Thursday, October 21, 2004

Rick Parker of Rockville was on hand in 1999 when Packard aficionados from around the world gathered in Warren, Ohio, to commemorate the centennial of the first Packard automobiles.

Though he has long favored Lincoln automobiles, he didn’t want to miss what he knew would be an enormous gathering of Packards.

What he didn’t plan was becoming enamored with several of the 1941 models on display. He especially liked the 160 series convertible sedan.

He tried for two years to talk himself out of what he first thought was infatuation. Then he spent the next two years searching for one for himself.

Last Thanksgiving he received an e-mail from a friend who knew of the hunt, telling him about a Packard for sale on the Internet.

Mr. Parker found two cars on the Internet, one in Phoenix and the other in Salt Lake City. The owner of the Utah car was vague about the history and condition of his car, while the owner of the Arizona car was knowledgeable about every aspect of his Packard.

Mr. Parker thought he had found the car of his dreams but wanted to be sure. On a Saturday in mid-December he flew to Phoenix, checked out the Packard, gave the man a deposit, and flew back home Sunday.

“On the way out,” Mr. Parker says, “I was wondering how red the car was going to be.” Fortunately, it was a suitably subdued red. After a satisfactory test drive, Mr. Parker said, “Let’s put the top down.” The owner confessed that he had never had it down. Together, the men wrestled the metal bows into submission.

The next question was about the boot. The owner had recently had a new top made, but no boot. Mr. Parker gave him the money for a boot to be made by the same shop that made the top.

Back home, Mr. Parker shuffled his finances around to pay for the Packard, but still found it necessary to sell his 1966 Lincoln. He trucked the Lincoln off to a broker in Florida; however, the car didn’t immediately sell.

A friend came to the rescue with a loan to be repaid when the Lincoln did sell. Mr. Parker had the cash to pay for the Packard.

On a cold day in January the Packard arrived in a closed truck at a mechanic’s garage in Parkton, Md. When it was unloaded, the top was in the lowered position with a handsome new boot in place secured by 35 snaps.

The Packard was at the shop for 10 days while the mechanic gave it a once-over. The 7.00x16-inch bias-ply tires were replaced with radials. The 356-cubic-inch straight-eight-cylinder engine with nine main bearings checked out OK. It still produces 160 horsepower.

Not quite up to snuff was the gear shift linkage. “It was a little sloppy,” he reports. A winter time rebuild is planned.

By February, the 16-foot, 11-inch-long Packard was trucked to Mr. Parker’s home.

Research indicates that the 4,140-pound convertible sedan carried a base price in 1941 of $2,225. “My best guess is that about 75 or 80 were built,” Mr. Parker says. This was the final year a convertible sedan model was offered.

Mr. Parker’s Packard is equipped with metal-shrouded dual side mounts capped with mirrors, stainless-steel gravel guards on the rear fenders, a five-button AM radio, a heater, dual trim rings on each wheel, bumper guards and a deluxe four-spoke banjo steering wheel.

Four horizontal chrome “whiskers” adorn each fender.. The 14 vertical vanes in the radiator are thermostatically operated. Eight “catwalk” slots on either side of the radiator help keep the temperature under control.

With a nod to the wave of the future, Mr. Parker’s Packard has no running boards.

The interior offers many luxury appointments from the tan Bedford cloth and red leather upholstery to the wood-grained dashboard and window sills. A clock in the door of the glove compartment and a cowl ventilator add to the ambiance, as does a pull-down center armrest in the back seat. The stylish chrome-plated cormorant hood ornament was an optional extra.

Mr. Parker believes his car was restored in the 1980s. Packard hexagons are prominently displayed on the bumper guards and hubcaps.

Also on each hubcap is “160” with a chrome-plated script “One Sixty” on each side of the engine hood and on the trunk lid.

On a July trip to New Jersey a minor transmission problem arose, necessitating a return visit to Mr. Parker’s trusted mechanic.

The problem was soon corrected and while he was at it, an overdrive unit was installed. “Overdrive makes all the difference in the world,” Mr. Parker says. With the overdrive, the 110 figure on the speedometer might be reached.

The mechanic who installed the overdrive refers to Mr. Parker’s Packard as a “road locomotive.”

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