My Dad (far right) and his friends at the finish of their Niagara Falls trip | Edsall family photo
Here at ClassicCars.com and Classic Car News, our business cards include the usual information: corporate logo, individual’s name and job title, business address, telephone numbers, email address. But there’s one more line on our cards. It reads: “My dream car is a …”
I’d imagine that Bob Golfen’s dream car is some sort of Porsche, that Andy Reid’s is a car driven by “Bond, James Bond,” that the object of Nicole James’ desire is a Nissan Skyline originally available only in the Japanese Domestic Market, and that Dawn Antestenis, our own import from Scotland, wants some obscure but oh-so-practical vehicle, perhaps a Morris Minor, produced on the British Isles.
Which brings us to my business card. The bottom line on my card is a little different from the others. Mine isn’t about my dream car, but my car dream, which would be to find my father’s pre-war Packard.
I don’t know the model or model year. In fact, I didn’t even know my father had owned not one but two pre-war Packards until long after he died.
My Dad was not what you’d call a “car guy,” not by any stretch of the imagination. He did teach me how to use the jack to lift the car and take off the flat tire and put on the spare (something that happened frequently living on a gravel road back in the days of bias-ply tires). He also showed me how to check the oil level in the engine’s crankcase (something that was important to do back in the days when you needed to replenish a quart for every thousand miles you’d driven).
And we did drive. While Dad wasn’t a car guy, he loved to drive and we traveled far and wide and north to south and east and west and back again.
We lived about 25 miles from Chicago, but I remember a sunrise drive to the summit of Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, a dark and dismal night crossing eerie swamps in South Carolina (and the frogs that my little brother captured getting loose in the car), the oil-welled horizon in Texas, the majestic beauty of glacier-capped mountains in northern Montana, as well as the day we almost lost my Dad as he started to slide toward the water along the slippery, granite coastline of Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
Dad started driving when he was 12. He was attending a relative’s funeral but instead of going into the ceremony, he asked the funeral home director if he needed help getting cars lined up for the drive to the cemetery. When the man asked if he knew how to drive, my future father assured him he did — even though he’d never driven a vehicle in his life.
A few years later, and still a teenager, Dad and a couple of buddies scraped together enough money to secure an old Ford, got the local lightning-rod company to come up with gas money, and drove from northern Indiana “to Niagara Falls or bust.”
Dad drove from age 12 well into his 80s. I think the saddest day of his life was the day a Florida state trooper came to his home to reclaim his driver’s license because my father’s sight had deteriorated and Florida law required the eye doctor to notify the state police.
A few years after Dad’s death, I was working on a story and asked my Mom what car would have carried the newborn me home from the hospital. My parents were both World War II U.S. Navy veterans — she a nurse, he a pharmacist — and as far as I knew, they had bicycles, not a car, until after I was born. My Mom said I probably rode home from the hospital in her father’s car, whatever it might have been.
But a couple of days later she called me back and said, no, that I’d probably have come home in “the Packard.”
What Packard, I asked?
That’s when she told me that when, in the 1930s, my father was a single pharmacist living in the Cincinnati area he had purchased a new Packard, and that he liked the car so much that after the war and their marriage, he’d bought a used Packard, which would have been the car in which they’d have brought infant me home.