The 1954 Kaiser Darrin you see here is number 281 of the 435 that were made, it was an innovative car with a lightweight fiberglass body, doors that slid forward into the front fenders, and elegant styling that was designed to compete with the popular European sports cars of the time.
The Kaiser Darrin was based on the Kaiser Henry J platform and powered by the Willys F-head inline-six with a displacement of 161 cubic inches (2.6 liters) and approximately 90 bhp. This means that although the Kaiser Darrin is rare, sourcing spare parts is often fairly simple.
Fast Facts – The Kaiser Darrin
- In 1952, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, established by Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph W. Frazer, tasked Darrin with creating a sports car to compete with the popular European sports cars on the market. The goal was to elevate the company’s profile in the sports car market segment.
- Darrin was a renowned American automotive designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin, who had previously worked with luxury car manufacturers like Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, and Packard. Darrin was known for his innovative design sensibilities and luxury car expertise.
- The Kaiser Darrin 161 featured a fiberglass body, just the second American production car to use the material. Additionally, it had innovative sliding doors that disappeared into the front fender, a three-position Landau convertible top, and a distinctive grille.
- The Kaiser Darrin was officially unveiled in 1953, but production delays and financial difficulties at the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation meant that the first models were not produced until 1954. The car was sold for just one year, with 435 made in total and far fewer surviving today.
Howard “Dutch” Darrin
Howard “Dutch” Darrin was a prominent American automobile designer who had made a name for himself through his work with European luxury car manufacturers like Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, and Packard.
Above Video: This episode of “Deep Dive” by The Petersen Automotive Museum covers the history of the Kaiser Darrin, and it offers an excellent look back at the history of the model.
Born in 1897, Darrin began his career as an aircraft designer before transitioning to automotive design in the 1920s working in Paris with with fellow American designer Thomas L. Hibbard, together the two men formed coachbuilding firm Hibbard & Darrin in 1923. Darrin’s innovative design sensibilities and a reputation for producing luxury vehicles quickly garnered him recognition in the industry.
Before the outbreak of WWII Darrin returned to the United States, establishing his own coachbuilding firm on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. He was soon working under contract with Packard on some of the most influential of the company’s designs of the 1930s and 1940s, including both the Packard 120 and Packard Clipper.