Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Jon Gehrke has a hard time staying mad at his Packard.
He admits that, frankly, his gorgeous 1941 One-Ten coupe was a pain in the neck to restore. It took a lot longer than he had hoped, cost more than he had planned and, even after the paint dried, getting it to run right has been an ongoing battle.
But boy, is it nice! And Gehrke knows it.
“All my whining aside, I’m fortunate to have this car. I’m fortunate to have great friends that will work on it no matter what. It’s great to get out and drive and to look at. It’s a great-looking car. And it is a Packard, and when you crawl under it you see the differences in how these were built.”
Gehrke knows he can blame most of the car’s problems on its past, which included years of neglect in purgatory. “It was solid, very little rust, but the paint was blistered and falling off in big chunks, particularly the maroon,” he says with a sigh. “I think it was stored in some environment that really got that hot. There were plastic and rubber pieces on the inside that were degraded and almost melted. You expect old plastic to degrade, but for the rubber to almost drip … it was very weird.
“I guess it had been sitting about a dozen years, is what they said. That could easily have been 15 … Who knows, really?”
The car showed up pretty much alone at an auction of miscellaneous stuff about 20 years ago near the small town of Dale, Wis., about a half-hour from Gehrke’s home outside of Stevens Point. It was a car in need of an owner who would give it some attention, and Gehrke, a retired high school teacher and coach, convinced himself he was that guy.
“My impression was that it was an auction of stuff that had been in storage and the owner of that place took over that stuff after such a length of time. Was it abandoned? I don’t know, because he had the title for it.
“I guess one of my ambitions was to some day own a Packard, not even knowing that much about them. All I knew is that my dad [Herbert] had always kind of longed to have one. It was kind of the gold standard in his mind. He had great Pontiacs when I was growing up, but there was just something about the Packard mystique that got put in my head, from him.”
The car still wore what appeared to be its original burgundy-and-tan two-tone paint job, and looked to be an unrestored original. It didn’t run, but it was complete and certainly looked like it could be restored. Furthermore, Gehrke had a couple of friends, Doug Knuth and his son Gary, who were up for the challenge of helping him do all the mechanical restoration that would be necessary. Gehrke says the pair never lost their enthusiasm for the project, and it’s a good thing, because the One-Ten threw plenty of challenges at them.
PACKARD THINKS SMALL
The Packard One-Ten was offered for the first time for the 1940 model year, but the car’s roots date back several years before that. As The Great Depression began to abate in 1935, Packard attempted to resuscitate its sagging sales by offering a more affordable alternative — under $1,000 — with its 120 model. The results were immediately encouraging, and the company followed up in 1937 with the Packard Six, its first six-cylinder offering in a decade. Built on a 115-in. chassis and carrying the 237-cid inline six-cylinder, the Sixes upheld the company’s reputation for quality and durability, but came with price tags between $795 and $1,295 — a price far more Americans could afford. The cars featured all-steel bodies, four-wheel hydraulic brakes and independent front suspension. Generally missing were some of more noticeable Senior Packard amenities such as side-mounted spare tires and broadcloth upholstery.
For 1940, the Sixes became the One-Ten (110) — a moniker that was only used for ’40 and ’41 before the company went back to the Six label. Because of their huge sales success in 1940, the entry-level “Junior” Packard One-Ten was offered in a wide variety of body styles for ’41, with upscale DeLuxe versions available for every One-Ten except the business coupe. All used a 122-in.-wheelbase chassis. “Electromatic” was Packard’s name for the new semi-automatic clutch, and overdrive was now called Aero-Drive. Two-tone paint schemes were new, and the runningboards were off (though still optional). The shortened hood louvers also served as hood releases.
By any measure, the One-Tens were a hit in Packard showrooms. Totals for 1940 soared to 62,300 before dipping to a still-respectable 34,700 for ’41.
A BUMPY ROAD BACK
Gehrke hasn’t been able to trace much of his One-Ten’s history, but the car was apparently well-traveled before it landed in central Wisconsin. “There was a copy of a California title, so at some point it was out there. As I recall that was back in the ’60s. Where it was before that, where it was after that, I don’t know,” he says. “It was just kind of an orphan at that auction; I didn’t get much [history] on it.”
It didn’t have a any rust issues to speak of, and the upholstery was still pretty nice for its age, but the ’41 still turned into a big challenge to restore, Gehrke said. The body wound up in a shop near Appleton, Wis., for “a long time … a lot longer than they said it would,” and mechanical gremlins persisted for months on end.
“Getting it running was fairly simple, I guess. The starter was balky for whatever reason, but they got it running, and then it was overheating … We checked the radiator … thermostat … the water pump distribution tube. That historically is one of the main reasons for overheating with these flatheads. The distribution tubes gets clogged and the back cylinders don’t get cooled. But that was clean and wasn’t the problem. Then they made sure the timing was right, and we were trying different things with the fan. We tried to build an extra shroud around the fan ... and probably other stuff I am forgetting.”
The carburetor was rebuilt, the gas tank flushed more than once, and the fuel lines were replaced. “Eventually, what they landed on is an electric fuel pump plumbed in permanently with the mechanical fuel pump. It makes it a lot easier to start and run. It’s not completely exempt from overheating, but it’s a whole lot better than it was.”
These days, the One-Ten’s straight-six purrs like a happy cat.
“My two mechanical friends have breathed life back into it and have worked off and on on it — mostly on — ever since I bought it, because it’s had those overheating issues and those starved-for-gas issues. It finally came back here last fall,” Gehrke noted.
Inside, the Packard had some period seat cover upholstery that still looks good and Gehrke elected to leave well enough alone. The cloth seat backs are all original. Ditto the door panels, but he did repaint the metal around the window openings. Reynebeau Upholstery in Appleton, Wis., installed a new headliner and cleaned up a few other loose ends in the cabin. “Most of the dash is original,” Gehrke notes. “The middle of the dash was replaced. You can tell the buttons on the radio were not! The floor is just a rubber mat, and I guess that’s the way it was. The One-Ten was the bottom of the barrel for Packards. It’s the ‘Little Packard’!
Gehrke elected to keep the original tan-over-burgundy paint scheme, which oozes class. Even from far down the street, you can tell an elegant machine is coming.
“Yeah, it does get plenty of attention. A lot of thumbs-up,” he admits. “At the local shows … it’s the only Packard that shows up. I am fortunate to own it. It’s a nice-looking car and a nice-riding car. But AAA has brought it home a couple of times, too!
Gehrke chuckles to himself when pondering whether the car was worth all the time and money he’s invested. He probably wouldn’t do it again, but in this case, maybe all’s well that ends well.
“You’d never justify the price when you restore ’em, because you’d never get that out of it,” he says. “You never restore them as an investment.”
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