When good friend and automotive historian Bob Cunningham shared a photo he saw on the internet that featured the 1946 Darrin fiberglass car and Santa Claus – I was hooked and had to have it. The photo, that is. Here’s what Bob had found:
I’ve written about this car before on our website – a car designed and built by Howard “Dutch” Darrin in 1945 and that debuted in 1946. This is one of the earliest fiberglass cars built, and I’ve written about this car before – click here to review the stories.
Darrin was a stylist working with the Kaiser-Frazer company during and after the World War II, and he was involved in the styling of the cars that debuted in 1947. You can see the similarity of the design of his plastic car to the 1947 Frazer and the 1947 Kaiser – both shown below.
But, as usual, I wanted to learn more about this this holiday photo showing the ’46 car. For example, where was the photo taken, when was it taken, is there significance of the wording shown behind the car, who are the people surrounding the car, etc.
I’m honored that Darrin’s son, Patrick, has made himself available to help with questions such as this, so I sent him the photo and asked for his reply, and here’s what he shared:
Geoff, I don’t know other than this was a Christmas promotion. By the way, that’s Marilyn Monroe next to car. She went out with my brother Bob. Best, Pat Darrin.
Okay….that’s a surprise! So…here are a few close-ups of Marilyn with the 1946 Darrin car:
Some of the best gifts come as surprises, and the information from Pat was great fun to learn. Marilyn Monroe would have been 20 years old in 1946, so if we assume the photo was taken during the holidays in the same year – everything seems about right.
But what about the location? There’s snow on the ground, and the name “Frank Mayer & Associates” appears on the banner or building in the background. Perhaps this was the company that had to do with the “design display” for this car or the Kaiser-Frazer line? Luckily Frank Mayer & Associates is still around, and here’s what is shared on their website (http://www.frankmayer.com/) about their history:
Founded in 1931, Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc. is a third generation, family-owned company based in Grafton, Wisconsin. Built on a strong foundation, Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc. started out as a one-man sign painting company which evolved into an innovative screen printing operation. Throughout the years, we have embraced transforming design concepts and ideas into a reality within the in-store merchandising industry.
So it’s possible that this company was associated with Kaiser-Frazer, Dutch Darrin, or both. Inquiring minds would like to know.
Was this photo taken in Wisconsin? There’s snow on the ground, so perhaps. Did this innovative plastic car travel around the country for display purposes? Or….was there a bit of “Hollywood” magic going on with the entire scene setup to look like it was Christmas time up north, but the photo shoot was actually done in Los Angeles – close to the Darrin home and Hollywood? I’d love to know more.
Anyone want to help sort out more of the history? This question is quite worthwhile as this is one of America’s first postwar fiberglass cars to debut and was shown to the public at large. A great story to tell, no doubt 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
Big Marilyn fan, and remember these Darrin’s appearing in an old Motor Trend magazine with article devoted to ‘Hybrid cars’. Back then they called the Canadian Studebaker a hybrid as well as the independent Avanti simply because their entire content was not entirely made in house. It was a subtle put down, something Motor Trend is well known for. Single handed, they could put more than one ‘American’ car company out of business. Such nonsense wouldn’t be printable today. Marilyn was a young model here, a year or so into her oncoming sizzling career.
Great photo, I too haven’t seen this one before. Bear with me if I fudge some details as I’m going by memory of a passage from Richard Langworth’s great book “Last Onslaught On Detroit” but I’m quite sure this car predates K-F as it was actually built for Lehman Brothers (yes, THAT Lehman Bros) would wanted to get into the car biz. I recall it may have featured a retractable hardtop and used hydraulics for the mechanism and windows (perhaps seats as well).
It appears that this car and Lehman became attached to K-F at some point, hence the banner.
My copy of the book is in storage otherwise I would’ve checked my facts directly, hopefully someone here has a copy and can clarify this further.
By the by, thanks Geoff for the great website!
Sorry for the typo: “would wanted to get into the car biz” should’ve been “who wanted to…” Feel free to delete this post and/or edit my original, or not or any other variation you can think of 🙂
from Google Books :
Detroit Engineer 1942
Frank Mayer, non-resident member located in Los Angeles, writes that he has recently formed an organization in that city known as Frank Mayer & Associates, 8536 Sunset Blvd., offering engineering service to Pacific Coast manufacturers covering the field of product design and development. Mr. Mayer was engaged in automotive engineering work for a period of 26 years in the Detroit area with the Ford Motor Co., Packard Motor Car Co. and General Motors Corp.
Great histroy story, thanks Pat. I still have some photos of your Dad by my MG Special in Longmont CO circa 1977. It was very interesting filling in the early post war automotive history with you and him. Also his links to Coachcraft Ltd of Hollywood in that period.
Also, there are some K-F engineering plans for a front wheel dtive car which lent well to this round body shape. Bob Gregory at Ford was taking Lincoln-Mercury styling in that direction, too.
Very interesting stuff and Marilyn looks great–as usual.
It would be most interesting to see what is on the wall behind the car in the upper left. Certainly that could reveal a lot. And just because a company may be HQ’d in a certain location does not mean that is where the photo just had to be taken–especially when it comes to engineering consultant firms. If the snow is real, certainly it could just as well been taken at a K-F facility in Michigan. Marilyn was known to visit the Detroit area and there were still stories persisting that she came to FoMoCo to pick up a Lincoln and Packard Motor Car Co. to pick up a Packard. But who knows if these stories are true? Anyway, the photo is obviously Marilyn and it is a great find. And so is Pat’s comment.
I knew Dutch and I would suggest that contrary to associating him so much with 1948-50 Packards, a better choice would be 1946-47 Packard Clippers. The 1948-50 Packards evolved out of the Macauley concept car and if you look back at the Plastic Fantastic article in 1941 Esquire (written by a PMCC PR man) you can see vestiges of the 1948-50 Packards here as well. Some even say that the smooth rounded and bulbous lines of the 1948-50 Packards, the K-F cars you show in this posting and others were designed in anticipation of making them in plastic (fiberglass) and thus being a mold-friendly shape.
For what it’s worth…
As Geoff knows, I’m a big fan of Darrin’s work, and photos and information about this car have been somewhat hard to come by. I can say that I’ve never seen this photo before either, nor has anyone referenced it when I’ve been searching for information on it. What a great find by Bob, and good information provided by Patrick and Frank Mayer and Associates.
Darrin was an “independent” designer for the most part and typically was not an “in-house” designer, so those with a keep eye may recognize elements from some of his designs in multiple makes of vehicles. For example, the grill on the Darrin, Kaiser/Frazer, and 48/49 Packards are very similar (Darrin did some design work for Packard as well).
I’m intrigued by this photo, as there are several elements that potentially will change the previously “known facts” about this car…. More research needs to be done!
@ Darren – great to hear from you Darren and glad you found this story/photo interesting too. Let me know what you dig up on this one. Maybe…the car traveled to Wisconsin near you. What a great story that would be! Go get ’em Darren, and thanks for your post. Geoff