The car sold at the RM Monterey, California Auction on 18 August, 2012 for $341,000.
• Model 1807
•160 bhp, 356 cu in L-head inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed synchromesh manual transmission with electric overdrive, independent front suspension with coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.
• Wheelbase: 138"
• Approximately 11 or 12 originally built, with 9 known survivors
With the demise of Packard's Twelve in 1939, the 180 now took pride of place as the company's top-line car for 1940. Despite the fact that its high-volume, medium-price “Junior” cars saved the company during the 1930s, Packard’s “Senior” models, especially the 180, still set the standard, both within the company and for the American fine-car industry. However, in several ways, 1940 and 1941 marked the curtain call for Packard's “Senior” models, and similarly, the glorious coachbuilt era was drawing to a close. Most of the greatest names in the field had ceased to exist by the late-1930s, but one of the few exceptions was Howard “Dutch” Darrin, whose European-influenced design sensibilities begat some of the Classic Era’s finest automobiles.
In particular, Darrin’s favorite body style was the Convertible Victoria, and he excelled in its execution with an uncanny blend of elegance, formality, and sportiness. Soon after returning to America in 1937 and logically settling in Hollywood, Darrin worked his magic on a European-themed 1937 Ford Phaeton for Warner Brothers’ actor Dick Powell, followed by a similar design on a Packard 120 chassis for RKO actor Chester Morris. A few more cars followed in 1937, as Darrin established himself in Hollywood, and approximately 22 custom Darrins were built in 1938 and 1939 for such “A-List” actors and musicians as Errol Flynn, drummer Gene Krupa, Al Jolson, and Carole Lombard for Clark Gable.
For 1940, 30 cars were produced in all by Darrin, mostly comprising two-door convertibles, plus a number of convertible sedans, with estimates placing build numbers of the latter body style at just 11 or 12. While the two-door cars were indeed handsome, the rare four-door convertible sedans were particularly attractive, with their bodylines perfectly proportioned by virtue of an additional 11-inches of wheelbase, which also made possible a longer hood. Priced from $6,300, the Darrin Convertible Sedan was the most expensive Packard offered for 1940.
Eventually, by mid-1940, Darrin’s custom work on Packard chassis caught the attention of Packard President Alvan Macauley via dealer Earle C. Anthony. A deal was struck for Packard to market the cars as part of its model line, and a factory was established at the Auburn Automobile plant in Connersville, Indiana to build them in 1941 and 1942, just prior to the cessation of civilian automobile production with the onset of America’s full-scale entry into WWII.
This Packard Super Eight Darrin Convertible Sedan from 1940 is the last in the series of Darrin four-door convertible sedans commissioned by Packard. According to the best information available among marque experts, it is one of the nine documented examples remaining today.
Howard A. “Dutch” Darrin (1897-1982). Darrin was a multi-talented athlete, inventor and entrepreneur from Cranford, New Jersey.
Darrin enrolled in the Aviation Division of the U.S. Signal Corps with the entry of the U.S. into World War I, and after a few short weeks of training was dispatched to France where he served for the next two years.
After his discharge in 1919, Darrin used some money he had saved to help found Aero Limited, one of the nation’s first scheduled airline carriers. Using surplus Curtis HS-2L sea planes, Darrin and his partners offered air mail and passenger service between Atlantic City, New Jersey, Nassau (Bahamas) and three Florida cities, Palm Beach, Miami and Key West. The airline was successful until four of their pilots perished when the plane ferrying them between Palm Beach and Miami crashed at sea. Darrin and his partners sold the entire operation to another operator and Dutch returned to New York in 1921 and tried his hand at selling stocks, bonds and enjoyed luxury cars.
Darrin was introduced to Thomas L. Hibbard. Hibbard was impressed by the Darrin’s impeccable taste and intuition for all things esthetic and the pair soon became friends.
The pair sailed for Paris in the spring of 1923, and after surveying the wealth of business opportunities available they decided to stay in Europe to form a partnership to sell luxury motorcars in Paris. Hibbard & Darrin, opened a design office in Paris and designed bodies to be built in Brussels, and then offered them to wealthy Europeans in their Paris showroom.
