I have always puttered around with cars, dating back to my high school days. At that time, you could buy an old “junker” from the local wrecking yard for about $25, and fix it up for next to nothing.
Over the past twenty years, my interests have centered on the 1930’s era of the classic automobiles, primarily Packards. Packards were produced from 1899 to 1958, and in their heyday were considered one of America’s finest luxury automobiles.
I spent several years looking for an early 1930’s Packard convertible. To my delight, a 1930 Model 740 7-Passenger Phaeton was advertised for sale in a national car magazine. I was so excited when I saw the advertisement that I convinced my wife Sandy to immediately fly with me to Kansas to see the car.
No, it wasn’t like the stories you always hear about finding cars in old barns, but it sure looked like it should have been in a barn or something worse. The old Packard was in “original condition.” It was 85 percent complete. Sandy was not sure why I wanted this car. She couldn’t quite picture how it would look when it was restored. All she could see was a rusty old car with ripped upholstery, dented fenders, chipped paint and a rotten top. Needless to say, we bought the car and shipped it home to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Over the years, several items had been lost or replaced with non-authentic parts. This started the search for the missing parts and exhaustive research into all aspects of the car. After storing the car for several years in my garage, the restoration finally began in 1986. It was a family endeavor with the help of Sandy and our son Dave, working evenings and weekends in our garage. The car was completely taken apart down to the frame, with each part individually rebuilt, repainted or plated back to original 1930 factory specifications. Then came the real problem of putting it all back together again so that it fit properly. The entire restoration took five and half years.
It requires extra effort to restore these automobiles to maintain authenticity. Packards were custom-made cars that allowed various paint and upholstery combinations that were not recognized on other cars. Our family had many discussions concerning the color of our Packard. We finally chose dark red with a tan interior and top.
Much of the fascination in the old car hobby is finding out the history of your car. Earle C. Anthony, a very well known car dealership in Los Angeles that catered to the Hollywood set, originally sold our Packard in 1930. The cost of the auto was $3,325, which was then quite expensive.
The Packard was powered by a 120 horsepower straight eight engine on a 140-inch wheelbase with standard 19-inch wheels. The original owner is unknown; however, the Packard was later purchased in the 1940’s by a Hollywood automobile leasing company that rented special interest cars for the motion pictures. In the early 1970’s, the leasing company went out of business, and the car was sold to an individual near Wichita, Kansas, who stored the car until we purchased it in 1980.
Although there were many highs and lows during the restoration process, there is a real feeling of pride that we have saved a small part of history. Our most notable experience with out Packard was its first road trip after completion. We chauffeured our son Dave and his wife Dawn at their wedding. Our family continues to enjoy the old Packard and we look forward to sharing many more experiences with our children and grandchildren.