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HomePick of the DayPick of the Day: 1954 Kaiser Darrin, an early icon of American...

Pick of the Day: 1954 Kaiser Darrin, an early icon of American fiberglass

The rare sports car featured pocket doors that ‘disappeared’ into the fenders

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I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Kaiser Darrin.  Sure, it was the first fiberglass sports car introduced to the US, although Chevy Corvette beat it into production, and it has those ultra-cool pocket doors that slide into the front fenders.

And while the styling by the illustrious Howard “Dutch” Darrin is mostly first-rate, I’ve never made peace with that squinty, lemon-sucking little grille.  It hardly looks up to its primary task of keeping the radiator cool.

kaiser

Still, the Kaiser Darrin is a rare and awesome piece of sports car history, with just 435 produced in its single year of production, and the distinctive car remains a sought-after collector’s item.

The Pick of the Day is a 1954 Kaiser Darrin roadster that was restored but has been sidelined for a while and requires recommissioning before heading back out on the road, according to the Astoria, New York, dealer advertising the roadster on ClassicCars.com.

“White with red interior, this particular example is just out of a large collection where it’s been in storage for several years,” the seller says. “The fiberglass is in good condition and the frame is solid. The car was running and driving when parked but is ready for mechanical servicing at this time.”

kaiser

The car appears in the photos with the ad to be in good shape, with a solid-looking body and nice interior.

“This 1954 Kaiser-Darrin Roadster is quite a rare and exciting find wearing an older restoration,” the seller notes. “Beyond the sweeping profile and heart-shaped grille, the fiberglass-bodied Darrin was most famous for its pocket doors that disappeared into the front fenders on sliding tracks.”

Those sliding doors were a signature feature of the Kaiser Darrin, and they eased entry and exit, especially in tight spaces.  Although convenient and undoubtedly cool, pocket doors never caught on with other manufacturers.

kaiser, Pick of the Day: 1954 Kaiser Darrin, an early icon of American fiberglass, ClassicCars.com Journal

Production roadsters were fitted with Kaiser’s sturdy but unexciting straight-6 F-head engine, which displaced 161 cubic inches and delivered 90 horsepower. After production ended, some leftover cars were outfitted by Dutch Darrin with hotter setups, including Cadillac V8s, but this one seems to be in standard trim.

Kaiser Darrins were equipped with either 3-speed manual transmissions, as this one apparently is, or automatics.  Overdrive was optional, but no word in the ad as to whether this car has that desirable feature.  

kaiser, Pick of the Day: 1954 Kaiser Darrin, an early icon of American fiberglass, ClassicCars.com Journal

The seller notes that of the 435 Kaiser Darrins produced, all of the 1954 models made from January through August of that year, an estimated 300 survive, making this “a rare and iconic American sports car.”

“With so few examples left in existence, this great car is sure to command attention,” the seller adds.

The asking price is $79,500, which sounds in line with the value guides and, depending on what the sleek Kaiser Darrin needs to be operational again, could be somewhat of a bargain.

To view this vehicle on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day

Hagerty
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Bob, I grew up in a little suburb in Los Angeles in the 50s. My neighbor had one in their garage. I was probably 10 years old when a neighbor brought one of these home. I thought it must have been delivered by a spaceship. Congrats on such a great piece of auto history.

  2. several errors in this article–well documented that the Kaiser Darrin beat the corvette in coming down a production line..3-speed Borg-Warner transmission w/overdrive was the only transmission –no other option, although a very few were known to be built w/o overdrive for unknow reasons; the engine was a Willys, not a Kaiser

  3. Great article. Kaiser Darrin were a very iconic car. I would have included a photo of the sliding door in mid position or fully open since you focused on that feature. Thanks for the article.

  4. Very elegant and sporty at the same time, “a rare and iconic American sports car.”

    I would have liked to have seen a picture with the top up/on.

    Beautiful car!

  5. I agree on the grille. Beautiful sports car otherwise. I’ve always maintained that using the same grille, only widened to a graceful arch, would be perfect.

  6. This is an early production car – before serial number 50. That’s when the seat upholstery switched from the X stitched type as is on the car, to the later ribbed style. As mentioned previously, the Darrin beat the Corvette to market – by something like three weeks making this the first true fiberglass production sorts car. I own one and I love driving it and taking it to local shows.

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