the car. The most notable of the 50 that Darrin retrofitted in order to generate interest were six that had been fitted with bigger engines. Unfortunately, the idea didn't work and Darrin's Roadster slipped into automotive history.

Chassis number 161001181 is one of the 1964 built Kaiser-Darrin Roadsters. It had gone through an extensive restoration a few years back, beginning with its original owners compiling an extensive binder full of information and reference material from which they drew for the project. Paint, trim, chrome and upholstery have all been detailed and every effort for authenticity has been made.

Finished inside and out in a lovely cream color, the car was the recipient of an AACA first prize award. Besides its original owners, this restored Kaiser-Darrin has been sold a couple of times and has been part of a private collection. It is from this collection the car was offered. Percentage wise, the Kaiser-Darrin's existence is strong, but when compared to the number produced, the actual number is very small. Therefore, every Kaiser-Darrin is a rare breed of machine.

The example offered at the 2011 RM Auction sale in Arizona was expected to earn between $125,000 and $175,000. The expected price clearly represents the quality of the example. The Darrin Roadster comes with an F-head inline six-cylinder engine producing 90 bhp and has a three-speed manual transmission with overdrive.

As there are only a few number of Kaiser-Darrins still in existence, each one is a rare car to behold. And the one offered this year beautifully keeps the memory of the Kaiser-Darrin Roadster alive.

Sources:
'Buy: View Lots (Lot 241: 1954 Kaiser-Darrin Roadster)', (http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=AZ11&CarID=r169&fc=0). RM Auction Arizona. http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=AZ11&CarID=r169&fc=0. Retrieved 12 January 2011.

'Kaiser Darrin', (http://www.americansportscars.com/darrin.html). Kaiser Darrin. http://www.americansportscars.com/darrin.html. Retrieved 12 January 2011.

Wikipedia contributors, 'Kaiser Motors', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 November 2010, 07:12 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kaiser_Motors&oldid=397823528 accessed 12 January 2011

By Jeremy McMullen
1954 Kaiser Darrin is marked by low, sweeping lines. The Kaiser Darrin is a beautifully styled open two-seater that features unique doors that glide forward and almost disappear inside the front fenders.

Powered by a 90-horsepower 161-cubic inch six cylinder engine, the Kaiser-Darrin was created to compete with Chevrolet's Corvette in the growing sports car market. The Kaiser-Darrin was styled by Santa Monica-based Howard 'Dutch' Darrin, who had also designed for Packard and Studebaker. Unusual for the time, the Kaiser-Darrin had a fiberglass body, a three-position top and sliding doors that disappeared into the front fenders when opened. In 1954, the model's only year of production, a mere 435 cars were built in addition to an estimated six pre-production prototypes.

By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2008
Sport Convertible
 
This Darrin was owned (pre-1970s) by Don Noska of California. It was sold to Lowell Johnson from Wisconsin, who sold the car to Victor Carbe, Jr., of Hazelton, PA. Carbe sold the car to George Domer, from Milton, PA. Someone repainted the Darrin metallic green, and the upholstery became black. A dual exhaust system was installed on the car. The Darrin sat in Domer's garage for 25 years, partially disassembled. When the present owner purchased the car, the fiberglass get coat was totally gone, leaving a very rough surface. A full body-off restoration was performed by Westmoreland Antique Auto Restorations in Blairsville, PA. The upholstery was done by Larry Learn, of Clymer, PA. Research, parts location and chassis restoration was performed by Ron Strapel.
Sport Convertible
 
The First Fiberglass Car in the World!
Henry J. Kaiser, a United States industrialist, and Joseph W. Frazer, president of the Graham-Paige Corporation, started making automobiles with the brand names Kaiser and Frazer after World War II. Kaiser-Frazer also built a small car called the Henry J, named for Henry Kaiser. A slightly re-designed version of the Henry J was sold by selected Sears Auto Centers during 1952 and 1953 under the brand name Allstate. This car was tagged as a product of Sears-Roebuck. While listed for information purposes in the Sears 'wish books' the Kaiser Motors operation at Will Run, Michigan was closed down and moved to the Willys-Overland Corporation facility in Toledo, Ohio. Kaiser car production in the USA ended in 1955.

