Margaret Dunning, perhaps today’s most famous Packard owner, died May 17 while on a hobby-related tour in California. She was 104.
Dunning, a resident of Plymouth, Mich., became an Internet sensation when a New York Times video of her with her 1930 Packard 740 roadster circulated around the World Wide Web in 2013. What made the interview so notable was not simply Dunning’s age, or gender, or the fact she still collected and drove Classic cars, but the fact she did all this and still maintained her cars herself — she was still even reaching over the Packard’s fenders to change its spark plugs and oil, when necessary.
Although Dunning had long been a car collector and Classic Car Club of America member, the video made her a celebrity and she became a featured guest at many automotive events around the country. It was one such hobby outing that recently took her to California, where she fell down a set of stairs and never recovered.
The 104-year-old Dunning had traveled to California to participate in the ELK Charity Challenge, a driving event that raises money for children’s charities. While there, she met with Jay Leno, and sat in a George Barris-built Batmobile.
Long before Dunning was featured on the Internet — and decades before the Internet was created — Dunning had an earlier brush with celebrity. The young Dunning — who was born June 26, 1910 — lived on the farm next door to Henry Ford, who had a taste for her mother’s desserts. Ford would occasionally hang out in the Dunning family kitchen for conversation. Mr. Ford must have made an impression, because a Model T Ford was in Dunning’s collection at the time of her passing.
Dunning’s success in her own ventures gave her some of the tools to become a philanthropist, and in that capacity, she was benefactor to many historical museums, including automotive museums such as the Gilmore Car Museum. Her contributions to these organizations and the collector car hobby at large will surely be missed.