My first car was an Ultramatic-equipped 1951 Packard 200 sedan. To this day I'm not entirely sure why my parents allowed me to buy it late in summer 2005. I like to think it was because they trusted my maturity and judgment. In reality, pure scientific interest probably drove them to let me drive the Packard. It was, after all, the perfect opportunity to put Darwin's theory to the test.
Set a kid in a car with no power steering, no collapsible steering column, no seatbelts and no airbags. Let it all ride on a set of bias ply tires stopped—under ideal circumstances—by drum brakes. Turn him loose in modern traffic. If he survives, he's fit to carry on the family name.
I made it, as did the Packard.
I had no particular inclination toward Packards. I settled on the car because I wanted a classic that was reliable and, above all else, affordable.
The straight-eight-powered 1951 fit the bill mostly because it was produced in record numbers. It is therefore all but uncollectable today. But the factors that make an old car unsuitable as a collector item can make it a good candidate for a daily driver. Packard parts are easy to come by, so destroying a rear differential months after taking ownership wasn't a budget buster.
The clean styling and the sterling reputation that accompany the Packard name were nice bonuses. I would have been happy with nearly anything from that era. I often wonder what sort of man I would have become if I had found an affordable Nash Ambassador.
As bulletproof as the Packard was, a partial restoration by a previous owner only delayed the onset of bodywork issues. By 2009, the rigors of college life meant that I couldn't give the car the attention it needed to remain on the road. Rocker panels and floorpans needed to be cut out and replaced before rust spread. I was in over my head.
Instead of selling it, like a sensible person, I decided to tear it all down and restore it.
A few years and one garage fire later, I'm still working on it. But I'm more determined than ever to get the car back on the road. My never-ending restoration project now has a due date: the 2012 Woodward Dream Cruise.
That's one month away.
How does it feel to be up against a rapidly approaching deadline? Ask the man who owns a 1951 Packard now in pieces. Stay tuned for updates as the Aug. 18 event draws closer.
To find out how Graham's restoration went follow the story at Autoweek.com or click the links below.
The Packard Resurrection Project: Time to get serious
The Packard Resurrection Project: Will prep work pay off?
The Packard Resurrection Project: Memories buried in a pile of parts
The Packard Resurrection Project: The final countdown
The Packard Resurrection Project: Nothing ventured . . .
The Packard Resurrection Project: The 80-20 rule