Robert H. Aller, longtime resident of Kearney, Mo., and one of the last zone service managers for the Packard Motor Car Co., passed away on May 1.
More than 30 years ago, as I was interviewing Packard personnel, I was encouraged by several former Packard dealers and employees to “talk with Bob Aller.” He came highly recommended as one of the best postwar experts on Packard automobiles.
“Bob trained my service manager. He held training seminars on rebuilding engines and Packard’s own Ultramatic transmission,” I was told by Irv Albrecht, one of the nation’s top Packard dealers. “If you talk to Bob, he can answer all your technical questions.”
And he did. Aller treated the hobby with the same intensity that made him one of Packard’s top men in the field. He would talk to Packard owners at length about their technical problems relating to V-8 oil pumps and other fine details.
“I’ve developed a method to improve those faulty oil pumps. Never were made right,” he said. “If Packard had stayed in operation, they would have adapted some changes like I made on my own cars. I’ve been running more than 30,000 miles on an updated oil pump with nary a problem,” he boasted, and justifiably so. Aller had done what the factory couldn’t.
Little improvements based on his Packard training made it possible to keep a good number of postwar Packards on the road, running at top performance.
Aller put quality first. The concept was instilled in him from his first day with Packard. That was in 1950, as the wide-eyed young man made a trip to the Detroit factory to join the ranks of “Packard people.” Visits to Detroit became part of his trade. One of those visits came a few years later.
“I remember the Packard Balboa hardtop with roll-down rear window. It was coming down the assembly line. Magnificent, simply magnificent! I’ll never forget it,” he noted some years ago. “It was exciting!”
Aller held regional and citywide training sessions for area dealership personnel, giving his stamp of approval when they passed his tests. Once sanctioned, those mechanics seemed to stand a little taller.
Above: In 1977 Aller made major changes to his schedule in order
to attend a Packard dealer reunion in St. Louis, Mo.
Top Photo: Aller was still very active in 2006, driving his 1954
Packard Cavalier 300 miles or more to events.
But Packard’s days were numbered. The company still held promise in 1950, but an aging leadership knew younger and more vibrant ideas were necessary. Soon, James Nance took the helm as Packard president, and countless changes were made in the head office.
The local distributorship system was retired in favor of factory-direct zone operations, which Aller was involved in setting up for the St. Louis area, covering a wide area east and west of the Mississippi River, north and south of the city. His base of operations was on Hampton Avenue near the western extremity of the city limits.
By 1956, it was clear that Packard had reached a do-or-die moment. A merger with Studebaker had proved to be financially unwise. Defense contracts were lucrative, but not sufficient to overcome losses in other areas. When sales softened for the 1956 model year, Packard reached its final portal. A management agreement was struck with Curtiss-Wright of aviation fame. Nance left. Venerable Packard production facilities, plus Proving Grounds in and near Detroit, were closed, little by little.
“When our zone office closed, we had to do something with all the excess Packard parts we held for use by dealers,” Aller recalled. “We sent trucks filled with parts down to the Mississippi River and dumped them there. You could do that legally then. I just wonder if any of those parts still exist…”
Aller then went to work for the Ford Motor Co. He followed the steps of Nance, who was brought over to be involved with Edsel. In later years, he was switched to Lincoln-Mercury and remained active in visiting many dealerships in his St. Louis Zone — some of which had been Packard agencies.
With feelings of euphoria mixed with a tinge of sadness and a dash of regret, Aller drove one of his postwar Packards to Detroit for a 1982 reunion of sorts. It was The Packard Club’s national meet with a tour to the old factory. Aller led an impromptu walking tour for a handful of fellow hobbyists. He pointed out the presidential office and other important sections, besides the cavernous halls of the then-empty and decaying factory.
But for him, the glory days were still vivid. He enjoyed them for many more years by being active nationally and locally in Packard-related clubs. Aller continued to bask in that light until recent months, when health issues slowed him down and drained his energy.
Aller is survived by his wife, Doris, and three sons. A special service was held for Aller at Kearney United Methodist Church, May 9, in Kearney, Mo.
Memorial contributions may be made to City Union Mission, 1100 E. 11th St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or to the Kearney United Methodist Church, 1000 East State Route 92, Kearney, M0 64060.
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