Gear Head Tuesday – The Packard-Darrins

Gear Head

The Packard-Darrins

40 Packard_Darrin_Super_Eight_side

1940 Packard-Darrin Super Eight. We have shown this beautiful Packard several times as it is one of our all-time favorite cars. This car was auctioned by RM in Monterey, California in conjunction with the August, 2012 Pebble Beach Concours. As we have previously noted, the actual design of this car was not done by Darrin, but by Art Fitzpatrick, famous for his work with Van Kaufman illustrating ads for Pontiac in the late ’50s through the mid’60s.

40 Packard_Darrin_Super_Eight

We have covered the life of designer-coachbuilder Howard “Dutch” Darrin from the beginning of his career to when he set up shop in Hollywood as “Darrin of Paris.” We also have written of his work for Kaiser-Frazer. Those chapters are bookends to what we now turn to: Darrin’s work with Packards which led to his work directly for Packard. It is a story in itself.

A number of Darrin designs and collaborations have come to be appreciated as the ultimate in Thirties coachwork. Gracing the greatest chassis, including Duesenberg, Bentley, Hispano-Suiza, Mercedes-Benz, Isotta-Fraschini, Bentley and Voisin, they are recognized as some of the most exclusive, creative, imaginative and imposing designs of the Thirties.

None of them are as well-remembered or had more long-lasting effect than the roughly one hundred Darrin-design convertible Victorias built on Packard chassis from 1937 through 1942.

Packard-Darrin_rf_dk-gr

A 1940 Packard-Darrin One-Eighty at the RM Auction in Monterey, California, August 2012. Note the rare Hudson Italia to the left of the Packard.

With the outbreak of World War II imminent, Fernandez et Darrin in Paris was closed and Dutch Darrin landed in Hollywood. There he quickly was accepted by the movie crowd where the polo playing Darrin, complete with a carefully cultivated French accent, fit in perfectly. Darrin’s fledgling coachworks was with characteristic flair christened “Darrin of Paris”.

Darrin of Paris’s first commission was a Ford roadster for Dick Powell. It was shortly followed by a two-seat convertible Victoria roadster on a 1937 Packard One Twenty chassis for Chester Morris, soon to establish himself playing the fast-talking detective Boston Blackie.

Darrin of Paris was as yet little if any more than Dutch and his sketch pad so the initial body work was subcontracted while Darrin gradually put together a strong team including Paul Erdos, Rudy Stoessel, Harry Fels, Oscar Haskey and front office man Bert Chalmers.

Clark Gable

When Clark Gable ordered a Packard-Darrin, “Dutch” was on his way in Hollywood.

The second Packard-Darrin Convertible Victoria was ordered by dashing, debonair Clark Gable who had an insatiable appetite for new, sexy, fast, sporting, exclusive automobiles and at the time was Hollywood’s top box office draw. Landing the Gable commission cemented Dutch Darrin’s standing among Hollywood’s legion of automobile enthusiasts. The Gable car was the first of the five passenger Packard-Darrin Victorias.

The Darrin Convertible Victoria was based on the standard Packard Eight Business Coupe but there was little of the Packard left untouched when Darrin completed his ministrations. Part of Darrin’s inspired design and concept was that although the Darrin Convertible Victoria was instantly identifiable as a unique design it continued sufficient Packard identification that it was also impossible to be anything but a Packard, complementing the marque’s other lines.

Darrin started out by discarding the roof, doors, cowl, windshield and running boards. The rear fenders were modified and front fenders filled in where they joined the running boards. The body was strengthened with reinforcements along the sills.

Three inches were sectioned out of the hood sides and radiator surround and the hood lengthened more than nine inches to extend back over a completely new cowl to reach nearly to the base of the new, cut down, windshield frame. New door frames and skins incorporated the characteristic sweeping curve at the top of the doors, called the “Darrin Dip”, which were the Darrin Convertible Victoria’s signature styling feature. Also characteristic was the dashboard and instrument panel tucked under a roll of aircraft-style crash padding around the cockpit. Darrin had patented the padded dashboard while still in Paris.

Packard-Darrin_cloissoné_rf

The cloisonné-bejeweled emblem on the hood announced that the car is a Packard Super 8.

