Contrary to what many might think, the first fiberglass-bodied American sports car was not the Corvette, it was the Kaiser-Darrin. The car was first announced on September 26, 1952 and initial prototypes were shown on February 22, 1953. Due to managerial changes involving the merger with Willys, the Kaiser-Darrin was finally released for public sales on January 6, 1954.
The 1954 Kaiser-Darrin
The Kaiser-Darrin was designed by Howard “Dutch” Darrin in his California design studio. The car was designed to use the Kaiser 100-inch long Henry J chassis fitted with a rather low horsepower Willys side-valve engine. The 161 cubic inch 6-cylinder in-line side-valve engine produced 90 horsepower. It was only due to the rather low vehicle weight of about 2,200 pounds that the car was able to set a 0 to 60 mph time of about 15.1 seconds. The top speed was just a little less than 100 miles per hour.
The 1954 Kaiser-Darrin Had a Distinctive Design
The 1954 Kaiser-Darrin had a three-speed manual transmission which could be augmented by an optional overdrive or the buyers could opt for an automatic transmission.
The Interior of the Kaiser-Darrin is Quite Attractive
Perhaps due to the high cost, these cars did not sell very well. As a result only a total of 435 Kaiser-Darrin cars were made. Eventually the car’s designer, Howard Darrin, wound up purchasing about 100 leftover vehicles and then fitted some of these with Cadillac V8 engines, which vastly improved the performance. The Cadillac-powered Kaiser-Darrin cars will reach a top speed of 140 miles per hour. It turns out that this particular Kaiser-Darrin has a modern 304 cubic inch AMC V8 engine which was installed at sometime in the past.
The Front Grille of the Kaiser-Darrin Is Small Relative to the Car’s Frontal Area
The most original design feature of the Kaiser-Darrin is the unique sliding door design. When the doors are opened they slide forward into the front fenders. Just the thing for those tight parking lots or those inconsiderate or just plain stupid drivers that park too close. I did read that these doors did have some problems with sticking and rattling, but I don’t know for certain. These doors certainly get your attention.
The Kaiser-Darrin Has Very Unique Sliding Doors
Another interesting styling feature of the Kaiser-Darrin is the three-position landau top. It can be completely down, completely up, or at an intermediate position as shown in the above photo.
This Kaiser-Darrin Has a Modern AMC 304 Cubic Inch V8 Engine
The Kaiser-Darrin is a very striking car. The Kaiser management had hoped that the Kaiser-Darrin would turn the company around, but alas it did not.