Howard 'Dutch' Darrin had designed the first cars for the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation in the mid 1940's, but resigned from the company when they were altered by a 'specialist' hired to prepare the cars for production. Nevertheless, he returned in 1948 to create what eventually became the 1951-1955 Kaiser, only to depart again when the company chose someone else's design for the proposed 'Henry J' compact.
But he was fascinated by the chassis of the Henry J and, at his own expense, he used one to build a prototype two-seater sports car at his studio in California. It's well-proportioned bodywork was constructed of fibreglass and it was fitted with Darrin's own patented sliding doors and a three-positioned hood. A very small shell-shaped grille was positioned centrally between the headlamps.
Henry Kaiser saw it on a visit to Darrin's studio one day and immediately went into a rage, but later relented and said that he had no objection to the car provided that it was called the Kaiser-Darrin. It's official name became the Kaiser-Darrin DKF-161.
As with the original Kaiser-Frazer's and for practical production reasons, there had to be changes to the design. These included raising the front bumper and headlights to regulation height (this was the only modification that Darrin objected to), a one piece windscreen instead of a split screen and separate covers for the hood and boot rather than one large hinged bootlid. The inside of the car would have seatbelts and be offered with vinyl upholstery - the leather of the prototype being offered as an option - and the instruments would be grouped ahead of the driver instead of spread out over the dashboard. The bodies were supplied by 'Glasspar' who made fibreglass boat hulls and kit-car bodies and the engine was an F-head Willys version of the six cylinder unit, but with only one carburettor and 10hp more than standard.
The Kaiser-Darrin's were built at the Kaiser-Frazer 'special projects' plant in Jackson, Michigan. They were advertised in 1952 as 'The sports car the world has been awaiting', but the first cars didnt't reach the showrooms until 1954.
Costing almost as much as a Cadillac, slower than a Chevrolet Corvette and with doors that rattled and didn't slide back fully, the Kaiser-Darrin only sold 435 units before Kaiser-Willys (as the firm was known by that time) stopped making cars.
Darrin fitted some of the left-over cars with 300bhp Cadillac V8 engines.
Close to 400 cars are known to exist.
Source: Reg J. Prosser