While Howard “Dutch” Darrin is best known for his postwar work with Kaiser-Frazer, the foundation of his career formed in Paris. There, he encountered Tom Hibbard, founder of LeBaron and a former colleague at Brewster. The two eventually formed Hibbard & Darrin, and when that operation folded, Dutch stayed behind and founded Fernandez & Darrin. When demands for custom coachwork dwindled in the late 1930s, Darrin returned to the USA in 1937 and established an independent studio in Hollywood, California. Through his contacts in the film industry, he received several commissions for unique coachwork. That same year, actor Chester Morris requested a bespoke two-seat Convertible Victoria built on a Packard One-Twenty chassis. The rakish and sporty design inspired Darrin to approach Packard about adding a five-seat variation of the car to the lineup. The famously conservative Packard board politely declined, which did not stop Darrin from showing up in Detroit with a prototype, just in time for the Packard dealer council meeting. Even still, the board was reluctant, but a positive press reaction and clamoring from dealers eventually persuaded them to make a deal with Darrin.
Darrin and Packard officially joined forces for the 1940 model year, with a deal for three cars in the custom catalog. These included a 5-passenger sports sedan, convertible sedan, and of course, the Chester Morris inspired two-door convertible. Officially designated the Convertible Victoria by Darrin, the beautiful and sporty car featured stunning lines, with skirted rear fenders, no running boards, and a distinct kick-up in the beltline that accentuated the curvaceous rear haunches. Initially, buyers had the option of fitting the Darrin Convertible Victoria body to either the One-Twenty chassis or on the flagship One-Eighty chassis. The Darrin-Packards were by far the most radically styled of the catalog, and the famously stubborn Dutch Darrin caused engineers a fair bit of grief with his insistence on retaining key design elements, without regard to production expenses or practicality.
In 1941, all Packards received fresh new front-end styling with headlamps integrated into the front fenders, bringing the marque well into the streamline era. To help the flagship 180 Super Eight stand apart from the mechanically identical 160, six of the eleven catalog body styles were “customs,” available only by special order from outside coachbuilders. Along with Le Baron and Rollston, Darrin returned for another year, offering the Convertible Victoria on the 127-inch wheelbase chassis, along with the larger 138-inch Sports Sedan, both taking full advantage of the beautiful new design language. The Convertible Victoria was easily the most glamorous model of the whole Packard range thanks to its flamboyant, Hollywood-inspired lines. However appealing it was, it was not a strong seller, and a mere 35 examples found buyers that year, with each one virtually hand-built to order. Darrin-bodied Packards of all kinds are highly desirable, but it is the One-Eighty Convertible Victoria of 1941 and 1942, with the Clipper-inspired front end and glamorous Hollywood persona that commands the most attention from collectors.
On May 29, 1941, Mr. Howard Viet of Pebble Beach, California, purchased this striking Packard Custom Super Eight One-Eighty Convertible Victoria from official dealer Stahl Motors of Monterey. Recently retired after selling his New York textile business, Mr. Viet no doubt fit right in on the Monterey Peninsula with his glamorous new Packard. After the war, he was appointed by President Truman to go to Germany and aid in rebuilding their textile industry. Howard Viet died in the early 1950s, yet his family was reluctant to sell his beautiful Packard. In 1955, Viet’s friend and colleague Mark Raggett of Carmel, California, was able to buy the car from Mrs. Viet. She only felt comfortable selling it because the two men had been such good friends.
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Raggett and his family enjoyed the Darrin as an everyday car for several years, repainting it dark brown and replacing the soft top along the way. They were very proud custodians of the Packard and showed it at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1956 - and perhaps other years. During their tenure, Stahl Motors replaced the damaged original block with a factory replacement. Around 1965, the car was sold to Patrick Young and noted collector Tom Mix. The pair collected the car in Carmel and drove it back to New Hampshire, with the only reported issue being a reluctant overdrive. Shortly afterward, Young bought out his partner’s share in the car and freshened it up with some light engine work and cosmetic refurbishment.
Following Mr. Young’s time with the Packard, it changed hands a few more times, with subsequent owners all well-documented in the history file. Along the way, the car remained remarkably original, with only light restoration work done as required to keep it in good running order. In 1990, then-owner Bill Weltyk of Oak Brook, Illinois, sourced a correct 1941-specification block to replace the 1948 unit fitted by Stahl Motors. It wasn’t until 2001 when the Darrin Packard got its first, well-earned full restoration. After stripping the body to bare metal, it received a fresh coat of period-correct Saratoga Beige paint, a new interior, and restored interior trim.
The late Neil DeAtley acquired the Darrin in 2007, maintaining it in his collection for the better part of a decade. He used it occasionally in CCCA Arizona Region shows and tours, keeping the restoration well-preserved and attractive. It remains in lovely condition today, with a warm character from use and care that befits its exceptional history. Paint, upholstery, and brightwork all show very well, with signs of care and enjoyment. Darrin famously eschewed frivolity in his designs, with no side-mount spares or heavy trim to spoil the simple yet stunningly beautiful lines, and this car’s understated color scheme suits the design very well. Experts consider this car to have the best-known ownership history of any surviving 1941 Packard-Darrin, and it would be a most welcome addition to any collection of significant Packard automobiles. Alternately, it would be a superb CARavan tour car, offering up style, performance, and luxury in equally generous portions.
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