In the mid-fifties there was a rush to produce a roadster in America that would rival the British imports. Ford was working on the Thunderbird, GM had their Corvette but a little-known Kaiser beat them to the chase.
Dutch-born Howard Darrin surprised Henry J. Kaiser with a prototype car in 1952. Even though Kaiser wasn’t in the ‘business of building sports cars’, he was persuaded by the roaster’s styling-enough to put into production.
The prototype was full of unusual features and the most distinctive of which was sliding doors that concealed themselves in the front fenders. Darrin had adopted this idea from his original 1946 patent and was probably keen to get the design implemented. They also gave the design overly-extended front fenders which were balanced by Darren with a long rear overhang.
Darrin started with a Henry J chassis and built a prototype body using his own funds. The overall shape of the car was rakish, and Darrin described it as looking “like it wanted to give you a kiss.” The entire body was built from fiberglass and only weighted 300lbs which kept the weight of the whole car to just 987.9 kg (2176 lbs). These were produced at Glaspar, a boat and kitcar specialist from Santa Ana, California.
Priced considerably high at $3668 USD, the Kaiser-Darrin was necessarily equipped with expensive options. These included a three-position canvas top with French landau irons. Inside was a fully pleated interior that could be optionally ordered in leather.
The first production model used the same J chassis with its six-cylinder engine. This 2.6 liter unit was able to produce 125 bhp with a triple carburetor setup and reach 95 mph. Executives at Kaiser called the model ‘DKF 161’ but this never caught on.
When Kaiser-Willys folded in 1955, Darrin outfitted the remaining cars with Cadillac V8s. Having over 300 bhp these were among America’s quickest sports cars. In total 435 Kaiser-Darrin convertibles were built. The last 100 were made with the potent V8 engine. These are the most praised of all Henry J. Kaiser’s automobiles.