Story and photos by Brian Earnest
You can refer to Ron and Nancy’s sweet 1940 Packard as a Super Eight. You can call it by its model number, 1803, or its series, One-Sixty. Or you can just call it a “Senior Packard.”
Ron and Nancy call it “Big Red.” It’s a fitting moniker that was hung on the car quite a while back, and the Clintonville, Wis., couple hasn’t seen any reason to call the big, dark red Packard anything different.
“The title originally came from Michigan. We know the man who had it in the ’80s came from Illinois,” Ron says. “It’s been red ever since we’ve owned it. When the guy from Illinois owned it, it was red. He nicknamed it ‘Big Red.’ So everybody calls it ‘Big Red.’”
“It’s been called ‘Big Red’ through at least three owners,” Nancy adds.
The car-loving couple share a mutual admiration for their handsome 1940 sedan. They already had one at home when Nancy found a second one to adopt.
“The other one is a 1940 Super Eight One-Eighty, this is a Super Eight One-Sixty, so it’s just a step below it,” Ron says. “We just kind of fell into it. I was working on the other one and my wife was tired of seeing it in the garage and not being able to drive around in one.”
The Ostrowskis weren’t actively looking for a second Packard, but they found one anyway a few years back at a Packard club national meet in Galena, Ill. They came across the red One-Sixty that had been put up for sale by another Wisconsin Packard owner. “Her husband had passed away. She had a ’37 Studebaker that she was keeping because it had been in the family a long time, and they they had this Packard since about ’99,” Ron noted. “She was interested in selling this and we made her an offer and she accepted and we drove it home from Platteville [Wis.].”
“This was [Ron’s] favorite car, right here, and I just said we’re never going to find another one, and we know the person we’re buying it from,” Nancy recalled. “Let’s bite the bullet, and we’ve never regretted it.”
PACKARD CHANGES DIRECTION
Due to the economic turmoil of the early 1930s, many manufacturers were struggling financially. One of the most devastated areas was the luxury car segment as the pool of potential buyers dwindled, causing competition to rise quickly. This was true for Packard who saw its Junior Series of cars grow in popularity while their Senior Series suffered. By the start of the 1940s, the company was under the direction of George Christopher who continued to further distinguish the Junior and Senior series. The entry-level Packards cost around $700 while the top-of-line offerings would set the buyer back $6,000. This was a small fortune at the time, and a very expensive price that only few could afford. The top-of-the-line vehicles were the One-Eighty Series with coachwork done by custom coachbuilders. Later, the Seniors were renamed to the Super Eight One-Sixty and the Custom Super Eight One-Eighty. They were outfitted with the new 160-hp engine which was adequate enough to keep these rolling luxury machines moving along at a comfortable pace on the road ways.
The 1940 Packard One-Sixty Super Eight was introduced in August 1939. Only 5,662 examples of all nine catalog body styles were produced in the One-Sixty Series for the model year.
The grilles were long and narrow and the tire covers were one-piece, completely enclosed designs. The sealed-beam headlamps were still separately mounted on the tops of the fenders. There were a few other minor visual differences between the One-Sixty and One-Eighty series, including the hood louvers and hubcaps. The mascots were also different; the “flying lady” was standard on the One-Sixty while the One-Eighty carried the “cormorant.” The Ostrowskis’ car, however, has the cormorant on its nose, adding to its regal personality.
Other options included dual sidemounts (standard on the One-Eighty), bumper guards, radio, heater, spotlight and steel spoke wheels. An early air conditioning system — “cooled by mechanical refrigeration,” according to Packard — was also an option, but got lukewarm reviews for its performance.
The One-Sixty was provided three wheelbases; the 127-inch Model 1803 carrying most of the body styles; the 138-inch Model 1804 offering just a five-passenger sedan; and the 148-inch Model 1805 providing a touring limousine and a sedan with room for up to eight passengers. The One-Sixty series was also produced with a thermostatically controlled grille shutters that opened when the radiator was warm.
Living large with Big Red
The Ostrowskis don’t have a detailed history on their One-Sixty, but they know enough to be certain the car was treated kindly in its 77 years of life. It has likely been restored a bit at a time over the decades, including an engine rebuild about 1,500 miles ago and a likely repaint “sometime in the ’90s,” according to Ron. “They tried to match the red that was on it before. I think it was blue originally, but it’s been red for a long time.
“It’s always been pretty much a driver and a hobby car since we’ve known about it. It’s one of the Senior cars. People with a little more money [bought them]… It’s got the cormorant hood ornament. It’s got the sidemount spares, the trunk rack, deluxe radio and the deluxe heater.”
The odometer shows 6,700-plus miles, “and that’s probably gone around at least once,” Ron laughs.
The Ostrowskis don’t put a ton of miles on their One-Sixty, but the frequent short trips they do take are always akin to one-vehicle parades. The big prewar machine attracts loads of attention and is a hoot to travel in, whether driving or riding shotgun.
“I just like driving it. It’s fun,” Rons says with a grin. “It’s got the big bias-ply tires on it, 16-inch, so when you get on a rough road you get a wobble and you have to really keep track of it, but going down the highway, it’s very smooth. Of course, I’m used to it. It’s a big, comfortable car to drive. It’s got enough power with the 356-cubic inch straight eight. That’s about 160 hp, but it’s a lot of torque …
“And it’s kind of neat to seat that big prow in front of you going down the road.”
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