Sports cars were new to America in the 1950s and were mostly British. But Darrin was a visionary who correctly predicted there would be a lucrative market for U.S. sports cars. He felt such a car would help Henry J. Kaiser’s faltering auto operation. So he developed a sports car on his own time, with his own money. It had a fiberglass body because Darrin had designed one of the first cars ever built from fiberglass, a slick 1940s convertible.
After finishing his sports car, which utilized a used Henry J chassis, Darrin invited Kaiser and his wife and son to look at the auto in late 1952, when it was nearly ready for display at a Los Angeles auto show. “Dutch, what’s the idea?” Kaiser snapped after seeing at the car.. “Who authorized this? We’re not in the business of building sports cars.” But Kaiser’s new wife (his first had died) saved the day. “Henry,” she said. “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” She told her husband that an automaker should build a variety of models, including a sports car. Kaiser and his son soon agreed. Darrin, of course, quickly explained that he’d built the car on his own time, using his own money. Accustomed to dealing with wealthy, powerful. clients, Darrin immediately delivered a sales pitch for his car that even left Henry J. Kaiser considering a four-passenger version.
Kaiser executives had a hard time finding a name for the new car. Most voted to call it “DKF” for Darrin, Kaiser, Frazer. But Henry J. Kaiser then quietly said he hadn’t voted, which shut everyone up. “We’re calling it the Kaiser-Darrin,” he said, with a wink at Darrin. And that was that.
The stunning 1954 Kaiser-Darrin DKF-161 sports car is one of those rare autos that doesn’t look like anything else, with its long, sleek hood, a small and exquisite “pursed-lips” grille, sliding doors and three-position folding top. The beautifully proportioned two-seater also had tapering rear fenders and large teardrop taillights that smoothly blended with its lines. The grille looked like it “wanted to give you a kiss,” one car designer quipped. Laudau irons let the folding soft top be locked in an intermediate position, leaving the rear section erect for open-air driving without rear drafts.
Besides the “Darrin dip,” the Kaiser-Darrin had long, forward-jutting front fenders to house the Darrin-patented sliding doors he felt were more sensible than regular swing-out doors. (Chrysler minivans would use sliding doors, decades later.) The fiberglass body came from Glasspar, a pioneer in the use of fiberglass for specialized cars.
The Kaiser-Darrin had bucket seats, full sports-car instrumentation and a floor shifter, as did popular foreign sports cars. At $3,668, the car cost a few bucks more than it chief rival, the Corvette, but nearly as much as an entry level Cadillac Series 62 sedan. The price discouraged some potential buyers.
The Kaiser-Darrin’s thickly padded dashboard was an unusual safety feature for the early 1950s, and it was only the second U.S. car (behind Nash) to have seatbelts.
To help his company survive, Henry J. Kaiser bought Willys, another independent automaker, so the Henry J. engine was replaced in the production Kaiser-Darrin by the more powerful, 90-horsepower Willys inline six-cylinder.
Darrin, the first production fiberglass sports car in the USA, beating the Corvette to market by one month. Featured a unique Darrin, the first production fiberglass sports car in the USA, beating the Corvette to market by one month. Featured a unique Darrin, the first production fiberglass sports car in the USA, beating the Corvette to market by one month. Featured a unique ‘pocket door’ design that made the doors slide into the fender of the car. Only 435 were made for the 1954 model year. Acceleration was lively enough for the time with the standard three-speed manual overdrive transmission because the car only weighed 2,75 pounds. And it delivered 30 mpg. But the Kaiser-Darrin was more of a stylish cruiser than an outright sports car, with plenty of luggage space and it could hit nearly 100 mph.
- 3 Speed Manual Transmission with Overdrive
- Bumper Guards
- Chrome Wire Wheels
- Cigar Lighter
- Dash Mounted Rearview Mirror
- Dual Horns
- Electric Turn Signals
- Electric Windshield Wipers
- Floor Tunnel Ash Tray
- Landau 3 Way Folding Convertible Top
- Pocket Sliding Doors
- Spare Tire and Jack
- Tinted Windshield
- Wide White Wall Tires