Packard-Darrin_cloissoné

The five-seat coachwork with its blind top quarters was elegant and handsome with the top up or in the intermediate position where it resembled a formal sedanca, but with the top down it was far more racy and advanced than its limited production competitor from Ford, the Lincoln-Zephyr Continental. In 1940, encouraged by its dealers, Packard added the Darrin Convertible Victoria to the company’s extensive offering of body styles.

Packard-Darrin_sedanca

Packard-Darrin with the convertible top in the Sedanca position.

The Gable Convertible Victoria and the two-seater for Chester Morris were built with a traditionally coachbuilt ash framed, aluminum paneled cowl. Rudy Stoessel was hard at work designing and making patterns for a 3-piece cast aluminum cowl that would be more quickly assembled and stronger but it was not ready and Clark Gable was not a client to be taken lightly. His car was finished expeditiously and earned Darrin instant national recognition.

The Clark Gable Packard-Darrin Is Found and Restored

Gable Packard-Darrin_top_view

Clark Gable’s Packard-Darrin

The Clark Gable Packard-Darrin was discovered by Sam Broadhead and his brother-in-law James Plumb, Jr. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was owned by Ernest Sulek who recounted buying it in about 1960 from a military officer. It had been bought in Los Angeles and driven to Cedar Rapids and Sulek said he’d been told when he got it, “Clark Gable owned this car.” After some persuasion (and two floods on the Cedar River which did the Packard no favors) Broadhead persuaded Sulek to part with it in 1962.

Restoration was carefully undertaken including noting many original markings as they were discovered. Among them were “Cook’s Top Shop, 6063 Melrose” in chalk on the back of one of the kick-boards and a stenciled number PACK 127 7-22-37 52A on the frame. The wooden framing of the cowl was duplicated as closely as possible.

Gable Packard-Darrin_rf

The grille and the cormorant tell you it’s a Packard. The dip in the door tells you it’s a Darrin. Darrin’s designs retained the unmistakable Packard identity while showcasing his own touches. Note that the gate behind the car very much resembles a Packard grille.

Gable Packard-Darrin_Cormorant

In 1969 Broadhead contacted Skip Marketti at Harrah’s for assistance in tracing a fishing license in the name of George Bruce which had been discovered under the seats in the process of disassembling the Darrin. Marketti wrote to the only George Bruce listed in Los Angeles at the time. The handwritten response told a remarkable story involving the stage name of George Bruce’s brother Andrew who played bit parts under his brother George’s name, was a friend of Gable’s and who bought the car from him.

Later Dutch Darrin acknowledged the Broadheads’ car as the one built for Clark Gable in both an article he wrote in the Packard Club’s Cormorant magazine and in a letter to the editor in Cormorant. Only two Packard Darrin Convertible Victorias were constructed with coachbuilt wood-framed cowls like this. The Gable car also is identifiable according to Dutch Darrin’s Cormorant letter by the length of the hood which stretched to within a half-inch of the door opening, the only one of the series build this way.

Gable Packard-Darrin_long_hood

The  l – o  –  n  –   g   hood on the Gable Packard-Darrin

It has many other unique and very pleasing distinctions. The engine is dropped four inches in the frame which allowed Darrin to section three inches from the radiator grille shell and to similarly lower the body over the frame. Both the front and rear fenders have been substantially reshaped for a more streamlined effect, then repositioned relative to the body and frame. To take full advantage of these changes Darrin also reprofiled the rocker panels, giving them a curved and flared treatment reminiscent of the most pleasing Packard LeBaron coachwork, subtlety highlighted by this car’s freedom from superfluous chrome detailing.

Gable Packard-Darrin_dash1Gable Packard-Darrin_fr_intGable Packard-Darrin_seats

The car was acquired from the Broadheads in 1982 by Ted Leonard, becoming one of the cornerstones of his unique and varied collection. Subsequent to acquiring it Leonard had it repainted in its present Black livery and reupholstered with Red leather, believing along with Broadhead that this was the original color scheme.

