Packard cars in the 1920s and 30s were considered by many to be the best cars in the world. They were positive compared to Rolls-Royce and Mercedes Benz and better than any other American car. The first Packard was built in 1899 in Warren, Ohio, by James and William Packard, who called themselves Ohio Automobile Co. They built 400 cars over the next four years and changed the company name in 1902 to Packard Motor Car Co. They were luxury car builders from the beginning with a base price of $ 2,600 ($ 81,725 in today’s dollars), compared to the respected Oldsmobile Runabout, which sold for $ 650 at the time.
Packard’s famous slogan, ‘Ask the man who owns one’, reportedly arose when a potential customer called James Packard’s office early and asked for information about the cars. His secretary asked Packard where he could get information. The company had not yet released sales brochures, so Packard said he should ask him to ask the man who owns one, and that became the company’s slogan for many years. Packard gained a loyal following among the wealthy and well-connected. In 1921, Warren Harding was the first American president to be driven to his inauguration in a car that was a Packard. Packard exported more cars in its class in the 1920s than any other manufacturer. Even Japan’s royal family owned 10 Packards at the time.
But the Great Depression of the 1930s was a difficult time for the company. Packard introduced mid-priced cars because sales of the very expensive, hand-built cars dropped drastically. Not everyone was poor during the Depression, but the very wealthy did not want to be seen bragging about their wealth when driving or being driven in a big Packard. In 1935, Packard produced their first car for less than $ 1,000 (today $ 20,189). They were a great success in terms of sales, but they also diminished the status and prestige of the Packard name.
During World War II, Packard built aircraft engines licensed by Rolls-Royce, which operated the famous P-51 Mustang fighter jet and was called “The Cadillac of the Skies” by the GIs. They also built engines for the PT boats, with each boat using three engines. Corporate management made some big bad decisions after the war, and Packard was no longer the “world standard” in the automotive industry. The last real Packard was built in Detroit in June 1956.
Pleasant Hill resident John Fornbacher owns this issue’s feature car, a 1941 Packard Coupe Model 110 with a six-cylinder engine. This model was one of the pre-war mid-price models that sold well but damaged the brand’s prestige, even though it added much-needed money to the bottom line. This coupe was probably sold for around $ 1,100 ($ 20,697 today) and is offered as an option a heater, radio, spotlight and even air conditioning. Fornbacher has owned this Packard since 1999.
“I was in military service in the Sacramento area and I was driving by and saw this car. At that time I had a Buick from 1960 and a Ford from 1955 and I wanted a pre-war car. I ended up swapping the guy for this one. car with my two cars.It was a lemon.The guy told me that the engine was rebuilt and the first time I took it on the road it broke down.I saw a machinist on it who said to me: ‘Yes, it has been rebuilt okay, around 1953. ‘ ”
Fornbacher has since had the engine rebuilt and the car painted to a period-correct two-tone green, which he believes was the original color. He had the interior redesigned so that it looks like the sales brochure with the same intricate stitching used for the mohair fabric material.
The owner has done a lot of work on this car. The wiring was bad and he found a man to fix it, but that was only the beginning. Like many restorations, one led to the other.
“The next thing you know,” he said, “the body is off the frame and we just went and drove a full nine yards. We tried to keep it 100% Packard and period correct.”
One does not get a job of this size done quickly and he has only had the car left for about two years. The restoration time was 10 or 11 years and it is actually never done. Fornbacher does not know how much he has invested in this project or what the car is worth today, but believes he has invested much more than the car’s current value. But he does not care as he just loves the car, its lines and the way it drives and has no plans to sell.
This car is a driver as well as a show car. Fornbacher has taken it on trips with historical groups to various places of historical interest such as Calistoga and the wine country as well as to San Jose using the back roads. It is unique and definitely a goalkeeper.
Do you have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com. To see more photos of this and other problem vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.