Howard A. Dutch Darrin was a dapper, athletic, poised, creative, good looking, polo-playing war hero, a World War I pilot with an innate sense of style, proportion and balance.
His family owned the Automatic Switch Company in New Jersey, inventors and makers of electro-mechanical devices such as the solenoid valve and switches employed by elevator makers. Dutch displayed an early and natural aptitude both for designing mechanical devices and for automobiles. Before entering the Army Signal Corps flying service he designed and built a successful prototype electromechanical shifting system for Willys automobiles.
In 1923 he traveled back to Paris with Tom Hibbard to establish LeBarons bridgehead in Europe, then teamed up to form the firm of Hibbard & Darrin. When the Depression struck Hibbard returned to the U.S. but Dutch found a new partner, J. Fernandez, and continued to work in Paris as Fernandez et Darrin until 1937. Much of the work of both Hibbard & Darrin and Fernandez et Darrin catered to movie stars and high society including a Duesenberg J for Greta Garbo and cars for Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, Gloria Swanson and many others. Hibbard & Darrin even bodied a Cadillac Town Car for Fred J. Fisher of Fisher Body.
The coachwork Darrin built both on his own and in concert with Tom Hibbard was noted for its many innovations and intricate details. The stylized arrowhead beltline accent they created became a feature of many great classics. Exterior and interior handles were individually designed and custom made to complement the coachworks lines. Running boards were refined, sometimes minimized as teardrop-shaped step plates, other times intricately constructed of wood and metal to be self-draining and self-cleaning. Darrins folding top structures and mechanisms are legendary. Complex, they also complemented the coachwork and often provided for extra ventilation and visibility. Several were patented and successfully licensed to other high-end coachbuilders.
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 convertible victorias built on Packard chassis from 1937 through 1942.
The car offered here has been identified in print by Dutch Darrin as the second Packard Convertible Victoria he built and the one that was constructed for Clark Gable. It is the first five-seater.
After winding up Fernandez et Darrin Dutch Darrin wound up in Hollywood where he quickly was accepted by the movie crowd where polo playing Dutch Darrin, complete with a carefully cultivated French accent, fit in perfectly. Darrins fledgling coachworks was with characteristic flair christened Darrin of Paris.
Darrin of Pariss 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 still 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.
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 Darrins 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 marques 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 Victorias signature styling feature. Also characteristic was the dashboard and instrument panel tucked under a roll of aircraft-style crash padding around the cockpit.
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 companys extensive offering of body styles.
The second 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 Hollywoods top box office draw. Landing the Gable commission cemented Dutch Darrins standing among Hollywoods legion of automobile enthusiasts.
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.
There are many stories about Clark Gables Darrin Convertible Victoria including one frequently quoted UP
report by Frederick C. Othman dated November 16, 1938:
And when the folks began seeing this vision of steel and cast aluminum, with Clark Gable, himself in person, behind the wheel, they couldnt restrain themselves. Lady motorists formed parades behind Gables 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
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 didnt dare drive down the street in it. It was tough, particularly after hed spent week[s] in the shop, watching it being built, like a man with a new house.
Sam Broadhead and his brother-in-law James Plumb, Jr. discovered this car 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 hed 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 Cooks 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, Broadhead described in a Packard Cormorant
article, duplicated as closely as possible.
In 1969 Broadhead contacted Skip Marketti at Harrahs 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 Bruces brother Andrew who played bit parts under his brother Georges name, was a friend of Gables 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 Clubs 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 Darrins 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.
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 cars freedom from superfluous chrome detailing.
It was acquired by Ted Leonard from the Broadheads in 1982, 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. A quantity of documentation comes with it including George Bruces 1950 California fishing license (illustrated) and correspondence from Bruce, Skip Marketti and others in the successful quest to identify this car conclusively as Clark Gables.
It is absolutely unique not only because of its unsurpassed celebrity ownership history but more importantly because of its unique design details, particularly the extended hood which was not employed on subsequent aluminum cowl Darrin Convertible Victorias. The combination of documentary evidence, the cars physical structure and details and Dutch Darrins own statements conclusively establish its provenance as one of Hollywood legend Clark Gables important, powerful, exclusive automobiles and the first five-passenger Packard Darrin Convertible Victoria. It is uniquely designed and executed in a pure, uncontrived expression of his vision for the Packard convertible victoria, uncompromised by production considerations.
Ted Leonard kept this car carefully and proudly for a quarter century, preserving it and its history for subsequent generations. This is an unparalleled opportunity to acquire one of the most important and beautiful Packards ever built, owned by Clark Gable and the first of its historic style.