While his uncle visited with his parents, Ruesch was outside admiring the new Packard hearse his undertaker uncle had just purchased. Peeking through the windows of the Packard he saw the most luxuriously appointed car he had ever seen.
The boy grew up and became a social studies teacher at the Lodi, