1940 Packard Super EightCustom Super Eight One-Eighty Sport Sedan by Darrin
Year of manufacture1940
- An elegant and exclusive Packard offered out of long-term ownership
- Breathtaking Howard “Dutch” Darrin styling
- One of only three Darrin Sport Sedans known to have been built, of which two are believed to survive
- Recipient of CCCA, AACA, Packard Club, and concours recognition
- Featured in Packard: The Pride by J.M. Fenster, as well as issues of Packards International and The Packard Cormorant magazines
Some of the most memorable creative relationships thrive on a certain amount of tension, and this dynamic is clearly evident in the unlikely partnership of Howard “Dutch” Darrin and Packard. The automobiles born from this pairing had an impact that far surpassed their limited production numbers—and this 1940 Packard Custom Super Eight Sport Sedan by Darrin demonstrates, their dramatic appeal remains undiminished by the passage of time.
Born in New Jersey, Darrin established himself as a coachbuilder in Paris, France in the decade following World War I. He returned to America in 1937, setting up shop in Hollywood, California and bringing his design sensibilities (and his carefully cultivated Continental flair) with him. After building a handful of Packard-based specials for the day’s top celebrities, including Clark Gable and Al Jolson, Darrin sought a more official arrangement with the automaker.
Packard, however, was initially reluctant to add the Darrin designs to its official catalogue; Darrin’s Hollywood outlook seemed to clash with Packard’s conservative approach to styling. It was quite fortunate—both for Packard then, and for discriminating collectors today—that the strong-willed Darrin was able to bring his own brand of glamour to the Packard line, despite the initial reservations of the automaker’s top brass! With their blend of Packard formality and West Coast flamboyance, the sensational Darrin-styled cars gave Packard an edge against increasingly design-driven competitors, such as Cadillac.
Production estimates vary, but fewer than 200 Darrin-designed Packards of all styles are believed to have been built between 1937 and 1942. The majority were striking two-door Convertible Victorias constructed on One-Twenty and One-Eighty chassis. Far rarer were the four-door Convertible Sedans, with perhaps 11 or 12 constructed—and most exclusive of all were the Sport Sedans. Counting Darrin’s initial prototype, and two “production” examples built at Connersville, Indiana’s Central Manufacturing body plant, only three are reported to have been built, each distinctive in its details. Only two are known to survive to the present, this chassis included.
Like the Convertible Sedans, the Sport Sedans rode on the new-for-1940 Packard Custom Super Eight’s 138-inch wheelbase chassis. Power was supplied by a 160-horsepower, 356-cubic-inch inline-eight engine mated to three-speed synchromesh manual transmission with electric overdrive. The bodywork, of course, was heavily reworked, transforming the look of the car. The low, sleek Sport Sedan’s beltline subtly descends aft of the windshield, with the gentle downward curve of the front doors offering just a hint of the signature “Darrin Dip.”
Although the Darrin Sport Sedan prototype featured front “suicide” doors and conventionally hinged rear portals, the second two examples reversed that arrangement, with rear-hinged rear doors and conventional front doors. All told, the hood center panel and trunk lid were said to be the only production sheet metal used on the Darrin Convertible Sedan and Sport Sedan. Consequently, these were the most expensive offerings in the Packard’s 1940 catalogue, with the closed car costing an impressive $6,100.
A SPECTACULAR SPORT SEDAN
This example is believed to have been ordered new by a Mr. Ames of Boston, owner of the Tru-Temper Hardware Company. Unlike the other production Darrin Sport Sedan, which was intended to be owner-driven, Mr. Ames commissioned his for use as a limousine—a duty reflected in its distinctive configuration. The driver’s compartment is trimmed in green leather, including an unusual leather headliner, as was traditional for chauffeur-driven vehicles. The rear compartment, separated from the front by a proper roll-up divider window, makes use of broadcloth upholstery in a combination of dark and sage green; the floor is covered in plush carpeting. Two radios, one for each compartment, provide entertainment, while an intercom ensures communication with the chauffeur even if the divider is raised. Further options included running boards and dual covered sidemount spares, a rear luggage rack for longer voyages, and a backup light, as well as rarely seen Packard-branded Guide Super Ray driving lights.
Acquired by the consignor, a noted Darrin collector, in the early 1980s, the Sport Sedan was reportedly in solid structural condition, requiring only cleaning and the preparation of its sheet metal for a new coat of Wilshire Green paint; even its original running boards, still present today, were in excellent condition. Its green leather driver’s compartment and striking “Riviera option” two-tone broadcloth rear upholstery were reproduced exactly. Its mechanical systems, meanwhile, were restored to their original specifications, including the fitment of a correct factory-crated 356-cubic-inch inline-eight replacement engine and the professional rebuild of the three-speed transmission with overdrive. New-old stock parts, more readily available at the time than they are today, were used wherever possible.
Following its recommissioning, this Sport Sedan was shown extensively, winning well-deserved recognition. A Classic Car Club of America Full Classic, it has earned a CCCA Senior Premier badge (number 2714), as well as an AACA National First, First Place at a Packard Automobile Classics national meet, and concours accolades at the Meadowbrook Concours d’Elegance and the Glenmoor Gathering of Significant Automobiles. Further, it has been the subject of stories in Packards International and The Packard Cormorant magazines over the years, and it was notably featured in Packard: The Pride by J.M. Fenster.
One of only two known surviving examples, this 1940 Custom Super Eight Sport Sedan is now offered after decades in careful single ownership. Unmistakably Packard, yet also undeniably Darrin, it would be a superb addition to a collection of significant American classics, and an ideal candidate for further CCCA, AACA, and Packard club events, as well as concours exhibition.
To view this car and others currently consigned to this auction, please visit the RM website at rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/hf21.