John George calls his 1941 Packard woodie wagon “the fastest pile of kindling in Missouri!”
“She did 85 mph on the level,” boasts the Springfield, Missouri, resident. That was in 1996 when the car was 55 years old — and the 85-year-old owner’s age matched his speed!
That year he took the venerable Packard to a woodie gathering and parade in Nebraska; in 2000, he photographed it with a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplane during a show at the Lake of the Ozarks; and last year they took in the Packard national meet in Texas. This summer, George has events in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Emporia, Kansas, on his car show schedule, and “we’re talking about one in Indiana, where the body was built.”
Before World War II, Packard supplied chassis and cowl units to Hercules Products, Inc., in Evansville, Indiana, which built the station wagon bodies. In the 1930s, the company advertised itself as the “World’s largest builder of better business bodies.”
George, who turned 90 last September, drives the Packard to shows within 50 miles or so of his home. When they are farther away, he teams up with his son, Gary, who “has a hot rod pickup truck to tow the woodie on a trailer.”
George got to this Packard before the termites and rust did; as a matter of fact, the wagon was seen as a used car when he bought it. “I became the automobile’s second owner in 1949 when I traded a beat-up Chrysler, plus $35, for it,” he related. “What a deal!”
In 1955, when the car needed kingpins and bushings, “at the Packard dealership where I went to purchase the parts, I was told that Packard never made a 110-1900 Series Deluxe Station Wagon,” he recalled. “I promptly showed him the one I had just parked at the curb!”
Two weeks later the dealer called and tried to trade him out of it.
Research revealed only 136 Packard 110 six-cylinder woodies were built. Packard might not have kept track of the number that were finished as station wagons and other special bodies by outside firms.
While most of the 1941 Packard wagons were 110 models on a 122-in. wheelbase with a 254.3-cid inline six, a few were also built as 120 models with a 127-in. wheelbase and 282-cid straight-eight. At least one Packard 160 station wagon was built, with the 356-cid eight and a wheelbase of 127 in. or 138 in.
The handsome maroon station wagon “held first place in my garage for 38 years,” George said, after a hail storm in 1955 shredded the fabric top covering and it was brought inside. After losing his wife in 1992, he determined it was time to start the restoration. Good wood, clean metal, and no missing parts made the job easier, but it took a year and a lot of elbow grease and sandpaper to bring it up to show-worthy condition. He painted the fenders, hood and other metal parts in his back yard on a picnic table.
“I always read everyone seems to have all kinds of trouble with Packards, but the engine has never been broken down, and it still runs like my grandmother’s sewing machine,” said George. “I got her with 55,000 miles, and she just turned over 100,000 last week.”
The Packard was the first foray into old car restoration for George, who retired after 50 years as a Motorola franchise service technician. Since completing the Packard, John has lent a hand to another son, Dennis, whose 1933 Plymouth convertible is nearly finished.
On his way to car shows this summer, George promises to keep his Packard woodie within the speed limit, just to be safe.