Posts Tagged ‘Ale Kaiser’

Howard A. “Dutch” Darrin – Kaiser-Frazer car designer

posted on November 22, 2013

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Howard “Dutch” Darrin sculpting clay on model of Kaiser Darrin sports car, circa 1953.

Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources published a story in 2010 on the Kaiser Darrin sports car (“Kaiser-built 1954 sports car delights today’s collectors“), but history never sleeps, and we’ve recently digitized some slides buried in our archive of the designer in the process of creating the prototype.

Howard A. “Dutch” Darrin (1897-1982) was a World War I aviator, inventor, and automobile designer. After WWII, when Henry J. Kaiser entered the automobile industry, Darrin was brought in as a freelance consultant and he worked on several designs. But Kaiser-Frazer’s last automobile gasp was to be a sleek convertible sports car with a fiberglass body and sliding doors – designed by Dutch Darrin.

The predecessor to that vehicle was called the Darrin Motor Car, featured in the October, 1946 issue of Popular Science: “For 20 years crack designer Howard Darrin engineered cars for the big manufacturers – and dreamed of producing his own. Now the dream has come true in a new superlight car of novel design, with a plastic body and hydraulically powered labor-saving gadgets.” That car never happened, but the seed had been planted and it blossomed soon afterwards.

Howard “Dutch” Darrin sculpting clay on model of Kaiser Darrin sports car, circa 1953.

In 1950 the Kaiser-Frazer automobile company asked Darrin in to improve the styling of the “Henry J” budget car. The meagre production budget afforded little latitude, so Darrin’s improvements were minor, but he convinced Henry J. Kaiser to let him create a more attractive car on the Henry J chassis. At first Henry Kaiser didn’t like Darrin’s long, sculpted convertible, but his new wife Alyce (“Ale”) loved it. The project got the green light.

The new Kaiser Darrin on display, unknown auto show, circa 1954.

These photographs show Darrin sculpting the clay on a full-size mockup, most likely in his workshop in Santa Monica, California. For more on Darrin’s long design history, see this article by automotive journalist Mark Theobald.

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Catamarans — two hulls double the fun

posted on September 26, 2013
Henry J. Kaiser's Catamaran Ale Kai V postcard, 1967. Lisa Killen discrete collection
Henry J. Kaiser’s Catamaran Ale Kai V postcard, 1967. Lisa Killen discrete collection

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Team USA’s hard-fought battle to retain the America’s Cup title has put catamarans in the spotlight. Almost forgotten, however, after more than 60 years, is Kaiser Permanente’s co-founder Henry J. Kaiser’s historical connection with these graceful and exotic racing crafts.

Kaiser, who founded the Health Plan with Sidney Garfield, MD, had a love affair with boats — and not just speedboats.  He also enjoyed sailing.

Kaiser’s 18-acre Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu had a fleet of six massive touring catamarans for his guests to enjoy.

These 100-foot, 150-passenger pink behemoths were all named after his wife Alyce “Ale” Kaiser — “Ale Kai” and numbered one through six, using Roman numerals I-VI.

Kaiser designed his resort using the “village plan,” which called for various sections to represent specific types of cultural motifs that surrounded the grounds. Kaiser’s venture was the largest Waikiki resort built in the mid-1950s.

Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village, completed in 1957, is now called the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa.

Who built the catamarans for Kaiser? The historical record is fuzzy. Credit goes to either Fred Loy Fat Chang of Nu’uanu, or Japanese-born Hawaiian resident Hisao Murakami.

All six of the Kaiser Ale Kai fleet are still in use today.

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Henry J. Kaiser: Industrialist, health care plan pioneer – and boating enthusiast

posted on August 23, 2013

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Henry J. Kaiser test driving the Fleur Du Lac on the Potomac River, Washington, D.C., 1948.


Henry J. Kaiser’s youth included canoeing on New York’s Lake Placid and serving as tour guide on a sightseeing boat in Daytona Beach, Florida. But he also liked to do things fast, and he always harbored an affection for speedboats.

Later in life, after Henry had achieved success in his construction businesses, he and his son Edgar enjoyed racing boats at Lake Tahoe. One of their first competitive boats was the “step hydroplane” (an early design effort to achieve high-speed stability) Miss Aluminum II, built in 1933. Renamed Fleur Du Lac (G-19) for Henry’s Tahoe estate, in 1948 she went to Washington D.C. to compete in the President’s Cup.

Scooter Too

Henry J. Kaiser at the wheel of Scooter Too, Lake Tahoe, 1955 (photo by long time Kaiser Industries manager Donald “Dusty” Rhoades)

Henry also maintained a summer home back at Lake Placid, where he pursued racing with his neighbor and friend band leader Guy Lombardo. In 1949 the Ticonderoga Sentinel noted:
“For the second successive week end, Henry J. Kaiser has visited Lake Placid to check on the progress of his two big speed boats. Guy Lombardo also appeared here Saturday to try out the massive 32-foot Aluminum First, with which he will try to break the world’s mile straightaway record in the time trials.”

That didn’t happen, but in 1971 the Lake Placid Sports Council mounted a plaque honoring their local heroes.

The Kaisers would not achieve racing victory until 1954, when the three-point hydroplane Scooter (U-12) powered by a 1750 horsepower V-12 Allison engine driven by Kaiser Industries welder Jack Regas won the Mapes Trophy unlimited class at Lake Tahoe. She ran second, first, and second and posted the fastest lap at 88.748 miles per hour. Henry immediately retired the boat and built a second, the Scooter Too with a 3,420 cubic inch 24-cylinder Allison engine, producing a staggering estimated 4,000 horsepower – but she never won a race.

Hawaii-Kai III

Hawaii Kai III, circa 1956.

Things turned around in 1956. Edgar Kaiser’s unlimited-class three-point racing hydroplane Hawaii Kai III (U-8, named after Henry J. Kaiser’s Waikiki Beach hotel) won the first of six consecutive races, the William A. Rogers Memorial Cup trophy in Washington, D.C.

She was painted Henry’s classic pink and powered by a V-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The following year she won the national championship and set the water speed record at the official American Powerboat Association runs in Seattle, Washington – 195.329 miles an hour, a bar that would stand for five years.


Henry J. Kaiser’s Catamaran Ale Kai V, postcard, Hawaiian Village, 1967; Lisa Killen discrete collection.

As with most of his goals, Henry J. Kaiser achieved what he sought, and he eventually retired from the racing circuit. His last boating venture was to build six massive touring catamarans in Hawaii, all named after his wife.

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For more on Henry J. Kaiser and boating, see
and blog post on Scooter Too



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Henry J. Kaiser – dashing lifesaver

posted on August 21, 2013
Article on HJK saving Ale, Garfield, and Cutting from capsized s
“Kaiser saves bride from Lake Tahoe” United Press story July 3, 1951.

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Henry J. Kaiser was an industrialist, health plan founder…and lifesaver.

On July 3, 1951, at 69 years of age, Henry J. Kaiser sped off in a speedboat to rescue his wife Alyce “Ale” Kaiser and founding Permanente physicians Dr. Sidney Garfield and Dr. Cecil Cutting when their catamaran capsized in the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe.

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