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Rare Sliding Doors: 1954 Kaiser Darrin

UPDATED 4/23/23. Kaiser Darrin #167 has popped up again, this time here on Facebook Marketplace. Not much has changed other than the price being lowered to $37,500. More photos are provided this time in hopes of selling what was then and is still today a very rare car.

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The Kaiser Darrin was a one-time collaboration between Kaiser-Frazer Motors and stylist “Dutch” Darrin to come up with a sports car for Kaiser to sell. For various reasons, only 435 were made in 1954 and the project was abandoned when Kaiser ran out of financial steam. This example has been disassembled for restoration and is located in various places in the seller’s garage. Once restored, these rare automobiles can fetch a pretty penny. Located in Elizabeth, Colorado, this Darrin project is available here on craigslist for $40,000. Our thanks to Barn Finder Gunter Kramer for his sleuthing!

Kaiser conceived of what would be the Darrin as a sports car that used existing mechanical components, in this case, the small Henry J sedan. To develop the product, they brought in stylist Howard “Dutch Darrin to work his magic with fiberglass. This would be perhaps the most ambitious project undertaken during Kaiser-Frazer’s brief 10 years in business. One of the coolest features of the car was that the doors slid on tracks into the front fender wells.

At the same time, Kaiser/Darrin was cooking up this car, Chevy and Ford were working on the respective Corvette and Thunderbird, cars the Darrin would not compete effectively with. It was powered by a 161 cubic-inch flatbed-six that was good for 90 hp using a 3-speed manual with overdrive. Only 435 of the cars were finished and the total would have been 485 had 50 of the bodies not been ruined by a freak snowstorm before Kaiser ran out of gas. It’s estimated that 300 of the interesting vehicles are still around.

This Darrin project is #167 and the body has already been separated from its frame for the restoration. We’re told it originally wore Pine Tint Green paint, perhaps like that of another Darrin we covered a couple of years ago. The seller provides a lot of photos but only one each of the body and chassis. All the others are of the assorted parts that we’re told comprise 90% of what’s needed to put this car back together. The seller says the engine was running when the project was started, but we don’t know how long ago that was. If you don’t mind finishing someone else’s dream, you’d have a potentially valuable auto here.

Comments

  1. Avatar photo Just Add Water and reassemble

    Nice a puzzle without instructions.

    I see one of these every year at a car show.
    Its hot rodded but still cool 😎

    I am sure with 435 made the parts are abundant.

    I see a machine shop salivating on your wallets charge card now.

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo Fred W

      The machine shop won’t be the winner here, parts are easy to find for the motor, which if I recall correctly is a Continental used in many, many other cars. Body parts are un obtanium. I had a ’51 Kaiser for a while and was a member of the club, but never heard the snowstorm story

      Like 1
      • Avatar photo Darren

        While the full size Kaisers used a Continental based six, the Darrin, Henry J, and All State did not. The Henry J and All State used Willys L-head four or six cylinder engines and the Darrin used a Willys F-head six, giving it 10 HP more than the comparable L-head six used in the Henry J.
        As you mention, parts for these engines are readily available, as are transmission parts (Borg Warner).
        The Darrin body is GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) which we now call fiberglass. Repairs are easy, but can be time consuming to get right. The Darrin is also pretty minimal when it comes to chrome and other “trim” pieces, which also makes for fewer pieces to try and obtain. That being said, there are some pieces that are Darrin specific. The windshield and posts, as well as the tachometer gear can be extremely difficult to find and purchase. Taillight housing and lenses can be modified from another Kaiser, and most people will never notice, but a well versed Kaiser lover will spot them upon close inspection.

        The snowstorm story, as posted above, isn’t completely accurate, and unfortunately is one of the urban myths that has been propagated and continues to live on.
        Fact: There were 9 prototype/test Darrins built and 435 production cars.
        Fact: There were a number of Darrins (not 50) still sitting in the factory lot, when a storm dumped a significant amount of snow on them.

