Paris proved an irresistible lure to a host of American artists in the Twenties. Some came to write, others to paint. Then there was Howard "Dutch" Darrin, who sculpted in wood, metal, and fabric, the media of custom automobile bodies, such as that on the 1938 Buick Series 80 Opera Brougham.
Before he left France for California in 1937, Darrin and his associates had won an international reputation for beautiful coachwork. Along the way, in partnership with a banker, he established the shop of Fernandez & Darrin, which listed among its creations the vehicle seen here.
Buick, too, enjoyed worldwide acclaim in the Thirties. It's not surprising, then, that a Series 80 Roadmaster chassis was chosen as the basis for this one-of-a-kind "opera brougham" originally built for a Polish countess. The 1938 Roadmaster rode a 133-inch wheelbase that represented a two-inch stretch of the previous year's chassis. Meanwhile, the Series 80's overhead-valve straight-eight engine got a boost to 141 horsepower -- a 9.2 percent increase -- even though displacement remained at 320 cubic inches.
The front of the car looks much like a stock 1938 Roadmaster, albeit with the standard chrome hood louvers removed. Other touches show a mix of new and old ideas. Running boards were deleted, but the fenders were restyled with more of a mid-Thirties appearance. The look of delicate canework was painted on the body. Upholstery is broadcloth in back, with leather in the chauffeur's compartment.
Noted Chicago-area restorer Fran Roxas redid the car from top to bottom. Thomas Derro, of Carlisle, Massachusetts, has owned the multiple concours winner since 1998.
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