Amelia Island | Lot 168

1954 Kaiser-Darrin Roadster



$159,500 USD | Sold

United States | Amelia Island, Florida

8 March 2014

Chassis No.
Body No.
  • Darrin-style Cadillac V-8 engine upgrade
  • Well-engineered suspension and chassis modifications
  • Beautifully restored in original factory colors
  • An American classic with the performance that it deserves

Model KF-161. 230 bhp, 331 cu. in. Cadillac overhead-valve V-8 engine, Getrag T-5 five-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with wishbones and coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 100 in.

The Kaiser-Darrin, designed by the revered Howard “Dutch” Darrin, was America’s first production fiberglass sports car. Its prototype was built before the Corvette, although production did not begin until 1954. Powered by the reliable Willys six-cylinder engine, Darrin’s design became a legend of 1950s motoring, with sweeping front fenders that plunged behind the doors into a “Darrin dip” and a distinctive “rosebud” grille, which, it was commented, always looked like it wanted to give someone a kiss.

Most fascinating of all were Darrin’s beloved “pocket” doors, which slid forward into the front fenders to permit entry and exit. Darrin promoted sliding doors for decades, claiming that, as they did not open into traffic, they were a very safe alternative. They were never an idea that’s time had come. They were the Kaiser-Darrin’s trademark, and they remain its best-remembered feature.

The shame was that the dashing Kaiser-Darrin came at the end of its manufacturer Kaiser-Frazer’s decade-long lifespan. The snazzy Roadster wound up being a one-year-only offering, with only 435 produced. Of these, six were fitted with Cadillac V-8 power by Dutch Darrin himself, at his shop in Santa Monica, California; thus producing a car that had performance to match its jaunty looks.

The car offered here is a Darrin-inspired Cadillac conversion that has been professionally engineered by its present owner to standards much higher than could have been achieved in the 1950s. This car was the 23rd Darrin built, and it was totally disassembled to facilitate the addition of a crossmember to the factory boxed frame, which increased its stiffness. The rear springs were beefed up, and mounted in the chassis is a correct 1954 Cadillac V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor and custom headers, which is mated to a Getrag T-5 five-speed manual transmission through a custom cast-aluminum adapter. The electricals were also upgraded to a 12-volt system.

True knock-off wire wheels were custom-made for the car by Dayton. The body was painted in a original factory color of Pine Tint Green. The upholstery was provided by the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club parts source, and the correct top material, in the same color as the upholstery, was provided by Haartz. The car even comes with a correct jack and hammer, and it still wears its accurate chassis and body tags.

The car has received an outstanding restoration, and it is reported by its owner to be wicked-fast and capable of speeds up to 120 mph. It is, in many ways, the car that the Kaiser-Darrin deserved to be and, thanks to this car’s owner, now is.

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