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Lot 30 1939 Packard Darrin 'Hollywood' Victoria Convertible
Selling on Wednesday
CHASSIS NO: 121235
• 1 of the 14 original Hollywood Darrins • Formerly owned by film star Preston Foster • Updated grille and carburetion by Coachcraft in 1941 • Documentation including copy of Howard "Dutch" Darrin signed letter
Packard was America’s ultimate luxury marque throughout the pre-war era and Darrin of Paris delivered some of the most glamorous coachbuilt examples ever produced. Howard “Dutch” Darrin was about as famous as the Hollywood stars he styled cars for. Equal parts savant, playboy and audacious self-promoter, Dutch charmed starlets, movie stars and studio executives alike. Everyone wanted a “Darrin of Paris.” His affected French accent may have been fake, but his talent and creative magic were one hundred percent real. The most widely celebrated of his limited custom builds were the Packard Darrins and, of those, only 14 are Hollywood Darrin Packard Victorias, crafted out of his Darrin of Paris shop on the Sunset Strip in California. This is one of those Darrins. It doesn’t get more “old Hollywood” than this.
Darrin’s campaign for notoriety amongst Hollywood royalty and the Packard Brass unfolds like a scene out of Scorsese’s Goodfellas. His crew would grease parking attendants palms for front curb spots at Hollywood’s most illustrious restaurants and clubs. To get his designs included in the Packard catalogue, he pulled a publicity stunt at the Packard Proving Ground and inevitably got his way in the 1940 catalogue. He thrived on the motto: ask forgiveness, not permission. Once his deal with Packard was officially underway, his Hollywood studio for handcrafting customs couldn’t keep up with demand so the Packard Darrins were soon produced out of Connersville, Indiana and that plant produced roughly 50 units. Of all of the Packards he produced, only 16 were his Hollywood Packard Darrins and, of that number, only 14 were Victoria Convertibles. The majority of his Hollywood Packards were sold to major movie stars including Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Rosalind Russell, Al Jolson and Preston Foster, who was the first private owner of this particular Packard Darrin.
Dutch and his initial six-man crew, led by the incredibly gifted Rudy Stoessel, gleaned from the best coach houses on the coast. They converted Packard’s chassis into the swankiest convertible to ever idle up to a premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The Packards were transformed into Cinderella through some very strategic modifications. They removed the roof, fitted a new windshield, removed the running boards, provocatively lowered the radiator shell, added the famous “Darren dip” to the beltline, and then restyled the front and rear fenders for maximum flare. The doors were rear-hinged, which was four-wheeled dynamite when a movie star rolled up to a premiere and poured out of the dramatic suicide door. His skilled team fabricated their own convertible top mechanisms and reinforced the structure of the newly topless bodies with custom three-piece cast aluminum cowls and rear deck panels with hardwood framework for the backseats. The interior of the already-lush Packards were left intact, but Darrin added his patented padded dash. Of the styling components, one thing delineates a Hollywood Darrin from a Connersville straight off. On the Hollywood Darrins, when the running board was removed, an attractive six-inch sill was added and ran below the doors; this is absent from the Connersville Darrins which feature doors that are flush with the bottom of the car.
This particular car has known a life as illustrious as Darrin himself. Purchased from a Packard dealer in 1939 by prolific actor, Preston Foster, this gorgeous Packard Darrin was later owned by actress Diane Barrymore then TV actor Edwin Rand. This 1939 Victoria was then featured in the 44th annual Santa Claus Lane Parade of the Stars in 1976; she drove the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade’s Grand Marshal in 1979 and she was featured at Dutch Darrin’s 80th birthday celebration. With more stories than a high-society socialite, this wonderful example of Darrin’s work is accompanied by copies of letters from the Rose Bowl committee and a copy of a letter penned by Darrin himself as well as a staggering amount of documentation and photographs. Numbered DR121235CAL, as referenced in the "Dutch" letter copy to be one of the 14 rare original Hollywood Packard Darrins built at 8860 Sunset Boulevard, still boasts its original engine.
Mr. Foster thoroughly enjoyed his ‘39 Darrin but was quite impressed with the new 1941 design and wanted his car to sport the more contemporary front end. Foster knew he would find no better suited craftsman for the task than Mr. Stoessel himself. So, Mr. Stoessel and his talented team of original Darrin fabricators at Coachcraft granted Foster's wishes and sculpted a 1941 front end for his beloved Packard. The modernized look and performance upgrades of the Darrin included new side grilles, a radiator shell, hood and headlights as well as the dual carburetors and Eddie Edmunds intake manifold. Impressed with these styling changes, Preston further set out to make this Darrin catch everyone’s attention by requesting Stoessel to paint his now one-of-a-kind car in midnight blue. These stylish and tasteful updates performed by Coachcraft are documented in a copy of a July 6, 1973 letter from Rudolph Stoessel, the former owner of Coachcraft.
Years later, the car would be painted in its current shade of warm yellow, beautifully offset by its red leather interior and red wheels with hubcaps and trimrings wrapped in elegant whitewall tires. This timeless beauty is an incredibly special vestige of a designer that was every bit as enticing as the stars for which he crafted these beautiful cars. Very few were ever made and even fewer have enjoyed this fascinating provenance. Today, this singularly important Darrin, captures both the remarkable legacy of Dutch Darrin’s dream Packards as well as the Golden Era of Hollywood.