Hershey | Lot 268
1938 Packard Twelve Phaeton by Derham
$250,000 USD | Sold
| Hershey, Pennsylvania
8 October 2021
- Offered from the Collection of Charles Gillet
- One-off coachwork by the renowned Pennsylvania coachbuilders Derham
- Built for Philadelphia construction tycoon and politico, Matthew McCloskey, Jr.
- Six-time CCCA 100-point car; highly honored in club and concours judging
One of the final true phaetons produced on a 12-cylinder Packard chassis, this handsome machine was built by the Derham Body Company of Rosemont, Pennsylvania, for prominent Philadelphia businessman Matthew McCloskey, Jr. Mr. McCloskey had made his fortune in construction, becoming extremely powerful in both his line of work and in politics; he was a major Democratic fundraiser who would eventually serve as United States Ambassador to Ireland under both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
The McCloskey clout in the Philadelphia area was beyond question. Derham’s records, now held by the CCCA Museum, include correspondence from a nervous Packard retail manager Charles F. Woltz to the coachbuilder: “According to our rules and good business, the placing of an order for this type body, which you will admit is very unusual and costly, there should be a substantial deposit given. I don’t recall that we ever accepted an order from anyone for so unusual a type body without a very substantial cash deposit.” James Derham dashed off a response to “Charlie” “that we are satisfied to build the open body for Mr. M.H. McCloskey, without your purchase order or deposit, and we understand that you will supply the chassis complete with cowl. When the job is finished and delivered to Mr. McCloskey, we will send our invoice for $3350.00 plus three per cent federal tax to your attention and will become payable when you have made your delivery. I believe this covers the matter and wish to thank you for the business.”
Mr. McCloskey corresponded with Derham to develop the features of his new Packard, collaborating on the selection of colors and receiving samples of the various finishes for careful approval of what James Derham dubbed “a smart job.” Further specifications for the aluminum coachwork included a chrome-plated one-piece windshield and a folding armrest in the rear; Derham hand-made much of the trim from scratch, including the door handles. Interestingly the Derham records indicate the original vehicle number of the car as 1608-2032, while referring to their body number as 2375—likely the source of the current vehicle number, 1608-2375, on a new plate, Packard’s original Sixteenth Series “plates” having been fragile and seldom surviving the intervening years. An early 1939 engine apparently found its way into the car at some point as well.
In the April 1998 CCCA Bulletin, Mr. Gillet wrote to clarify the history inaccurately described in an earlier article, stating that he had talked to one of the McCloskey sons and been told that it remined in the family until 1947. The car was later part of Harry Resnick’s collection at the Ellenville Motor Museum in New York. It eventually found its way into the vast collection of Dalton, Georgia, carpet tycoon, Ed Weaver, from which Mr. Gillet succeeded in privately acquiring it in the spring of 1994.
Mr. Gillet later somewhat bemusedly recounted that the Packard had been decorated by a former owner as a “F.D.R.” parade vehicle, including being finished in dark blue and accessorized with flag masts, a siren, Presidential seals, and even modified hinges on a rear door so that the door could be removed to better accommodate a wheelchair. Having earlier read an article on Derham in the Spring 1963 issue of The Classic Car that included a photo of the McCloskey Packard, Mr. Gillet had satisfied himself that what he acquired was in fact not a Presidential car but that built by Derham for Mr. McCloskey. Al Prueitt & Sons subsequently undid all of the Presidential modifications and extensively improved the car cosmetically, to prepare it for the typical Gillet “campaigning” at concours.
That campaigning was very successful. Following an appearance at the 1996 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the car became especially well-honored in CCCA judging, accruing no fewer than six perfect 100-point scores on its way to its Premier First, and winning its class at the CCCA Museum Experience in 2003, the American Spirit Award for Best American Open Car 1932-42 at the Elegance at Hershey in 2013, and the Tufts Award at Pinehurst in 2016. It is also an AACA Grand National First Prize winner. It remains in excellent overall condition, complete with side curtains, and is certainly the centerpiece of the Gillet stable—an immensely impressive Packard worthy of a tycoon.