In 1952, Packard’s newly elected president and general manager, James J. Nance, implemented an overhaul of the company’s model designation system. The 200, 250, 300, and 400 lines were to be given easily identifiable names. In his book The Packard, 1942-1962, Nathaniel T. Dawes comments: The Patrician was for the man who had position. The Cavalier was for the man on the way up. The Convertible was for the playboy, and the Mayfair for the man whose wife wouldn’t let him be a playboy.
Although its model name was the “Convertible,” owner Tom Taylor took the “Cavalier” approach when purchasing his car through eBay. Rather than inspecting the car before purchasing it, Tom relied partly on luck and partly on confidence that he could rectify any unforeseen problems accompanying the transaction. eBay sellers are typically above board to maintain their high ratings but in this case, the car was not as advertised.
“The car was supposed to be in ‘driving condition,’” said Tom. “It would move under its own power but it had a serious wheel cylinder leak. Basically it didn’t have any brakes, so I didn’t consider it to be in driving condition. That alone would have been okay but it also had a problem with the title. The title that came with it didn’t match the car at all. It said Packard but that was about the only thing that matched. I complained to the seller and tried to send the car back but he wouldn’t take it.
“Later on, when we started restoring it, we found that it had the wrong engine. It was a 288 cubic inch and it is supposed to be a 327. I could see on the identification plate that the serial number had been reworked. The number stamped on the identification plate is the chassis number for a 1954, and the body number for a 1954 convertible, but the car is a 1953. I started looking at the plate under a magnifying glass and could barely make out the original numbers. It turned out to be a 1951 or 1952 plate taken from a parts car. And that’s probably where the engine came from too, so I’ll never know what the original serial number was.”
As the saying goes, half of being a good carpenter is doing quality work and the other half is being able to fix your mistakes. The same applies to car restoration and, Tom put his corrective skills to work.
“The car sat for a while as I tried to figure out what to do. I joined the Packards of Oregon club and got to know an engine specialist named Jim Classen. I bought a 327 engine we rebuilt it in the fall of 2002.
“Eventually I had an identification plate made up and it came out great. It has the correct body number, and the State of Oregon assigned a number to the vehicle that is now on the plate.
“[Restoration specialist] Dave McCready was working on a Nash Healey at the time but said he would soon be open for a project. He looked at the car and said, “Piece of Cake!”
We started in September 2003 and we worked on it every day. It was done on May 1, 2004 and it was like a new car.”
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The restoration process was fairly straight forward and the disassembly revealed some prior work.
“When we started taking the car apart we found that the bumpers had dates on the back, stating when they had been restored, in the 1980s. So it had been gone through somewhat amateurishly. The chrome was not bad but I redid it all. Everything was there, which was the big thing.”
When the restoration was complete, Tom entered the car in a few shows and was pleasantly surprised.
“The first show it went to was in Sherwood, Oregon where it got best in class--and it was a big show, over 600 cars. Then it won Best in Class at the 2004 Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance and the People’s Choice award at the Lake Oswego Heritage House car show in both 2004 and 2005. They took a picture of the car and sent me the glass trophy with the car’s image etched on it.
There’s a common saying among automobile restorers that “a restoration is never done” and Tom’s convertible is no exception.
“I remember taking the 327 I acquired to the engine rebuilder, who had a block sitting in his shop, all cleaned up and ready to go. He said, ‘We’ll just use that and use yours for a parts engine.’ And that’s what we did. But for some reason, when he bored the engine out he put sleeves in it, which you’d think would have been fine. I remember driving the car home from Forest Grove and noticing coolant coming out of it so I put a high pressure radiator cap on. The years went by and I didn’t drive it much, but finally I decided to correct the problem. At first we thought it had blown a head gasket. Turns out a couple of the sleeves leak and the pressure from the combustion leaks into the cooling system. Now I have another 327 at the engine shop that we are rebuilding.”
Tom’s greatest enjoyment with his convertible is taking it to car shows.
“The convertible is a car that draws people to it--it shows well because Dave did a great job on the paint and body work, as well as, the rest of the car’s over all details. It’s a lot of fun talking to people about their old cars and bringing back memories for them.”