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Only sixteen Packard-Darrins were built by Darrin in California, fourteen Victorias, one four-door sedan and one sedanca coupe. Twelve of the fourteen Victorias were built on the One Twenty chassis, two on the Super Eight. Over half of the cars were sold to well-known celebrities who included besides Clark Gable and Chester Morris: Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, Al Jolson, Ros­alind Russell, Ruby Keeler (Mrs. Al Jolson), Preston Foster, Ann Sheridan, Constance Bennett and Gene Krupa.

When production was shifted to Central Manufacturing Co. in Connersville, Indiana, the body was further strengthened and the bottom of the doors extended to meet the makeshift rocker panels. Other improvements included heavier body mounts and a front-end kit that provided additional bracing between the front fender brackets, frame and radiator support.

One Darrin of Paris employee who would go on to bigger things was Art Fitzpatrick who (with Van Kaufman) created memorable ads for Pontiac in the late ’50s through the mid-’60s. Fresh from a stint working at Briggs under John Tjaarda, Fitzpatrick was hired by Darrin in 1938 to serve as the firm’s in-house artist and delineator. Fitzpatrick (or Fitz to his friends) is credited with designing the striking and seldom-seen Packard-Darrin convertible sedans and 4-door hardtops that were built in Connersville. When the Darrin operations were taken over by Packard, Fitzpatrick went to work for Werner Gubitz, the automaker’s styling chief and had a hand in the design of the 1942 Packard Clipper.

Fitz also ran errands for his boss, and once drove a Packard-Darrin all the way to Detroit for exhibition at a Detroit Packard Dealer Council meeting at the Packard Proving Grounds. In his Automobile Quarterly article, ‘My American Safari’, Darrin recalled the event:

“He and a friend drove day and night to get there in time. They ran into a drunken driver who smashed one whole side of the car.”

The car was still drivable, so the pair continued on to the Proving Grounds and parked it against a wall with the unaltered side facing out. The vehicle was a major topic of discussion at the event.

At that time Clark Gable was Hollywood’s number one star and he’d just been chosen to star in ‘Gone With the Wind’. Anything associated with the star was news and United Press’ Hollywood correspondent, Frederick C. Othman, wrote the following column on November 16, 1938:

With the Hollywood Reporter – Frederick C. Othman – UP Hollywood Correspondent

“Hollywood – The automobile shows may be full streamlined chariots, but mostly they look like 1922 models in comparison to the Darrin Eight, A Hollywood motor car so ultra-ultra that Clark Gable made the serious mistake of buying one.

“There wasn’t anything wrong with the car, except that it looked like something from Mars, with yellow leather upholstery, a hood nearly seven feet long and gadgets which did everything except freeze ice cubes. It was such an automobile as nobody, anywhere, ever saw before.

“And when the folks began seeing this vision of steel and cast aluminum, with Clark Gable, himself in person, behind the wheel, they couldn’t restrain themselves. Lady motorists formed parades behind Gable’s car; lady pedestrians climbed into it at every stoplight. Gable stood that for a month, and then sold his super-super-super eight at a tremendous loss. He now drives an $800 coupe, painted black.

“The Darrin factory is on Sunset Boulevard, near the Trocadero, and it usually has one display one or two automobiles so long, so low and so magnificent that they almost resemble trans-Atlantic ocean liners on wheels.

“We dropped in today, not to buy, but to learn from Howard Darrin something of the business of manufacturing automobiles deluxe for perhaps the flossiest trade in the world.

“Darrin used to manufacture custom bodies in Paris for Rolls-Royce automobiles during the lush twenties. He exported most of them to America, for such customers as Norma Shearer, Dietrich, Jack Warner and others in the big money.

“’And then came 1929 and the custom body business simply disappeared,’ Darrin said. ‘Nobody in America even thought of importing a foreign car anymore. I grubbed for a living in the hope the business would revive, but it didn’t so I decided it would probably be a good stunt to go to Hollywood, my best market, and designing cars there on the spot and to order. It was a good stunt too. In the six months I’ve sold 15 automobiles, for $3,000 and up, mostly up.’

“Darrin buys the chassis of a medium-priced straight eight, as built in Detroit; then he installs upon it his stream-lined bodies. He makes them largely of solid aluminum castings, instead of sheet metal, and he equips the bodies as if they were being made for the Maharajah of Indore.

