Sometimes, when in doubt, just go big.
That was certainly the strategy Ken Chartier subscribed to when he entered the car hobby back in 2004. Chartier admits he’d never even been in an old car when he took possession of his amazing 1925 Packard limousine. When it came to the old car hobby, Chartier was as green as the paint on his new Packard.
But Chartier trusted his own instincts, and he really trusted his brother, who helped him locate the car and helped seal the deal that has pulled Ken and his wife Andrea into the big and wonderful world of old cars.
“It arrived late on a Saturday night and my first time ever even sitting in an old car was the night it showed up,” Chartier said. “I got into the hobby through my brother. His passion is old cars. He goes to all the antique auto museums he can find, all the car shows … About five years ago he met a neighbor of his that had a collection of about half a dozen antique cars and through that neighbor he bought a car — a 1931 Chevrolet — and he started calling me up and telling me all the fun he was having with his car.
“That really sparked my interest, and one day I asked my brother if his neighbor had any other cars. I didn’t know at the time that he had this collection, and he said, as a matter of fact, that he had about half a dozen others. I said, ‘Gee, do you think he’d be interested in selling another one?’ So he checked it out for me and he also had this 1925 Packard.”
Chartier eventually traveled from his home in Plover, Wis., to New Hampshire to visit the car. A few months later, he swallowed hard and wrote a check for his 4,900-lb., seven-passenger, coach-built new toy. One of the first orders of business when the car arrived: finding out if it would actually fit in the couple’s garage.
“It does, just barely,” Chartier said. “It’s 80 inches tall, and it has about an inch of clearance. And it’s about 17 feet long, but I’d have measure it exactly.”
Even in the high-fashion, high-society world of 1920s Packards, a jumbo-sized Series 243 limo was not your ordinary luxury car. At the time, Packard offered its customers the option of getting custom coachwork through its catalog, and an unknown buyer in New Hampshire took the Chartiers’ car to Holbrook Co. of Hudson N.Y. During the 1910s and ’20s, Holbrook built coachwork for a number of the big players in the world of high-end cars, including Cadillac, Pierce-Arrow, Rolls-Royce, Marmon, Mercer and Packard. Holbrook was known mainly for turning out conservative, traditional town cars and limousines, and that’s exactly what they delivered with the Chartiers’ stately Packard.
“I’m the fourth owner,” Chartier said. “It was part of an estate in Lebanon, New Hampshire. I haven’t been able to learn any more than that yet. The second owner bought the car in 1957. He was an auto mechanic and I’ve actually talked to him. He was telling me how he repainted it in 1960, but other than that not much has been done with the car. … The third owner was my brother’s neighbor. He bought the car in 1987, and I bought it in 2004.”
The luxury Packard began life as a 143-inch chassis and was transformed into Style No. 2711, a Holbrook seven-passenger “Inside Drive Limousine.” The body consists of custom aluminum coachwork over a wooden frame. The traditional boxy passenger compartment is adorned with copious amounts of glass — three large windows on each side, plus the unique tip-out windshield.
All Packards were considered luxurious inside, but the limousines took it a step farther. Passengers in these cars were meant to be chauffeured, not just driven around.
“It’s got the roll-down privacy window [behind the driver], of course,” Chartier said. “It’s got a Dictaphone that allows you to talk to the driver. It’s just a one-way microphone that’s electronic, so you can contact the driver. Sadly, the cable has snapped and retracted into the wall, so it doesn’t work at the moment. I need to pull that apart and reattach that and then I think it should work just fine."
“It has a cigar lighter, and a letter box in the back. It has a coat rail for your coats. It comes with a footrest, and comes with two jumpseats in the back, and privacy curtains all around.”
As far as Chartier can tell, everything in the plush interior is original. The original privacy curtains are still neatly tied up. The cloth upholstery in the back passenger area is in amazing condition, and the leather driver’s seat, while cracked and showing its age, has no rips or splits. “I work hard to preserve everything,” Chartier said.
“You are starting to see some wear on the 85-year-old interior — on the Spanish leather front seat. I’ve talked to some restorers about getting the front seat fixed and they say, ‘Why would you ever want to?’”
That means this is one Packard that is going to be preserved indefinitely. According to what Chartier was able to find out from the second owner, the main body of the car was repainted its original green in 1960 and given hand-painted tan pinstriping. Chartier has had the black fenders and green disc wheels repainted already, and he concedes that he will eventually do the same thing with the green body, which has a few chips and scrapes on the doors.
