I spotted¬†Bobby Darin’s startling 1960 DiDia¬†150¬†at The Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri. It was just one of several surprises¬†in the Earl C. Lindberg Automobile Center (no relation to Charles A. Lindbergh of the Spirit of St. Louis fame). We weren’t sure what to expect, but¬†we were greeted by a very nice couple that owned and were keeping watch over the place. They had every answer ready, and were rightfully proud of their compact but fascinating automotive collection.
I was startled when I saw the Darin car. It took me back to The Simpsons¬†episode¬†where Homer designed a car called … The Homer. Stuck somewhere between a 1950s show car and¬†the Batmobile, here sat something that Elvis and Liberace would have probably ran away from. Brash metallic red paint (originally 30 coats with real ground diamonds for sparkle), tail fins befitting a Boeing 747, and a glass cockpit that no air conditioning system could ever cool, the boldness of the design is totally unique.
The original owner of the car, Bobby Darin (Walden Robert Cassotto), was born in The Bronx on May 14, 1936, and at age eight he heard a doctor tell his mother that he¬†might not live past 16 due to heart damage caused by rheumatic fever.¬†Darin went on to record such hits as “Splish Splash,” “Dream Lover,” and “Mack The Knife,” which won him¬†a Grammy in 1960.
Darin was nominated for an Academy Award in 1963 for his portrayal of a shell-shocked soldier in Captain Newman, M.D. His record company, TM Music/Trio, launched Wayne Newton and others.¬†Darin was with Robert Kennedy in 1968 when he was killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Bobby went into seclusion for about a year after that event. In 1972, he had a TV variety show called The Bobby Darin Amusement Company that he hosted until his sudden death in 1973. Darin’s death came after surgery to correct heart problems brought on by blood poisoning. He was 37.
Darin’s car was built by Detroit native and clothing designer Andy DiDia;¬†the car¬†took seven years, from 1953 to 1960, to finish. Two engines are listed as powerplants; I assume the present 427 came later. Originally the car cost $153,647.29 to create; today it’s worth¬†$1.5 million.¬†
The car rides on a 125-inch wheelbase, about twice the length of¬†the Smart Car’s wheelbase. The car was so long, I had to tilt it in the crop box to try to get it to properly fit in the frame. Maybe the tilt gives the car somewhat of a “Batman“-esque feel, relative to the time period¬†in which¬†Darin drove the car to the Academy Awards. The car was also used in several movies.
The DiDia 150 is hand-fashioned from soft aluminum, has thermostatically controlled air conditioning, hidden headlights, tail lights that swivel as the car turns a corner, glass windows on hinges, and rust-colored seats, each with an ash tray, cigarette lighter, and radio speaker. No word on cup holders.
As best I can tell, the oversize levers on the dash control the heater, defrost, and air conditioning systems. It’s also nice to see the flat-bottomed steering wheel, many years ahead of the time when VW GTIs and others made them almost commonplace.
In 1970,¬†Darin donated the DiDia 150 to the Museum of Transportation. There is a special glass case beside the car with his photo, autograph, and other memorabilia. The car was restored by Manns Auto Body in Festus, Missouri, just previous to display.
The only other car in the Museum that literally made me gasp was their working Chrysler Turbine Car, the only running Turbine Car on public display. Jay Leno has offered to buy the Chrysler, but he hasn’t been able to close the deal. The owners start it every two weeks, but my hints that I’d love to hear the car run fell flat.
Thanks to Amazon.com for the Bobby Darin album cover.
–That Car Guy