Car of the Month – July

1954 Kaiser Darrin 161

Specs

  • Body/Chassis – Fiberglass body on steel frame
  • Engine – 161 CID, in-line 6 cylinder
  • Horsepower – 90 hp @ 4200 rpm, 127 ft-lbs of torque @ 1600 rpm
  • Transmission – 3-speed manual w/ overdrive
  • Drive type – Rear wheel
  • Curb Weight – 2176 lbs
  • MSRP price – $3,653.00

Description

In November of 1952, the Kaiser Darrin 161 (named for its designer and the cubic-inch displacement of its Willys-sourced inline six-cylinder engine) first appeared at the Los Angeles Motorama. It was billed as the “sports car the world has been waiting for” and was shown in prototype form shortly before America’s first major sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette, was unveiled as a fiberglass-body auto show car.

In early 1952, designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin invited Henry J. Kaiser, head of Kaiser Motors, to his Santa Monica shop to present him with an innovative fiberglass-bodied two-seat roadster based on the 100” chassis of Kaiser’s namesake, the Henry J automobile. At first Kaiser scolded Darrin, protesting, “We’re not in the business of building sports cars!” But Kaiser’s wife Alyce was also in attendance, and she sided with Darrin, saying the car was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. So was born the Kaiser Darrin Roadster. It was quite popular with the Hollywood set; both Lucille Ball and Cary Grant drove Kaiser Darrins.

Due to crumbling corporate finances, pending loss of assembly facilities and a freak snowstorm that reportedly ruined 50 of the cars, the Kaiser Darrin 161 was dropped from the Kaiser Motor company’s lineup after a single year on the market. Assembly ended by late summer 1954, with just 435 of the cars produced. It is estimated that less than 200 remain.

 

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