In a December issue of the Australasian Post appeared a photograph of Gwen McRae at the wheel of their 1934 Packard 1105 Super 8 7 passenger sedan. That publication enjoyed a wide circulation and it was not long before Peter Sharpe from Queensland wrote to Gwen enclosing a photograph of his 1934 Packard 1102 7 Passenger limousine. Others followed Ron and Norma Walker, Jim and Jan Mangleson, the Townsends - to name a few and an outing was organized for 12th December 1965.
The following article appeared in the 100th issue of the Packardian, written by the lady herself, Mrs Gwen McRae. The article was written only weeks before she passed away.
HOW WE BEGAN .........
Late in 1959 a Packard was bought. Just a little '39 six, T.J.R. (Aust.) body. In those days not considered anything exceptional, fine for a young family with two growing school age boys, all we could afford actually.
I had only been driving about 3-4 years and most cars seemed the same. Had learnt on a '29 De Soto, crash gear box and all. Had driven a good variety of makes and models and took to driving like a duck to water, but "cars were cars" and my knowledge of same didn't amount to all that much. Until the Packard. It was different. It was big (or so I thought at the time), comfortable, totally reliable, and had an extra something indefinable which to this day eludes logical definition. So a love affair began. Only puppy love at this stage, but the infection had taken hold, only I didn't know it. Yet I had been truly bitten.
Prior to this, our current President, Ron Nyman, had come on the scene with a variety of cars also, and we all became good friends. Yes folks – I knew Ron before he had a beard! Our place was a second home to him and his seemingly endless stream of attractive companions of the fair sex. Hasn’t changed much in 20 odd years. (Sorry about that Ron, still good friends, warts and all.)
Well, the '39 was "it" for about 18 months. Ron also bought an identical model and the pair of Packards were more often than not sitting side by side at home or on outings. But the time came to update, the '39 began needing work, and rightfully so as it had often worked above and beyond the call of duty, used as a tow wagon many times, long trips, constant daily toil, looked after but well and truly made use of. Minimal mechanical work had been done when needed, and she was tired. She never even had a special name as our cars usually did, just "The Packard".
So along came a '51 Chevy. A nice car and only 10 years old! We were coming up in the motoring world! The Chev was in A1 condition and I could not say a thing against it. It also was comfortable, reliable and did all the right things, was attractive, a pleasure to drive, and I still have a soft spot for it, but it wasn't "The Packard." That something special wasn't there and I often longed for my old first love.
Then ......... the 1934, 1105, Super Eight 7 Passenger Sedan came along which in itself is another and long story. All 51 cwt, 147½" w.b. of it. I freely admit on first sight I was startled to say the least, I liked big cars but this was ridiculous and we really couldn't afford two big cars with our rapidly growing boys. She was grotty, covered in layers of grime from several years of sitting in an open field and to me looked most unattractive. I was young and foolish, so you must excuse my stupidity. I didn't realise what a beautiful price of machinery had arrived in our driveway. What? Me drive that with our pretty Chevy sitting there!
She wasn't ready for the road for some time and in cleaning her and helping to do little jobs, and getting her ready, her beautifully proportioned lines and workmanship of quality became more apparent and I was hooked before I knew it. Packard fever had me. Totally and happily. Eventually all was organised and she began to be used, still I hadn't driven her. Finally I got up the nerve and took her out one day and that was it. I was deeply in love and have never recovered. I think even the pupil in my eye took a hexagon shape.
During approximately a year of driving this beauty (and any excuse to hit the starter was good enough), I began to wonder if just possibly there could be other nuts like me, as so many other drivers admired the car and talked about old times when Packard was King of the Road, and it gradually dawned that she really was a special aristocratic breed. I knew I loved her, but was it possible that others could feel the same? What if we could get together, get to know each other, nothing grand, just kindred souls with a mutual interest. But how to do it? Australasian Post had a wide Australian city and country circulations, and had a page for readers’ letters. Hmmm, not a bad idea. I submitted a letter and photo which was published in the December 1964 issue - and it all happened. Peter Sharpe in Queensland was first in with a letter and photo of his ’34, 1102 Eight, 7 Passenger Limousine. We became pen pals, he now employs my No.1 son Rod, up there. See what can happen when you buy a Packard! Gradually others came on the scene, many still with us, others gone, as is the way of life. Ron Walker and Family, the Townsends, the Manglesons, etc. and, as Peter was to come to Sydney in 1965, we organized our Inaugural Run. Nine Packards took off for a day at Kiama on the south coast. A day still as fresh in my memory as if it were yesterday. What a beautiful sight. The Townsends didn't make the trip, but a date was set for January to hold a general meeting and form some sort of club, elect a leader and so on, ….
