Cars ‘R’ Stars at historic Packard Proving Grounds

Fins & Family Haulers were the featured classes last weekend at the annual Cars ‘R’ Stars show held at the historic Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Township.

Classic Packards parked behind the 'cottage' at the historic proving grounds north of Detroit | Larry Edsall photos

Classic Packards parked behind the ‘cottage’ at the historic proving grounds north of Detroit | Larry Edsall photos

Fins & Family Haulers were the featured classes last weekend at the annual Cars ‘R’ Stars show held at the historic Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Township, a suburb north of Detroit.

Packard’s proving grounds opened in the summer of 1928 with a world speed record of 148 mph being set on its oval test track. Today, most of what was the track has been replaced by suburban homes, but the timing tower and a short stretch of the track remain.

That section of track is used to showcase the featured classes at Cars ‘R’ Stars — this year they were cars with fins and an assortment of station wagons — with hundreds of other vehicles displayed primarily in the grassy areas between and on either side of the facility’s main boulevard, with the finest Packards parked next to the Albert Kahn-designed Lodge building and garages.

Elsie Wallce, her sister Laverne Harper and their father's 1949 Cadillac

Elsie Wallce, her sister Laverne Harper and their father’s 1949 Cadillac

On display in one of those garages with the Miss America X, Gar Wood’s 38-foot mahogany racing boat powered by a quartet of Packard V12 engines.

Parked at one end of the finned-car showcase on the test track was a 1949 Cadillac Series 62, a beautiful fastback coupe being shown by Elsie Wallace of nearby Pontiac, Michigan.

“My father, Eugene Chatmon, bought it new,” she said, adding that she inherited the car — and the garage to keep it out of the weather — when her father died in 1997. The car is driven; her father put 36,000 miles on the odometer and she’s added another 8,000 in the nearly 20 years she’s been the car’s caretaker.

How often does someone try to buy it from her? we asked.

“Every time I take it out,” she responded.

“I had one offer I probably should have taken,” she added with just a touch of lament. She explained that several years ago she entered the car in the Detroit Autorama show as a way to honor her father’s memory and a man at the show became mesmerized by the car and made her a strong six-figure offer.

“But it’s my Dad’s car,” she told him, as she tells all the others.

She has no plans ever to sell the car, noting that she has a daughter and two grandsons and that her sister, Lavern Harper, also has children.

While the car retains its original mechanical components, Wallace has had it repainted, installed new seats, and tires, and had the engine — a 346-cid L-head V8 — tuned up.

Wallace said that although she entered the Autorama just to honor her father, she was invited to the awards presentation and noticed when she arrived that the car had been cleaned by someone.

The reason: It had won its class.

“It always wins,” her sister Lavern added with pride.

Photos by Larry Edsall

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