“They did repaint it in 1960, and I had the wheels repainted back in 2004 and had the fenders repainted in 2005,” he said. “But that’s about all that’s ever been done to the car. The previous owners, if something broke, they’d fix it, but as near as I can tell, everything on it is original.
“I’m gonna repaint it. If it still had the 1925 paint job, I might think about [keeping it original], and I hate to lose the hand-done pinstriping, but I’d like it looking new, or with a nicer paint job.”
"So far, the biggest repair or maintenance project on the Packard has been to the mechanical front brakes. Chartier said he drove the car for quite a while before discovering that the front brakes were providing little or no stopping power. “It turns out the bushings were shot on the front brakes,” he said. “So we re-did the brakes on the car. Now it stops much better.”
He also installed a set of rear turn signal lights for safety’s sake.
“I found that people just aren’t used to seeing hand signals,” he said. “I’d stick my hand out the window to turn, and people think I’m waving to them. When I’m at a car show, I’ll pull those off.”
Chartier doesn’t believe the Packard’s 358-cid straight-eight engine has ever been apart, and even after 65,000 miles, it doesn’t appear to be in need of an overhaul. When he first got the limousine, the engine wasn’t running right, but with the help of a friend, it wasn’t long before the Packard was purring.
“We actually had to push it out of the [delivery] truck and into the driveway,” Chartier recalled. “A neighbor had an SUV and we used that to push it."
“What happened was it had a leaky carburetor float. The float had filled up with gas and sank … The choke was stuck, and the points weren’t working right, so they had to be filed down.
“But now, I say it’s like a lawn mower. It always starts up, and it always runs.”
The car has been running so well, in fact, that the couple was convinced to take their first lengthy road trip in the Packard last summer to the Milwaukee Masterpiece concours in Milwaukee, Wis. The mammoth Packard completed the 382-mile round trip with no problems.
“I was nervous about taking it that far,” Chartier said. “My first thought when we got the invitation was, ‘There is no way I can drive this car that kind of distance.’
“But we went for it. We took it on back roads, mostly, and Andrea followed me in our Toyota Prius. We got 9.9 miles to the gallon in the Packard, and we got 71.7 miles per gallon in the Prius!”
There were no other 1925 Packard limousines with Holbrook custom bodies at the Milwaukee Masterpiece, and Chartier isn’t expecting to see any others in the future, either. From what he can tell, his Packard is the only one of its kind still on the road.
“Of the Holbrook-body limousines, this is the only one we know of that’s left,” he said. “The Packard club maintains a roster of all the cars they’re aware of and as far as we know, this is the only one out there. There are a few other Holbrook-bodied Packards, but this is the only limousine.”
One of the nice things about owning an early Packard, the Chartiers have discovered, is the camaraderie and fellowship car owners seem to share. The Packard brand’s rich history and loyal following ensures that there are plenty of experts and historians around to provide an invaluable support system.
“I’ve really learned a lot about the Packard company and developed a network of friends that have Packards of this vintage,” he said. “This car was from New Hampshire, and I’m in Wisconsin, so I really need to get out to New Hampshire to do some more research on the car.”
These days, the Chartiers’ Packard is a frequent sight on the roads of central Wisconsin. They are definitely not shy about driving the big limousine.
“We’re always looking for an excuse to take it out,” Ken said. “We ask the neighbors if they want to go out for ice cream in it … And I always drive it for ‘Take Your Packard to Work Day’ where I work. Of course, I’m the only one with a Packard, but we have seven people in my department, and all seven of us can pile into the car and go out to lunch together.”
When pressed, Chartier admits that one collector car might not be enough for the couple. It seems likely the hulking limousine will eventually be sharing garage space with a companion.
“My brother and I are constantly talking about getting another car,” he said with a laugh. “The bug has bitten! He started out with a 1931 Chevrolet, and he just bought a 1925 Moon, and when I talked to him recently, he was thinking about a Pierce-Arrow. And I keep telling him that if he finds one he thinks I’d like, to let me know."
“I’m going to hang onto this one as long as I can. It’s just fun! You’re up high. Everybody waves at you. Everybody wants to come up and talk to you about the car. It’s just a ton of fun.”
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