Kaiser DKF X-161 / Kaiser Darrin
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
Kaiser needed a hero car, something to raise the profile and show it could compete with the best that Ford or GM could produce. It was a huge jump from the more humble Henry-J to this wonderful streamlined 2 door convertible, and had it made serious production it would no doubt have garnered a huge following for the marque.
The Darrin was styled by Santa Monica based Howard 'Dutch' Darrin, who had also created designs for Packard and Studebaker
. Darrin was an electrical engineer who tried (unsuccesfully) to create the first automatic transmission
. He then went on to create an airline, which literally "crashed".
Only then did he turn his attention to the design of automobiles, going on to establish an important coach building business in Paris with fellow American Tom Hibbard. The two would return to the United States before World War 2, with Darrin establishing his design business.
The first "Darrin" iteration for Kaiser was the experimental DKF X-161, which featured a moulded fibreglass body, and sliding (instead of opening) doors, with optional electric windows and roof. There were dual luggage compartments in the rear and under the hood.
Only a handful (approx 6) were produced during 1953
, although Ward's Yearbook reports the total at 62, and a further 435 "production" models being manufactured in 1954. However the serial numbers only went up to 435, and the highest numbered car with a nonstandard serial was suffixed X-8, this likely to identify it as the eighth experimental.
The experimental DKF X-161 differed from the production models in having a split windshield, hand-fitted leather upholstery, full-length decklid, a set of Stewart-Warner gauges spread all the way across the dash, 24-spoke dummy wire wheels, triple carbs, and a lower front fenderline. The last was subsequently raised to meet 48-state headlamp height requirements.
Other changes made before series production included a top well independent of the trunk, separate lids for each, one-piece tinted windshield with a darker band at the top, parking lights (shaped to mimic the grille), a more professional-looking interior with pleated vinyl upholstery (leather cost extra), and a revised dash with gauges clustered on the left and thick crash padding on the right.
Seatbelts were offered - their second appearance on a U.S. car after Nash had dropped them as bad press in 1951
-- and Henry J bumper guards were added. The Darrin was powered by a 90 horsepower 161ci six cylinder engine, and the list price was set at a lofty $3,668, more than a contemporary Cadillac 62 or Lincoln Capri. A $62 heater was the only extra initially listed, though the belts and multi-spoke wire wheel covers were soon added, and Darrin himself designed a sleek GRP accessory hardtop.