1954 Kaiser-Darrin owned by Arlene Swenson
WHAT MAKES IT INTERESTING
Many American soldiers returned from World War II with sports car fever after driving Britain’s MG and other European marques. Sensing a new market, a host of automakers got on the bandwagon, including General Motors (Corvette), Ford (Thunderbird) and industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, who wanted a two-seat roadster based on his Henry J compact car. He commissioned legendary designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin to create the fiberglass Kaiser-Darrin KF-161, which was first shown to the public in 1952.
The car uses some of Darrin’s best-known design elements, including a dip in the side fender line just before the rear wheels, a landau-style top and doors that open by sliding forward into the front fenders. Reviewers praised the look, but less than 500 were built for one model year as buyers shied away from its high cost and low power. “What makes this car interesting is the doors,” Swenson says of her award-winning ride. “The three-position canvas top is completely concealed under the rear deck when not in use. It has snap-on ‘Isinglass’ curtains, when needed. Notice the custom-styled wire wheels, the interior of top-grain leather matching the car color (‘Yellow Satin’) and the instrument panel dials, which are set in the color-coordinated leather dash.”
HOW LONG SHE’S OWNED IT
She bought it in October 2001 “on a whim.”
WHERE SHE FOUND IT
Swenson bought a photo of a “pretty car with a distinctive design” at a swap meet and later learned it was a Kaiser-Darrin. She handed a blank check to friends attending the vast annual fall classic car meet at Hershey, Pennsylvania, and instructed them to buy a Kaiser if they found one. “It was then transported to my home,” she says, “where -- when it arrived -- family, car friends, neighbors and I celebrated its delivery with enthusiasm, photos and, of course, a party.”
“The car, with 4,761 miles on it, was in excellent condition when I bought it,” Swenson says. “It had been restored a few years earlier by its original owner from Altoona, Pennsylvania. I have put 3,000 miles on the car. It’s easy to maintain.”
TIPS FOR OWNERS
“Join a car club for tech advice and where to find replacement parts,” she advises. “Having an excellent mechanic available, when needed, is a plus.”
“The value of the car is approximately $90,000 and it continues to increase in value,” she says.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“This unique and very rare automobile is the 136th car out of 435 Darrins built,” Swenson says. “I get that ‘magical experience’ feeling when driving in my Kaiser-Darrin. Can you see the smile?”