Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Jan. 20, 2021

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Everybody Has a Story: Precious times in classic Packard

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My husband, Gene, always wanted a classic car, specifically a Packard, as his father and grandfather both owned Packards. He’d grown up with the Packard motto, “Ask the man who owns one.” Gene would search The Columbian and car magazine classified ads. The first Packard we went to see was advertised as “excellent condition.” We found the front window cracked, a bumper and other chrome missing, and the upholstery moth eaten. We knew that it could be impossible to find just the right parts and, if found, they would definitely be very expensive.

The next Packard, also advertised in “excellent condition,” was in pieces with parts spread out over the owner’s garage and lawn. He bragged that there were probably enough parts to make two Packards.

On Mother’s Day 1998, to our surprise, there was a Packard advertised in “excellent condition” in the Sunnyside, Ore., area. Gene called to set up an appointment but I declined to accompany him on another wild goose chase. My husband went to see the car and returned home to excitedly tell me that it actually was in excellent condition and I should see it. The next evening, we went to see the car, a beautiful 1940 Packard. We made arrangements and asked the owner if we could drive the car to Vancouver. He replied that it should have no trouble driving to Canada — and we only needed to drive up Interstate 205 to our Vancouver!

Originally, in 1940, this Packard sold for $2,140; in 1940 you could buy a house for that amount. A new Ford or Chevy was around $750. The minimum wage was 30 cents and a loaf of bread cost 10 cents.

Gene had always wanted to write a book when he retired. Finding a pressed rose and journal in the glove box of the Packard was inspiration for his first novel, “The Honeymoon Car,” with our Packard as the “vehicle” for rescuing a faltering marriage (based on Gene’s 30 years at Kaiser Permanente’s mental health department helping many couples). The inspiration continued as Gene wrote three more novels.

I loved sitting in the passenger seat and waving to onlookers. I felt like a princess in that big, sturdy car as we drove down the street. We entered car shows and won the 2002 Fort Vancouver Days Mayor’s Award and then a First Place Stock at Cruisin’ the Columbia later that year. In 2013, we entered the Vancouver Concours d’Elegance and our Packard won first place in the preservation class.

Many folks at car shows remembered Packards and told us stories about their parents’ cars. They would get teary-eyed while reminiscing about the cars and experiences of their youth. Younger viewers were impressed with the long hood and the Goddess of Speed hood ornament. Gene was always willing to open the hood and show off the straight-eight engine.

A neighbor who had several classic cars expressed interest in buying our Packard. He had helped us with the Packard on many occasions, and he did all the mechanical work on his cars. Gene knew this would be a good home when the time came. After Gene died in 2019, I felt that I could not give the Packard the needed care, so sadly, it was time to sell. Our neighbor became the new owner of the Packard.

He entered the Packard in the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance in honor of Gene. The show theme was “120th Anniversary of the Packard Motor Company.” I was there with our son and enjoyed seeing our Packard with all the other incredible cars, a sight Gene would have relished. When the Packard was being judged, the head judge asked if the radio worked. The new owner told him to give it a try.

The judge turned it on and there was nothing at first, but he said be patient. Sure enough, when the tubes warmed up, the radio came to life. When the other judges in his team asked if it worked, his reply was priceless: “Of course it does. It’s a Packard.”

The Packard took second place in a Classic Packards category. The new owner and I have kept in touch and he assures me that the Packard will still be in my life for years to come.


Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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