My Car Quest

November 19, 2018

Why Didn’t The Sliding Doors Of The Kaiser Darrin Catch On?

by Mike –

Kaiser Motors

Kaiser Motors was formed in 1945 as Kaiser-Frazer. They changed the company name to Kaiser Motors and merged with Willys Overland in 1953 and changed the name again to Willys Motors Incorporated.

Kaiser Darrin

The company name was changed one more time in 1963 to Kaiser Jeep Corporation (the Jeep brand came along with the Willys merger).

Kaiser Darrin

They were sold to American Motors in 1969 and in 1987 American Motors was acquired by Chrysler which today continues to make the Jeep. What a complex and confusing history and I haven’t even mentioned Renault, Daimler-Benz, Fiat or the US government.

Kaiser Darrin

Kaiser Darrin

The Kaiser Darrin is a beautiful fiberglass bodied convertible two-seater with very unique doors that glide forward inside the front fenders. It was the first fiberglass bodied sports car beating the Chevrolet Corvette to market by just a few weeks.

Kaiser Darrin

Henry Kaiser initially did not like the design of the Darrin (by designer Howard ‘Dutch’ Darrin) but eventually agreed to produce the small roadster at the request of his wife, who loved the car. Kaiser even named the car after the designer.

Kaiser Darrin

The Darrin roadster was targeted at the young and stylish car buyer unlike the other Kaiser models.

Kaiser Darrin

The Sliding Door – Open

Kaiser Darrin

The Sliding Door – Closing

Kaiser Darrin

The Sliding Door – Closed

Sliding Doors

Dutch Darrin was fascinated with sliding doors rather than normal swing-out doors. With the Darrin sliding doors hitting the curb, or another car, with the door was a problem of the past and the Darrin was easier to get in and out of than other cars, at least in a tight spot.

Kaiser Darrin interior

The Kaiser Darrin roadster was short-lived, production was stopped after nine months with only 435 examples being made, all in 1954.

The Darrin roadster is a great example of Post-War American design like the Studebaker Avanti and the Corvette.

Kaiser Darrin

Kaiser Darrin wheel

Kaiser Darrin

Kaiser Darrin advertisement

I recommend reading Forgotten Fiberglass for a lot more information on the early days of sports cars especially ones made of fiberglass.

This article was first published in December 2012. Some photos by Michael Menetto.

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Kaiser Darrin logo

Summary
Why Didn't The Sliding Doors Of The Kaiser Darrin Catch On?
Article Name
Why Didn't The Sliding Doors Of The Kaiser Darrin Catch On?
Description
The first fiberglass sports car - not the Corvette but the Kaiser Darrin.
Author

Comments

  1. It’s the most beautiful classic car I’ve ever seen!

  2. The most likely reason it did not catch on is that the doors themselves were unreliable. They would become “dry” along the tracking due to the harsh conditions of driving. The grease would get road dirt and grime in the tracking mechanism and the sliding would not work smoothly. Most Darrin owners (myself included) when they used their cars as drivers, not show cars, would simply treat the car as a roadster and hop it without using the door at all.

    The sliding mechanism also presented some side rigidity issues and cowl shake due to the lacking side structure required for the door hinging and cowl structure.

    Like the gull wing door design, the concept is visually exciting, but the drawbacks negate the value of the novelty on a regular or daily use car. That said, the Darrin still remains one of the prettiest post war car designs and the ONLY 20th century, post war production sports car to carry the designers name as the brand

    • Raffi,
      What car do you/did you have?

      If one replaces the original door slides with ones made form modern-day plastics, the doors operate without any problems.
      I have driven mine 6,000 miles (even in the rain) in the past 5 years without any problems.

      • TT it was a later series car. I think it was in the 287 or so number range. Memory is a bit thin on that one as I bought it in the 1970’s and sold it in the late 1980s. It was candy red with a 4 speed and an Olds V8 engine. Fun car for sure. I often drove it with the doors open!!

  3. I’m fortunate to get in and out of a lot of interesting cars; many of which are rare Italian vintage sports cars. The Kaiser Darrin is not an easy car to enter or exit. The seat and steering wheel position in relation to the door opening make it nearly impossible for a 6’+ adult to get in and out of. I can get in and out of some of these little sports cars easier than the KD…

  4. What did they make the 1952 Corvettes out of then?

  5. imwithstoopid says:

    Boy, how well I remember that car. Every day going to grammar school I would stop and look at a white one parked on the Levitt street on the Near West side of Chicago.

    Looking back it was out of place in that neighborhood. All blue collar except for the politically fixed. Way too expensive for there.

    One of my teachers had a Kaiser Dragon at that time, boy what an interior it had and I believe a leopard skin look hardtop, another had a Ford Crown Vic and another had a Studebaker Starlite Coupe.

    Gee, I had some cool teachers in more than one way. Loved them all, the cars also. Oh, for a while the old man, my stepfather had a Kaiser Traveler, grandfather of hatchbacks about a ’48 – ’49 I believe.

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