Long before Robin Cawelti arrived on the scene, the Packard Motor Co. had come and gone. She can't recall seeing even one Packard in the daily traffic on the streets of San Francisco.
Then at an antique car exhibit about a decade ago, she saw a yellow prewar Packard convertible and her perspective on life was altered. If there was any way at all that she could swing a deal to buy a Packard,m she would take it.
In March 2004 she moved to Washington to take a position with the Department of Treasury. Soon thereafter, one of her colleagues at Treasury mentioned that his father had an old car that he was going to sell. Mrs. Cawelti attempted to learn more about the car but that was the extent of his knowledge. A few months later, she learned that the car was a 1938 Packard 110 Touring Sedan located, unfortunately, in Spencer, N.Y., near the Finger Lakes region.
Good fortune found Mrs. Cawelti the next day when a California friend who appraised antique automobiles telephoned and said, 'Guess where I am?' He told her that he was in Binghamton, N.Y., on business. She asked him if he would stop by Spencer and cast a critical eye on the old Packard. He did so and reported back, giving the car a thumbs-up. The odometer had registered only 17,000 miles.
When new, the 3,525-pound Packard, with an all-steel body, had a base price of $1,070. Behind the famous Packard grille is a 245-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine that develops 100 horsepower. The car rides on a 122-inch wheelbase.
By this time Mrs. Cawelti's husband, Michael, had joined his wife and in August they drove to New York to inspect the car. Seeing the car, she was swept off her feet and even her reluctant husband said, 'It does look awfully nice.'
They purchased the car in August and called it her birthday present. It finally arrived at their Alexandria home on the back of a truck early one morning at the end of September. The Packard rolled off the truck on four-ply 6.50x16-inch B.F. Goodrich Silvertown wide white sidewall tires. Each wheel has a small hubcap with PACKARD SIX surrounding the red hexagon trademark at the center. Between each hubcap and the trim ring mounted along the perimeter of each wheel are three almost delicate pinstripes.
All four bumper guards also carry the red Packard hexagon.
Unfortunately the Packard came after the local antique car show season had ended so, until recently, it has languished in storage, which hasn't pleased the new owner.
'I get really grouchy when I can't drive my Packard,' she says.
Mrs. Cawelti says she probably wouldn't have bought the car if it had been a newer model. She is enamoredd by the presealed beam bulbous headlight lenses and the long-handled floor shift lever as well as the two-piece windshield.
She is fond of the little design elements that the Packard folks put on her car including the chrome strip starting at the radiator cap and extending the length of the engine hood, across the cowl ventilator, up the piece in the center of the windshield and onto the roof of the car.
At the other end of the 16-foot, 4.25-inch car are a pair of long hinges on the trunk lid. Another nice touch is the rear tag light with PACKARD in the glass lens.
Mrs. Cawelti has learned that the original owner was a teacher who obviously drove the car sparingly. The second owner, a bank president, had the handsome Packard only a couple of years. Except for being repainted in the original green hue, the 67-year-old car is virtually in original condition.
The pristine gunmetal-grey dashboard and unblemished three-spoke steering wheel are proof that the Packard has always been garage-kept. A clock is mounted in the glove compartment door and beneath the dashboard is the only accessory on the car, a two-door genuine Packard heater.
In the comfortable back seat, occupants find an ashtray conveniently located in each armrest.
Even though the speedometer can register speeds up to 100 mph, Mrs. Cawelti says she has never gone above 55. 'I don't want to make it unhappy,' she says, patting a fender.
It takes 15 quarts of coolant, six quarts of oil and 18 gallons of gas to keep the engine running. Three sets of 26 small louvers on each side of the engine hood help heat escape.
Now that good weather is here, Mrs. Cawelti plans to make appearances at various antique car shows while striving to maintain the car in its original state as much as possible. 'That's my plan,' she says.
In the meantime she thoroughly enjoys dressing in period clothing whenever she goes for a cruise, explaining that the car seems to run better when she is dressed appropriately.
When questioned about the Packard being an unusual car for a young lady, she simply responds, 'I'm a government girl and can't afford a newer car.'