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A pearl of a Packard

Written by Mick Bolognese | October 1st, 2014

Museum staff member Caroline talks to us about entering the 2014 Bay to Birdwood run in her Packard limousine

Sunday was the biggest day in our calendar at the National Motor Museum, with the thousand entrants in this year’s Bay to Birdwood Run gracing our lawns from about 9 in the morning. The event was as popular as ever, and it’s really no surprise that so many people braved the inclement weather to set up their deck chairs on the route or make it to the start and finish lines. South Australia has a huge community of veteran and vintage car enthusiasts, which means there are some real gems on show. Call me biased, but one of my favourites was an ostentatious 1927 Packard 433 limousine which belongs to Caroline, one of our museum staff, and her husband David.

On Sunday, Caroline and David looked the part, both wearing elegant 20s outfits to match the car. ‘We dress up because it’s a bit of fun and the car deserves it, and we like to have as many original pieces as possible. I bought my dress online and I’m pretty sure it’s a genuine twenties dress’, says Caroline. But if I was expecting her to tell me they’d both planned their outfits months in advance and spent the last few weeks running around getting the car ready, I couldn’t have been more wrong. ‘David’s more serious than me, and there’s always a bit of last-minute fiddling to do with the car, but I was still making my hat at midnight on Saturday. We just do it for a laugh!’

The passion for American cars originally comes from David, who was asked by an uncle to clean up an old Buick before it was sold. After a little while, David and Caroline bought their own 1925 Buick and entered it in their first Bay to Birdwood, despite a few concerns about its clutch. It got 500 metres away and refused to go any further.

If they liked the style of the Buick, it was impossible not to desire a Packard, the United States’s answer to Rolls Royce. Industrial tycoons and royal families often had fleets of them, and David and Caroline think that the one they bought was originally owned by Macpherson Robertson – someone I hadn’t heard of before, but to whom I will be eternally grateful as the visionary who gave the world Cherry Ripes and Freddo Frogs. The grandeur, comfort and style of Packards, with their big chrome grilles, epitomises the decadence of the twenties. It’s no coincidence they appeared in The Great Gatsby, the story which has become an emblem of the period, and Caroline and David were even approached for their car to feature in Baz Luhrmann’s film.

This year they registered the car for a fourth time in the Concours d’Elegance. In the end, though it made it to the top 10 for the second time, it didn’t win – that honour going to the Whittakers in their lovely Mercedes 300S. ‘We absolutely plan on taking it out next time – third time lucky!’ jokes Caroline. Winning the Concours is a special recognition of all the effort that goes into maintaining these vehicles, but Caroline lets me in on the true appeal of owning a vintage car for her: ‘it’s taking your friends out and dropping the kids off at their school formals, and the people who come up to us at service stations to tell us how much they love our car, but most of all it’s the fact that you feel like you’re driving a piece of history’.

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