“’And why not?’ he asked. ‘I charge enough. I ought to make them good.’

“The buttons on the dash are real ivory; the leather in the deeply-tufted upholstery costs 60 cents a square foot; the doors carry extra hinges so his movie actor customers can sit on them, if they feel like it.

“Sit in a Darrin sports roadster and you sit on the floor. You really don’t need spy glasses to see the radiator but they would help. Owners of such elegant hacks include Dick Powell, Chester Morris, Al Jolson, Mrs. Jack Oakie and other movie luminaries.

“’Best thing about the business’ Darrin said, ‘is the fact that as soon as these customers began having their pictures taken in my cars, I started getting orders from all over. I have sold cars in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans and I‘ve even got an offer to design them for one of the big Detroit factories.’

“We wanted to know about Gable and Darrin smiled wryly.

“’I feel sorry for the poor guy’ he said. ‘Gable is a nut about automobiles. He lives ‘em. Then when he got one of mine, he didn’t dare drive down the street in it. It was tough, particularly after he’d spent week in the shop, watching it being built, like a man with a new house.’

“’First time he came in he brought Carole Lombard with him. And all my workmen started banging their thumbs with hammers and tripping over the floor and getting no work done at all. I had to ask Gable please not to bring Miss Lombard with him anymore.’ ”

Clark-Gable-and-Carole-Lombard-

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard: A hands-on kind of guy, as you can see, it wasn’t just the fine lines of his Packard-Darrin that Gable appreciated …

With the free nationwide publicity and mounting interest from Packard dealers, it came as no surprise to Darrin that Packard President Alvan Macauley scheduled a visit to the Darrin of Paris shops on a subsequent visit to California Packard distributor, Earl C. Anthony in early 1939.

Macauley had been well-briefed and queried whether the Darrin’s body met with Packard’s stringent standards. Darrin got up on the cowl of an adjacent Packard-Darrin and began to jump up and down, creating no serious damage. Darrin recalled the event in Automobile Quarterly: “I asked if he thought it was strong enough. That was how I got Packard to approve the Darrin Victoria for production.”

Macauley green-lit the Packard-Darrin for inclusion in Packard’s 1940 catalog providing that Darrin agreed to build it using Packard’s Super-Eight chassis. Part of Packard’s motivation in doing this was the result of the company dropping its prestigious V-12 at the end of the 1939 model year. By cataloging the  Packard-Darrins, Packard was trying to tell its customers that it had not completely abandoned the prestige market. Packard had damaged its prestige image with its heavy promotion of the lower-priced One-Twenty eight cylinder line and still lower-priced One-Ten six cylinder line.

A modern analogy to what Packard had done is found at Starbucks coffee. Instant coffee has long had a well-deserved déclassé reputation. In recent years, Starbucks has introduced its “Via” instant coffee line. By adding instant coffee to its offerings, Starbucks removed a bit of the déclassé image of instant coffee, but harmed its reputation among serious coffee drinkers by joining the ranks of Nescafé and others in the water-soluble coffee market. Starbucks then began offering in selected stores its “Reserve” line of whole bean coffees procured from low volume specialty coffee growers in an attempt to put some luster back in their image. Likewise Packard, by cataloguing the Darrin-design cars was attempting to offset some of the prestige they had lost by pumping out all of the six cylinder One-Tens they could build while discontinuing their  glorious (if low volume) V-12.

Packard-Darrin Sport Sedan

Packard-Darrin One-Eighty Sport Sedan

Darrin had nothing to lose and everything to gain and signed an agreement whereby Packard would handle the distribution and manufacturing of the vehicle. In return Darrin would receive a flat fee for every vehicle sold. Darrin agreed to help advertise the vehicle and to oversee its production in Connersville.

Three models were to be produced, the already popular convertible Victoria, the limited production convertible sedan and the very exclusive four-door sports sedan. All three models were included in Packard’s 1940 model year catalog and Packard started running a series of print advertisements for the vehicle in Fortune and The Saturday Evening Post to create interest in the showroom.

