Better Know An Orphan: Kaiser-Darrin 161


Occasionally, as the annals of automotive history reveal, an automaker will reach its bony fingers up from a shallow grave to take a few stagger-steps toward greatness, only for corporate interests to lop off its zombie head. Take the Kaiser-Darrin 161, for example. Kasier-Frazer was the last new American car company to produce a large volume of vehicles after WWII, selling over 800,000 between 1946 and 1955. A key acquisition came in 1953, when Kaiser acquired Willy's Overland, which had been hemorrhaging cash to the tune of $35 million a year. With the Jeep brand now under their belt, and huge export potential, the boys at Kaiser focused their attentions on restructuring Jeep, selling off the Willow Run plant to GM, then churning out CJ-5s in Toledo.

This focus, and a rapid turnabout to profitability at Jeep led the company to stop building cars altogether. Willys' last car rolled out in May of '55 and Kaiser's last in June. But just a year earlier, the Kaiser division unveiled the 160 at the 1954 Chicago Auto show. Penned by Howard Darrin, it was a breathtaking sport coupe whose flowing lines were cast in fiberglass. A dramatic set of sliding, pocket doors became its trademark, as did a three-position convertible top. Exhaustive internet trawling failed to uncover another example of this type of design, but for the BMW Z1.

Better Know An Orphan: Kaiser-Darrin 161

If you've seen one of said beauties in person, consider yourself among the lucky. Only 453 were ever built, before the line in Jackson, MI went silent. Had the bigwigs foreseen the ultimate success Chevrolet would have with the infant Corvette, the company's fate may ot have been sealed. Rumors abound regarding a possible post-production run of 50 cars, carried out by Howard Darrin himself. An unknown number were equipped with a McCulloch supercharger, pushing the 161 ci engine to 135 hp. This was the model Motor Trend tested — grudgingly I'm sure — for the April 1954 issue.

What Henry Kaiser Gave Up to Make Jeeps [Interwebs]

Related:
USPS to Offer Stamps Featuring 1950s Classics(?) [Internal]