Bobby Darin's dream car

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014


A NUMBER of friends sent me emails last week about an unusual car that I'd never heard of or seen before.

Horribly ugly to many, but for legendary singer Bobby Darin, it was his 'Dream Car.'

For those not old enough to remember Bobby Darin, he was an American megastar - a singer, songwriter and film and television actor. His first million-seller was Splish Splash recorded in 1958. This was followed by other classics such as Dream Lover and Mack the Knife.

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He was married to the film actress Sandra Dee. Darin died in 1973 at the young age of 37 following heart problems.

Darin's 'Dream Car' was the 1960 DiDia 150. It was a luxury, handmade car designed by Darin's friend, American clothes designer Andrew 'Andy' Di Dia. Only one example was ever built. Di Dia's clothes designs were elegant and traditional, but his single automobile design was unrestrained and unconventional.

Work started on the car in 1953 and the finished vehicle was unveiled seven years later, in 1960. It cost $93,647.29 (P4.1 million) to build, but in 1961 Darin, who was enchanted by the car and determined to own it, paid Di Dia $150,000 (P6.6 million) for it. That's equivalent to around $1.5m (P66.9 million) today.

At the time, the car was listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive custom-made car in the world. The body was hand-formed by Ron Clark and constructed by Bob Kaiser from Clark Kaiser Customs.

The car is powered by a 427 high-performance Ford engine with a 125-inch wheelbase, with a tubular aluminum frame and a hand-fashioned soft aluminum body. The car has Batman-type set of rear fins dominating the bodyline and ruby red hubcaps on whitewall tires.

American author Daniel Vaughan described it as: "An exotic vehicle that is overdone in every detail and in every respect, an iconic dream car. Its metallic red paint was from 30 coats of paint with real ground diamonds for sparkle. The body is from hand-fashioned soft aluminum. There are hidden headlights and tail lights that swivel as the car turns. Inside, the seats each have their own ash tray, cigarette lighter and radio speaker. On the dashboard are oversized levers that control the air conditioning, heater and defroster."

The design included the first backseat-mounted radio speakers and hidden windshield wipers that started themselves when it rained.

Di Dia toured the car around the US when Darin wasn't using it for public appearances. After publicity and film use, Darin donated his 'Dream Car' to the St. Louis Museum of transportation in 1970 where it can be seen today. About 100,000 people have viewed the car since it was restored 13 years ago.

I made several visits to St. Louis a few years ago. I wish I'd known about the car then. I'd like to have seen it up close. Whether you like it or not is a matter of personal taste, but you have to admit you've never seen anything like it before.

It's not my cup of tea, but, in my opinion the Di Dia 150 is a bona fide classic that will continue to command center-stage at the annual Concours d'Elegance of America where many of the world's classic, rare and magnificent automobiles are exhibited. (Robert Harland)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 12, 2014.

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