By Bill Rothermel, SAH
Packard had a long-standing relationship with coachbuilder Henney. Quite literally, until its final days, the Detroit manufacturer and Henney collaborated on countless professional cars used as ambulances and funeral service vehicles.
Frank Childs of Jupiter, Fla., owns a different kind of Henie Packard; this one first owned by Olympic skater and actress Sonia Henie. Henie was born to wealthy parents — her father a furrier who inherited his family fortune — in Oslo, Norway on April 8, 1912. She would go on to become one of the most decorated figure skaters of all-time: three-time Olympic champion (1928-1932-1936), a 10-time world champion (1927-1936) and a six-time European champion (1931-1936). Following the 1936 World Figure Skating Championships, Henie gave up her amateur status and began her career as an actress. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Hollywood, and with the help of her father, was signed to a long-term contract with Twentieth Century Fox Studios. Over time, she became the highest-paid actresses of the era, even appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in July 1939. Henie died on October 12, 1969 at the age of 57.
Henie ordered her Balboa Blue LeBaron Sports Sedan from the famous Earl C. Anthony dealership in Los Angeles, California. Despite being designed by LeBaron, the car was actually included in Packard’s regular catalog offerings. It was part of Packard’s Nineteenth Series, which debuted on Sept. 16, 1940. Most notable for its new models which Packard simply promoted as “The Class of 1941,” were headlights integrated into the front fenders. The marque finally caught up to the rest of the industry with this simple change. A reduction in the size of the wheels to 15 inches made the cars sit lower and along with the removal of the now optional running boards, added to the sleeker appearance. Super Eight models were also 5 inches longer than previous thanks to the new front end and grille. Turn signals became standard for the first time, as did hydraulic power-operated windows on series One-Eighty closed bodies. Packard’s optional “Weather Conditioner” (it was the first manufacturer to offer air conditioning in 1940) was available for $1,080.00 extra.
The LeBaron Sports Sedan, body style #1452, was new to the Packard lineup for 1941. Part of the Super Eight Series, it was in a sense a replacement for the former Club Sedan, which was discontinued. Built only on the Super Eight 138-inch wheelbase, the limited production model was priced at $3,545.00 before options, quite reasonable considering it was a semi-custom vehicle. LeBaron was now part of Briggs Body Company, the inclusion in a larger concern, perhaps the reason for the palatable price.
Power is provided by a 356-cid, 160-hp straight eight that Packard offered with a choice of its Electromatic transmission or three-speed manual gearbox. The semi-automatic was new for 1941, though it was known to be somewhat troublesome. The special Packard weighed in at 4,450 lbs.
According to Childs, his car is #2 of just 99 produced for the 1941 model year out of a total of just 930 Senior One Eighty Packards for 1941. The Henie car sports an upgraded “Riviera” interior which Henie specified along with fender skirts, K steering wheel, radio, and underseat heater. Childs further notes that on or about the production of car #49 or 50, running changes included the addition of a pan between the front bumper and grille as well as the LeBaron script on each side of the car. His car has the pan between the body and the rear bumper, but the front pan was a later addition.
The car was in rough condition prior to restoration. Childs owned the car for about two years when he contracted with Harbor Auto Restoration of Rockledge, Fla. There the car underwent a three-year restoration to its current pristine condition. It has traveled less than 100 miles since receiving a new lease on life. It was honored with a 2nd place Best of Show at the 2009 Lake Mirror Concours; its AACA First Junior at Homestead, Fla and a 2nd in class award at the 2010 Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance. The Packard was also invited to attend the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. No matter which way you spell it, this is one great “Henie” Packard.
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