I expect not many CHB readers will know today’s coachbuilder, Hibbard et Darrin, contrary to others like Chapron, Saoutchik, Figoni, etc. So let’s put Hibbard et Darrin in the spotlight! As I am trying to gain more knowledge myself as well, I got the idea to feature these great artists thanks to a magnificent Hispano-Suiza of a friend of my dad. It won Best of Show last year at the Concours d’Elégance Palace Het Loo in the Netherlands and went on to win the coveted Ullman Trophy at Pebble Beach this year. Since then this Hispano-Suiza belongs to the cars that are special to me, so let’s dig into the history of the men who were responsible for such fantastic coachwork and of course also Paris-based, as many famous coachbuilders of the era were! Though based in Paris, this company was run by two Americans, and counted among its clients many Americans visiting or resident in France. Thomas L. Hibbard (1899-1982) from Brooklyn, New York had set his sights on a career as an automobile designer and secured employment as an apprentice designer with Cleveland’s Leon Rubay Co. Two years later was sent to France to explore the possibilities of building bodies there, rather than in de US where the costs were higher. But there is more about Hibbard. Before he set up his company together with his first associate Raymond H. Dietrich, he had worked for Brewster, the company where he met Dietrich… Tiring of the corporate environment, they started freelance work in their spare time and when William H. Brewster discovered this he fired Dietrich and Hibbard left the company with him.
The resignation had brought the next opportunity as they decided to set up in 1921 their own company, LeBaron, named after a family friend. LeBaron did not build car bodies, but sold designs. Now back to 1923, when fellow designer Howard ‘Dutch’ Darrin first met Tom Hibbard.
Hibbard, by this time, had left LeBaron and the two decided to go to Paris, initially to try to sell LeBaron designs, but in the end they decided to set up their own company and founded Hibbard & Darrin.Howard Darrin (1897-1982) was already resident in Paris and the two men, who had met some years earlier in New York, went into partnership selling Minerva cars for which they acquired the sole French agency. They soon offered their own coachwork, designed by Darrin, but as they had as yet no workshop, they ordered the bodies from the renowned Belgian coachbuilders D’Ieteren Frères and Van Den Plas. Over the next few years they designed innovatively styled bodies for many of Europe’s most prestigious car makers.In about 1926 they secured financial support from William Brokaw, dropped the Minerva franchise, and set up their own coachworks in rented premises at Puteaux. There they made one-off bodies on leading chassis., including a Duesenberg Model J in 1929, which was a godsend for both partners. They worked closely with the Duesenberg agent, Edmond Sadovitch, and rented their Paris showroom to him. At least 12 Hibbard & Darrin bodies were built on the Model J between 1929 and 1931, including a convertible town car for movie star Marion Davies.Hibbard & Darrin were responsible for the styling of the Renault Nervastella, Renault’s luxury straight-8 launched in 1929. A number of their bodies featured the Sylentlyte design, where the complete body was made from aluminum castings, instead of panels over a wooden frame. As large luxury cars were often of the same size, the body could, to some extend, be standardised. However, wood still needed to be used in the custom-built front doors, which rather defeated the object of lightness and few Sylentlyte bodies were sold.Next to the marques already mentioned Hibbard et Darrin clothed quite a few H6 Hispano-Suizas, as well as other high class brands such as Rolls-Royce, Cadillac, etc. Coachwork by Hibbard et Darrin always stood out as a very fine design and very well made.
In 1931, no doubt as a result of the Depression, Brokaw withdrew his financial support and Hibbard & Darrin abruptly closed down. The few unfinished commissions were taken over by Felber, another Parisian coachbuilder. Tom Hibbard returned to America, to work briefly in Harley Earl’s Art & Colour department at General Motors, before forming his own design studio in 1934. ‘Dutch’ Darrin went into partnership with a wealthy French banker, named J. Fernandez, to form Fernandez & Darrin. Some spectacular bodies were built by Fernandez & Darrin, e.g on the Hispano-Suiza J12 and K6 chassis brothers shown above.In 1936 Darrin also returned to the US and set up his own coachworks on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood. At that time he designed cars for Kaiser and Studebaker. With Bill Tritt he designed the Kaiser Darrin sports car. For Studebaker, renamed Studebaker Packard after their merger, he designed cars that were never produced but can be seen at the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana. With his sons he designed some replica cars that were sold in kit form.
The series of Parisian coachbuilders will come to a close with the admirable Figoni et Falaschi. Like they say, save the best for last : ) This coming weekend my dad and I will join the Dutch Bugatti Club for their annual autumn rally! Stay tuned and follow CHB on Instagram!Written by Rosemarijn Atalante Veenenbos