1 0f 435: 1954 Kaiser Darrin

While the Kaiser Darrin was sold in only one model year, its actual production run only lasted for just on nine months. Delays and misfortune had major impacts upon the car, and only 435 cars were produced, making the Darrin one of America’s rarest sports cars. This rarity certainly has had an impact upon the value of the Darrin, which has become a highly desirable classic. This particular Darrin is located in Goshen, Connecticut, and is listed for sale here on eBay.

Motoring writers of the day praised the overall styling of the Darrin, which is classically beautiful. They were less fulsome in their praise of the grille, which does seem to be at odds with the design of the rest of the car. The innovative sliding doors, while an inspired design feature, were also flawed. It was not unusual for these to jam as the runners collected dirt and dust. Kaiser attempted to rectify this issue by retro-fitting different rollers to the vehicle, but the problem still persisted, although to a lesser extent. This Darrin is largely complete, with only a few minor items missing. The fiberglass body is showing some major deterioration in places, and this will require expert help to restore it to good condition. While there are some indications on the body that the car has been painted red, I don’t believe that this was the original color. There are enough glimpses in various areas around the car to indicate that it was originally finished in a color known as Champagne Lacquer, which is a shade of white.

The car is still home to its original 161ci six-cylinder engine and 3-speed manual transmission. The owner states that the engine was running last Spring, but that he believes that it will require a rebuild. The engine of the Darrin was its Achilles’ Heel. The low 90hp output negatively impacted performance, and with a 0-60mph time of 15 seconds and a top speed of 95mph, it simply wasn’t fast or sporty enough to compete with its direct competitors. The other aspect of the car that pretty well doomed it was the price. That a car with the sporting pretensions of the Darrin should hit the market with a price higher than the Cadillac 62 made it hard for potential customers to justify purchasing the car. The only optional equipment available for the Darrin was wire wheels and air conditioning. Unfortunately, neither option has been fitted to this car.

One of the highlights of the Darrin was undoubtedly its interior, which was praised by motoring journalists of the day as being a very comfortable place. The interior of this Darrin is largely complete, and while the door trims aren’t fitted to the car, I believe that they are sitting on the driver’s seat. As with the rest of the vehicle, the interior will require a complete restoration. In its glory days, with the car finished in Champagne Lacquer with a red vinyl interior, this must have been a striking looking car.

The owner of this particular Darrin has set the opening bid on the car at $45,800, and this is for a car that requires a complete restoration. While that price may appear to be eye-watering, it’s worth considering that the relative rarity of the car has had quite an impact on resale values. A nicely restored car will set you back at least $130,000, while prices up to $200,000 are not out of the question. Those sorts of prices would leave you at least $80,000 to spend on a restoration before you would potentially be upside-down financially. Those are the sorts of figures that seem to justify a restoration on this car.

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Comments

  1. RCinphill

    Here is a picture of a restored car in that color combo.

    Like 11
  2. Gary

    I would really like to have one of these but I would have to do an engine swap. Unfortunately considering the low production number it would be a bit of a crime to cut one up to get a better engine in it. Also it wouldn’t really be affordable considering the price of the cars.

    I do real like the looks of these cars but that engine….ugh.

    Like 3
    • Duaney

      The fabulous Corvette had a 235 CID 6 cylinder, not even the F-head engine, with not that much more HP than the Darrin, and you don’t see collectors throwing up over that. These cars are for shows, boulevard cruising, not for speed demonstrations.

      Like 2
  3. Coventrycat

    With a grill that distinctive it must have really stood out in its day, even more than now. The only live one I’ve seen was at Space Farm in NJ. Really cool cars.

    Like 2
  4. Del

    Mostly bought by Celebs ?

    Wonder who original owner was ?

    This will not sell at even half the asking price.

    Sad

    Like 3
  5. Howard A Member

    This person likes King Midgets too. I read, the doors and the 6 cylinder were it’s downfall. Remember, a Corvette, around the same time, was kind of a dud. It wasn’t until a V8 Corvette came out, they really took off, literally. Some rich guy will restore it, and it will be sold amongst their other rich buddies, and nobody will drive it.

    Like 5
    • That AMC guy

      You beat me to it! (King Midgets, that is.) I think I even see one of the old one-passenger jobs hiding back there.

      Like 1
  6. joeinthousandoaks

    I would love to have one, just not this one. Pass the fiberglass please.

  7. jake

    Not a cheap car to fix..

    Like 4
  8. Ben

    I bought one of these in 1958 for $250.00 from a ford dealership It only had 13K act mi on it . The rear spring mount weld’s had broken away from the axle housing. I replaced the whole rear with a 49 Ford rear axle assembly. Then went on to install a fully modified 56 chevy 265 S.B mated to a 41 packard 3speed tranny. It was quite the runner . I had it pretty much completed with the exception of the left side exhaust with about a total investment to that point of about $800.00. I was approached by an individual who offered me $1600.00 cash. For a 20 year old kid in 1959 That was a real bankroll So I sold the car.
    With that money and $250.00 more I bought a mint 1957 Oldsmobile 88 convertible with the triple carb J-2 option I sold that car a few year’s later for just what I paid for it and ordered a brand new 64 Corvette . I still have the Corvette but made a couple of major error’s in not keeping those 2 very unique car’s.

    Like 14
  9. Doug

    I seem to recall on a TV show, not sure which one, that one of these was actually
    originally built with a Caddy V8 as some kind of special order. I do know that several of these were built with the McCullough supercharger.

    I could be wrong, it may have been a Woodill Wildfire that had the Caddy V8. The Wildfire was a better car than the Darrin, and originally was designed to use Willys parts. It was in the works to be built by Willys, but financial difficulties led to Kaiser purchasing Willys, and Kaiser already had too much invested in the Darrin, so they didn’t push forward with the Woodill, sadly.

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey

      I believe the Darrin [AKA the K-F 161] was built in the Willys plant in Toledo OH. That’s likely the primary reason they didn’t act on the Woodill Wildfire.

      And a little bit of info on Willys; The name is pronounced Willis, not Willies.

      Like 1
  10. Richard D Douglass

    These are very cool cars, also extremely rare.A member of our local car club ( a regular working Man, not someone with deep pockets) was lucky enough to buy one of these in 1968 for $1000, he still has it in original unrestored condition and drives it occasionally to local Cruise-in’s. Unsurprisingly he gets a lot of attention when he shows up.

    Like 2
  11. Jim

    The article mentions options such as wire wheels and air conditioning. Wire wheels were a dealer add-on option and wire wheel covers could be added as well. Air conditioning was not available on any Kaiser or Frazer factory built vehicle. Early Kaiser heater units had a sticker that stated “Air Conditioned” but that was, at best, artistic license. I’ve owned several of these cars and restoring one isn’t for the faint of heart, or wallet, but once done, you’ll have the only one at a show!

    Like 2
  12. Maestro1

    It certainly a piece of automotive history with a strong market upside. I agree with Adam’s numbers, and I think someone with deep pockets and affection for these cars should rescue it from is current malaise.

  13. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    cool it survived…….

  14. Darryl

    There is one in Portland OR with a Viper V10. Incredible car.

    Like 1
  15. Del

    No bids.

    No wonder 😁

  16. joebazots

    There was one of these in the show, The Man In The High Castle. Beautiful car, for sure. Hope it finds a good steward to put the love and cash into it.

    Like 1
  17. Jake

    They are nice looking cars.

    Like 2

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