How would you guess the following are related: 1.) the last Packard car; 2.) Elizabeth Montgomery (star of "Bewitched"); and 3.) myself?
It all started at the Turlock Swap Meet back in January 1981. It was a cold, foggy day. Hundreds of classic and special-interest cars were on display. As I made my way through the haze on the fairgrounds, I couldn't believe my eyes. There in front of me was a two-tone gray 1958 Packard sedan. I had not seen one since I took a trip to Gettysburg, Pa. when this model was new. As they were then, they are also very rare today. Only 1,200 sedans were ever produced.
It appeared to be in original condition. It even had the period-correct, wide whitewall tires. The owner and I struck a deal for around $800. With the help of a friend, I drove the car back to Stockton.
It was a weird duck, even for the styling excesses of the time. The Studebaker-Packard Corporation was on its last legs. The "real" Packard had ceased production in 1956, and two years later, the company was cobbling strange fins and fiberglass extensions on '58 Studebakers. They called the result a "Packard" to satisfy contractual obligations with what was left of the dealer network.
The front end wore a grafted-on nose that resembled a shark with braces on its teeth. Fender pods were installed to accommodate dual headlights on '56 Studebaker fenders. It gave the appearance of a "bug-eyed" look. On the rear, "real" '56 Packard Clipper taillights were blended in, with the help of a few pieces of metal and chrome. 1957 Dodge-like fins were fused onto the back fenders. The round instrument gauges were borrowed from a '55 model.
It was a sad ending to a long and proud history for Packard, with its origins dating back to 1899. This was the car of the stars during the 1920s and '30s, but it fell out of grace after World War II. That's when Cadillac overwhelmed the marque as the prestige leader.
I kept the car for about three years. During that time, I re-chromed various trim pieces, repaired the brakes and got the car to run more smoothly. It attracted attention wherever it was driven, as most people had never seen one. However, garage space was tight, and something had to go.
I tried to donate it to the National Automobile Museum in Reno, but by the time they got their act together for acceptance, it had already been sold to actress Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband, Robert Foxworth. They kept the car until 1987, when it was donated for auction to benefit the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. Ms. Montgomery died of cancer in 1995.
I lost track of the relic until August 1994, when it appeared on the cover of Special Interest Autos Magazine. It was also their feature story.
The Gray Ghost now rests in the hands of a Southern California collector and probably remains the most original '58 Packard still in existence.
Documentation shows this car to be the last new Packard sold anywhere. The original owner, a man by the name of Oberkamper, bought it from J and B Motors in Turlock during the month of February 1959.
Oddball cars and rarities can be better investments than money in the bank — especially if they have pedigrees. If the Packard came up for auction today, there is an excellent chance it would easily sell in excess of $40,000.
Not a bad return for a strange-looking piece of transportation that once sold in 1981 for $800.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.