A 1954 Kaiser Darrin Roadster price drop is the feature story in the Cars On Line newsletter this weekend. The owner called just before the newsletter came out on Friday afternoon. The drop makes news because most of the Kaiser Darrins changing hands here in the U.S. of late have been going for six figure prices. (Click here to see the ad placed just this week.) The 1954 Kaiser Darrin Roadster is significant to collectors because it has a claim on the label “first American two-seater sports car.”
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 1954 Kaiser Darrin Roadster price drop 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.
Interesting Private Party Sale
The 1954 Kaiser Darrin Roadster price drop happened when a private party in Chicago, Illinois first listed the car for sale for a six figure number earlier in the week. The seller is the second owner, and has had the car for over 50 years. A frame-off restoration was done in 1968. The interior is mostly original and the top is also original. They say it runs strong, the odometer just recently having turned 50,000 miles. She says the chrome is redone and remains mostly very nice. It comes with correct air cleaner and correct color paint and interior with the three-position top and sliding door.
The new price point may be more realistic for this rare collector car because it is estimated to be in a No. 3 condition rather than in show quality condition.
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 again been such a door design ever on a two seater sports car, or any car for that matter.
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 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 the Darrin roadster.