Packard fan savors restored ‘51 ragtop

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Carl Keller’s father bought a new 1937 Packard that faithfully served the family before, during and after World War II.

“We thought that was the greatest car in the world,” Mr. Keller recalls. So in 1949, the younger Mr. Keller purchased a new Packard four-door sedan that featured what the public called the “bathtub” design.

Just before Labor Day each year in Clintonville, Wis., the town has a parade, and in 1951, the local Packard dealer volunteered a new convertible to lead the festivities. The styling of the 1951 Packard was a distinct departure from the “bathtub” model and was certain to attract attention.

Mr. Keller was happy with his 1949 Packard, but was enamored with the stylish 1951 model, so he asked the dealer what kind of a deal he could offer. The base price of a 1951 Packard was $3,391, but the price on the window sticker was closer to $3,800. The dealer offered to swap cars if Mr. Keller, in addition to the 1949 Packard, could pay $1,800.

After a bit of haggling, a deal was made, and during the first part of September 1951, Mr. Keller took possession of the car that he still owns — 58 years later.

The powerful 327-cubic-inch, inline eight-cylinder engine produces 155 horsepower, easily sufficient to propel the 4,040-pound convertible. “I found that it runs fine on regular gasoline,” he reports.

Top-down motoring led to matrimony after dating Fay, the woman who would become his wife in 1957. For the next dozen years, the 1951 Packard was the year-round family car.

“We raised four kids and drove the car summer and winter,” he says.

Eventually, a 1967 Dodge became the primary family car, but Mr. Keller could not part with his Packard. He had grown accustomed to the regal ride provided by the 122-inch wheelbase supported by 7.60 x 15-inch tires. The original bias-ply rubber has been replaced by radials.

Mr. Keller’s Packard left the factory in 1951 wearing a coat of Tour Blue Light paint. As the paint aged, he had his Packard sprayed with Fire Engine Red, followed by a very dark blue. Next he added a little white to lighten the color to a lighter blue. Then came a Ford blue, which he says was nice, but not a perfect match to the original.

After retiring in 1994, Mr. Keller began to restore his Packard. “I did most of the work myself, including the painting, except overhauling the engine and, of course, the chrome plating,” he says.

Some of the original interior upholstery fabric is not available, so his car has been reupholstered with material as close to the original as possible.

Most 1951 Packard convertibles had three chrome jet port medallions on each rear fender, but he says the dealer had added another pair to the flanks of his car, in the 1950s spirit of there is no such thing as too much chrome.

“The restoration didn’t go as fast as I thought,” Mr. Keller says. It was completed in 1998 after four years. A year later, Packards from around the world converged on Warren, Ohio, the birthplace of the Packard Motor Co., for the centennial celebration.

His restored Packard, with a power antenna, hydraulic top and Ultramatic transmission, traveled to the centennial event. The total round-trip mileage was 1,700 miles, during which his car performed flawlessly — as a Packard should.

The odometer now has registered about 127,000 miles, but Mr. Keller says, “There are a few more miles than that.” He admits to driving a few months when the odometer was out of service.

“It’s a classic as far as I am concerned,” he says.

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