Only 435 Built! 1954 Kaiser Darrin

Have you ever seen one of these? I’ve only seen one up-close-and-personal at Das Awkscht Fescht, the big antique and classic car show held each August in Macungie, PA. It was white with a red interior just like this one. I remember being impressed at how low-slung it was and its flowing lines with those unique sliding doors. Darrins don’t change hands very often because only a handful were made (435) and it’s estimated somewhere between 200–300 are still around today. This rare roadster (with the unique small grille described as “looking like it wants to give you a kiss”) is currently in Astoria, New York and is for sale here on eBay for $79.500 (or make an offer). A big TY to TJ for giving us a heads-up on this one.

About all we’re told from the seller is that this Darrin is just out of a collection where it’s been in storage for several years and that it’s wearing an older restoration. For those not familiar with the Darrin, it’s named after its creator, freelance auto stylist Howard “Dutch” Darrin. He had a history with Henry J. Kaiser, having designed the 1947 Kaiser-Frazier and 1951 Kaiser automobiles, and he pitched his idea of a luxury sports roadster in an effort to help the floundering Kaiser Motor Corporation. Darrin was a visionary and predicted America would soon be building sports cars to compete with the Jaguars and Austin-Healeys. The fiberglass body (the first American car built with a fiberglass body, beating Corvette by a month) is said to be in good condition and the frame is described as solid. Darrins only came in four colors with upscale 50’s names: Pine Tint (light green), Red Sail, Yellow Satin, and Champagne, an off-white. Based on the photos, the body appears to be in very good shape and all there. I’m assuming that whenever the Darrin was restored, it was repainted. There are no photos or mention of the condition of the innovative three-position convertible top.

You see more photos of the Darrin’s unique front-end styling than its interior, but it’s a very inviting 50’s red-and-white themed cabin that’s in like new condition. I like the dash layout and its padded dash was an unusual safety feature at the time. You can see the Darrin’s famous (and patented) sliding front doors which slide on tracks into the front fenders.

The Darrin’s fiberglass body was mounted onto an existing Henry J chassis. Although its creator envisioned a more powerful engine, Darrins had no choice but to use the 161-cubic-inch Willy’s F-head inline-six that generated only 90 horsepower. (Kaiser had just purchased Willys-Overland and the Willys inline-six was larger than the Henry J’s powerplant.) Darrins were paired with a 3-speed manual transmission with overdrive. The engine bay looks good and tidy like the rest of the car and there’s no mention of any rebuilds. The seller states that “The car was running and driving when parked but is ready for mechanical servicing at this time.”

Darrins are unique and somewhat overlooked roadsters. Kaiser Motor Company had to pull the plug on the Darrin in the summer of 1954. The company was struggling financially and it’s reported that they lost money with each car. Darrins were also expensive. Their nearly $4,000 price tag in 1954 was more than the Corvette and getting into Cadillac territory. And 68 years later, they’re still expensive. Restored examples regularly fetch six-figure prices at auctions. Hagerty’s currently values a Darrin in #2 Excellent condition at $117,000, a #3 Good is valued at $87,500.

Comments

  1. Denny N. Member

    I, too, have only seen one of these. It was sitting, prominently displayed, in front of the local Chevy dealer in the late 50s.

    Mechanical parts should be relatively easy to get as the Willys Aero chassis supplied most of the parts.

    Like 3
  2. angliagt angliagt Member

    I remember seeing one of these going down the road
    in the mid-’70’s in Kalispell,Montana.I didn’t know what it was
    back then,but definitely remember the sliding doors.

    Like 3
  3. Gary

    I know one of these hidden away in a barn up by harrison/gladwin,MI….i tried buying it in the 80s…..far as i know its still there along with a Turbo Corvair and some Studebakers………….theres also one in Chelsea mich that gets driven……..ill see it this friday at their yearly Car show……..they are great looking cars to me

    Like 5
  4. Joe Haska

    I know these are very rare, however I have seen several over the years at various Car Shows. They are very interesting and as time goes on I have grown to appreciate them more. All the owners have had a true appreciation for them.

    Like 1
  5. luke arnott Member

    There is one in the UK -came to a show a couple of weeks back at Blenheim Palace.
    They did not sell so Darrin bought several and fitted Cadillac engines.None survive.It was marketed as “The Sports Car The World Has Been Waiting For”.

    Like 1
  6. Big Time Charlie

    When I was a University of Colorado student in the sixties there was one parked on Broadway for sale for $100. Woulda coulda shoulda.

    Like 3
  7. ChasG

    Here in Morris County, NJ there used to be 3, a white and 2 yellows. I understand the owner of the white one moved to Florida and took it with him. Of the 2 yellows, one is in beautiful condition, (saw it again this past Father’s Day) and the other is a “runner” in the most liberal sense of the word. I’ve told other car vintage car fans about this and they are as amazed as Ron is.
    One year on Father’s Day both yellows were among the stars of the show.
    I couldn’t get over the sliding doors when I first saw one in person!

  8. Gordo

    Just a little more ugly than the Nash Healey also in this edition of BF!

    Like 1
  9. Richard nepon

    Was a junkyard outside Allentown PA that was mostly corvair, but he had one of these. Walt’s if I remember. Think it’s been cleared and built on, now.

  10. Howie

    I have seen a couple of these, yes very cool but a bit on the small side. A must do is check out the sellers other items, 165 vehicles, like a online car show.

    Like 3
  11. Doone

    There’s one regularly shown in Long Branch NJ, same colors. Last time I saw it there was a 4 sale sign on it for about the same asking price as this one.

  12. Fred W

    Online info is all over the map on this one. One site (supercars.net) says the last 100 cars produced were V8 powered.

  13. Bob G.

    I have seen a number at auto shows with V8s replacing the original engine. They are nice looking cars. The doors were a clever design and, from what owners say, quite reliable.

  14. Ron

    Saw one of these sitting on the side of a garage back in 65 while stationed at NAS Cecil Field.

  15. Gordo
  16. Bill D

    They used one of these in The Man In the High Castle because they looked so retro-deco and yet unfamiliar.

    Like 1
  17. Ike Onick

    I always preferred the “Bobby” Darrin. Astoria, NY = Gullwing Motors.

  18. Brian Weyeneth

    A friend of mine has one and is looking to sell. Turquoise and white. Beautiful.

  19. Puhnto

    I remember seeing them in the showroom when they were new! My dad wanted one really bad but it wasn’t much of a family car. We looked at them a lot anyway!

  20. DON

    I finally got to see one a couple of years ago at a local car show. It was pale green ( like the walls in our high school) .Never saw the owner, but I didnt see any trailers, so he must have driven it in

  21. chrlsful

    nother winner to me.

    Those 2 shots – the interior & 3/4 side/back view really show it off. The frnt pic (frenched hdlghts, pecular grill) are the 1950s notes in the symphony…

    Might be wild w/the caddy bent8, eh?

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