Boy, was I excited when I saw this car roll off the transporter earlier this week! Regular readers know that I'm a HUGE fan of pre-war heavy Classics like the 1934 Auburn we got last month, and this 1938 Packard rumble seat coupe is right up my alley. While this one has been updated with modern mechanicals and other features, it doesn't diminish the sheer presence that these incredible cars carry. 30s Classics attract A TON of attention on the showroom floor and out on the road because they are distinctive, elegant, and extremely rare. That's why the Classic Car Club of America is so selective about which cars they'll call “Classics” (note the capital “C”). My point is, everyone - even people who know nothing about cars - realizes that a car like this is something very, very special when they see it.
For a 2-passenger car (4 with the rumble seat), this car is ENORMOUS. It is so heavy it stalled the electric turntable we use for photo shoots, and just barely fit through the door. But beyond the size, the first thing I noticed was that this is a really nicely done car. While I would always prefer original to rodded, I can find no reason not to absolutely love this car. The craftsmanship is first rate, the modifications are subtle and smart, and it is fully sorted and ready to drive.
The bodywork on the car is all original Packard steel (nobody makes fiberglass for these cars anyway), and was prepped to show-winning condition before being painted a deep, elegant maroon. These cars were made of significantly heavier gauge steel than today's cars, and it is a softer, more malleable material that was made before “high strength” steel was available. As a result, original panels can be restored to new condition as they were on this car. The gaps are excellent, and that long, long hood fits as well as could be expected for something so large and complex. Interestingly, the builder left the fabric insert in the roof instead of filling it, which is common with early rods. Perhaps he wanted to keep it as original as possible on the outside, which I can certainly appreciate.
Then the paint was laid down in a very elegant, Packard-appropriate color of dark burgundy. No wild graphics, no eye-popping color scheme, just that gorgeous Packard shape with all the original details present. There are no waves or ripples, and any trace of orange peel was wiped away by a comprehensive wet sanding and buffing process. You don't put an average paint job on a car like this, whether stock or modified, and it's fairly obvious that no corners were cut on this one. On many cars I can spot places where the workers figured nobody would notice if they didn't sand it to perfection, but on this car, I'm not seeing any such corner-cutting. Nice! The car received a single gold pinstripe that follows the original body contours and a hand-striped flourish on the rear decklid - nothing overdone or flashy, just more of that timeless Packard elegance that, honestly, would be almost impossible to improve upon. There are a few subtle modifications, such as the stainless mesh in place of the original chrome louvers on the hood and the slim bumperettes that replace the big Packard bumpers, but none of it detracts from the car's original shape. The rest of the factory trim is still intact, from the chrome slats on the front grille (which were originally thermostatically controlled and are now fixed in an open position for maximum cooling), to the famous "lady with donut" hood ornament, which is an authentic Packard piece. Two spare 15-inch radial tires have taken up residence in the side mounts, with custom tan vinyl covers for a sanitary look.
Motivating a 5000+ pound car like this isn't a job for a garden-variety small block. No, this car originally came with ether a big 356 cubic inch straight-8 or a downright massive 473 cubic inch V12, both with long strokes and making torque like a locomotive, so a smallish modern V8 just wouldn't cut it. Fortunately, the builder understood this and instead stuffed 514 cubic inches of big block Ford under that long, long hood. From Ford Motorsport, it features a 460 2-bolt main block with a nodular iron stroker crank, H-beam connecting rods, forged aluminum dished pistons and a mechanical roller lifter camshaft. The Ford SVO 'Cobra-Jet' aluminum cylinder heads flow significantly better than production 460 heads and feature premium stainless steel swirl polished valves (2.20/Intake, 1.76/exhaust) with undercut stems. The high performance camshaft provides significant horsepower increases above 3500 rpm and good low-end torque. Other high performance goodies include multi-index timing chain, 4130 one-piece pushrods, HD oil pump and pickup, dual sump oil pan, valve covers, aluminum front cover and water pump, high performance harmonic balancer, flexplate, spark plugs and single plane Motorsport intake manifold. In all, it cranks out a claimed 600 horsepower, more than enough to launch this heavy cruiser with some real authority and cruise effortlessly at absolutely ridiculous speeds. You'll also notice the cool '60s-vintage Buick air cleaner that has been painted to match the body, a Vintage Air A/C compressor, and power steering and brakes, which are pretty much mandatory for a beast like this. A set of giant ceramic coated headers dump into a true dual exhaust system that exhales through Flowmaster mufflers and tips that exit right below the rear valence. With a giant cam and those mufflers, this car really cackles, something the original Packard engineers worked tirelessly to avoid. You definitely won't sneak up on anyone with this car like you might have when it was new.
The engine is backed by a stout Ford C6 automatic feeding a 9-inch Ford rear. To the builder's credit, he seems to have retained the original Packard rear suspension, including leaf springs, Panhard rod, and even the lever-action shock absorbers that are integral with the rear sway bar. Look at the gorgeous castings that make up the spring perch! The frame is also the original 133-inch Packard piece, modified up front with a fabricated K-member that includes Mustang-II style upper and lower A-arms and coil over shock absorbers. Power rack-and-pinion steering has been added, which makes this car a pleasure to wheel around at any speed, and there's a big brake disc at each corner. Look a little closer and see the giant custom-made oil pan that has been painted to match the body, and the accumulator valve for the power brakes. This was not a cut-rate build by any stretch of the imagination - someone spent a lot of time and money figuring out how to make this car safe, reliable, and 100% road-worthy and a lot of lesser builders working on lesser cars might have skipped such details.
Rolling stock is a set of Billet Specialties wheels with 235/75/15 Uniroyal radials, which probably ride incredibly well and look reasonably appropriate on the car - something radical like a set of 20s would just look ridiculous, so kudos to the builder for his restraint.
More high-quality work and thoughtful details fill the leather-lined interior. The power-actuated seats are also from a late-model Ford product and are upholstered in a soft tan leather that is used throughout the car. The dashboard is a blend of the original burled wood metal dash and a new insert housing modern gauges from Classic Instruments. There's a lot of pin striping in here, maybe too much for my personal taste, but as part of the overall effect, it's appropriately elegant. The original handles and window cranks have been retained and still actuate the original regulators and latches. Behind the power seats you'll find a small package shelf that houses the entertainment system controls as well as the HVAC system and vents, which is a cool trick. No unsightly modern vents on the dash, all your climate-controlled air comes from behind. That area also houses the amplifiers for the stereo, the guts of the HVAC system, and the battery, which is accessible through the passenger-side golf bag door.
The rumble seat has been upholstered in matching leather and features a remote latch and a pair of leather flaps that fold out to protect the paint from passengers' elbows while they ride out back. As someone who spent a lot of time in such a rumble seat when I was a kid, it really is a fun way to travel as long as you aren't someone who worries excessively about your hair-do.
In even average condition, a Packard like this in original specification is easily a $100,000+ car. Someone used that as a foundation, then poured what must amount to at least another six figures into building the piece you see now. Because of this, I have to say that this car at this price is an absolute screaming bargain - this Packard would be impossible to duplicate at twice the price, and that's provided you could even find a suitable donor. No matter where you go, you will not only be the center of attention, but even people who know nothing about cars or hot rods will stand, slack-jawed, and watch you pass. It will always be one-of-one, no matter what show you go to, and will generate buzz like you have never heard. Best of all, it is extremely road-worthy and easy to drive. Despite its enormous size it drives like my modern ¾ ton pickup truck. If any of that appeals to you - and why wouldn't it - then you need to call us today. I have a hunch that this car will be finding a new home very, very soon. Call now!
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