DiDia 150 If you have no idea what the DiDia 150 is (see what we did there?!) Richard Heseltine is here to enlighten you on this thoroughly wonderful, thoroughly bonkers automotive creation!
From here to Obscurity
Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.
It blurred the line between custom car and concept queen, and took seven years to complete. The DiDia 150 was among the wildest of road cars to emerge from Detroit during an era where Motown wasn’t exactly renowned for its subtlety. The car was the brainchild of a man who was variously a bus driver, machinist and self-styled fashion designer. Andrew Di Dia was a young man in a hurry, keen to leave his mark, and he was already restyling cars for fun when he collaborated with his neighbour, Chrysler designer Edward V Francoise, on his dream car. That was in 1953…
Scroll forward to 1957, and Di Dia (his surname was two words, the car’s name only one) met future superstar Bobby Darin at a concert. The two got chatting about cars, and Darin made a few suggestions of his own. He then declared that should he ever ‘make it big’, he would buy the car that was already in the throes of creation. While equipped with a Cadillac drivetrain, the rest of the car was largely scratch-built. The body, for example, was hand-formed over wooden bucks in true coachbuilding style and then gas-welded. No filler was used, if the press bumf from the period is to be believed.
Each tail fin, for example, amounted to 15 weeks’ work (the fins sat higher than the roofline). Up front, the retractable headlights were concealed behind thin metal slats, while the front and rear ‘floating’ bumpers were similarly custom-made.
The paint, a metallic shade of ruby red, was embedded with diamond dust to lend it that bit of extra sparkle. Each of the 30 coats were applied over a base coat of gold and then rubbed down by hand. Inside, each occupant had their own independent, thermostatically operated air-conditioning set-up, cigarette lighter and ashtray. There was also a rectangular steering wheel (a modified Imperial item) and a record player… The windscreen wipers were apparently rain-sensitive, deploying automatically when moisture was detected on the glass, while the tail-light clusters and indicators purportedly moved in line with steering inputs, but this may have been promotional flimflam.
Much of the car was built by Ron Clark and Bob Kaiser of the Clarkaiser Custom Shop, the DiDia 150 being finally completed in 1960 at a cost of an eye-watering $93,647 (around $750,000 in new money). A year later, Darin borrowed the car to drive himself and his wife Sandra Dee to the Academy Awards. And, having made it big, the 20-something bought the car for $150,000. At a stroke it made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive car ever sold to a private individual. The car was subsequently renamed ‘The Bobby Darin Dream Car’, and retained by the singer/performer until 1970 when it was donated to the Museum of Transportation in Missouri.
It’s still there, appropriately displayed alongside another flight of fantasy from roughly the same era: a Chrysler turbine car. At some point, the DiDia’s 365cu in Cadillac V8 was replaced with a 427cu in Ford V8, the one-off show-stopper having been restored prior to making repeat appearances in several high-end concours events. Intriguingly, the car’s designer never penned another vehicle during his lifetime. Andrew Di Dia died in 2014 aged 96.
Bobby Darin and his dream car.