Complete novice to Packard ownership with questions...

General topics, not covered elsewhere, of all things Packard.
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Complete novice to Packard ownership with questions...

Post by ghettojack » Thu Dec 20, 2018 9:08 am

I’m 33 years old, and I’ve toyed with the idea of buying an early 50’s four door Packard for several years, for two main reasons: they’re, in my opinion, one of the prettiest cars I’ve ever seen...and plenty of “doesn’t look perfect but runs and drives fine” examples seem to be VERY reasonably priced. I’m no stranger to old cars, I drive a 1969 Datsun 510 every day, but this would be my first experience with anything this old from a defunct brand.

So I have a few questions:

1. My goal is to have a car I can drive multiple times a week, and take occasional road trips in. Realistically, could I expect to be able to cruise at 65-70 on the highway in a straight-eight, ultramatic car that’s running properly? From say, San Francisco to LA?

2. How painful is the cost and downtime associated with getting basic wear items as parts? (Brake shoes/drums, oil filters, etc.). I’m a firm believer in the idea that cars are meant to be driven, and that the best way to keep the hobby alive is to be out and about driving classic cars and having fun, but that necessitates replacing wear items frequently.

3. From what research I’ve done, it seems that the original carburetors are a point of trouble. Has anyone devised a simple way to adapt a Holley, Carter, or other more common carb to these cars? I’m very much of the school of thought that such modifications are a good way to help old cars stay young and serviceable in the long term, we Datsun folks have done this with Weber carbs in place of single-barrel Hitachi carbs.

4. What are some Packard-specific things to watch out for if I’m looking at a car to buy?

Thank you

Dave Czirr
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Re: Complete novice to Packard ownership with questions...

Post by Dave Czirr » Thu Dec 20, 2018 10:24 am

Welcome! How refreshing to see someone so young getting interested in the cars of the 50s.

1. Cars of the early 50s predate the Interstate Highway system and there were only perhaps 2 high speed Turnpikes in the country, PA and NJ, so certainly these cars weren't engineered with the thoughts of 70+ mph driving for hours and hours on end. However those Packards are tough and robust cars with good road manners, I think you should be quite comfortable with an Ultramatic-equipped car doing a steady 60-65 mph, much more than that other than an occasional speed burst and I'd think you'd be better served with one with standard transmission and overdrive. And aside from things like engine speed, remember lighting, brakes, suspension and the like were designed for a different type (slower) driving, and there should be some concern about simple fatigue of old parts.

2. Packards have an excellent support and service parts infrastructure, the envy of many other makes of discontinued cars, and there are several excellent sources for parts for the postwar cars. Some staples, oil filters, ignition and distributor parts, wheele bearings, seals, generator and starter service parts, etc. can be had from NAPA and other auto parts stores. You won't find a source for new brake drums and in any case unless abused you should never need them. Brake linings are probably best sourced from folks like Kanter Auto Products, Max Merrit, etc. I've done many driving tours with The Packard Club, not uncommon to find members with 50s Packards driving many hundred or even a thousand miles to and from an event. Even in my older Packard (1934) I often manage to put on about 500 or more miles per year.

3. I don't think facts support what you've heard about carburetors. True, the early updraft units from 1932 and back can be troublesome and expensive, and the units used on some very low volume units during the Depression are hard to find, but the Carters and Strombergs used in the 50s are just excellent carburetors, plentiful, parts are available and inexpensive, and I doubt any new carburetor can improve on their performance.

4. In terms of chassis, nothing particular to Packards, just the same things you'd look at for any nearly 70 year old car. Body parts, rusted panels, broken curved glass front and rear windshields, some exterior trim, and the like may be harder to source and certainly more expensive that for similarly-aged high volume cars.

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Re: Complete novice to Packard ownership with questions...

Post by Leeedy » Sun Dec 23, 2018 1:03 pm

The first rule of owning any old car–be it a Packard or a Datsun–is either be prepared to work on it or be prepared to find and pay a proficient mechanic to do the work for you.

The second rule of owning and driving an old car is to do so with the full knowledge that indeed what you are owning and driving is old and thus to be handled accordingly. Old cars are old. The times in which they were designed and built were very different from today... and thus one needs to take all this into account and be realistic with expectations. Things can break. And a 70 year old man is not going to give you the same performance in a track meet as a 20-year-old. So an early 1950s Packard even in tip-top shape is still an old piece of machinery.

RE: carburetors... Here is another rule: if it isn't broken (or worn out), there's no need to repair it... and swapping off old original parts to install a modern component (which is what used to be called "hopping up" or "rodding" but nobody says these words anymore) is almost the norm for the Dat 510 crowd, but there really is no advantage of making such modifications on a Packard of the 1950s. But lots of disadvantages. If the carb on the Packard needs a re-build... then rebuild it. If it is worn out, replace it with the correct original part.

RE: drum brakes (and you should surely have these–or had these–on the rear of the 510)... There is no particular reason why the shoes should require frequent replacement–unless the car is being driven in course racing and daily speed trials.

RE: cruising at highway speeds... There is no reason at all why a 1950s Packard could not drive at normal freeway speeds. I certainly did so all the time in my Packards and I was doing so in the 1970s... on those bias-ply tires that some people today are so apparently are fearful about. And I drove more than just a few times between L.A. and San Francisco in a Packard. It never even dawned on me that this would be a problem. My only concern was descending Lombard Street in San Francisco... but I don't feel much different about this in a modern car.

By the way, Datsun, despite the Nissan parentage is every bit as much a defunct brand as Packard. So go buy a Packard and have fun with it, just keeping the realities in mind.

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