Kaiser Darrin

This unusual front end belongs to a rare automobile, a 1954 Kaiser Darrin:

1954 Kaiser Darrin (Classic Car Collection, Kearney, Nebraska)

The brochure for this unique machine boasts that it was designed by “Darrin of Paris,” also known as Howard “Dutch” Darrin.  Darrin was an interesting character who flew combat missions over France as a member of the U.S. Air Service during World War I.  He designed luxury automobiles for movie stars like Clark Gable and Errol Flynn, and his gravestone in Santa Monica  simply reads “AUTOMOTIVE ARCHITECT.”  A thoroughly interesting 3-part article about his life was written by Richard Langworth and can be read here.  Although Darrin had some successes designing automobiles, the Kaiser Darrin  wasn’t one of them and only 435 were produced.

The Darrin was a product of the struggling Kaiser Motors Corporation, and it just beat the Corvette to be the first car with a fiberglass body.  It also featured sliding doors that retracted into the front fenders when opened as seen in this picture from the sales brochure:

The grille has been said to look like pursed lips, but I think it looks more like Tweety Bird.  Think about it.

Design preferences aside, the Darrin was not cheap.  It was priced at $3,668 (compared to $2,774 for a Corvette) and, although it cost more, its 90-hp engine was completely out-classed by the Vette’s 150 horses.

Another problem may have been the sales pitch for the Darrin.  This is an excerpt from an article dated February 13, 1954, that featured an interview with a model, Pat Matteson, who had been hired to demonstrate the Darrin at the International Sports Show in New York City:

Cars with plastic bodies are still a mystery to most motorists.  They want to know if the plastic will dent if people lean on it, whether snow will melt the plastic, whether hot water will make a hole in it, or whether insects will become permanently embedded in it.

“No. . .No. . .No. . .No,” says Pat.  “But a motorist can repair a fender dent in the same way he’d patch a tire.  And he can fix it so it doesn’t show.

“If a lady wants to change the color of the plastic body to match her hat, gloves or a new dress, she can do so by spraying on a new paint with a vacuum cleaner.  But it would take her three hours.”

Throwback Thursday: Grille Edition

Advertising for the 1936 Buick described it as  “styled for a party but powered for a thrill.”  The aesthetics were impressive, led by this high grille flanked by torpedo lights on the fenders.

1936 marked the first appearance of well-known Buick names such as Century and Roadmaster.  The Buick was available in the following models: Special (series 40), Century (series 60), Roadmaster (series 80) and Limited (series 90).

The “thrill” for all except the series 40 was provided by a valve-in-head straight-eight 120-hp engine.  Buick bragged that it would go ten to sixty miles an hour in less than 20 seconds.

The 1936 Buick was an unqualified success.  When the new cars began arriving at dealers in 1935, Buick  was aiming at a sales volume of 135,000 for the 1936 program.  According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars, Buick far exceeded that goal with calendar year sales of 164,861.

1929 Silver Anniversary Buick

I found this radiator emblem when I was out junking the other day:

It’s not in the best condition, one end is broken off, but I brought it home anyway because it belongs on a 1929 Buick and you just don’t see them for sale very often.  It would have been on the front of a car like this gorgeous example:

1929 Buick featured at the Classic Car Collection in Kearney.

The ’29 Buick was the Silver Anniversary Buick and, according to the Standard Catalog of American Cars, was the first completely styled by the GM Art and Colour Department.  Incredibly, it was offered in more than 40 color combinations!  The paint colors available had exotic names such as Venetian Blue, Boulevard Maroon and Chermonte Cream.  Fifteen different shades of green were included in the mix with monikers like Scaraba, Pinehurst, Boise and Asheville.

Apparently, GM took this color selection very seriously.  A newspaper article from 1929 stated that, “The choice of colors is not a hit or miss proposition.  When a selection is made it is the result of a careful research that embraces the fashion salons of Europe . . . . . The pleasing harmonies on canvas by famous painters are another source of color ideas.  Even the wings of butterflies, the scintillating hues of rubies, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones furnish the General Motors artists and the Buick engineers ideas on color tones and combinations that are finally transferred to Buick and Marquette cars.”

This article appeared on October 19, 1929, just days before the stock market crash that contributed to the Great Depression.   Sales soon plummeted, and Buick went from focusing on the “fashion salons of Europe” and “the wings of butterflies” to mere survival.

Mystery Light

You know how you sometimes have to buy a whole box of stuff to get that one thing you want at an auction?  That often happens to me, and the result is a whole lot of research to figure out what I have.  Several years ago, I bought one of those boxes, and this light was at the bottom of it:

I had no idea what it was, but it was marked with a part number so at least I had a starting point.  Thanks to an ebay seller in Great Britain, I was finally able to confirm that this light was original to . . . . .  a B-24 Liberator bomber!  How it ended up in a box of old car parts, I have no idea.

My British purchase was a B-24 parts manual.  According to that manual, each part begins with “32” followed by a letter such as “W” for “Wing”.  My light is marked with “32E-1242-2”, and I found it in the Electrical section where it is identified as “lamp assy”.  I also found this picture on the internet:

Photo credit: Wikimedia.org

The B-24 was a heavy bomber that  measured 110 feet from wingtip to wingtip and 67 feet 4 inches from nose to tail.  It had four 1200 hp air-cooled engines and could fly 300 mph and 3000 miles non-stop.  Why is all this being included on an American car history blog?  It actually fits right in because there is a good possibility that my light was manufactured by none other than Henry Ford.  The famed Ford Motor Company assembly line rolled out B-24s from 1942 to 1945.  There is a short film that can be watched here called “The Story of Willow Run” and it goes into detail about this Ford Motor Company contribution to the war effort.

Willow Run was located in Michigan,  west of Detroit near Ypsilanti.  There, Ford built a massive aircraft plant that included an 11-acre warehouse with enough material to build 1,000 B-24s at any one time.  The plant had a production force of as many as 42,000 employees and included a school with hundreds of instructors to teach them how to build the bombers.  Fifty thousand workers graduated from this school and learned to manufacture and assemble the 1,225,000 parts that went into building each B-24.  This specialized force was able to turn out a new bomber at the astonishing rate of one every 55 minutes! There were four other plants that built B-24s, but nearly half of the 18,493 produced were built at Willow Run.

President Roosevelt’s cavalcades, with his auto in lead, passes long line of powerful, 4-motored army bombers at the Ford Willow Run (Mich.) bomber assembly plant. Five of the ever-alert secret service men who guard the President are seen riding bumpers of his auto. (Official navy photo.) (NEA Telephoto.)

Maybe it isn’t surprising that this light was purchased at a rural Nebraska auction since my state was home to a total of 12 WWII army airfields that were used to train the pilots and crews of fighters and bombers.  Nebraska was chosen for a number of reasons including reliable rail transportation, inexpensive land and excellent conditions for flying, year-round.

I haven’t yet decided how to display my light, but I am going to keep it.  I think it is an excellent reminder of the Greatest Generation and what it was able to accomplish.