Dad’s 1938 Packard

PackardDad loved cars — big cars, classic cars, and in particular, the 1938 Packard he owned for three glorious years. That Packard was the vehicle against which all other cars in Dad’s life were measured and fell short, and that’s saying something since he owned 46 of them over his lifetime!

Packard ReceiptGrowing up, I heard many stories about the Packard: how Dad purchased it in 1947 for $785 (he kept the original receipt and laminated it years later); how it had been painted a dull gray during the war years; how the leather upholstery and wooden windshield frame were rotted from rain damage; and how Dad restored it piece by piece to create his dream machine.

The Packard was a fixture of Dad’s past, but it’s hard to connect with a story lifted from the dusty shelf of memory. That’s why I loved discovering among my parents’ papers a 1948 letter to Dad from his cousin Majlis where she talked about his work on the car. Her comments written in what was then the “here-and-now” added a new dimension, a sense of immediacy, to the family’s Packard legend. I could picture Dad sending snapshots of his pride and joy, and Majlis sharing the photos with her husband and young son, David, who in turn showed them to everyone else, saying “That’s my Uncle Gunnar’s car.”

Packard convertible“I fell in love with the swatch of material you sent showing how you upholstered it. I said to Stan I was tempted to ask if you had any small leftovers for the front of a jacket for David but he discouraged me saying you probably needed anything left over for patches.”

Dad sewed the new upholstery himself, cutting, piecing and stitching the seat covers after hours in the tailoring department of Todd’s Clothiers in Pasadena, where he worked as an assistant manager. He told me that he purchased an expensive wool plaid fabric because he liked the look of Chrysler’s Highlander cars.

Initials on PackardDad had also written to my mom, Carlyn, about his work on the car, but he had not yet confided to his cousin that the Packard wasn’t his “one and only true love.” That title belonged to a young woman he had met back east the year before.

Dad spent months restoring the car. He had the shiny bits rechromed to make them sparkle, repaired the convertible top, worked on the engine and, finally, had his initials painted on the doors in swirling Old English script.

Packard and momDespite all of the work, when Dad drove his 12-cylinder beauty back to Baltimore to marry Mom, engine trouble required him to feed it two quarts of oil every 100 miles.

Dad called the Packard their honeymoon carriage, but Mom said she only appeared in photos if she stood next to the car.

My parents’ love affair lasted all their lives, but Dad was forced to break up with his Packard when he discovered a crack in the engine block. He couldn’t afford to repair it and instead sold the car to make the down payment on a tract home, purchased with a GI loan. But between Dad’s tales and Majlis’ letter, at least I’ve had the chance to go “along for the ride.”

Majlis letter 1029 Majlis letter envelope032

8 thoughts on “Dad’s 1938 Packard

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  3. James Brown says:

    I had a teacher in high school named Gunnar “Jolly Wally” Lendroth. This was in SoCal. He was a great guy, funny and well liked by the students. He once tossed me out of English class, I deserved it. Was this your Dad? I have fond memories of him.

    • Susan Lendroth says:

      That was indeed my dad (though I hadn’t heard the “Jolly Wally” part before — just knew of the walrus nickname for his moustache). Did he draw a chalk square outside the classroom and tell you to stand in it? His version of the penalty box. You might enjoy some of my other posts that mention him, including a recent one about Las Vegas.

      • Jim says:

        I just read the one about Las Vegas. You write well and I’m very glad to have learned something that personalized your Dad.
        BTW, Not only did the students call him Jolly Wally but rumor had it, his teacher peers did to – maybe not to his face however. That walrus mustache, it was the key. Some of the teachers would grin if we referenced him by his nickname.
        I think, besides teaching English he also taught the photography classes. However, I never had a shot at that; I would have taken it just to be in your Dad’s class.
        It was 1965 when he tossed me, can’t remember if he drew a chalk square or not. Generally he and I got along quite well but as I recall it was late afternoon, and I made some remark after he told use we needed to be quiet.
        I hope his mind was good into his 90s. He had a long run.

        • Susan Lendroth says:

          Dad deplored his wonky knees the last few years, but he kept going with a cane, living in the house he built himself in the country and driving his big old cars. And yes, his mind was still sharp. One of our last conversations was held sitting on the deck looking at the night sky, and he speculated about whether other beings lived on worlds orbiting distant stars and wondered who/what they might be.

          Thanks for dropping into the blog and talking about Dad.

  4. Phoebe Conn says:

    How wonderful that you’ve found all these wonderful letters, etc. My family had a Packard in the 1950s and loved it. They were great cars.

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