Discover Vintage America - SEPTEMBER 2018
Soldier's 'dream car' finds new life in the Midwest
After surviving his service in World War II, a soldier from Apple Valley, CA, came home to his small farm and bought his "dream car," a 1949 Packard Clipper. The car cost more than $3,200, a hefty sum in 1949 for a veteran with meager savings from military pay. Banks refused to finance the young soldier's purchase, but a local businessman gave him a seven-year loan, and the car was his.
Steve Flick and his 1949 Packard (photos by Ken Weyand)
The soldier and his wife enjoyed their car for several years. When the soldier died in 1973, the car was stored in a corncrib on their farm.
A few years later, in 2011, Steve Flick, a car enthusiast from Kingsville, MO, found the car and bought it from the soldier's 93-year-old widow. Steve said there was rust, but basically the car was in good shape. After doing a "full frame-off restoration," Flick brought the car back to California to show the widow, who was delighted with the results. "She passed away two weeks, later," Flick said.
The luxurious Packards
The 1949 Clipper marked Packard's Golden Anniversary. In 1899, the pioneering company began building one-cylinder vehicles with tiller steering in Warren, OH. Later they became the first U.S. carmaker to use a steering wheel and went on to become a leader in luxury cars, making a series of 12-cylinder behemoths shortly after World War I. It was also the first carmaker to offer air conditioning.
The Packard profile was a popular style in the 1940s.
Aiming at the wealthiest buyers, Packard offered models priced several times higher than those of other makers. With a solid reputation for building quality luxury cars, Packard didn't have to tout their vehicles' individual features. Instead, by the World War II era their ads suggested to potential buyers: "Ask the man who owns one."
Packard's postwar models retained the styling that had dominated the luxury market, outselling the company's chief rival, Cadillac. Powered by a 327-cubic-inch straight-eight engine that produced 150 horsepower, the Packard was a solid and well-built car, and the company had a reputation for over-engineering their components. "If a switch had to last 20,000 flicks over its lifetime," Steve said, "Packard would engineer it to last 40,000."
Although Cadillac pioneered automatic transmissions in 1941 with its Hydramatic Drive, Packard responded in 1949 with its "Ultramatic," and offered it on its top models. In 1950, Ultramatic was used on all Packard vehicles, and was touted by drivers as the smoother system.
Eventually, some poor marketing choices and a lack of capital to compete with General Motors and Ford defeated Packard. The end came after Packard bought Studebaker, and eventually sold Studebaker cars with Packard nameplates. By 1959, there were no more Packards.
Interior was simple but comfortable. Flick added seat belts as a safety measure.
Steve Flick's Packard I caught up with Steve and his Packard Clipper at the recent Show 'n' Shine Truck & Car Show at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, KS. Several dozen vehicles were displayed near the Center's railroad station near "Farm Town USA." The Genuine Chevy-GMC Truck Club sponsored the show, which began in 1973.
Gaileen Jackson, president of the club, said earlier shows were held in downtown Bonner Springs, but the enthusiastic crowds sometimes created problems.
"We began holding the show at the Ag Center in 1998," she said, "and have enjoyed a great relationship with them ever since." While we talked, a tractor pulling a wagon was shuttling visitors in from the parking lot, and the Ag Center's miniature train was busy giving rides.
The show featured a variety of vehicles, including classic cars and trucks and street rods, many of which were modified to levels of performance and technology not dreamed of by the original manufacturers. Vehicles on display ranged from sleek Corvettes and rakish street machines to trucks of all ages.
Flick's Packard was one of the vehicles that had been restored to its original factory configuration and not converted to a "street rod." Even its sparkling paint color, called "OMC blue," according to Flick, was identical to the original.
The Packard's straight-eight engine was dated in 1949, but ran smoothly.
The car boasted an armrest in the middle of the rear seat, an innovation also provided by Packard's competitors of the era. An exterior sun visor warded off road glare, and was standard equipment, although other manufacturers offered it as an accessory. Bold whitewalls gave the tires a distinctive "forties" look.
After the show, Steve told me his Packard won the Director's Choice Award. Steve is a member of the board of directors of the Kansas City Automotive Museum in Olathe, KS, where his Packard is frequently on display. He said that he has restored a total of seven cars, and "all of them tell the story of the World War II generation from 1926 to 1949 – from what they had as babies to what they had when they came back."
Steve's Packard and many other restored automobiles can be seen Sept. 16 at the "Cars at the Gardens" show at Powell Gardens, 1609 NW Hwy. 50, Kingsville, MO. The Antique Automobile Club of America sponsors the event. For details, call 816-686-6700.
Interviewing Steve, I remembered a couple of boys with the same last name that I knew in the 1940s at a country school in northeast Missouri. Members of a large family with few resources, the boys brought fried squirrel for their school lunches. I was happy to trade my peanut butter sandwiches, and found their gamey treats to be delicious.
I asked Steve if there might be a family connection. Turned out I was right. "They were my great-uncles," he said. "They were dirt poor, but they knew how to overcome. Their mother could make squirrel taste like chicken."
Ken Weyand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Ken is self-publishing a series of non-fiction E-books. Go to www.smashwords.com and enter Ken Weyand in the search box.