Believed to be one of two extant
1931 PACKARD 845 DELUXE EIGHT CONVERTIBLE COUPE
COACHWORK BY DERHAM
Vehicle No. 845 40
Chassis No. 188684
Engine No. 188688
Black with black leather interior and beige cloth top
Engine: eight cylinder, in-line, 120bhp with single carburetor; Gearbox: four speed manual; Suspension: live axles with semi-elliptical leaf springs; Brakes: four wheel mechanically-actuated drums. Left hand drive.
Under Alvan Macauley's management, Packard Motor Company moved steadily to integrate its operations to manufacture as much of each Packard as possible within its own facilities. In practice its policy was much like Ford's and General Motors', although its motivation was completely different. While Ford and GM sought to exploit the economies of scale their huge volumes made possible and to control their suppliers' ability to dictate prices, Packard's goal was to maintain the quality and integrity of its automobiles by ensuring that each Packard was built to the highest standards from carefully controlled and inspected materials and components.
One area that particularly benefited was Packard's own coachworks. Packard had made no secret that it priced chassis for coachbuilt bodywork at ample markups, an astute position that encouraged work for its own shop and also recognized that clients for coachbuilt Packards were both able and willing to pay top dollar for exclusivity. Its arrangements with Hibbard & Darrin, Dietrich, Inc. and other consultant designers fed a constant stream of fresh, up-to-date ideas to Packard's own designers. These were rapidly and tastefully incorporated in Packard's catalog and particularly into the individual custom catalog. Even labeled custom bodies were frequently built in Packard's own shop and then shipped to outside coachbuilders for final trimming, painting and affixing the coachbuilder's plaque.
By 1931 this process was essentially streamlined. Individually-specified, unique coachbuilt bodies for Packards were extremely rare and usually limited to elaborate formal limousines, town cars and convertible sedans. The long (145 ½ inch) wheelbase Deluxe Eight chassis powered by the 120 horsepower, 385 cubic inch, nine main bearing Packard inline eight formed the basis for these exclusive automobiles. Cost - a crucially important factor in the early years of the Great Depression - and the attractive, contemporary designs in Packard's catalog made it highly unusual for a buyer even to consider a coachbuilt coupé, roadster, sedan or phaeton.
The 1931 Packard Deluxe Eight 845 Convertible Coupé by Derham offered here is extremely rare and one of only two known to exist (the other being chassis 188777.) The 845 chassis was generally reserved for seven passenger coachwork and its cost, F.O.B. Detroit, of $3,050, was only $590 less than the complete 840 convertible coupi. It was a daring young blade who would step up to the counter at his local Packard dealer in 1931 to order an 845 chassis and then contract for a custom 2/4 seat open body to go with it. Circumstances, however, might have presented an opportunity as the year progressed and sales did not keep pace with even Packard's scaled-back production.
This Packard's chassis was delivered to the local distributor in Philadelphia on November 5, 1931, long after the June 1931 introduction of the 1932 Packards. In common with many 1931 Packards, it was fitted with a variation on the vee-shaped radiator grill shell which the manufacturer had adopted for 1932, and an extended 147½ inch wheelbase to accomodate the special aluminum Derham body.
Derham Body Company outside of Philadelphia supplied east coast dealers, primarily Hudson and Packard, with bodies in low volume series, typically building 10 to 25 bodies which then could be quickly finished to individual specifications and mounted on their clients' chassis at a price less than those of full custom coachbuilders. They prepared a catalog of designs for the 1931 Packard and achieved great success at the New York Auto Salon that year with the Derham Tourster-bodied Duesenberg Model J and an elaborate Packard four door hardtop sedan. In 1931, however, even as few as ten or a dozen semi-finished custom bodies may have backed up in Derham's shop.
The Derham convertible coupe offered here was acquired by the present gentleman owner on October 31, 1978 from William Peirce, proprietor of a grocery store in Elverson, Pennsylvania. Mr. Peirce recounted at the time that he believed the first owner to have been Benton Spruance, President of the Spruance Paint Company in Philadelphia. In the difficult economic conditions then prevailing, it is not hard to imagine that Mr. Spruance might have been offered the brand new, updated long wheelbase Packard 845 chassis and sporting two/four seat Derham convertible coupé body, finished to his specifications, at an extremely attractive price.
It is a remarkably handsome automobile which is even more attractive than the convertible coupé built by Packard on the five inch shorter 840 chassis. This example is fitted with the original Packard 'Lyon' covers on its dual sidemounted spare tires, the 'sliding boy' radiator ornament and has a crank-operated top mechanism designed by Derham.
As interesting as conjecture about its origins may be, even more intriguing is its exceptional state of preservation. Although the ownership history before Mr. Peirce is unknown, this Packard 845 has obviously been carefully maintained and preserved by a succession of owners who have appreciated its style, quality and rarity. The odometer shows less than 39,000 miles which the present owner believes is the accurate reading from new and which the Packard's condition abundantly supports.
Restoration irrevocably changes the character of a classic; this Packard Derham convertible has never had, nor has it needed, a restoration yet it is in sound and usable condition. Its character resonates throughout: of its enduring the vicissitudes of the Depression, of the Derham Body Co. at the height of its design and style leadership and of 75 years of discerning, sympathetic owners who have carefully and lovingly preserved this exceptional Packard in wonderfully complete and nearly as-built condition.
In 2006 this example celebrates its Diamond Jubilee, seventy-five years after it was first delivered and it is truly a rare, desirable diamond; albeit somewhat rough around the edges, its internal fire and brilliance still shines brilliantly through the patina of maturity.
[Note: The Derham Body Co. remained in operation until 1971. The company records were entrusted to the Classic Car Club of America library in Hickory Corners, Michigan. Inquiries have been made to CCCA to see if the Derham record of this body can be found and, if so, it will be available by consulting a Christie's specialist.]