Q: Dear Greg several months ago, a fellow member of the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club International (KFOCI) forwarded a copy of his hometown Fulton County (Illinois) Shopper from 25 November 2019, containing your Cars We Remember article about the 1954 Kaiser Darrin Sports Car.
One section describes the creation of the Darrin and states only 430 were produced. Actually, 435 were produced and on record by a Darrin Roster Club Member.
At one time 402 were accounted for in whatever condition they were with several never located. However, the number 435 has been documented and many owners did not want their name and address published but did provide data.
The main issue of concern is the ongoing legend of Dutch Darrin buying 50 leftover bodies, installing Cadillac engines and selling them from his Los Angeles dealership. This has been passed around for years in many publications including “The Last Onslaught on Detroit” authored by Richard Landworth, copyright 1975, Princeton Publishing.
You also mentioned Darrin purchased 50 to 100 Darrins from Kaiser which is partially correct as he did finish up the unsold ones and eventually sold them.
However, the most convoluted legend is that Darrin installed Cadillac V8 engines in them as we have never located any of them except for one that a certain lady bought who wanted to race it. Darrin did modify that car to accept a 1954 Cadillac Eldorado V8 engine. Further, “that lady” was supposedly Mrs. Briggs Cunningham who it is said she did race it in New York at several racetracks. This restored Briggs-Cunningham V8 Darrin (No. 368) is on display in Hannibal, Missouri and finished in original white paint. When it was being restored in California, Darrin himself visited the shop and confirmed its authenticity and advised that it was the only one he put a Cadillac engine in as another from his shop has never been seen or reported.
I have been a KFOCI member since 1968 and this V8 legend has been volleyed around for all those years. We have a great historian but I don’t know if he and others feel it not proper to dispute the records of 430 built and the Cadillac V8s, both completely misleading with no verifiable knowledge. I have the same problem with the 1952 to 1955 “Aero” Willys cars I collect. They are accepted in KFOCI since Kaiser-Frazer bought Willys-Overland in April of 1953.
I do not own a Darrin – wish I had bought one and could have, but I do have a 1954 Kaiser “Early” Special four-door sedan and three Willys Aero styled cars with one presentable for show. Thank you. Sincerely, Lew E. Retzer, Kampsville, Illinois, President KFOCI.
A: Well Lew, it looks like we can all finally put to bed that there were 435 1954 Darrins produced and all but one had a Cadillac V8.
I’m glad you took time to send your typewritten letter about your V8 information and the KFOCI that no doubt has the best Darrin records around. As you know already, incorrect information on low production specialty vehicles can many times be very misleading, especially when this “legend” about the Cadillac V8s being installed in up to 100 leftover Darrins started as far back as 1975 with author Landworth. I’d love to know where he got his information although I was unaware of his work on the subject.
Misinformation aside it seems you are more concerned about correcting the V8 inaccuracies that may or may not have begun as far back as 1975.
For the record, I’ve touched on the Darrin many times since I began writing about cars in November of 1973. Back in 2014, I penned an article that appeared nationally in the GateHouse Media newspapers with this sentence: “the Darrin was produced for only one year in 1954 and only 430 Kaiser Darrins were ever built. Rumors have five 1953 pre-production models assembled, although only one pre-production model has even been documented.”
If the info I dug up on the five pre-production models is correct, and when added to the 430 built in ’54 that would equal 435 total when added together.
So, to verify, I called Lew and we spoke for 45 minutes about the Kaiser Darrins but my theory was not to be. Lew is now 84, and is not aware of five pre-production 1953 Darrin models being sold as 1954s. He then explained that the older he gets, the more misleading information he sees on older cars in magazines and the internet. He noted he read an article in a respected classic car magazine recently, and found 10 misleading or incorrect statements.
So, the bottom line is we both enjoyed our chat, and there were indeed 435 1954 Darrin sports cars built, one with a Cadillac V8 that Darrin installed himself. However, other info indicates that there were six other Darrin Cadillac V8s built at a later date, (not necessarily by Darrin) and some raced in SCCA road racing competition, including the wife of Briggs Cunningham in the only official, Dutch Darrin built Cadillac V8.
For info on the Kaiser Frazer club see its homepage at https://kfoci.wildapricot.org/ and thanks again Lew for the letter and most enjoyable phone chat.