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Rare Survivor: 1954 Kaiser Darrin

It is common for manufacturers to release “halo” models to entice potential buyers into their showrooms. Some of these endeavors are successful, while others don’t achieve their intended goal. The 1954 Kaiser Darrin is an example of the latter, but its lack of sales success was not due to it being a poor car. It can be attributed, in large part, to the ongoing development and production delays that resulted in it hitting the market after Chevrolet’s new Corvette. This Darrin is a survivor that has been part of the same family since the early 1970s. Its condition is excellent, but lifting its presentation would be straightforward for an enthusiast seeking perfection. The seller has listed it here on eBay in Orange, California. They have set a BIN figure for this Kaiser of $64,500.

Kaiser was like many small vehicle manufacturers in post-war America. It struggled against the mite of the Big Three, lacking the financial resources to compete head-on with their latest offerings. However, that didn’t prevent the company from producing interesting, quirky vehicles. The problem was that sales volumes often occupied that uncomfortable region between “not very many” and “none at all.” Kaiser developed the Kaiser to draw buyers into showrooms, hoping those people might hand over the cash for almost any car within its model range. It suffered production delays, meaning its release was far later than the company intended. The Darrin graced showroom floors for one year before Kaiser lowered the curtain on its bold experiment. This Darrin was ordered in Jade Tint and has been in the same family since the 1970s. They liberated it from museum existence, but it is unclear whether it has ever been restored. The paint retains a respectable shine with no significant flaws or imperfections. Panel rust is not an issue because one characteristic the Darrin shares with the Corvette is a fiberglass body. That makes the frame’s state critical, but the underside shots confirm it is structurally sound and rust-free. The chrome is in good order, and there are no obvious glass problems. One quirky feature of the Darrin is its doors. They aren’t mounted on traditional hinges, but as seen in this shot, they slide on runners into the front fender wells. It is a welcome feature in cramped parking spaces, but owners must ensure the runners are kept clean to operate correctly.

Kaiser marketed the Darrin as a sports car, and its interior appointments reflect that approach. It is a two-seater with bucket seats, a floor-mounted shifter, and a gauge cluster with a large tachometer for those who want to “take it to the max.” The overall condition is tidy and consistent with the car’s survivor status. There are no rips or tears in the upholstered surfaces or significant carpet wear. The dash looks clean and tidy, and the lack of UV damage suggests its owners have protected it from the Californian sun. There is stretching on the seat bases, but nothing that renders them unserviceable.

Kaiser’s plans for the Darrin included bolting in a V8 engine it had in the development stage. However, it didn’t have the funds or resources to produce that engine, and a supply deal with Oldsmobile failed due to cost issues. Therefore, the company updated its 161ci six, backed by a four-speed manual transmission. Power and torque outputs were a modest 90hp and 127 ft/lbs, with both figures far lower than buyers received with the new Corvette. Performance suffered as a result, with the Darrin covering the ¼-mile in 19.8 seconds, while the Corvette completed the journey in 18.1 seconds. The seller doesn’t specifically state that this classic is numbers-matching, although the word “original” in their listing suggests it is. They provide no information on how it runs or drives, but the visual indications suggest the news should be positive.

Halo models are the equivalent of bait for those who enjoy fishing. They are typically not a complete meal but are designed to draw in buyers to land a sale. The 1954 Kaiser Darrin was one such car, although it didn’t achieve its aim. The company ended production after one year, with only 435 vehicles rolling off the line. That makes these relatively rare gems, and finding one in the market is challenging. This car isn’t perfect, but its solid nature and lack of significant issues make it ideal for someone seeking a genuine survivor. The price isn’t pocket change, but it is realistic compared to recent sales results. I doubt the seller will be flooded with inquiries, but I believe it will find a new home.

Comments

  1. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    I know it seems pretty basic to us many years later, how a company, Kaiser, no less, couldn’t justify spending money on a V8, when it probably would have made the car more attractive, of which this car was not. I suppose, being a European knockoff, the company probably thought this would be successful. The 6 was the old Hurricane, and not a twin cam European marvel, in keeping pace with Nash-Healey and Corvette. While we all know where sports cars went with V8s, they had no way of knowing and this was the best they came up with. Seems to me, the doors had more engineering. Swing and a miss, for sure.

    Like 6
  2. Avatar photo Howie

    This seems like a fair price, i have seen a few, and i always say super cool but on the small side.

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo Timothy Smith

      this is in need of a total restoration. Wrong color interior and the exterior would have been Pine Tint Green. Clearly was poorly painted as the paint is on the door weather stripping. I doubt this was an original green car and none of them came with white interiors. Plan on doubling the cost with a good quality restoration but at least it is all there, even the water tube running along side of valve cover looks to be in salvageable condition. As long as you have the parts and the money to refurbish all of it, it may be a good investment but plan on 12-18 months of check writing to get there.

