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Classic Car

1941 Packard: head of the class Add to ...

In the spring of 1941, when Don and Nancy Graham's Packard 110 Convertible Coupe rolled off the assembly line in Detroit, the Second World War was spinning up to speed around the globe - but most Americans were still complacently contemplating a summer of peace that a snazzy set of wheels like this would have made an even more pleasant proposition.

Packard was still considered one of the classiest marques on American roads and the company's brochure described its restyled-for-1941 lineup as "The class of '41 - Smarter, Sleeker, More Luxurious" and "Brimming with beauty - Bursting with news."

The company had been created by the Ohio-based Packard brothers, James and William, early enthusiasts who imported a French DeDion-Bouton and then purchased an American-built Winton, before deciding they could build a better motorized contraption themselves.

In 1899, they did just that, later moving to Detroit and establishing the Packard Motor Car Co., which was soon producing luxurious cars for cash-is-no-object motorists. Packard soon became synonymous with automotive prestige, but its image was dulled a little in the late 1930s by depression-fighting, lower-cost models and it never quite managed to re-acquire its former sheen after the war, finally fading away in the 1950s.

1941 Remembered

The Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbour in December results in the United States entering the Second World War.

General Mills introduces a new cereal brand in May called Cheerios, the first oat-based boxed breakfast food. It was originally to have been called CheerioOats.

Iconic Canadian folk singer, song-writer and social activist Buffy Sainte-Marie and singer/entertainer Paul Anka are born.

Two movie classics hit the big screen: Citizen Kane, written and directed by Orson Wells and Dumbo, a full-length animated feature produced by Walt Disney and featuring a baby circus elephant with outsized ears.

The Willys-Overland company wins a U.S. army competition for a light, all-wheel-drive, general-purpose vehicle that would go on to become universally known as the Jeep.

The six-cylinder 110 convertible owned by the Grahams isn't one of the grander "senior" models Packard produced, but it's one of those cars that causes you to pivot as you pass it at a summertime car show, your eyes drawn to its voluptuous front fenders, contrasting perpendicular grille and classy classic lines.

Its current caretaker, Don Graham, was born in Havelock, Ont. (near Peterborough), which he left in 1959 - "to make some money" - working first in industrial and mining equipment and then for Ontario Hydro. That included a stint in the Ottawa Valley where he and his wife spent some time at Bayview Lodge on White Lake, later purchasing this classic Ontario resort and operating it for 28 years. They now live on the Trent River south of Havelock.

Growing up, Graham's introduction to old cars was an ancient Star (assembled by Durant). "If somebody had a dollar, we'd get a dollar's worth of gas and just go," he says.

His first hobby car was - as it has been for so many over the years - a Ford Model T, in this case a 1921 Touring, purchased in the '60s while living in Renfrew.

"I tore it completely apart, down to the last nut and bolt," he says. And put it together again well enough it's still running around with his brother-in-law at the wheel. But a friend advised him this "dime a dozen" Model T wasn't likely to gain Graham an entry to the Canadian Tire-sponsored 1967 centennial year motoring tour he was keen to take part in.

70 Automobile Journalists Association of Canada members selected the top vehicles in 11 categories at four-day TestFest

The 1928 Dodge he soon purchased and refurbished did though and he drove it from his Ottawa Valley home to Sault Ste. Marie to pick up the cross-country tour and from there to Montreal to link up with an east coast contingent.

A big 1926 Buick Touring and a 1952 Kaiser Manhattan were followed by a brief old-car hiatus and a still-regretted missed opportunity to acquire an "absolutely gorgeous" original-condition 1932 Packard Phaeton.

Then a 1940 Packard sedan came along that he did buy, albeit somewhat less than enthusiastically, which led to him keeping an eye open for a classier example of the breed. This turned out to be the '41 Convertible Coupe purchased - without top or upholstery - from its B.C. owner in the late 1980s.

Despite missing its top and interior, it proved rust-free and straight. "It had never been banged up," says Graham, who then embarked on a long process of researching colours, upholstery and seat types that involved joining the Packard club and trips to the classic car gathering in Hershey, Penn.

The car has since undergone a restoration of its mechanical components, including fitting a correct and rebuilt motor, and various cosmetic items.

Graham himself formed - under the watchful eye of a metal bending expert - the chrome stone guards fitted to the rear fenders' leading edges on a twin-cylinder device known as an "English wheel." However, he left the upholstery and painting to area experts.

The Graham's 110 is powered by a 245-cubic-inch, inline, flathead, six-cylinder engine with a three-speed manual gearbox fitted with Packard's Aero-Drive overdrive transmission which the improves fuel economy.

This handsome convertible, which has been on the road about eight years now, is a regular at week-long Packard Club and Antique and Classic Car Club of Canada tours and has proven a comfortable, reliable and spirited touring machine.

Returning from one event, Graham says, Nancy looked over at the speedometer, did some quick calculations and noted: "Gee, Don, you're doing 100 clicks."

"She'll just float," says a grinning Graham.



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