So, what was America’s first two-seater sports car? Was it the Chevrolet Corvette … or the Kaiser Darrin? There has been a controversy over which of these cars was America’s first ever since the early 1950’s. As we were researching the rarest 1954 Kaiser Darrin Roadster we came across the answer to this controversy.
A prototype of the Kaiser Darrin was introduced in September of 1952 at the Los Angeles Motorama. That was a full two months before GM introduced the 1953 Corvette. The Kaiser Darrin was well received at the New York Auto Show in 1953, so Kaiser Motors announced that it would be available by that fall, which would have beaten Chevrolet’s Corvette to market. However, the Darrin was stalled in production until January of 1954. Yes, the Corvette actually beat it into production by a hair.
The 1954 Kaiser Darrin Roadster you see here is being offered for sale at Brighton Motorsports of Scottsdale, Arizona. It is one of only 25 such Darrins that came from the factory with the Yellow Satin exterior paint and white interior. It has furthermore been given a factory spec contrasting green hardtop during the restoration. According to Brighton Motorsports, the 2.6L 161 ci F-head 6-cylinder engine was given a period correct McCulloch Supercharger as a finishing touch for the restoration. They say they used a factory supercharged car to replicate the Kaiser supercharger. Kaiser automotive designer, Howard “Dutch” Darrin had retrofitted a number of the Darrins with the supercharged version of the Kaiser engine. This car represents the fulfillment of Darrin’s plans for his “dream car design.”
This car being offered by Brighton Motorsports has a 3-speed manual transmission with overdrive and is said to have low miles.
When the 1954 Kaiser Darrin did finally come to market in January of that year, it was considered to have been underpowered with the Willys Hurricane F-head motor. The whole body was made of fiberglass from Kaiser, with hood, doors, and trunk lid provided by Glaspar Boat Company. The body was fitted to a modified Kaiser Henry J chassis.
The 1954 Kaiser Darrin Roadster was model KF-161 in the Kaiser Motors lineup. It came from the factory with extras such as a tachometer, three-position convertible top and tinted windshield. But the salient feature on the Kaiser Darrin was what Darrin called the “pocket door,” which slid into the front fender on a track, thus disappearing into the fender to allow entrance. There has never been such a door design ever on a two seater sports car, or any car for that matter.
The actual number of Kaiser Darrins sold was recorded as 435, not including the six prototypes. However they say that 50 Kaiser Darrins sustained damage during winter storage at the Willys paint plant. These cars were said to have been purchased by Dutch Darrin himself and retrofitted at his Santa Monica, California shop. Some of them were given superchargers like the one you’ll find on this car.
What probably deterred the public from buying the Kaiser Darrin was its price. The car sold for $3,668, more expensive than a full sized Cadillac that year. Kaiser Motors was running into financial problems which forced the company to discontinue production on he Darrin roadster.