1941 Packard One Eighty Convertible Victoria by Darrin. Photos by Ryan Merrill, courtesy Auctions America.
Howard “Dutch” Darrin was as adept at marketing as he was at design. His relationship with Clark Gable, along with a bit of savvy product placement, helped Darrin strike a deal with Packard that ran from 1939 until just after the onset of World War II in 1941. Counting all body styles, 114 Packard-Darrins were built in total, including 106 Convertible Victorias. On May 13, one of 35 Packard-Darrin Convertible Victorias built for 1941 heads to auction in Auburn, Indiana, giving buyers a chance to acquire a car once described by fellow designer Alex Tremulis as “the most elegant of Packards.”
Following his time in Paris, France, with Hibbard & Darrin and, later, Fernandez & Darrin, the designer returned to the United States and set up shop in Hollywood, California, in 1937. His new venture was called Darrin of Paris, and, though born and raised in New Jersey, Darrin frequently adopted the persona (and accent) of an upper-class French citizen. Having acquaintances in the movie business certainly helped his sales (and his image), and soon silver screen notables such as Dick Powell and Chester Morris were driving Darrin-bodied automobiles.
Morris had specifically requested a two-seat Convertible Victoria built upon a 1937 Packard One Twenty chassis, and the commission gave Darrin the idea to pitch Packard on adding a five-passenger, Darrin-bodied Convertible Victoria to its production car lineup. The initial response from Packard executives was “no,” but Darrin wasn’t dissuaded; after building an example, he asked employee Art Fitzpatrick (and a friend) to drive straight through from Los Angeles to Detroit, then park the drop-top Darrin in front of the Detroit Packard dealer council meeting, taking place at the Packard proving ground.
As Coachbuilt explains, the pair was struck by a drunk driver en route, so with no other alternative they pressed onward, ultimately reaching their destination in time for the meeting. To mask the damage, the Packard was parked tight to a wall, but from a distance, it looked magnificent and soon became the talk of the dealer council meeting. The stunt may have earned Darrin the popular vote, but did little to ingratiate him to Packard management.
Shortly after, United Press ran a story linking Darrin to Clark Gable, then at the height of his stardom and recently announced as the lead (with Vivien Leigh) in the big screen adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. The article praised the design, quality and refinement of Darrin’s built-to-order automobiles, and, seemingly overnight, Detroit could no longer ignore his advances. In early 1939, a meeting was arranged between Darrin and Packard’s president, Alvan Macauley, and ultimately a deal between the two parties was reached.
Darrin would provide tooling for three models, including the Convertible Victoria, a convertible sedan and a four-door sports sedan, to be built upon the Packard Super Eight chassis. Packard, or a vendor of its choosing, would handle production and distribution, and Darrin would receive a fee for each Packard-Darrin model sold. He also agreed to oversee production and to contribute design input to later Packard models, and the dual-branded automobiles first appeared in the automaker’s 1940 catalog.
Initially, production was handled by Auburn’s Central Manufacturing plant in Connersville, Indiana, but when the facility landed a government contract to begin producing Jeep bodies in May of 1941, it moved to professional car builder Sayer and Scoville in Cincinnati, Ohio. Almost concurrently, Packard announced its latest model for 1942, the revolutionary Packard Clipper, which did not take well to such customization efforts (but, for some consolation, was designed in part by Darrin himself). In December of 1941, the United States entered the Second World War, and early in 1942 civilian automobile production ceased. During the war, Darrin served as a flight instructor, but in the postwar years he’d resume his work as an automotive designer, this time with Kaiser-Frazer.
Powered by a 356-cu.in. inline eight-cylinder rated at 160 horsepower and bolted to a three-speed manual transmission, the 1941 Packard-Darrin Convertible Victoria to be offered in Auburn was delivered new through the Meador Motor Company in Houston, Texas. Little is known about its early life, but in the late 1960s, it was sold by Tom Lester to collector and appraiser extraordinaire Harry Rinker. It was restored by Rich Fass of Stone Barn Automobile Restoration in the late 1970s, and has reportedly been well-preserved since. The Packard-Darrin last surfaced at auction in Monterey in 2011, where it sold for a hammer price of $203,500; this time around, Auctions America is predicting a price between $375,000 and $425,000.
The Auburn Spring sale takes place from May 11-13 at the Auburn Auction Park in Auburn, Indiana. For additional details, visit AuctionsAmerica.com.