The Kaiser Darrin, designed by Howard 'Dutch' Darrin, was the first production fiberglass sports car in the USA and the world, beating the Corvette to market by one month. The fiberglass body by Glaspar weighs only 300 pounds! A three-position landau top and innovative doors that slide into the front fenders complimented the trademark Darrin 'dip' at the front of the rear fenders. This design detail gave the famous Packard Darrin roadsters of the early 1940's a stunning look. The Kaiser Darrin was one of Dutch's last design achievements, and many say the crowning jewel of his career. Gail Manz first drove an identical Kaiser Darrin in 1954, and has loved the design ever since.
Sport Convertible
 
Chevrolet wasn't the only automaker putting fiberglass bodies on American sports cars in the 1950s. The Kaiser Darrin, shown here, is the 25th of 435 produced, and not only had fiberglass bodywork, but unique sliding doors.

The car was designed by the famous Howard 'Dutch' Darrin, an electrical engineer who tried to create the first automatic transmission, which didn't work. He then started an airline, which quite literally crashed. Finally, he started designing cars, eventually established an important coach building business in Paris with fellow American Tom Hibbard. They returned to the United States before World War II, with Darrin establishing a design business.
Sport Convertible
Chassis Num: 161001429
 
Sold for $75,900 at 2008 Worldwide Auctioneers.
A mere 435 examples of the Kaiser Darrin were created, and all were produced in 1954. They beat the Corvette to market by only a few weeks with a few being painted in Corvette-like colors of white and red. (All 300 examples of the 1953 Corvettes were finished in Polo White with red interior).

The styling was performed by the Santa Monica based Howard 'Dutch' Darrin. Darrin's legacy including styling exercises for many notably marques such as Packard and Studebaker.

There are many memorable aspects to the Kaiser Darrin, such as being the first production fiberglass sports car in the US and the world. Another feature to the car was its unique sliding doors which would glide forward and almost disappear inside the front fenders.

This example has been given a full high quality restoration several years ago. It has the original overdrive transmission which was an additional cost of $107 in 1954. The base price of the Kaiser Darrin was $3,655.

In 2008, the car was brought to the Hilton Head Sports & Classic Car Auction presented by the Worldwide Auctioneers. It was estimated to sell for $110,000 - $130,000. Bidding failed to reach those estimates, yet the lot was sold for a high bid of $75,900 including buyer's premium.
Sport Convertible
Chassis Num: 161001071
Engine Num: 3495116
 
High bid of $87,500 at 2008 RM Auctions. (did not sell)
Sold for $91,300 at 2009 RM Auctions.
This 1954 Kaiser Darrin Convertible is one of just two or three known special order Darrins and is believed to have been delivered to a VIP client or Kaiser family member. It wears special order paint code 999 and special order trim code 888. Both of these did not correspond with the standard interior and exterior colors available at the time.
The body number is 71 and it currently wears the correct Teal Blue paint scheme complimented by wide whitewall tires and a white interior. It was given a restoration many years ago.

In 2008, this vehicle was offered for sale at the 'Sports & Classics of Monterey' presented by RM Auctions where it had an estimated value of $90,000 - $120,000. It was offered without reserve and sold for a high bid of $87,500 including buyer's premium.

In 2009, it was offered for sale at the Vintage Motor Cars of Meadow Brook presented by RM Auctions. It was estimated to sell for $75,000-$100,000. The lot was sold for the sum of 91,300 including buyer's premium.

By Daniel Vaughan | Sep 2009
Sport Convertible
Chassis Num: 161001322
 
Sold for $104,500 at 2008 RM Auctions.
This 1954 Kaiser Darrin Roadster was offered for sale at the 'Sports & Classics of Monterey' presented by RM Auctions where it had an estimated value of $100,000 - $125,000. It was sold for a high bid of $104,500 including buyer's premium.