      Like 1
      • Avatar photo Brian F

        I haven’t seen this car in person… yet. I might run down and look at it this weekend since I know where this dealer is located — it’s in the same building as CW Moss — an early Ford parts supplier.

        Every car I have looked at within this dealership sounded great and looked good in pictures. Yet, the reality rarely measures up to the hype.

        As stated above, this is one that I think potential buyers should go inspect in person and expect to have to make several corrections to make it right.

        For what it is worth, there is another Kaiser Darrin – a stunningly restored example in bright yellow – that resides in Irvine. I see it being driven on the road every once in a while… probably heading to a CnC nearby.

        Like 0
  3. Avatar photo Chris Cornetto

    I knew a guy with one of these long ago.He paid 4k for it, took it all apart and then sold for next to nothing.The door design was way cool to me. I probably should have bought it but I knew nothing about these and his car was a pile of pieces equivalent to a 50,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

    Like 6
  4. Avatar photo Gary

    Tiny little Kaiser WAS a contender for Corvette. Both had 6 cyl engines < 2 seconds apart in acceleration. Gee-wiz doors and one of the 1st fiberglass bodies that looked more refined and nicer taillights.

    Like 7
  5. Avatar photo Eric_13cars Member

    This is clearly not a ‘barn find’ nor is it really a ‘driver’. This is a museum piece. The Savoy Museum in Georgia (north of Atlanta) has one. You shouldn’t drive this, in my opinion. It’s a display item as a piece of history.

    Like 1
  6. Avatar photo Kurt Member

    I saw a great example of one of these in the TV series, “Man in the High Castle”. Intriguing. Very rare.

    Like 4
  7. Avatar photo Duaney

    Few corrections, the color is “Pine Tint” The transmission is a 3 speed with overdrive. Kaiser deserves much credit for actually putting the car into production. Also, any Kaiser Darrin in a car show attracts tons of attention, so if you like to be noticed, the Darrin is your car.

    Like 4
  8. Avatar photo Bunky

    Very cool car. I’ll just say- not my favorite color.
    Adam, I believe you meant to say “might” of the Big 3.
    Mite 🕷
    Might 💪🏻

    Like 1
  9. Avatar photo Tiger66

    “Performance suffered as a result, with the Darrin covering the ¼-mile in 19.8 seconds.”

    (simulation ©automobile-catalog.com)

    These cars weighed only about 2,200 pounds and with a more powerful engine would have been quite quick. Howard “Dutch” Darrin, its designer, bought 100 unfinished cars when production ended and retrofitted them with superchargers or in rare instances a Cadillac V8. With the Caddy motor 0-60 reportedly was under 7 seconds.

    Like 2
  10. Avatar photo Bob

    Saw a few Darrins at a Kaiser show in Nappanee Indiana about 10 years ago at a Dutch restaurant known for big car shows.
    This guy had a few of them and one that totally blew my mind was one he displayed that looked totally stock,albeit, it had a 502 Chevy big block stuffed in it lol.
    Asked him how he did it, took the body off of the modified frame and dropped the stock body on it !!
    He also had one that wars built as a drag car that had a tilted up total body for display.
    Talk about radical lol..

    Like 1
  11. Avatar photo sign guy

    Big booty!

    Like 0
  12. Avatar photo Richard B Kirschenbaum

    The one thing innovators and visionaries with sliding or disappearing doors like J

    The one thing innovators like Kaiser or JATECH ignore after half solving the
    tight slot parking issue is the car next to you is piloted by a nit wit who will likely clock your gorgeous Darrin or Mark 8 Lincoln amidships with the edge of his door leaving a thousand dollar scar on your paint and sheet, metal. The only way to avoit this is to park in the far-out hinterlands where nobody else does, Prolific door dingers can do ten thousand dollars of damage a year and still be clueless as to why they are destined for eternal damnation. after their demise hopefully at the hands of a victim car’s owner,

    Like 0
  13. Avatar photo Lance

    Pretty sure the same fabricator of fibreglass bodies for the early corvette was the same maker of the Darrin bodied sports cars for K-F

    Like 0
  14. Avatar photo Kurt Meyer

    For me collectiable cars must have some availabilty of OEM or at least after market parts. Also, they must be at least Sunday driveable. I’d just as soon hang a photograph of the rarest, most beautiful car on the wall as owing one that I can’t get parts for (I don’t have Jay Leno’s deep pockets). I look for cars that I think might become collectable and have plenty of parts available and are currently affordable.

    Like 0

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