The Depression hit Hibbard & Darrin hard and the firm closed. In late 1931, Darrin met J. Fernandez, a wealthy Argentinian-born Parisian banker and furniture maker, at one of the many Concours d' Elegance held in and around Paris. Fernandez had a large shop in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-sur-Seine near Long-champs where he manufactured custom built furniture and the occasional auto body for the local Isotta-Fraschini distributor and other Parisian distributors.
In early 1932 Darrin became partners with Fernandez The partners went under the name carrosserie Fernandez et Darrin and from 1932-1937 built custom coachwork on the following chassis: Bentley, Bugatti, Buick, Delage, Delahaye, Duesenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Packard, Panhard, Renault, Rolls-Royce and Voisin.
Fernandez’s factory included a beautiful 12’x 30’ marble showroom plus a main showroom on Avenue des Champs-Elysées, near the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile, just across from Kellner et Cie, and just down the street from Hibbard & Darrin.
In 1934 the partners relocated their Avenue des Champs-Elysees showroom to Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, an elegant street of high-end shops just off des Champs-Elysees near la Place Vendôme, in order to be closer to their clients favored hotels which included the InterContinental le Grand, le Meurice and Hôtel Ritz.
One of the firm’s most well-known creations was a 1933 Duesenberg convertible created for the screen goddess, Greta Garbo. It included torpedo-shaped running boards made from mahogany and chrome, a built-in trunk with fitted Louis Vuiton luggage and an interior trimmed in chrome-finished leather.
Other noteworthy Fernandez & Darrin customers included the movie star Lili Damita and a seemingly endless list of millionaires such as Count Armand de la Rochefoucauld, Lady Davis (Wife of Mortimer B. Davis, Montreal) and Madame Badollet (wife of the Parisian watchmaker). While working with Fernandez, Darrin also designed a sedanca de ville for Lord Mountbatten’s Rolls-Royce Phantom II that was constructed by Barker as it would have been unfathomable for a member of the Windsor family to have a body built outside the country.
Although Fernandez & Darrin produced as many as 300 bodies during their seven-year life span, very few survive. Like their antecedent, Hibbard & Darrin and the American firms of Holbrook and Willoughby, the majority of Fernandez & Darrin’s clients commissioned chauffeur-driven town cars and limousines, bodies that were frequently discarded in favor of open body styles when surviving chassis were restored in the second half of the twentieth century.
According to the Washington Post (Jul 21, 1935 issue), twenty-five thousand Americans were engaged in professional activities in Paris in the boom years of 1927 and 1928, but by 1935 that colony has dwindled to a mere 7,000. The deteriorating situation in Germany, combined with the fact that many of Fernandez & Darrin’s customers were of Jewish decent, began to put a severe damper on their business, so Darrin made the prudent decision to move to Hollywood midway through 1937.
Darrin was not without friends in the movie making capital of the world, and chief among them was Hollywood mogul, Darryl F. Zanuck. Darrin had met him on one of the film executive’s trips to Paris, and the two avid polo players became good friends. By 1937, the former Warner Bros, executive had become vice-president of Twentieth Century Fox Studios and was in a good position to introduce his old friend Dutch to Hollywood’s celebrities.
Once he got to Hollywood, Darrin wasted no time, and started making the rounds of the Hollywood nightspots and restaurants where he was introduced as Howard Darrin of Paris. Darrin became friends with Los Angeles restaurateur and Jensen importer Percy Morgan, who offered to help finance his new business.
Darrin had the ability to turn off and on an authentic-sounding French accent if the situation warranted. Consequently many of his Hollywood customers were convinced he had spent his entire life on the Continent, unaware of the fact he had been born and raised in New Jersey. Darrin jokingly attributed a large part of his success on his suave ‘Darrin of Paris’ persona, rationalizing that it was a more useful sales tool than portfolios of his previous work.
Darrin’s first customer was Dick Powell, one of Warner Bros. top stars, who commissioned Darrin to customize his 1937 Ford sport phaeton. The resulting European looking roadster was built under the direction of Crown Coach’s Charles Rotzenberger at Crown’s East Los Angles factory as Darrin hadn’t yet hired any staff nor found a suitable location for business.
