1954 Kaiser-Darrin

Keen admirers would say that the front "always looked like it wanted to give you a kiss." See more classic car pictures.

The 1954 Kaiser-Darrin classic car had a checkered history, according to its legendary creator, Howard "Dutch" Darrin.

"By 1952 I'd become thoroughly fed up with the orange juicers at Willow Run," he recalled. "Since the 1951 Kaiser, they'd done everything against my judgment and wishes. I decided to head back to my shop in Santa Monica, where I could create what I wanted without interference."

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Darrin was a legendary custom coach-builder and the only U.S. designer to get his name on a postwar production car. He was a friend of the famous, confidant of Hollywood celebrities, and perennial gadfly of Detroit styling studios.

It wasn't his first such experience. Dutch was involved with Kaiser-Frazer from the beginning, but each contact had ended in his angry departure. In 1945 he created the new firm's first design, for Joe Frazer's Graham-Paige, then walked out when he saw the slab-sided production Kaiser and Frazer.

In 1948 he returned to create the new 1951 Kaiser, only to leave again when the engineers made some changes. This time, he told himself, things were going to be different.

The 1954 Kaiser-Darrin was one of the last cars created by a single, gifted individual, a radical statement by a famous visionary. Both technically and historically, therefore, it remains unique and well worth your attention -- if you can find one. Circumstances made that rare even in 1954.

K-F's Darrin-prototype press photo shows split windshield, guardless bumpers, and no parking lights.

Always a forward thinker, Darrin became attracted to the design and cost benefits of glass-reinforced plastic right after the war and built a GRP prototype to demonstrate its potential. His theories were borne out in 1950, when the Glasspar Company was founded to build boat and, later, car bodies.

In fact, Glasspar clothed the first fiberglass "production" car, the two-seat Woodill Wildfire of 1952 (usually sold in kit form), as well as the sporting Kaiser.

"The car was an outgrowth of the frustration caused by the Henry J project," Darrin said in 1972. "I realized that its chassis deserved something better than it had received . . . I decided to make a sports car using the Henry J chassis -- without the authorization and knowledge of the Kaiser organization, but spending my own money . . . I built the clay model during the first half of 1952. My son Bob helped, and was responsible for its excellent surface development. This clay was followed by a running prototype."

To learn about the features of the 1954 Kaiser-Darrin, including its unique sliding doors, continue on to the next page.

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