- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

There is a reason only two dozen 1940 Packard Super 8 model 160 convertible coupes have survived these 62 years and that is economics.

In 1940 Packard built 3,219 junior convertible coupes. The six-cylinder 110 model rode on a 122-inch wheelbase and carried an economical for Packard base price of $1,087.

A total of 1,761 senior model 120 convertible coupes were produced. Each one had a straight eight-cylinder engine under the long hood, rode on a 127-inch wheelbase and had a base price of $1,547.

In contrast, Packard dealers were asking $2,400 for a 160 model convertible coupe, which shared the same sheet metal as the 120 model as well as the same wheelbase. Consequently, only 401 such cars were manufactured.

Dressed up with a radio, heater, twin spotlights and dual side-mounted spare tires, one such model 160 was sold in March 1940 in Cleveland. After 41 years that Packard had migrated to a car lot in Fredericksburg, Va.

Before he retired after a distinguished naval career, Thomas Brooks spotted the distinctive Packard while commuting between Fort Meade, Md., and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. His family in upstate New York had always owned Packards.

"I learned to drive on a 1941 Packard," he recalls.

Mr. Brooks came, he saw and he purchased the Packard; the serial numbers indicate that the car is an authentic model 180 and not a model 120 converted into a more luxurious model 180. Records show the car underwent restoration in 1973. That's when it was painted dark tan and was capped with a light tan convertible top.

Mr. Brooks enjoyed the car as much as he could while on active duty, but the real fun came after he retired in 1991. "It's always been a fine driving car," he explains.

By 1997, Mr. Brooks concedes, the top was really ragged. An upholstery shop fitted a new black top with red piping.

Soon thereafter, Mr. Brooks reports that a piston was blown. Since the defective engine was from a 1947 Packard, Mr. Brooks thought, "Why rebuild the wrong engine?"

A bit of digging turned up a correct 1940 engine from a retired limousine. The 356-cubic-inch, straight-eight was rebuilt to produce 160-horsepower as it had when new.

While the mechanical work was progressing the "as long as we're here" questions kept coming up.

One thing led to another and after 21/2 years, Mr. Brooks found himself the proud owner of a frame-off restored Packard. It wasn't planned, it just sort of happened.

The task was begun in February 1997 and was completed in October 1999.

"Once you've started," Mr. Brooks explains, "you can't stop."

He says there is really no trouble in finding parts. "You just have to be patient," he said. Typically, the project took about five times as long as expected to complete and cost about five times as much as expected.

The exterior color Mr. Brooks chose is a 1940-only color Miami Sand. "It's slightly different from the typical Packard Creme," Mr. Brooks explains.

Beneath the long engine hood trimmed with stainless steel, the big engine pumps out heat as well as horsepower. "That's an advantage in winter," Mr. Brooks says, "but not as much in summer."

Of course, the cowl vent is available to scoop fresh air into the cockpit.

"The engine loafs along in overdrive," Mr. Brooks said. With the driver and a passenger aboard, the 4,000-pound Packard easily rolls along on the 7.50x16-inch diamondback-tread tires. The speedometer can record speeds up to 120 mph. "I'm not nutty enough to do it," Mr. Brooks said.

The interior is a visual delight with stainless steel window frames and a wood-grained dashboard.

The glove compartment door holds a large clock to symmetrically balance the speedometer at the other end of the dashboard.

Originally, the convertible top was vacuum-operated. After several attempts at returning the mechanism to its original state, Mr. Brooks surrendered to practicality and disconnected the vacuum hoses, transforming the top into a mechanical operation.

"Life is a lot easier now," Mr. Brooks said with a smile.

"It's a pleasure on the highway," Mr. Brooks enthuses. "With the length of the hood and a cormorant ornament to sight through, the view is magnificent."

The annual national Packard owners gathering in July is going to be headquartered in Northern Virginia this year. For the early arrivals from throughout the country and beyond at the weeklong event, Mr. Brooks has been selected to lead the first-day expedition of out-of-towners in their Packards on June 30 to visit Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

It will be difficult to miss that caravan of Packards trailing behind a smiling Mr. Brooks at the helm of his Miami sand-colored 1940 model 160 convertible coupe.

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