This restored car is finished in a cream color with a maroon interior. It has a new red three-position convertible top with landau irons, and a pair of wind wings. The car rides on red painted steel wheels with wire-basket hubcaps with Kaiser-Darrin center caps. The wide whitewall tires are period correct.

By Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2009
Sport Convertible
 
This car was bought by the current owner's father in 1962 from an English sports car driver. After the owner's father's death in 1964, the car was improperly stored and suffered severe damage. However, the owner spent over five years rebuilding the car, which can be documented through the hundreds of photos taken during the process. The 2009 Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance was the car's first showing.
Sport Convertible
 
Essentially the brainchild of famed American Designer Howard 'Dutch' Darrin, this unique vehicle was released on January 6, 1954. The cars were basically hand assembled in Kaiser's Jackson, Michigan warehouse. The unique sliding door arrangement caused several issues with production which caused constant and significant delays. Despite the beauty and unique style of the automobile, Kaiser gave up on the project on June 30, 1954, with only 435 having been built.

There were approximately fifty remaining bodies when Kaiser stopped production. Darrin took them, installed Cadillac V8s and tried marketing them strictly as Darrins with very limited success.
Sport Convertible
 
Kaiser-Frazer set up shop as an independent automatic in 1946 in Ford's former Willow Run, Michigan B-17 factory. The Kaiser-Darrin was a boldly styled sports car introduced by the automaker in 1954 and based on the compact Henry J chassis. It was given its name after the legendary designer, Howard 'Dutch' Darrin. Henry Kaiser was not impressed with the design mock up, however, Mrs. K. loved the clay model and her opinion carried the day. Soon, fiberglass bodies from the Glasspar Boat Company in California were in transit to Michigan for final assembly.

Notable Darrin features include a uniquely shaped grille and sliding 'pocket' doors that roll forward into the front fenders. Power comes from a 161 cubic-inch straight six engine. Interestingly, the Darrin was America's first production car with a fiberglass body, beating Corvette to market by one month. But priced $150 higher and giving up 60 horsepower, Darrin sales faltered quickly. In the end only 435 cars were ever built.

This Kaiser-Darrin is painted in 'Pine-Tint' color and was acquired by the current owner in 2000, and subjected to a lengthy restoration, bringing it back to its original condition.
Sport Convertible
Chassis Num: 161001072
 
Sold for $126,500 at 2014 RM Auctions.
The rich and colorful history of the auto industry is filled with stories of vast fortunes made by daring entrepreneurs and swaggering industrialists. The decades are also littered with tales of crushed dreams; of hotshot executives long on hubris but short of cash; of can't miss designers who flew too close to the sun. In 1946 Kaiser-Frazer set up shop as an automaker in Ford's former Willow Run B-17 factory.

The Kaiser-Darrin, a boldly styled sports car based on the compact Henry J chassis and eponymously named after its legendary designer, Howard 'Dutch' Darrin, was introduced in 1954. Interestingly, when Dutch had originally invited Henry Kaiser himself to bless his dashing design, Henry was very unimpressed. Fortunately, Mrs. K loved the clay model and her opinion carried the day. Soon bodies from the Glasspar Boat Company in California were enroute to Michigan for final assembly. Notable Darrin features include a uniquely shaped grille and sliding 'pocket' doors that roll forward into the front fenders.

Actually, the Darrin was America's first production car with a fiberglass body. It beat the somewhat better known Corvette to market by one month, but having to go toe-to-toe with GM's young 'Vette was a most formidable challenge. Priced higher but giving up 60 horsepower, Darrin sales soon faltered. Dutch Darrin attempted to rescue his namesake marque but it was all for naught and in the end only 435 cars were ever built. This car was discovered languishing in a barn in 2011 where it had sat since 1971.
Sport Convertible
Chassis Num: 1611007
 
High bid of $80,000 at 2013 Mecum. (did not sell)
This Kaiser-Darrin is the 7th built of the 435 car series. It was given a two year restoration that was completed in May of 2013 with over $140,000 invested. It is finished in Champagne White with a Red interior distinctive only by the first 50 made. It has a Model KF-161 90 horsepower 161 Cubic-inch engine. There is a three-speed manual transmission with overdrive and an independent suspension in the front with wishbones and coils.
Sport Convertible
Chassis Num: 161001033
 
