1 of 435: 1954 Kaiser Darrin

UPDATE: The seller has corrected his price to $99,000. Makes a lot more sense!

Have you got a spare hundred grand laying around? If you do, you can use most of it to buy this extremely rare Kaiser Darrin in Scottsdale, Arizona. In the early 1950s, Kaiser Motors contracted with stylist Howard “Dutch” Darrin to help come up with a sports car based on their small Henry J sedan. The result was the fabled Kaiser Darrin roadster, which saw limited production in 1954. This car is #317 out of 435 built in total and is in excellent, unrestored condition. This is one of the most expensive car I’ve ever seen advertised for sale here on craigslist. Kudos to our pal Ikey Heyman for bringing this tip to light!

Kaiser Motors was formed as Kaiser-Frazer Corp. at the close of World War II. Much of their production capabilities was claimed from the automotive assets of Graham-Paige that they purchased in 1947. Their most well-known product would be the Henry J subcompact, named after one of the original firm’s founders. Perhaps the most ambitious project during their 10 years in business would be the Kaiser Darrin sports car, using a fiberglass body designed by Dutch Darrin. One of the cool features of the car was that the doors slid on tracks into the front fender wells.

The Darrin wasn’t the only American-made sports car on the drawing boards at the time. The two-seat Chevy Corvette and Ford Thunderbird would hit the market about the same time, and both enjoyed the kind of success that the short-lived Darrin did not. The Darrin was a good performer overall, but it lacked a lot of punch from 161 cubic inch flathead six cylinder it came with, which was good for 90 hp with a 3-speed manual and overdrive. Kaiser lacked the financial resources for the car to ever reach its full potential, with 435 production Darrin’s being built in 1954. Adding insult to injury, toward the end of the line for Kaiser, there was a freak snowstorm by their plant that ruined 50 of the remaining cars that had been sitting in a lot outside during winter. That sealed the car and company’s fate. Dutch himself bought those 50 vehicles and anything else related to the Darrin that Kaiser had left over and sold them from his own Hollywood, California studio/showroom, with performance modifications made to many. And so ends the tale of the Kaiser Darrin.

We assume the seller’s car has a similarly interesting story, but none is given except that it was numbered about two-thirds of the way through the production cycle (317 of 435). The seller is the third owner, who has kept the car in climate-controlled space since acquiring it. The car has but 22,000 original miles and has never been restored. So, its lime green paint and most everything else you see is as it was in 1954 (we hope the tires aren’t). We’re told it runs great and that everything works. From the photos provided, the car looks to be in proper order, as you would expect with an automobile carrying a high five-digit price tag.

These cars don’t change hands very often as no more than 300 of them are believed to have survived today. So, rarity drives up price. Last year, an identical twin of this car sold for $112,00 at a Sotheby’s auction. Seven years ago, # 381 (also a twin) sold for $198,000 at Barrett-Jackson.

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. IkeyHeyman

    Nice car, but at that price, I can only think that this is one of those “But, honey, I tried to sell it” situations. Maybe she’s tired of having to park her car outside on the driveway.

    Like 7
  2. Bultaco

    What a beautiful car!

    Like 4
  3. beaudog

    Looks like it was a “fat fingers” error. The price has been revised to a more reasonable $99,000. Probably going to go fast at that.

    Like 4
    • IkeyHeyman

      Okay, that makes sense. I generally see these go for around $125K.

      Like 3
  4. Rick

    ????????? The ad I see reads $99,000.

    Like 1
  5. angliagt angliagt Member

    I actually saw one of the on the road, in Kalispell,Montana,
    in the mid ’70’s.You don’t mistake it for any other car.

    Like 5
    • Pat D

      I saw a perfectly ratty looking one in a Safeway parking lot near Marin City CA in the mid-90s. Primarily a rusty red color, it looked to be someone’s daily driver. I’ve often wondered if it was ever restored.

      Like 4
  6. Dual Jetfire

    Another car with styling almost as continental as the Pinin Farina designed 54 Nash Ammbassador Country Club Lemans, with Dual Jetfire carburetion delivering a face melting 140 hp. Since there are less than 50 surviving Lemans Nashes, and less than 10 54 Cluntry Clubs,based on rarity, it’s a six figure car!

    Like 3
    • Bill McCoskey

      Dual Jetfire,

      Repeat after me: Supply and Demand. Supply and Demand.

      I personally know of hundreds of people who lust after a Kaiser Darrin. Not so for the Nash Ambassador Country Club Lemans. Assuming identical condition, values of both cars will always be dictated by these 3 words: Supply and Demand.

      It’s highly unlikely the Nash will ever be financially on par [or even close] with the Kaiser. That said, 40 years ago I actually owned a very nice, all original Lemans hardtop, turquoise with a white top. I liked the Nash. I still want a Kaiser Darrin more.

      Like 6
    • James HGF

      @ D. Jet

      The ’52 & ’54 Nash brochures (and marketing) herald design by Pinin Farina. Pinin Farina did build a ’52 prototype design on a ’50 Ambassador base. “It remained at styling for several months while management studied it and finally decided to pattern the the upcoming cars after the Farina design rather than the one developed by Nash’s own stylists. However, they did have Nash stylists revise portions of the Farina version — much to Farina’s displeasure. Changes over the Farina prototype were substantial and included restyling the sloping front and rear decks to present a more horizontal attitude. The quarter windows were eliminated…the stylists did their best to retain the essential character of the Farina design…” Key here is Nash management decided to “pattern”…after the Farina design and stylist’s did their best to retain the “essential character”. Above per Nash article in AQ Vol 15 no. 2.

      And now an insight into Nash’s in-house effort. “Styling Director, Edmund E. Anderson showed off some of the new models his staff was working on. Anderson showed … a clay model his own in-house team had worked up”. The Nash Continental – Hemmings article:

      https://www.hemmings.com/stories/article/the-amazing-nash-continental

      Two Pinin Farina prototypes exist; the suggested face lift for ’55 Nah and the impressive Rambler Palm Beach coupe built in ’56 which could have been a replacement for the Nash Healey. Both easily found on-line.

      Like 3
  7. Jeff

    It has been extremely well taken care of and very kewl.

    Just one question, why does it have a Illinois license plate?

    Like 2
    • Bill McCoskey

      Jeff,

      Owner might have moved to a warmer climate!

      Like 1
  8. Phlathead Phil

    What a “cool” car is supposed to look like.

    I LOVE it! Oops, I’m a bit short on cash at the moment.

    Like 4
  9. Fred W

    This is by far the most common color for these. You might assume if you find one with a Cadillac V-8 that some hotrodder installed it- but there’s a better chance that Dutch himself put it in one of the 50 cars mentioned.

    Like 2
    • terry trasatti

      Champagne was the most common color..161 were built with that off-white color

      Like 1
  10. Colin

    The writer indicates the Darrins were powered by a 161 cubic inch “flathead” 6 cylinder engine with 90 horsepower. They were actually powered by an “F” head engine, having the intake valves and intake manifold cast into the cylinder head and the exhaust valves in the block. The writer assumed the “F” designation to mean Flathead. Flathead engines are referred to as “L” head engines.

    Like 2
  11. Gerald Luck

    I’ve often wondered about the 50 cars that Dutch salvaged, modified and sold. Are those 50 in addition to the 435 or are they included as part of the 435. Does anyone know for certain?

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