"BUYING AN OLD CAR"
It is almost every old car lover’s dream to find a low mileage, original car in an ancient garage or barn, stored away somewhere frozen in time. When we hear about such cars, good judgment says, “No way”, but we go anyhow, because there’s always that one-in-a-million chance that this could be the car! A few years ago, I saw an ad in an Atlanta paper for a 1948 Packard 2 door. When I called about it, I was told it was supposed to be a Custom 8 2 door with less than 40,000 miles. It had belonged to the advertiser’s uncle and was located in Alabama. He urged me to send a cashier’s check and promised to deliver the car to me, but since that wasn’t going to happen, I instead hooked up the car trailer and headed south. I pulled into the location and actually passed right by the car, thinking it was just some parts car sitting there. No, that was the car! It was not a Custom 8. What it was, was covered with rust, missing the head on the engine, cormorant broken in two and in a box under the air cleaner in the back seat. This didn’t hurt the upholstery, thought, because there wasn’t any! So the car stayed in Birmingham and I went home muttering to myself “maybe next time”. Then last Thanksgiving, driving through the old house district of Chattanooga on the way to have dinner with my parents, I spotted a 1951 Packard Mayfair 2 door hardtop, sitting outside an old wooden garage. Almost automatically, we aimed our ‘58 Buick up the steep driveway toward the car. As I approached, I could see that it was straight and solid. The paint was coming off in flakes, but the chrome was perfect (unusual for a Korean war-era car). The glass was excellent, as was the original interior. The owner came out and genially opened the hood, revealing that everything was there, apparently even the correct 327 cu. in. straight 8. He said the car had only 36,246 documented miles. The only problem was that the car wasn’t for sale! Since this car was obviously a “keeper”, I made him an offer anyway, and tried to put it out of my mind, in spite of the several thousand articles about that specific car, which I just “happened” to run across in magazines for the next several weeks! Then at the end of January, the call came--it’s your car if you want it! I spent the next few days re-reading about the car and checking the numbers. It was indeed a 1951 Packard Mayfair straight 8, 327 with ultramatic transmission. The next Saturday, we loaded the truck, hooked up the car trailer and went to get the car. Its engine had been turned over from time to time in storage, so we decided to start the car. We disconnected the gummed-up gas tank and hooked up an auxiliary tank to the fuel pump, put in a hot battery and the car started--no knocks, no smoke, no stuck valves! As it warmed up, we checked the anti-freeze and oil and found no trace of water in the oil. Then we moved the car back and forth to check the transmission, and checked the trunk and underside for rust. The brakes were down, but the emergency worked, so I drove it up onto the trailer. When we got back to the shop the first thing was to remove the gas tank and check the sending unit so that we could send the tank to the radiator shop for cleaning and sealing. The original wheel cylinders (Wagner/Lockheed) were on the car. Even the metal dust covers were there, so we rebuilt them: 1 1/8” kits in the front and 1” in the rear, and replaced the master cylinder, hoses and brake shoes. We replaced the tires with OEM style Firestone 4 1/4” whitewalls, matching the factory spare in the trunk. The engine compartment was complete in every way, but seemed to have much more than 45 years’ worth of grime! The underside had been undercoated years ago, which did a good job of protecting it from rust. New for ‘51 was the glovebox that pulled out like a drawer. When I opened it, there was an owner’s manual, accessory booklet and a mileage certification. In the trunk, besides the factory spare tire, were a jack with its cardboard box, points, condenser, and chrome tail pipe extension, all in “Packard” cartons. Unbelievable! To bring this car up to a “nice driver” level, it will require removing all the chrome, stripping the body and repainting it in Packard Ivory with a Matador Maroon metallic top, cleaning and detailing the engine compartment, removing and flushing the radiator, a tune-up, new wires, belts, carburetor rebuild, hoses, thermostat, brakes, gas tank, wiring replaced as needed and interior removed and cleaned. Sounds like fun! Keep looking! There are still some dust-covered jewels waiting to be polished back to their former glory. Join me next month for a step-by-step refurbishing of the “stately old gentleman”.
ABOUT THE CAR: The 1951 Packard was designed by John Reinhart and was Packard’s first all-new post-war design. It was their answer to Cadillac’s Coupe de Ville. The original concept was to market it in the 200 series, a medium priced car. The series designations were: 200, medium price; 300, upper medium price; and 400, top of the line. A few were produced in the 200 series with the 288 straight 8, but March 16, 1951, it was upgraded to a 150 series, then 300 series with a 327 Super 8, 300 trim, tires and ultramatic transmission and cormorant hood ornament. This car is the 327-250 series with 5 main bearings, 122 inch wheelbase and leather and vinyl interior including the chrome ribs across the headliner.