There was a fine line between sports cars and two-seat boulevard cruisers as the 1950’s midpoint approached. The British were exporting tiny, nimble, two-seat sports cars in growing numbers to the United States.
This was the heyday of MG, Austin-Healey, and Triumph. Chevrolet, Ford and upstart Kaiser Motors were about to respond, with their Corvette, Thunderbird and Darrin, none exactly sports cars.
Kaiser’s Darrin was by far the most stylish, but was basically a one-year wonder. The others had staying power. Now Automodello has created its own 1/24 scale resin model of the daring Darrin that once was described as looking like it was trying to kiss someone with its puckered oval nose grille.
Howard “Dutch” Darrin had a long car styling resume, most recently with Packard, before Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph W. Frazer brought him onboard their new Kaiser-Frazer Corp. after World War II. Darrin went on to design a sports car on his own time and with his own funds, then presented it to Kaiser, looking for the company to produce the roadster.
Initially Kaiser was reluctant, but his young wife persuaded him that other U.S. car makers would be offering sports cars, and so should his. She was right, but the Darrin wasn’t what the market wanted, despite its snappy styling.
But the car was underpowered with a 90-horse 2.6-liter inline-6 that was developed by Willys, of Jeep-making fame. The car reportedly did 0-60 mph in an un-amazing 15 seconds. The roadster also sold for $3,668, which was more than a luxurious and speedy Cadillac Series 62.
Kaiser’s car company, unlike his other successful businesses, also was struggling in its battle with more established U.S. car makers. It closed the Toledo plant where just 435 Darrins had been made, in 1954. That small count included 50 that had been damaged by sitting in a snowy Kaiser holding lot. That was the end for Kaiser’s Darrin, but Dutch Darrin took those 50 damaged cars and remade many of them, including adding more powerful engines, and sold them from his Los Angeles showroom for several years.
Certainly the Darrin is unique and Automodello does a fine job of capturing its beautiful and well-proportion profile and small protruding nose’s grille in its resin model.
Plastic car modelers will be happy with its 1/24 scale and the car is handsomely presented in a black cardboard case loaded with protective foam and that flips open for a dramatic display. Two red roofs and the driver’s side door are in plastic packages under the box’s base.
My test model was the milky “Champagne” white version with red interior and roof. It’s absolutely stunning and can be posed with or without the driver’s door and roof(s). While I love the car without a top, the fully deployed red cloth look top creates a more colorful and eye-catching model.
This isn’t your usual 1950s chrome-laden design, the Darrin emphasizes its clean lines and rounded fenders without any tack-on metal. The front and rear bumpers are chrome and the headlight and taillight bezels, plus windshield and that tiny fan-shaped grille. Otherwise only the external trunk hinges and big round hubcaps are reflective.
There are tiny thin side vent windows hanging off the windshield a small Kaiser logo on the side of each fender and trunk, plus the car’s name, Kaiser Darrin in script on the trunk lid.
Inside the dash is nicely detailed and the red seats and floor flocking look great along with the white 2-spoke steering wheel with chrome hub and spokes. A chrome mirror sits atop the hood, which was the style of the time.
The Champagne (white) model with red interior and roofs, lists at $299.95 and 299 are to be made. Three Tribute Editions, in Pine Tint (green), Red Sail and Yellow Satin, will sell for $354.95 each. Just 54 of each color will be made. A Robin Egg Blue version of just 14 models is already sold out.
Vital Stats: 1954 Kaiser Darrin 161
Stock No.: AM24-KAI–DAR