Some cars cross boundary lines, doomed to failure by both shrinking budgets and poor management. One such example is the 1954 Kaiser Darrin 161, a fiberglass convertible sports car powered by an inline six-cylinder engine that made its public debut before the Chevrolet Corvette, but hit dealerships after the launch of the less-expensive Corvette. Named for its designer, Howard “Dutch” Darrin, the two-seater boasted a nylon top that could be positioned in an up, down, or landau (partially open) configuration, and doors that slid into the front fenders instead of opening outward.
Built on Dutch Darrin’s own time and with his own money, the Kaiser Darrin was initially rejected by company head Henry J. Kaiser, who was infuriated that Darrin would waste his efforts on such a frivolous project. When Kaiser’s new wife expressed her affinity for the stylish roadster (reportedly calling it, “the most beautiful thing I have ever seen”), Kaiser’s position on the car changed, and the Darrin was given the go-ahead for production. Timing can be all-important, and in the case of the Kaiser Darrin, timing was not on the car’s side. Kaiser’s merger with Willys-Overland delayed production and strained the company’s finances, and by the time the Darrin hit dealerships it was seen as too big a gamble by a skeptical public. Production lasted a single year, and only 435 examples were built.
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