Classic Profile: Derham Body Company, last coachbuilder of the classic era

Classic Profile: Derham Body Company, last coachbuilder of the classic era

The Derham Company of Rosemont, Pennsylvania extended far past the life of most other American coachworks companies, surviving two world wars and the Great Depression.

This 12-cylinder 1936 Pierce-Arrow was custom-bodied by Derham | Photos courtesy of the author

This 12-cylinder 1936 Pierce-Arrow was custom-bodied by Derham | Photos courtesy of the author

The Derham Company of Rosemont, Pennsylvania extended far past the life of most other American coachworks companies, surviving two world wars and the Great Depression.

The company was founded by Joseph Derham as the Rosemont Carriage Works on Lancaster Pike, a few miles west of Philadelphia. This was a wise choice as this area, known as “The Main Line,” was home to the wealthy society set in Philadelphia. The firm opened just prior to the coming of the automobile, and three of Joseph’s sons joined the firm by the mid-teens.

Enos Derham, the youngest of the brothers, would end up running the company and was responsible for establishing the firm’s look. The Derham Company built bodies on the finest domestic and foreign chassis, and would body cars for a share of the world’s royalty as well.

A 1938 Packard with a Derham body made in Pennsylvania

A 1938 Packard with a Derham body made in Pennsylvania

As America emerged from the great Depression, and with war looming in Europe, most of the company’s competition had already succumbed to economic pressures and changes in the industry. Regardless, Derham continued to stay afloat through the “old-money” patronage of its Philadelphia clients.

One such example is this 1936 Pierce-Arrow Model 1601 (12-cylinder) that the Pierce-Arrow Company sent to Derham to body in the style of the Brunn Metropolitan Town Car. It’s unknown why Pierce-Arrow sent the car to Derham, but by the time the car was finished, so was Pierce-Arrow – they went out of business in 1937. The car was first registered by Charles Walker of Massachusetts and the car stayed in the northeast until it showed up for sale in the New York Times sometime during the late 1960s or early 1970s. The car was restored in 1977 and again in the early 1990s, more recently being sold from the Ray Warshawsky collection by RM Auctions in 2007.

Another example is this 1938 Packard Model 1608 (12-cylinder) Victoria that is said to have been bodied for Frank B. Wentz Jr. of Philadelphia. Delivered in 1939, the Derham body is recorded as costing more than $4,000, and that’s on top of the price paid for the car! This car also survives, having been restored and shown at Pebble Beach in 2012.

By 1939, Derham was only producing a handful of bodies per year, but in 1942, they received a much-needed contract from the Army that got them through the war years. The company struggled on after the war, until the business and building were finally sold in 1964.

Enos Derham and a partner continued on doing antique automobile restorations up until the building became the home to Chinetti & Garthwaite, the U.S. distributor for Ferrari. Enos died in 1974, but the old Derham shop still remains as the home to Ferrari of Philadelphia.

 

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Steve Evans
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