Arizona Biltmore
16 - 17 January 2014
Lot 118

1954 Kaiser-Darrin Roadster


$126,500 USD | Sold

United States | Phoenix, Arizona



Chassis No.
  • An outstanding restoration of a landmark American sports car
  • National Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club International Gold winner
  • Beautifully detailed and correct throughout
  • Ready for concours competition

Model KF-161. 90 bhp, 161 cu. in. F-head Willys “Hurricane” inline six-cylinder engine, three-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.

Legend holds that Howard Darrin’s design for a sports car that was built of that new post-war miracle material, fiberglass, did not particularly move industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. Kaiser was a practical sort, and there wasn’t much practical about this sporty Roadster. For his wife, Alyce, it was another story altogether, and in the end, Henry J.’s salesman side gave the lady what she wanted.

The Kaiser-Darrin was America’s first production fiberglass sports car, with its prototype being built before the Corvette, although production did not begin until 1954. It was powered by the reliable Willys six-cylinder engine, and its design became a legend of 1950s motoring, with sweeping front fenders that plunged behind the doors into a “Darrin dip,” a split windshield, 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. These doors were never an idea that’s time had come, but they were 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.

The example offered here has resided in Ontario, Canada, since new, and it was surely one of very few Kaiser-Darrins delivered there; it was acquired several years ago by the consignor from the estate of its original owner. The owner reports that, at the time, the car had been off the road since 1971, accounting for its 19,700 original miles. Needless to say, it was an outstanding, well-preserved basis for the ground-up, nut-and-bolt restoration that followed, in which every part was returned to original condition. As a result, this car, finished in its original Yellow Satin, is one of the most striking and best-restored Kaiser-Darrins in the world.

It has been shown only three times, all at major meets, since completion, including on display at the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s this July. At the 50th anniversary of the Antique & Classic Car Club of Canada Concours in 2012, it was awarded Best in Show, and at the August 2013 National Convention of the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club International, it was awarded Gold honors. The owner notes that, even after these successes, any minor deficiencies noted in judging have since been corrected, including such tiny details as correct tags for the seatbelts! Even the original landau top and side curtains have been fully restored and are included, along with an owner’s manual and the identification card given to the original owner.

This is, simply put, one of the best remaining examples of the fascinating, fabulous Kaiser-Darrin, and it is finished to utterly perfectionist concours standards.