By Brian Earnest
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There was more than a little irony at work when Denny and Kim Harms pulled the trigger and bought themselves a rare and stunningly original 1941 Packard 120 woodie wagon. The Harms are big woodie fans and run a business restoring old wood-bodied Chryslers, but they wanted nothing to do with restoring this Packard. Even though they are restorers, they were going to keep their power tools away from this one.
And even though their Packard woodie hadn’t run in years — perhaps since the early 1960s — all the Harms had on their minds was getting the car on the road so they could drive it. No more rest for this super-rare prewar hauler. Even with all its wrinkles and age spots, this was a Packard that was going to get some time on the road.
“I think this is obvious you keep it the way it is,” Kim said. “Denny has done a great job with it, he’s probably gone over about 95 percent of it mechanically, just made it so we could get in it and drive down the road and have a good time in it, and we have. Since we’ve had it we’ve probably driven a couple hundred miles and it’s really been trouble free.”
“I’ve been all over the car, and it’s 100 percent authentic as far as I’m concerned. Structurally, it’s in incredible shape,” Denny added. “It’s very obvious it has been stored for those past 45-plus years, because those wooden cars wouldn’t survive if they had a lot of use and no maintenance.”
Fittingly, a car that remains so interesting and unusual today has a fascinating and somewhat mysterious past. The Packard came from a large and eclectic collection put together by Don Rook of Mena, Ark. Rook owns and operates a bed and breakfast resort in rural Mena and had been assembling a collection of desireable cars for decades. Among the fleet — which has narrowed considerably after growing to more than 120 at one time — were late 1940s Chrysler Town & Countrys, Packards from the 1930s and ’40s, and more than 40 Chysler 300 “Letter Cars” from the late 1950s and early ’60s.
The Harms caught wind that Rook was liquidating a good share of collection earlier this year, and when the Packard came up for sale on eBay in May, they couldn’t resist. “We started tracking it up until the last two hours, and then we jumped in the bidding at the tail end, and low and behold, here it sits,” Denny said. “We actually flew blind on this one, not having seen it ourselves, but there was a broker involved in doing the eBay auction, and after we bought it we had the post-inspection right that if the car wasn’t right they would refund 100 percent of our money.
“But I know a gentleman who had seen the car, and he’s a Packard historian, basically, and I called him before I went down to pick up the car. He told me it was a Packard 120, serial No. 5, so it was one of the earliest ones, and in his opinion was one of the only 120 Series cars that was still untouched — at least that he’s known of. I asked him if it was something we could mechanically restore and that Kim and I could enjoy and drive, and he felt it was. That was all we had to hear.”
The car had apparently left Pennsylvania back in the 1960s when Rook moved his family and entire collection to Arkansas. His amazing fleet could be viewed by guests at the bed and breakfast, but it wasn’t really until the past year that the scope of the collection began circulating in the old car hobby. The vast array of cars were all dust-covered and apparently hadn’t been given much attention in recent years, but had at least been in dry storage.
Rook apparently had a particularly soft spot for his 1941 Packard woodie. When the Harms replaced the old tires on the wagon so they could make the car road-worthy, Rook traveled all the way to their home in northern Illinois to retrieve the old rubber and take a ride in the Packard. “He showed up at our house at about 8:30 on Sunday night, after it was dark,” Kim said. “I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride … So we took him for a ride in the car, and he had the biggest smile on his face.”
The 120 Series was the second tier in Packard’s lineup for 1941 and consisted of eight models. The Harms’ Model 1493 eight-passenger station wagon tipped the scales at 3,720 lbs. and carried a base price of $1,466. For that a buyer received a stylish, four-door machine with three rows of seating, some trademark Packard styling refinements and wooden bodyside construction from the cowl to the tail. The options list was short: dual sidemounts, radio, gas heater, spotlight, turn signals, and, believe it or not, air-conditioning.
The Harms’ wagon had the optional heater, but not much else. “And we took that out because right now it’s full of mud dauber nests,” laughed Kim.
“It’s got a three-speed with 120 net horsepower, a 282[-cid] straight eight L-head, no overdrive — and they did offer an overdrive,” added Denny. “It didn’t even have a radio, so whoever bought it didn’t go for any accessories.”
Production figures from the era can be a bit sketchy, but the consensus is that Packard built 358 120 Series woodie wagons. It’s unclear precisely how many remain, but only eight other such vehicles are registered with the Packard Club Member Directory.
The Harms’ 120, according to paperwork they received with it, was delivered to Neuhard Garage in Milton, Pa., on Dec. 24, 1940. “Packard apparently pulled their dealership in 1950, but I’ve already been in contact with the descendants, and the great-grandson still lives in the house next door and he still uses the garage for his personal use,” Kim said. “Then we think at one time the car was owned by a woman. I have a box of stuff on the car that I still need to go through. Then we know it was owned by a painter, because you can still see some of the holes on the running boards for a ladder rack. But there are no marks on the top from ladders falling on it or anything… Then (Rook) eventually bought it from somebody in New Jersey. And the story we got was that they had this car in a shed down along a river, and they were going to sell the car and get something fancier, like a [Packard] 180. Well, they pulled this car out of the shed and moved it to another spot, and then the shed with the new car flooded … but this car was saved!”
The couple figures that the car was pretty much in the same condition when they got it as it was when it dodged a watery death many years ago — minus a layer of Arkansas dust. “I don’t really think it’s had anything done to it,” Denny said. “It has the original mats throughout the car, all the original door weltings on it. All original door check straps — with a 70-year-old car you wouldn’t think they’d be there. It’s definitely been in storage all those years. I question nothing about that. It has 77,000 miles on it, and I have no reason to not believe that. It has the original pistons in it, and the engine had never been apart.”
Added Kim: “Nothing is missing from the car. All the beauty strips are on the car. All the trim rings and hubcaps are all on it. It’s amazing.”
One of the venerable Packard’s first big public appearances in many years came at the recent Iola Old Car Show in Iola, Wis., where it turned heads in the Blue Ribbon corral, surrounded by restored and pampered high-end show cars. It was there that the couple got to happily answer a question that was posed to them over and over: “What are you going to do with it?”
“Nothing,” said Denny. “We’re going to drive it, enjoy and preserve it, with no further restoration.”
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