The Kaiser Darrin – A ‘Shark’ That Bit Off More Than It Could Chew

Kaiser Darrin Roadster
Kaiser Darrin Roadster

The innovative ‘Shark Nosed’ Kaiser Darrin was America’s first all fibreglass production car but the sporty roadster bit off more than it could chew in 1954.

Kaiser Darrin

The Kaiser Darrin or Darrin is a classic American sports car was assembled 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’ fibre-glassed bodied creation, and pretty much a rethink/design and development of the earlier Henry J which was doomed to failure due to an insatiable appetite by Americans for gas-guzzling oversized road destroyers.

Kaiser Darrin Roadster
Kaiser Darrin Roadster

It’s 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 – the respectable 2.6L lump never really cut the mustard against the more spirited counterparts, such as the thoroughbred Triumph TR2.

Darrin Roadster

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 ‘snagging’ halfway between the open and shut stage, leading to a somewhat drafty and potentially unsafe drive home following your shopping jaunts, especially in a 1950s tight-waisted skirt.

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 required skilful and accurate execution, otherwise, the driver found themselves changing gear with a finger or two short of a handshake.

Kaiser Darrin Roadster
Kaiser Darrin Roadster

Overpriced

Stage set and production rolling, the overpriced Darrin hit the ground at a snail’s 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 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 windscreen wipers, tachometer, tinted windscreen and annoying white-walled tyres.

Roadster

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

Design

There is no denying the Kaiser Darrin has oodles of charm and a fair degree of integrity, but strong sales depend on more than those two simple commodities if success is to be achieved on a large scale. Even now, design-wise the car looks a million dollars, with some saying its the best looking classic car they’ve ever seen!

The Darrin 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.

Kaiser Darrin Roadster
Kaiser Darrin Roadster

Another nail in the fibreglass coffin was to be its final swan-song as freak snowstorms battered Toledo in 53-54, with a reported 50 Darrins stored and buried 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.

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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 turns more heads than the average Exorcist.

The Car Stats

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

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

Powertrain
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]

Images courtesy RM Sotheby’s

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