My Car Quest

June 20, 2024

Why Didn’t the Sliding Doors of the Kaiser Darrin Catch On?

From the Wayback Machine all the way to December 2012. This is an interesting subject about a timeless, unique American car.

Mike Gulett, Editor

by Mike Gulett –

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, now Stellantis North America, officially FCA US, LLC. 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. And no worries about door dings when opening and closing these doors.

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 Undiscovered Classics for more information on the early days of sports cars especially ones made of fiberglass.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Kaiser Darrin logo

Photos by Michael Menetto and Mike Gulett.

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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 Kaiser Darrin is a beautiful fiberglass bodied convertible two-seater with very unique doors that glide forward inside the front fenders.
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Comments

  1. Ken Phillips says

    I had a ride in one at the earliest in 1953 or 1954. Kaiser had a car sent to my father . It had a supercharged engine. Compared to the normal 1953 cars it was a shock . I thought then and now it looked swell.

  2. I wonder what made Darrin flare the front and rear ends outward so much.

    Could it be because he was determined to include three key design elements of the car? Those elements are the sliding doors which necessitate long front fenders, and the small, protruding, grill area on the front that appears to extend beyond the headlights, and the tail lights that that appear to extend beyond the trunk lid so far they would likely have been easily damaged when parallel parking (by the driver as well as drivers of other cars) or when backing in or pulling up to other cars, buildings, etc.

    Or, was fiberglass technology so new that no one could come up with a better method of maintaining a clean looking design for mounting bumpers that extend so far out from main body of the car?

    That’s a lot of “dead” space in front of the radiator, and the trunk opening is so far forward of the bumper it would be very difficult to reach that far forward to load heavy objects without damaging the fiberglass between the trunk opening and the bumper……and/or kill your back while doing the lifting and reaching.

    Or was Kaiser right about the design no matter what his wife thought?

  3. Alex: Good questions. I have opinions but no answers.
    The flare is accentuated but it makes me think of the Jag XK120, MB 190SL, and BMW 507 of the era with similar large sweeping pontoon-like fenders. I believe the styling cues of the time were going there across many designers, just as the ‘fin wars’ were starting soon after – which also resulted in the ridiculous protruding taillights of the Cadillac and others.

    I recently helped my brother-in-law put a well packed roller-bag into the back of his 1998 Beetle. The trunk reach is no better, believe me. At least it isn’t reaching around a continental spare…

    All said and done, the K-D is easily in my top 50 wishful thinking cars to own.

  4. Ken Phillips says

    The long front like the Jaguar XK 120 Mike mentioned also had an inline 6 cylinder engine although this was the only one I have seen with the supercharger.
    Another difference was the convertible top. It could be Up or Down or 1/2 Up AND 1/2 Down at the same time. The front 1/2 rolled back to the remaining 1/2 still Up supported by long, “Landau”
    curved, chrome outside bars.
    Early 1950s was not that far from the end of WW2. Henery Kiaser had been very important in his part in engineering and coordination of the the manufacturing of the war production including ships.

  5. I once read about a few Kaiser-Darrins that had V-8 engines later installed. Does anyone know of these or heard of these particular examples?

  6. The KF-161 had a Cadillac V-8 installed. I just looked it up myself.

  7. Glenn Scott Krasner says

    Despite its relative rarity, and it’s provenance as being one of America’s first sports cars, these do not fetch high numbers in private sales or at auctions, for some bizarre reason.
    Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  8. WALLACE WYSS says

    If you cover that silly grille with your finger in the picture and imagine a vertical grille all the way down the front end you solve the problem, Maybe like BMW507 or even Studebaker Hawk grille a few years later

    • terry trasatti says

      That “silly grille” is an artistic image of the heart, which is one of the signatures that Dutch incorporates in all of his creations.

  9. Apparently there were six Kaiser Darrin KF-161 Cadillac V8, which were “re-engined with Cadillac Eldorado V-8 units; one of these was reportedly raced” according to – https://www.rmw.lv/car/de/kf-161-cadillac-v8

    Thanks to Bob Wachtel for the tip.

  10. Why Didn’t the Sliding Doors of the Kaiser Darrin Catch On?

    Interestingly enough, no one has offered an explanation, nor an opinion, as to why the horizontal sliding doors did not catch on.
    I’ve always wondered about that, it certainly looks like a good idea. I’m surprised that no other car company, large or small, hasn’t designed one. BMW has a vertically sliding door design, why did they pass on the horizontal sliding door option? And the vertical sliding door looks like a lot more compromise to the structure than the horizontal design.
    My thought is that trying to slide a door with a window could present a practical problem, esp. during inclement weather. Every time the door is slid open the window would first need to roll down, which could be done automatically with electric switches, but there would be a lag time between initiating opening the door and waiting for the power window to completely lower before the door could slide into the fender. Imagine you are in the car, it’s raining and you need to wait for the window to “roll” all the way down before you can slide the door open to exit. The same thing would happen when trying to enter your car, you would need to wait for the window to roll down before sliding the door to enter, then when closing the door again the window could only start to raise once the door is closed, for some amount of seconds that might be too long. It’s not so simple. When you exit or enter the car does the window automatically raise when the door slides closed, even if you prefer it stay open? And how would you raise or lower the window once you are outside of the car. Sure, a key fob would work but it’s still more tedious than a standard door where the window position can be selected w/o concern for the door’s action.

    • Good questions and points, especially regarding the time and inconvenience you’d experience with the opening and closing of the door in inclement weather.
      Also had a fun moment thinking about how this would not be a good “getaway” car for thieves if they didn’t leave the windows down.

    • Mike Miles says

      My dad’s 1967 Lincoln 4-door convertible had the automatic window feature. As soon as the rear door button was depressed the window went down about an inch and a half so it could clear the overhang of the top.
      Of course sliding doors were highly successful in the ubiquitous minivans from the 80s on but as noted earlier its curious that it never surfaced again for a front door AFAIK. No doubt some enterprising custom builders made some one-offs for a hot rod perhaps.
      Did Luigi Colani try it on any of his designs?

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