Packard-Darrin_ad

Darrin-AD

The largest problem facing Darrin and Packard, was where to build the vehicles. Briggs Manufacturing, Packard’s main body supplier, had no interest in the project as they were all booked up for the foreseeable future. A current Darrin of Paris employee named Harry Fels had formerly worked for Auburn Automobile Co. at their Central Manufacturing body division in Connersville, Indiana and suggested that Darrin give Auburn’s President Roy Faulkner a call.

By that time Auburn had already filed for bankruptcy and was desperate for business, particularly when a financially responsible Detroit automaker was paying the bills. Darrin’s wooden body dies were shipped to Connersville at the end of July and on August 1, 1939, operations concluded at Darrin of Paris’ Sunset Blvd. shops. A couple of key men were offered jobs in Connersville, but not surprisingly, nobody wanted to leave Southern California.

Four of Darrin’s key employees, Burt Chalmers, Rudy Stoessel, Paul Erdos and Charles Rotzenberger, established Coachcraft, Ltd. during the winter of 1939-1940. The four partners leased quarters in West Hollywood, just a few blocks away from their former employer, at 8671 Melrose Avenue, and started applying their trade to lower-cost Ford, Mercury, and Studebaker chassis as well as to the more up market models, Packard in particular. Coachcraft’s business grew to the point that they were eventually able to hire all of the former Darrin of Paris crew.

Production of the first Packard-Darrin’s commenced at Central Manufacturing in early September. It wasn’t a huge contract, but every little bit helped, and Central’s workers were happy to work on something other than kitchen cabinets and refrigerators.

As Darrin had vested interest in promoting the sales of the Packard-Darrins, both he and his creations maintained a high profile back home in Los Angeles:

“One of the stunts we did was to leave one of the cars in front of Romanoff’s where many of the Hollywood personalities had lunch. We’d bribe the doorman to keep an empty space right by the door, so anyone alighting couldn’t help but notice it. We also got a lot of free publicity, and made a little side money by renting our cars to the studios for movies.”

Darrin submitted the convertible Victoria to the US Patent Office on November 27, 1939, however Art Fitzpatrick’s convertible sedan and 4-door sport sedan designs were never submitted to the USPTO.

During 1940, Packard’s Custom Super Eight One-Eighty came in eleven variations on a variety of wheelbases, 127”, 138” and 148”. Six different custom bodies were available, three from Darrin, and three from Rollson.

The model 1806 Super Eight Convertible Victoria by Darrin sold for $4750, the Sport Sedan for $6100 and the Convertible Sedan for $6300. A budget-priced $3800 Darrin was made available later in the year that was built on the less-expensive One Twenty chassis.

A single model 1806 Darrin Coupe de Ville was built for that winter’s auto show circuit, but was never included in the catalog or in dealer price lists. When the car was retired it was sold to Mrs. Jack Oakie (née Venita Varden), a little known actress who married film comedian Jack Oakie in 1936.

As part of his agreement with Packard, Darrin was asked to contribute designs proposals for upcoming Packards, and was involved in the design that would finally emerge late in 1941 as the Packard Clipper, although he never received official credit (or payment) for it.

42 Packard Clipper

1942 Packard Clipper – Photo from the PackardInfo.com archives

A letter from Alex Tremulis to Darrin discussing the Clipper appeared in the September 1977 issue of The Classic Car:

March 24, 1971
Mr. Howard Darrin
130 Ocean Way
Santa Monica, California

Dear Dutch:

Looking through some of my old papers, I came upon a photo of the Packard Clipper of 1941. I was surprised as to how the design has survived the test of time. Reflecting back I have often wondered if the automobile enthusiasts were aware of the great part that you played in its development. As you probably know I spent two tours of duty at Briggs Manufacturing – first in 1937 after I left Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg and again in 1939. I worked for the legendary John Tjaarda who headed the Briggs Styling Office. We sort of operated as a gesture of good will department to our clients Ford, Chrysler and Packard in those days and offered our services basically as styling consultants, in other words the fresh outside viewpoint as an assistance to augment each company’s styling activity.

