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American Made Roadster: 1954 Kaiser Darrin

The very interesting and stylish 1954 Kaiser Darrin is a rare and unique American made roadster that was intended to be a competitor against the foreign made sports cars of the time. Only 435 Kaiser Darrins were produced, making them extremely rare. With very cool “pocket” style doors that slide into the front fenders, these cars are fascinating. This Kaiser Darrin is offered at $56,500. Find it here on ebay out of Astoria, New York.

Powered by a Willys 161 cubic inch F-head six cylinder rated at 90 horsepower, a few of these Kaiser Darrins were retrofitted with McCulloch superchargers, or with a Cadillac Eldorado V8. Unfortunately this Kaiser Darrin does not boast a supercharger, but is still an interesting car. This 6 cylinder looks to be in decent condition with little oxidation or corrosion on the engine and bay. The engine bay itself looks a little hairy from what looks to be old sound deadening material.

The interior is a fitting retro appearance, though in rough shape for sure. There is enough left over to work with, but the fiberglass on the dash section is starting to look a little long in the tooth. The carpet is gone, and the seats need to be restored as well. There are no photos of a convertible top, so we assume that there isn’t one. Take note of the very cool sliding doors on this Kaiser. Noted as being the first American made fiberglass body car to have sliding doors.

Swoopy and stylish, this Darrin needs a total restoration. The fiberglass isn’t too bad off and can be repaired, albeit time consuming. The biggest issue is the missing headlight area on the passenger side, and the driver side looks to need further work as well. The paint and fiberglass are cracking from time and sun exposure, but aside from the missing headlight area, the rest of the body looks complete and free of significant cracking.

Certainly a different take on the sports car from what was being offered at the time, these Kaiser Darrins are certainly unique. In recent years Darrins have been fetching some pretty high prices at auction, though the supercharged cars, and V8 cars always pull a premium. Although lacking a supercharger, this is still a very rare opportunity, and if you invested the time and money to restore it yourself, you would likely come out on top, being into this sports car cheaper than auction prices. Would you take on this rare and unique American made sports car?




  1. RayT Member

    “Gullwing Motor Cars” isn’t exactly giving this away, are they?

    If it goes for $56K-plus, I’m not sure you’re likely to come out of a restoration rightside-up. The fiberglass repairs are only the tip of the iceberg; unless the missing trim items (such as the front turn signal housings) are with the car, it’s going to take a monumental effort to replace them. At least the tail light lenses are standard Kaiser, IIRC.

    I hate to say it — I’m a lifelong Kaiser fan — but this is probably too far gone for anyone but an extremely wealthy, ardent enthusiast. It can be brought back to life, but the next owner (assuming someone comes up with a bid that makes the flippers cut loose of it) had better want to keep it forever, and abandon hope of a profitable resale.

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    • Howard A Member

      Hi Ray, normally, you’d think that was the case, too far gone, but there’s 2 on Hemmings, this one and another with a price of “inquire”, so you know that’s up there, and someone will pour the coals to this, because it’s so rare. Quite frankly, I mean it’s cool, but it was kind of a flop in ’54, but it did get the ball rolling for other American roadsters, I suppose. I always thought that was a poor choice of engines, and am surprised no one else had doors like that. Cool feature. Somebody with too much money will restore this, just so they have one. That’s how rich people think.

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      • RayT Member

        Howard, it’s true these didn’t exactly set the world on fire when new. From what I heard, even the Cadillac-powered examples — converted after production ended by “Dutch” Darrin’s people in a shop in Santa Monica, CA — didn’t generate a rush of orders. And, even as a Kaiser fan who has seen a few of these (both F-head 161 and Cad-powered), I wouldn’t pretend to believe they did anything for the company but plunge it deeper into debt.

        Collectors get all hopped up on “rarity.” What many don’t realize is that some cars are rare because they didn’t generate any excitement among the citizens. Kaisers in general fall into that category (even if the three I have owned were well-made, good-looking nice drivers). The Darrin, like the Henry J, sat at the top of the “nobody bought ’em” list.

        In fact, the Kaiser dealer in the smallish town where I grew up had a Darrin, and it seems to me it was still in the showroom when they closed their doors.

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    • Tommy

      saw a nice one go for 45K last year, get in and drive it home.

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  2. Dan

    My father talks about one near Rochester NY, the owner often visited his gas station years ago, we think it was passed down to the owner’s son.

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  3. Chris

    I talked to a guy at a car show last summer in Mundelein Illinois that drove one of these. It was yellow and had an early Cadilac v8 in it. It was really nice. He showed me pictures of 5 more he had or had owned, he was restoring another one. Really cool. They bring big bucks, this one is probably more like a 30-40k car. Would easily take $100k to make right.

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  4. Bill Merritt

    If any of you watch “The Man in the High Castle” on Amazon they featured a beautiful restored Darrin in several of the scenes! It was white with a beautiful young woman driving it!

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    • healeydays

      I was just talking to my wife about the one in “The Man in the High Castle”

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  5. Eric Dashman

    Has anyone done business with Gullwing Motors? I’ve seen a lot of their ads over the years and they always have interesting wrecks for which they ask big dollars. At least, they’re big dollars to me with the restoration required for each of them. Since most businesses try to ‘keystone’ their buys, that would suggest that GWM gave the prior owner something in the neighborhood of $25K (if that).

