The ’54 Kaiser Darrin is Your Classic Corvette Alternative
Mention the words “classic American two-seater” and most minds will immediately recall the shapely Chevrolet Corvette and the iconic Ford Thunderbird. Both cars have lived long and storied lives. Both names are forever engrained in American car culture. But there was another American two-seater, albeit a short-lived one, that arrived on the scene at around the same time—the Kaiser Darrin. Though often times forgotten, the Darrin actually debuted in 1952, predating the reveal of the '53 Chevrolet Corvette by a few months. Its production was to be a short run, though despite this, its story is nevertheless an important one. RELATED: Take a Closer Look at the Stunning '55 Ford Thunderbird
The Kaiser Darrin—officially the “Kaiser Darrin 161”—was born in 1954 to Kaiser Motors (née Kaiser-Frazer), which had been one of the breakout stars in the U.S. automotive industry following World War II. While the Big Three had restarted production of pre-war cars in 1945, Kaiser had made an auspicious start with new models and stylish designs.
By the early 1950s however, over-production of vehicles and a resurgence from the Big Three cast serious doubts on Kaiser’s health. In a bid to reclaim some of its lost flair, Kaiser turned to California designer and coachbuilder Howard “Dutch” Darrin and requested a special two-seat roadster be designed. His eponymous creation is what you see above, and it presented an impactful front end, smooth body lines, and a then-radical fiberglass body. The doors? Those “pocket doors” slide into the front of the car…not out.
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Production of the Kaiser Darrin began in late 1953 (the Corvette did beat it to the production punch), but with a number of corporate issues underfoot and an original price tag of $3,655—the Darrin was slow to sell. Some would say it was simply “slow” altogether. Though the fiberglass sportster only weighed 2,175 pounds, its locomotion was tasked on a 90 horsepower Willys six-cylinder and three-speed manual. By comparison, the ’53 Chevrolet Corvette wielded 150 horsepower out of the gate.
Sadly the Darrin’s future was sealed by the time it went on sale and as a result only 435 were sold in 1954. Kaiser’s U.S. passenger vehicle production ended a year later in 1955. Interestingly, after the Darrin was put on ice, Howard Darrin bought up 50 of the remaining unsold cars and ended up selling them through his own California dealership through 1957, many of which were supercharged and tuned-up.
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Expectedly this tiny allotment of original cars makes these quite uncommon on today’s market, and recently values have shot up. Hagerty Insurance values average Kaiser Darrin examples at around $103,000. Fancy this one? It recently arrived on eBay, and its restoration is said to be about 10 years old.
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