During the previous year I had been told that such a club would never get off the ground, it had been tried once or twice - didn't work. Mainly this was said by the Veteran and Vintage boys and "Good Old British Make" types to whom anything not made in England or Europe was only Yanky Junk. But I knew what I was driving. By this time I had had many steering wheels in my hands and was gaining experience rapidly. Driving to me became an art and if you're going to do something, do it with style and as well as you can, whatever it may be. It was a challenge, and when something "can't be done" I'll at least give it a dammed good try.
"Packard?" I often heard, "It's only an American car, why bother?" This only made me more determined that one day this once proud name would again take its rightful place in motoring history, even if it took years! I had a lot to learn - the mechanical mysteries of the running gear, the history, the identification of year and model. My knowledge was very limited. I only knew that this was a majestic and regal vehicle.
From our first run in 1965 to the following December has amassed some other 30 Packard buffs. I had been elected President and held the position for 5 years (mainly because no one else wanted the job I'm sure) until I finally and firmly resigned the position. A newsletter began which became “The Packardian”. P.A.C. gathered momentum and now 15 years later is still going strong.
Many members became firm friends all round and have remained so to this day. It may have taken 15 years to realise a dream, but we've done it.
At my first Warwick Farm meet some 14 years ago, I dreamed of one day seeing a Packard win a first prize. Back then, Warwick Farm was a much smaller show, the cars by to-day’s standard were mostly sound but rarely exceptional, and top awards always seemed to go to British or European makes. Really, I’m not against the British or European car. I admire and respect their beauty and mechanical features as much as the majority of Old Car fanatics, and there are many fantastic vehicles from all countries which I would delight in owning …. I’ll even be kind and say the same about my many Cadillac friends, many of whose cars I’ve been privileged to drive and enjoy, even though we have the odd friendly “dig” at each other. (Well, we can’t all own the super make) but come what may, Packard is my “thing”.
The history of the club can be read in detail by browsing through the past 99 editions, and the sole purpose of this article is to bring back memories to our old members, and let you newies know how it all happened. In the last 6 years ill health has prevented me from being as active in club life as I would dearly love to be. I was its Mum, now it is well into adulthood and, like my two boys, can manage its own affairs by itself thank you, and is fully dependent of me. But like the grandmother I now am, I hope to be around for a while longer with a little bit of experienced advice to hand out if required.
As I have said, we did it and did it in grand style. Scooped the pool at ’79 Warwick Farm. I know what a fine effort went into this, the hard work put into the cars by Harvey Claypole and Barry Smith, and the encouragement and assistance of many members, as was in the previous two meets when we almost made it with Ken Gilbert’s and Jack Hockstadt’s Packards and, although I had absolutely nothing to do with the winning of these awards, I felt as if I had personally won a prize. The joy and delight of their achievement left me on top of the world. A long cherished wish had been fulfilled and Packard was not only voted 1st and 2nd in its class, it took out Grand Championship, and the club was chosen as Best Club Display, and Packard is mostly looked on as one of the most desirable cars to own. As I heard remarked “In a class of its own”.
I cannot take credit for this, I only started the ball rolling and it gathered others along the way. The work and dedication of so many towards my goal has given me many hours of deep and sincere happiness, but I surely am proud that P.A.C. has developed into such a respectful club, fine people and beautiful cars, and many ties that will never be broken.
Friendships, some of which began for me so long ago, have proved the true meaning of the word "friend" and all have my deepest thanks. Without their assistance, companionship, compassion and understanding, I may have given up my present fight against this darned inconvenient illness which will persist in raring its ugly head and stopping me from doing as much as I would like to do, but I’ve beaten it before and I’ll do it again – at least I’ll give it a damned good try.
P.S. the above article was written at 3 a.m., sitting up in hospital watching the new day burst into life, causing several investigating nurses to leave the room with a rather mystified and slightly stupefied expression when given the reason for such activity. Hwever, I had arrived in a sky blue and gleaming ex 1948 Super Eight Packard Hearse – they should expect such odd behaviour from this nut patient.
And once again, may I express my sincere thanks to my many club friends for their visits, phone calls, cards and well wishes, all of which play such a big part in recovery. And to P.A.C. for the ever present and welcome floral arrangement, as usual hand delivered by Barb Townsend and always in the club colours of red and gold, a gift that always gives me great delight. I’m sure if red hexagon-shaped flowers could be included, Bard would see to it. Thanks to all.
This article was written only weeks before Gwen McRae, founder of the Packard Automobile Club Of Australia passed away.