    Regarding the Darrin, I’ve read that the sliding doors could be problematic (just as any sliding doors in a house can be). They were a unique design and similar to the Thunderbird, clearly showed their family resemblance to other Kaisers. Full disclosure…I grew up with a 1951 Kaiser Traveler (the first of the hatchbacks) in a faded maroon color, 3 on the tree with OD and a 6 cylinder (don’t recall if flathead or OHV). My father’s heavy size 12 clutch foot cooked at least 3 that I remember :-). Mom did a lot better with it than him after he bought the 54 Chrysler Windsor with its automatic.

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    • Puhnto

      We had a 1948 Fraser painted that same color of maroon and also with the overdrive. Dad repainted it grey back when you could afford to paint a car whenever you wanted.

      I remember seeing Darins in the showroom. (Menlo Park, San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto, somewhere around there. Dad loved them and wanted one so bad.

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    • Dave Wright

      I bought cars from Gullwing a long time ago……everything went well, both cars ( a 356 and a 220S) were better in person than they represented. They were easy to deal with and helpful. There ability to find uneque vehicles is incredible. I think most of the naysayers are jealous.

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      • Dave Wright

        I keystone equipment in my industry as well…….it seldom really works out that way when you include all the expenses but as a thumbnail that is how you make money. Many industries do accounting tricks to minimize precived profits but in aggregate, Keystone is good.

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    • Jake

      I haven’t done business but I’ve driven past the place a few times. You’re in a relatively industrial part of queens you round a corner and there’s a Bentley now Aston Martin and a rolls Royce parked on the street! Alsways a surprise.

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  6. Fred W.

    Before my present ’66 Tbird, I owned a ’51 Kaiser and was a member of the club. I’m a filmmaker and spent about a year producing a documentary about Kaiser-Frazer, including the Darrin. If you’ve got 30 minutes to spare, it’s here on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n1_Py9xqws

    This particular one could put you upside down in a hurry. Restored ones sometimes go in the low 100K range at auction.

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    • Eric Dashman

      Nice job on the video, Fred. I really enjoyed the history lesson, and the cars weren’t bad either! I did see a blue version of my family’s Traveler, although it had a good bit more chrome than ours did. We used to ride in the way back with the hatch open on the way to and from our summer swimming hole on the Croton River.

      It is too bad that makes like Kaiser, Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, and Packard went the way of the great auk after the war (to say nothing of the more recent losses and mergers).

      After your video, Jay Leno’s Garage popped up with a customized 1951 Kaiser (with a Dragon label, but built from a plebian 4 door). The fellow did really amazing work and Gene Winfield’s paint job is not to be believed (at age 85). While I’ve always drooled over the Studebaker Loewy coupe, the Kaiser Dragon of that chromed-up era was really magnificent.

      2 1/2 years ago, I spotted this 54 Manhattan at an Atlanta area car show. It looked to be an older restoration owned by Don Kenney of Covington, GA.

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  7. Dolphin Member

    From the SCM Guide, the median recent auction price paid for one was $125,200, and the high auction price paid was $187K, so I suppose the price for this one from Gullwing isn’t really out of line if most of the unique bits are still with the car as Ray pointed out.

    Gullwing has gotten a lot of flack over the years for being a flipper with high prices on dodgy looking cars, but some cars/prices seem in line, maybe like this car.

    Gullwing is in Queens, and being in NYC means a different view on prices than in most other places in No America—mainly a lot higher. You can pay as much for a covered secure parking space there as a lot of people pay for a house in a lot of other places.

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    • Eric Dashman

      Don’t I know, Dolphin. Born in Brooklyn and lived in the Bronx and Forest Hills before moving south to the then cheaper prices and warmer weather.

      I don’t personally have an issue with flippers. They’re saving cars in their own way. If they can make a buck, more power to them. Caveat emptor. It’s only worth what a willing buyer will pay.

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  8. Rustytech Member

    There have been several of these that have showed up a places like Barrett Jackson over the last couple years that we’re completely restored sold for $50 to $60k. If they get asking price for this, someone is going to have a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

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  9. bill

    I had a substantial collection of Specials over the past 40 years.
    All flavors, Race cars and unique sports cars as well.

    These Darin’s, IMHO, were simply the poster child for an over priced Poser.

    NOTHING good about them. Fit and finish – horrible. Add the pedestrian mechanicals and gratuitous styling , you get the “King”s New Clothes” story.

    Someone needs to be the first to comment – King ain’t a wearin’ none….

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    • Mal

      A beautiful car for the right person. A stylish lady or rakish hair dresser.

      I know they had a short racing pedigree, but as a man, I would feel a bit uncomfortable driving it with the top down. -However, would be feeling much better and admiring of the car riding as Nicole’s well-heeled passenger on the way to a dinner date.

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    • Ross W. Lovell

      Greetings All,

      Bill, you might want to put some perspective on that.

      Corvette’s first offering was short on quality, I’ve restored a couple of them. The fiberglass execution was somewhat in its infancy for car people and it showed. Thickness was anything but uniform.

      Only using Corvette as wexample, but others also had teething issues. Sales were so low on the Vette it was in danger of being cancelled. The only thing that saved it was the TBird and Duntov tossing a V8 into the mix. Had the TBird not made its appearance the Vette would have been discontinued.

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  10. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    There is some interesting things about Kaiser.

    Technically this car was sold to the public before Corvette. First year Vettes were not sold directly to the public but to a variety of notables with the hope of talking up the new car of space age plastic. So it would at least appear that Kaiser beat Corvette for first American sports car sold to the public.

    BUT……..Nash-Healey, beat them both by being sold in ’51.

    You can make an argument that any of them are not true sports cars but that is what was offered.

    I hear that Healey fella went on to other things.

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  11. Brad C

    The name ‘Kaiser Darrin’ always makes me imagine a 50s-era German teen pop star. Was für ein Herzensbrecher!

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