Sold for $137,500 at 2013 RM Auctions.
This Kaiser-Darrin is the 33rd built and one of the first fifty Kaiser-Darrins to be painted Champagne with a unique and special interior. It was in the care of the same owner from 1956 until 2012 and is the recipient of a nut-and-bolt restoration. Currently, the car has under 38,000 actual miles.
By Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2014
Sport Convertible
Chassis Num: 161-001023
Engine Num: 161-1023
 
Sold for $159,500 at 2014 RM Auctions.
The Kaiser-Darrin was designed by Howard 'Dutch' Darrin and was America's first production fiberglass sports car. Its prototype was built before the Corvette, although production did not begin until 1952. Power was from Willys six-cylinder engine. Design cues included sweeping front fenders that plunged behind the doors into a 'Darrin dip' and a unique 'rosebud' grille. One special feature were the beloved 'pocket' doors, which slid forward into the front fenders to permit entry and exist. Darrin had a long history of promoting the sliding doors, claiming it was a safe alternative as they did not open into traffic.

With all of its unique features and impressive design, the Kaiser-Darrin was a one-year-only offering, with just 435 examples produced. Of these, six were fitted with Cadillac V-8 engines by Dutch Darrin himself, at his shop in Santa Monica, California.

This particular example is a Darrin-inspired Cadillac conversion that has been professionally engineered by its present owner to high standards. This car was the 23rd Darrin built, and it was totally disassembled to facilitate the addition of a cross-member to the factory boxed frame, which increased its stiffness. In the back, the springs were beefed-up, and mounted in the chassis to a correct 1954 Cadillac V8 with a four-barrel carburetor and custom headers, which is mated to a Getrag T-5 five-speed manual transmission through a custom cast-aluminum adapter. The electricals were also upgraded to a 12-volt system.

This car rides on knock-off wire wheels that were custom-made for the car by Dayton. The body is finished in an original factory color of Pine Tint Green. The top is the same color as the upholstery by Haartz. There is a correct jack and hammer, and it still wears its accurate chassis and body tags.

By Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2014
The Kaiser-Frazer Automobile Company introduced the stylish and attractive Darrin roadster in 1954. The company was attempting to revamp their model lineup, and the result was the exciting, image-leading Darrin. The concept of the Kaiser-Darrin roadster was envisioned by famous automotive designer Howard 'Dutch' Darrin. The prototype of the vehicle was built in Santa Monica CA at Darrin's shop at his own personal cost and expense.

Henry Kaiser wasn't crazy about the design of the Darrin, but agreed to produce the small roadster at the request of his wife, who had fallen in love with the vehicle. The Darrin roadster was aimed at a fresh, young and hip market. The Kaiser-Darrin came with plenty of standard components, along with a clean and modern Darrin design that did much to set it apart from all of its competition.

The entire construction and development of the Darrin roadster was completed in barely 13 months. The chassis of the Darrin was taken from the compact Hendry J. Its wheelbase was only 100 inches and perfect for the Darrin. The engine was not taken from the Henry J, but instead was an F-head six from Kaiser-Frazer's newly acquired Willys. The 161 cubic inch six cylinder engine gave the Darrin enough speed to keep up with its sporting image. Complete control of the sportscar was a breeze with the 4 speed manual transmission that shifted easily.

The body of the Kaiser-Darrin was constructed in fiberglass and featured individual sliding doors. The doors were a concept exclusively from Darrin and his fascination with the concept of sliding doors rather than conventional swing-out doors. With the sliding doors the problem of scraping the door on the curb was eliminated and entry and exit was a simple procedure.

The Kaiser-Darrin roadster was unfortunately a very short-lived project as the project was halted after just nine months. Only a total of 435 units were ever constructed. The Darrin roadster was a great example of Post-War America in the 1950s. Today these roadsters are sold at auctions for over $100,000.00.

By Jessica Donaldson
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