The Final Days of the Packard Darrin
World War II and the advent of the envelope-body Clipper brought the final end to Packard Darrin production. (A double irony: Dutch claimed that he largely designed the Clipper, but that Packard never paid him for it.) Darrin stopped playing with cars and went off to help train pilots for the air war, continuing to associate with exalted figures, notably flier/industrialist Howard Hughes.
At war's end, he went back to body building, and played a major role in both design generations of Kaiser-Frazer, contributed to the Jeep Wagoneer, and ran off stillborn proposals for Crosley, DKW, Ilian of Israel, and Kaiser-Argentina.
One of his last projects was a Darrin version of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, in which he transformed a boxy, Volvo-like affair into a curvaceous sedan along familiar lines, with his patented beltline dip and jutting, rounded fenders. He never worked again for Packard, though he did conceive an intriguing four-seat convertible with two-way sliding doors allowing entry to the front or rear compartment. The idea was utterly impractical, but it featured one of the most beautiful modern adaptations of the traditional Packard grille ever conceived.
Howard A. "Dutch" Darrin had very firm ideas about how such projects should be handled. He sailed confidently forward, and once arrived in his port of conclusion, no attack by land or sea was sufficient to dislodge him. He was a great joker and a wonderful needler, but there was a serious side to him too, and nobody was more loyal to a friend.
If there was one quality which set Dutch off from most comparable automotive figures, it was his characteristic way of standing back and looking at himself, as he believed history would: "How will I look if I do this or that?" Or: "What must I do now so that the verdict of history will be favorable?" Like Churchill, he was always searching for finest hours, and if one was not immediately available, his impulse was to create one.
He was, of course, above all, supremely fortunate. Time and again, as with the immortal Packard Darrins, history placed him in a role that he was ideally qualified to fill. Dutch was superbly lucky. And perhaps the warmest thing about him was that he never ceased to say so -- as for example in 1972: "Whoever thought that a dumb kid like me would fall into a strawberry patch?"
Among the many car collectors who knew him in his later years, each recalls some little incident -- many of them, a kind action graced with the courtesy of past generations, going far beyond the normal calls of polite communication. Each collector has his own memory, for in the wealth of the tributes Dutch received at his death all of them at least know the epitaph he would have chosen himself: "He was a good automobile man."
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