        If you know your Darrins, you know that they aren’t weatherproof, even with the top and side curtains up. This resulted in various damage, especially to the interiors, to most/all of the cars. As mentioned in the story, Kaiser-Willys was shutting down production of the Kaiser brand by early 1955. They would continue the brand Brand and the Kaiser brand in Argentina, as the Carabella for a few more years. The exact number of damaged Darrins isn’t clearly established, but it was more than 50. The number 50 comes from another part of the story, in which Howard A “Dutch” Darrin learned of the damaged cars, and talk that the company may destroy them. He was passionate about his design, and had fought for many years to incorporate the sliding door into a car, and legend has it that he “stormed” into one of the office of either Henry Kaiser or Edgar Kaiser and demanded that they be sold to him. We do know that Darrin bought 50 cars and had them shipped to his studio/shop in Beverly Hills. Many people assume, and numerous articles have been written, that these were “the last 50” Darrins. The reality is, they weren’t. The Darrins were built in batches, typically 10 at a time, in a given color (remember, there were only 4 factory colors offered, but a few were “special ordered” in other colors). So, the cars on that lot, which essentially were unsold to dealers, would likely have been a mixture of colors and non-sequential serial numbers. It has been stated that some of the other damaged cars were offered/sold to dealers that had been able to actually move the Darrin. The next phase of the “Last 50” goes on to say that Darrin retrofitted them with Cadillac V8s and sold them for several years from his shop. Darrin did indeed continue to sell the cars he bought, for several more years. He also replaced the engines in a few, at customer request, with Cadillac and Lincoln engines, but he certainly didn’t replace the engines in ALL of them. There are a number of engine swapped Darrins out there today, but only a few have been proven to be Darrin swapped. We know that one of these was owned, driven, and raced by the cousin of Frank Sinatra. There is video of that car being rolled at Torrey Pines and the cousin crawling out. – The sliding doors helped in that case. I do not know what happened to that car.

        The comment that “approx. 300 still exist” is old information. There is a registry, and I haven’t checked it in a few years, but I seem to recall that around 415 of the 435 have been accounted for. Some had been destroyed, but the majority (well over the mentioned 300) still exist. Some in the same or worse condition as this one, and others in pristine condition.

        Like 4
  2. Avatar photo Howie

    I have seen three of these, super cool but a bit on the small side. $40k seems too high with a bunch of parts just thrown around, with some in a Lego box.

    Like 6
  3. Avatar photo Rick

    The engine wasn’t a flathead. It was an F-head, with the intake valves in the head and the exhaust valves in the block.

    Like 4
  4. Avatar photo TomP

    I have pictures of that car at a car show in Englewood Colorado about 15 years ago. It was complete then but not in mint condition.

    Like 3
  5. Avatar photo TheOldRanger

    Well, to each his own, I remember seeing a couple of these as a kid. $40K is a lot of money to pay for a puzzle up front, and then have an “open billfold” to finish the darn thing. Good luck to whoever takes on the challenge.

    Like 2
  6. Avatar photo Carbuzzard Member

    Just a note: The Kaiser-Darrin was not an idea of Henry Kaiser but Dutch Darrin who was looking for a gig after WWII eliminated the market for his talents. The custom bodies he had designed for premium chassis weren’t being made in a war-impoverished continent.

    So Dutch Darrin came knocking on Henry’s door, and Henry accommodated Darrin with a chassis, thinking that would make him go away. Alas, Henry’s trophy bride loved it. The rest is history.

    And that’s available on my website with an article I wrote for AutoWeek way back when.

    Like 2
  7. Avatar photo Al

    Not familiar with FLATBED 6, maybe a flatHEAD 6? Not what is pictured at any rate.

    Like 1
  8. Avatar photo 64 Bonneville

    To bad some of these commenters have no idea as to what it takes to do a restoration, or don’t have the “wanna” to do it. I have the wanna, don’t have the fundsah. The historical significance of the Kaiser-Darrin is the sort of thing that made the auto industry great in America.

    Like 5

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