Old Cars Weekly archive – August 14, 2008 issue
Story and photos by John Gunnell
Chris Goes of Lake Geneva, Wis., owns a unique, unrestored Full Classic car that is the only 1941 Packard Darrin Sport Sedan ever made.
The car has been in his family since it was only a year or so old.
Production of 1941 Packard models started in the fall of 1940. The builder’s plate on this car indicates it was manufactured in October 1940. It was delivered to the Packard factory on Nov. 29, 1940. The car was originally owned by the factory. The build plate indicates “FACT DEL” for factory delivery.
Max Gillman, the president of Packard Motor Co. in 1941, drove this car for about a year. The car was then put on a railroad car and readied for direct shipment to California. Most Darrins were sold on the West Coast, so shipping the car west seemed like a good idea. Then, fate stepped into the picture. Goes’ grandparents wound up buying the car, in Chicago, on December 11, 1941.
Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor caused the U.S. government to halt all unnecessary rail shipments to the West. The boxcar containing the Darrin reached Chicago and was shunted aside and the Packard was removed from it. The factory still owned the vehicle and wanted to sell it fast.
Chris Goes’ grandfather had a long-standing arrangement with the local Packard dealer, located at 23rd and Michigan Ave., in Chicago, Ill., to buy what amounted to their “executive-driven” cars. He would drive these cars awhile, to show them off, and then resell them. He often traveled as a salesman in his business and conducted this sideline business with his customers. He would then ride trains back to Chicago after he sold a car.
A Packard representative called to see if Chris’ grandfather wanted the Darrin, but he was away on a trip. The salesman explained to his wife that a very nice Darrin was available and that it had air conditioning! “Grandma didn’t hesitate,” as Chris recalls from a story she told to him many times. “She knew that grandfather would love the car.” Ultimately, the family traded two other Packards for the Darrin. The sales receipt, which Chris still has, says the car was sold for $4,300 cash and the two other Packards. That added up to a total price of $6,300.
The Darrin was built on Packard’s 180 chassis. Custom coachbuilder Howard “Dutch” Darrin lengthened the car’s hood by adding extra metal to the hood and around the firewall. Darrin lowered the car and its roofline and installed his famous chrome windshield.
Darrin was best known for a beautiful convertible victoria model that he also built on the Packard chassis. It had smooth styling with cut-down doors. This model was well received, so consequently, Sport Sedan fabrication was slow. Darrin was backed up with orders for open cars. Packard management ultimately sent Sport Sedan orders to the House of LeBaron, another coachbuilding firm.
As a result, Goes’ car was never shipped to a Packard dealership. The 180 wound up in South Shore and, later, Beverly Hills, which are both fashionable districts of Chicago.
A 356-cid, 160-hp inline eight powers the car. It is linked to an electro-magnetic clutch. The car is equipped with some advanced features for its era, such as power-operated windows, factory air conditioning and a fluid windshield washer system.
The car was retired and stored in garages from about 1957 to 1973, when it was rarely used. In 1973, Chris and his dad got the car running. His grandfather was moving to Wisconsin, from Beverly Hills. Chris and his dad drove it to a tollbooth, where it quit running. They pushed it through the tollbooth with a 1971 Cadillac and took it back to Beverly Hills. It took another week of cleaning fuel lines and the gas tank before it was road worthy.
They test drove the car to work in Chicago, where the Goes family runs a lithographic business. After a few weeks, they got it running very well and drove it up to a family farm in the Lake Geneva, Wis., area.
“My granddad put the car in a storage shed on the property,” Chris recalled. “He was very protective. No one could drive it locally and it sat again for years. A few years later, a snowstorm caused the roof of the shed to fall on the car.”
After that, the damaged Packard sat until 1978, when Chris’ grandmother said that something should be done with the car. Grandfather agreed and Chris and his father took it out of the garage and got it working again. They took it to a body shop in Walworth, Wis., where the damage to the sheet metal was repaired.
The Packard air conditioning system used in the Darrin was innovative. The condenser took up a big portion of the luggage compartment. Chilled air came out of vents in the rear deck and was pulled up towards the front of the car. The system was not without issues. Since there was no regulating clutch, the compressor ran all the time. In winter, the owner had to remove the drive belt. In summer, it had to be reinstalled.
The car has optional running boards, which Max Gillman preferred in snowy Detroit, where Packard was based. Most Darrins were driven in California and had no running boards.
Darrin experts say these cars were built for style and usually held up for only five to10 years before the bodies sagged. Darrin eventually used cast aluminum parts to reduce body flexing. Chris’ car is very solid because of its long storage and solid steel reworked roof.
According to Chris, the buttons that operate the electric/hydraulic rear windows were placed high up on the dashboard, while the buttons for the front windows are on the sides of the front doors. The car originally came with only one back-up lamp, but a second one was added as an option, as was a chrome-plated muffler cover.
Chris told Old Cars Weekly that the car was too nice of an original vehicle to restore, but in 1999 in anticipation of exhibiting at the Packard Centennial National Meet, in Warren, Ohio, he had well-known restorer Fran Roxas, of Vintage Auto Group in Broadview, Ill., give it some much needed service so it could safely be driven over the road at high speeds.