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1 of 435: 1954 Kaiser Darrin

The Darrin was a last-gasp effort by Kaiser Motors to remain viable in the auto business. It was a sports car designed to compete with the Chevy Corvette and European imports, but one problem led to another and only 435 copies were built just in 1954. Under the fiberglass body were mostly the guts of the Henry J compact, so the Darrin was not a vehicle built from scratch. The seller has at least two of these little cars and one is available for sale in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it’s available here on craigslist for $1, which is clearly a placeholder. Thanks for the tip about a rare automobile, Chuck Foster!

These cars were a collaboration between designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin and Kaiser Motors, so the final product was named after both. A unique feature of the machine was that its doors slid on tracks leading into the front fender wells. The Darrin was powered by a 161 cubic-inch F-head six-cylinder that produced 90 hp and was generally underpowered compared to the likes of the Nash-Healey or Triumph TR2. Demand for the cars never took off for a variety of reasons, which included Kaiser’s doubtful financial position and a freak snowstorm that ruined some of the inventory.

The seller seems to be a Kaiser fan with at least two of the Darrins who look to be twins. One of them is offered and we’re told that other Kaisers and parts are also available for purchase. The one for sale is said to have 42,500 miles and presents nicely from the limited photos provided. Perhaps it was restored, but we don’t know for sure. The seller has taken only limited measures to sell any of these cars, so you must wonder how serious he/she may be in letting some of the available stash move on.


  1. Avatar photo bobhess Member

    Looking back at our family cars my mother’s ’53 Ford hardtop with flathead V8 and auto transmission was faster than this car. Having got an up close look at one in Harrah’s museum in the early ’70s I will say the build quality was excellent.

    Like 5
    • Avatar photo Rallye Member

      The Excaliber J had racing success with the same Henry J chassis/drivetrain…modified of course.

      Like 2
  2. Avatar photo randall e johns

    looks like a rare satin yellow with white interior car. i have one. mine is the first one in the second group produced of ten cars. the first group also had ten cars for a total produced of twenty. would like to know the serial number on this one. mine is #416. i thought the carpet should be black?

    Like 7
  3. Avatar photo John Frazier

    Chattanooga? The map says Lincoln, Nebraska.

    Like 2
  4. Avatar photo TheOldRanger

    I remember this car and thought it looked “different” but then Kaiser Fraser cars always looked a little different. To Bob Hess, comparing speed of a V8 vs a 6 is ludicrous.

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo JGD

      How about the ’53 Hudson Hornet 308 cid inline 6 with Twin H Power, 145 BHP, 0-60 in 12.5 sec. Herb Thomas driving #92 Hudson Hornet won the 1953 NASCASR Grand National Series. The 7-X engine mod was claimed to produce 210 BHP.

      Like 3
    • Avatar photo Arlyn Uhrmacher

      There is one in Lincoln, NE in a private family collection. I doubt it’s for sale.

      Like 0
  5. Avatar photo Ken

    It is unfortunate they went out of business. Corvette was close to dying.
    Just curious as to the evolution of what these cars would look like today if they would have survived. I was always intrigued with the sliding doors. Way cool

    Like 0
  6. Avatar photo Mike M

    Bucket list car for me. Out of my budget by a long shot, but one can dream.

    Like 6
  7. Avatar photo Gerard Frederick

    I think this is a high point in American automotive design. If you can live with the low brow engine-tranny combination, why not? It´s a stylist´s dream.

    Like 4
  8. Avatar photo johnmloghry

    It was a starry filled sky on Christmas eve in 1954 as my dad drove all of us around our town in Northern California looking at all the beautiful lights and decorations people had put up on their homes. The town itself had a 100 ft. Douglas Fir tree right in the middle of main street with lighted bulbs glistening in the dark shadows of the evening. That’s when that little sports car pulled up beside us at a red light. One of my brothers quite excited began to call attention to it, I thought it to be a funny looking little car, but my older brother was telling us all about the car. It’s a Darrin he said with what seemed like expert knowledge to me at 6 years old. That was my one and only experience with a Darrin. Years later I read a lot about them, but always thought of them as being an odd ball car of the times. Now they seemed to have become quite collectable to certain fans, but for me I’m more of a traditionist so I’ll stick to the mainstream cars from the 50’s and 60’s.

    God Bless America

    Like 5
    • Avatar photo Duaney

      At a typical car show a Kaiser Darrin attracts all the attention, while the mainstream cars of the 50’s and 60’s are ignored. Ask me how I know!

      Like 3
  9. Avatar photo Howie

    I have seen a few of these, very cool, but a little on the small side.

    Like 2
  10. Avatar photo tiger66

    It may have been a “last gasp effort” but the K-D was never going keep Kaiser Motors viable as it was never going to sell in any volume. Kaiser’s fate was pretty much sealed by 1954 as they did not have the finances to compete with the Big Three once the immediate postwar car demand returned to normal (see also Nash, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker).

    Dutch Darrin put Cadillac V8s in some of these after Kaiser ended production. Now that would be a fun ride.

    Like 1
  11. Avatar photo Jay McCarthy

    I believe some of these were outfitted with Cadillac V8’s, some even having Ford Flatty V8’s which woke these cars right up

    Like 1
  12. Avatar photo Jake

    randall e johns

    You should buy it I think it is car 417

    Like 0
  13. Avatar photo wes johnson Member

    Blew up some of the photo’s on CL listing, Lake Murray, OK. Have emailed several times but no response. Guess they figure free advertising. Lodge looks nice though.

    Like 0
  14. Avatar photo Jim S

    I wonder how many people who buy these cars today; or bought them back in the 50s, cared about how much faster than the speed limit they would go? I don’t think the people who care was the target market.

    Like 0

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