Classic Car Spotlight: Kaiser Darrin

kaiser darrin
Image courtesy of MyCarQuest

There are times when a Classic vehicle needs a spotlight to deliver it’s full potential, this week we look at the legendary and unique ‘Shark Nosed’ Kaiser Darrin.

The Kaiser Darrin or Darrin is a classic American sports car was assembled by by Kaiser Motors, a company born during early August, 1945, as a joint venture between the Henry J. Kaiser Company and Graham-Paige Motors Corporation.

Howard “Dutch” Darrin was the man to blame for this incredibly unique ‘shark nosed’ fiber-glassed bodied creation, and pretty much a rethink / design and development of the earlier Henry J pictured below, which was doomed to failure due to an insatiable appetite by Americans for gas-guzzling over sized road destroyers.

Henry J
Image courtesy By Hugo90

Its not entirely sure exactly how many of the Kaiser Darrin were produced, but 435 seems to be the figure most accurate, with most being shipped after WW2 and purchased within the States, although apparently 6 prototypes were also given floor space at the plant.

If power was one of your desired requirements then make use of that ‘cooling off’ period that never existed in the day, as the respectable 2.6L lump never really cut the mustard against the more spirited counterparts, such as the thoroughbred Triumph TR2.

The Willys Hurricane-6 produced 90 bhp propelled the car to an eye watering top speed of around 95mph, with drivers holding on to their hats as they reached 0-60 in a staggering 15 seconds.

Design Flaws

Design flaws were soon becoming evident, as the classy but bizarre ‘sliding door’ assembly proved far too difficult to enter and exit even for the fittest of society. Some of the doors were even sticking halfway between the open and shut stage, a somewhat drafty and potentially unsafe drive home following your shopping jaunts, especially in a skirt.

Image courtesy HerranderssvenssonOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Although the sliding door system was innovative, the design and functionality left a lot to the imagination. Sliding the door into it’s fully closed position meant careful and accurate execution, otherwise the driver found themselves changing gear with a finger or two short of a handshake.

Image courtesy Ohnoitsjamie (talk · contribs) – San Diego Auto Show, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


Stage set and production rolling, the overpriced Darrin hit the ground at snails pace, leading to lack of sales and further investment to address those inherent design faults that were already beginning to surface.

The car was priced at a staggering $3668, which was significantly higher than than most of its competitors, however as the proud recipient of this timeless classic you did gain the use of some now standard auxiliaries, such as electronic windshield wipers, tachometer, tinted windscreen, windwings and white-walled tyres.

Anticipating some good numbers, Kaiser set a target of 1000 units sold in the first year, when half had not been achieved and stock was piling up quicker than sales were turning over, Kaiser halted production in 1954.


There is no denying the Kaiser Darrin has oodles of charm and a fair degree of integrity, but sales depend upon more than those two lonely commodities. Even now, design wise the car looks a million dollars, with some saying its the best looking classic car they’ve ever seen!

The fiberglass wonder also came in four decent colours of Champagne Lacquer (white), Red Sail Lacquer, Pine Tint Lacquer (green), and Yellow Satin Lacquer, sadly non of which could stand the extreme weather conditions.

Another nail in the fiberglass coffin was to be its final swan-song as freak snow storms battered Toledo in 53-54, with a reported 50 Darrins stored and burried for months on end. Eventually the storms passed and the cars were found in a ruined state and deemed non-saleable by Kaiser, Darrin was having none of it and claimed he had retained the car’s rights, which had been built under licence.

The outcome resulted in a cut-price deal with Darrin buying his ‘own’ cars back and shipping them back to Santa Monica.

An amazing unique vehicle with an outstanding glow to its sad history, which even today causes more stir than a sticky toffee pudding – wherever it’s seen.

The Car Stats

Manufacturer: Kaiser Motors
Production: 1954
Designer: Howard “Dutch” Darrin

Body and chassis
Class: Sports car
Body style: 2-door roadster

Engine: 161 cu in (2.6 L) F-head six cylinder, 90-hp
Transmission: Three-speed manual with overdrive

Tech Spec
Wheelbase: 100.0 in (2,540 mm)
Length: 184.1 in (4,676 mm)[1]

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