Darrin’s next customer was RKO leading man Chester Morris, who ordered a roadster very similar to Powell’s Ford although he wanted it built on the new Packard One-Twenty chassis. Darrin had outworn his welcome at Crown Coach, and moved operations to A1 Auto Body, a small Los Angeles collision shop and auto re-builder. Morris’ car became the prototype Packard-Darrin.
Next, Darrin moved operations into a former bottle factory at 8660 W. Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood.
Soon after Dick Powell’s Ford was completed he ordered a Packard One-Twenty roadster for his wife actress Joan Blondell. The vehicle was mentioned by gossip columnist May Mann in a December 20, 1937 story in the Ogden (Utah) Standard Examiner.
“Special Car BuiltBy early 1938 the former Sunset Blvd. bottle factory had been transformed into “Darrin of Paris”.
“Dick Powell is having a special cut-down car built – so he says –for Joan Blondell’s Christmas present. But on examination the car is entirely un-feminine – and one suspects that Mr. Powell will do most of the driving. It is a two bucket seat affair on a 120-inch Packard chassis. Howard Darrin, of Paris, designed it and has been hard at work on it for six months.”
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 Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, Chester Morris, Al Jolson, Rosalind Russell, Ruby Keeler (Mrs. Al Jolson), Preston Foster, Ann Sheridan, Constance Bennett and Gene Krupa.
Although the Packard-Darrin’s looked custom built, they actually used quite a few stock Packard parts as the donor cars were off the lot Packard one-twenty business coupes purchased from a dealer in Texas for $1,100. A completed Packard-Darrin wholesaled to regional Packard dealers for around $3,200-$3,300. When they finally got up to speed, Darrin’s crew could turn a stock Packard coupe into a Packard Darrin in two weeks time.
When the coupes arrived at Darrin of Paris, the tops were cut off, the doors removed, the cowl, windshield and both running boards discarded. The rear fenders were removed, slightly modified and reattached so that they slanted slightly forward. The front fenders were also patched so that no traces of the running boards remained.
The rear package shelf and deck panel were removed and an ash frame was inserted to support the convertible top mechanism, then new sheet-metal was welded in place to cover the bracing. A six inch sill was also welded below the door openings to strengthen the body.
A San Francisco foundry supplied Darrin with cast aluminum window frames and three-piece cowls which gave the car a distinctive appearance. Cut-down door frames were fabricated which were then covered in doors skins fabricated by California Metal Shaping. The new cowl necessitated lengthening the hood by nine inches, and the radiator shell and hood were sectioned by three giving the car a long and low European stance. As profits accrued, Darrin was able to purchase a used power hammer, and all sheet metal work was built in the Wilshire Blvd, factory thereafter.
The seats were re-mounted on substantially shortened seat frames and recovered in leather in order to match the padded dash which was continued onto the tops of the doors. During inclement weather, the occupants were protected by a lightweight fabric top which was raised using an awkward convertible top mechanism that resided behind the occasional rear seat.
The Packard-Darrins built for Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Rosalind Russell utilized the chrome-finished hides that debuted on Greta Garbo’s Fernandez & Darrin-bodied Duesenberg. The swept-down doors, called the “Darrin Dip” in the trade, were the car’s most eye-catching feature. The car’s dash utilized the aircraft style crash pads Darrin had developed in France, which was another one of the vehicle’s strong selling points. Retail prices ranged from $4200-$5200 per vehicle, roughly three times the price of a standard, and more structurally sound, Packard 120 Convertible.
The first two examples, built at A1 Auto Body and sold to Chester Morris and Clark Gable, were structurally different from the remaining fourteen cars built at the Sunset Blvd. plant. They both included running boards and a standard coachbuilt cowl assembly (ash framed, aluminum covered) as the thee-piece aluminum cowl had not yet been developed
When production was shifted to the Auburn plant 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 M. Fitzpatrick. 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 although it further alienated Darrin with Packard management.
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.’”
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."
Over the objections of his body engineers, 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.
Darrin had nothing to lose and everything to gain and signed an agreement whereby Packard would handle the distribution and manufacturing of the vehicle and 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.
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.
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."
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.
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 in 1942 as the Packard Clipper, although he never received official credit (or payment) for it.
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 pro-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.
These Packards represent an elegance and grace that the post war Packards, particularly the ungainly "upside down bathtub" 22nd and 23rd Series Packards of 1948-1950, never equalled. They were truly the end of an era.