I shall never forget the shocker one morning as I entered the Briggs showroom, which was always kept under lock and key, and saw a beautiful quarter scale model in clay of a Packard proposal. None of us in styling knew where it came from or who was responsible for its execution. I picked up all the marbles in the guessing game by simply stating that only one man in the world could have designed this model. One, it had all the fingerprints of Howard “Dutch” Darrin. There it was with the down­ward swept belt line and an inimitable Darrin blind quarter, with a Darrinized notch-back roof flowing into a beautifully swept rear luggage compartment. Two, it had a front fender flow that washed itself out at the front door that had the characteristic Darrinized angle of fender flow. It was a real shocker to all of us. Our approach at Briggs sort of emulated the straight through belt line of the Buick, Olds, Pontiac torpedo body which if anything would have only flattered General Motors by our sincere form of imitation!. My first impression was that it’s too beautiful to be a production car and that it is no doubt a custom one-off Packard proposal designed to be sent to Europe to be entered in all the Concours de Elegance events where it no doubt would garner many beautiful silver trophies, which when emptied of their contents of champagne, would find their way back to Pack­ard Detroit as symbols of Packard’s supremacy in styling aristocracy.

Several hours later John Tjaarda informed us all that indeed it was a Darrin proposal and that Ed Macauley, director of Packard Styling, had ordered that templates be taken off the model and blown up full scale and that we at Briggs were to build a full size clay model verbatim of study. As the model grew we could certainly see that it was a winner. I then recall that it was shipped to Packard Styling and Werner Gubitz, who I believe was then Chief Stylist, and Charles Yeager, his assistant, made some slight modifications by raising the belt line slightly and increased the capacity of the trunk to meet competitive require­ments. Other than these slight modifications the final design had at least 80% or more of your original thinking in your quarter size model.

The following face lifts of the Packard Clipper certainly proved to be disastrous. How can anyone forget how ungainly and heavy looking and monstrous looking they became trying to follow a trend that was incompatible with its basic Clipper styling. Perhaps if they had only left well enough alone Packard might have lived long enough to fight another day.

My dear Dutch, rejoice in the fact that you had the courage during your Darrin of Paris days on Sunset Boulevard to build the most elegant of Packards ever. Who can ever forget your magnificent Packard-Darrins that truly represented the ‘Aristo­cracy of Motordom’.

I simply had to write this letter as unfortunately our profession is at times most unkind to us. Our triumphs in creativity on so many occasions pass by so unnoticed while our small failures are at times amplified way out of proportion. You have had the most fantastic of careers. If you had done nothing else in your lifetime your Packard-Darrins have immortalized you for all time to come.

Best regards always,
Alex Tremulis
Automotive Styling Consultant”

47 Packard Clipper

Packard dealers who were fortunate enough to secure a Darrin for their showroom reported traffic increases of up to 300% and were more than happy to keep a Darrin on display for the required 30 days stipulated in the sales contract, regardless of whether it was sold or not.

In his Automobile Quarterly article Darrin recalled: “I figured I’d hit the big time. Packard was the most prestigious luxury car manufacturer in the country, and they would certainly take every Darrin I could hand them.”

Unfortunately for Darrin, Central Manufacturing was awarded a huge contract to build military Jeep tubs (bodies) in May of 1941, and production of the low-volume Packard-Darrins became a low priority. Darrin recalled: “We were soon hopelessly backlogged and I went to Detroit looking for more production facilities.”

Sales of Detroit’s automobiles were at an all-time high, and nobody was willing to take such a low-volume enterprise. The logical choice would have been the Henney Motor Car Company, but they were backlogged with orders for their popular Henney-Packard professional cars. Luckily another professional car builder located in Cincinnati, was looking for additional projects.

Production of the all-new 1941 Packard Series 1906 Darrin Convertible Victoria commenced at the Cincinnati, Ohio plant of the Sayers and Scovill Company that summer. Darrin recalled:

”Their directors were all on hand to watch the first 1941 Packard Darrin come off the line-followed closely by a hearse! It was quite a sight.”

The cars built in Cincinnati differed from the Connersville cars in a number of areas. Most noticeable was the introduction of the 19th series Packard front end styling in which the headlights were finally built into the redesigned front fenders, instead of residing in the pods used on the 1940 edition. Additional items included redesigned rear fenders and the introduction of distinctive chrome moldings that now resided on the trailing end of the front and rear fenders. Structurally the bodies were more structurally sound and the formerly rear-hinged doors were now attached at their leading edge with only the lower hinge remaining visible.

Based on published accounts, total production of all Packard-Darrins, including all body variations, totaled 114. Most historians agree that sixteen Convertible Victorias were built in Hollywood. In Connersville, the commonly quoted totals are two 4-door sport sedans, five 4-door convertible sedans and forty convertible Victorias – plus the single Coupe deVille show car. The number of Darrins constructed in Cincinnati was about the same; thirty-five on the 1941 Packard Series 1906 chassis and fifteen on the 1942 Packard Series 2006 chassis, all Convertible Victorias, all built on the Super Eight chassis. Except for slight variations in trim (fendertop parking lights added in 1941, bilateral lower grilles in 1942), the vehicles produced in Indiana and Ohio were identical.

The introduction of the 1942 Clipper and the US involvement in World War II doomed the Packard-Darrin project, and Howard Darrin joined the war effort in an aeronautical capacity.

The Packard-Darrins spawned many imitators. Bohman & Schwartz. Rollson, and Alexis de Sakhnoffky all produced Convertible Victorias on low-priced American chassis during 1939-1941.

Encouraged by Dutch Darrin’s success with Packard-Darrins, Bohman & Schwartz built a series of similar European-style convertibles on various chassis. A 1939 LaSalle and two ’40 Cadillacs were built on speculation (i.e., without a firm order), in conjunction with designer W.E. Miller.

By late 1939, Thompson Motors, the Pasadena, California Packard dealer had become frustrated with their inability to procure new Darrins through regular channels, so they ordered half a dozen Darrin clones from Bohman & Schwartz. Built on 1940 Packard One Eighty chassis, the 4-place convertible Victorias included cut-­down doors and speedster windshields and were virtually indistinguishable from the Darrins.

Rollson also built a Packard Convertible in 1940 that’s virtually indistinguishable from those built by Dutch Darrin, but upon closer inspection, the higher-quality of Rollson’s bodywork is immediately apparent. It’s unknown how many were built, but at least one of the cars still exists.

When the global conflagration that was World War II finally pulled the U.S. into the conflict, Darrin (who had been a pilot in World War I) became a flight instructor. After the war, he set up a crop dusting operation in Willows, California – far from Hollywood – but he was fishing for business designing cars while he was at it. It was then that he secured work from the upstart Kaiser-Frazer and went on to design the Kaiser-Darrin sports car. After Kaiser shut its U.S. car operations, Darrin picked up unsold Kaiser-Darrin cars and  continued selling them, often re-fitted with Cadillac V-8s, from his Hollywood showroom. He remained in Southern California the rest of his life, always active as a judge at car shows and serving in other auto-related capacities. He died at age 84 in 1982.

Dutch Darrin_K-D_prototype

“Dutch” Darrin at the wheel of a Kaiser-Darrin prototype.

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Sources for this post include the Bonhams Auction Catalog which showcased the Clark Gable Packard-Darrin, articles at Coachbuilt, Ate Up With Motor and Hemmings.

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Details of the Fitzgerald-designed 1940 Packard-Darrin:

Packard_Darrin_180_r

Packard-Darrin_180_f

Packard-Darrin_cormorant

Packard-Darrin_lf_fender

3 Comments

Add yours →

  1. jack darnell 28/06/2016 — 06:20

    There were very few ‘Brilliant’ men in auto design. Darrin definitely was at the top of the list. These autos are beautiful. Good to look at. Feel good cars, it would be nice to be capable of owning one. In the next couple years I will be looking for THAT car that I can dive into the sunset (on Sunday afternoons). I hope I don’t wait until I require a chauffeur. OUCH!

    Like

  2. Chris Houck 28/06/2016 — 06:41

    Wow! I am in awe of the man, his cars, your research and this finished product. A job well done, sir.

    Like

  3. Maximus Glutimus 28/06/2016 — 11:34

    I noticed the ’40 Fitzgerald – Darrin didn’t have a plate on it. Is this the one that is being shipped to my address at no charge ?

    Like

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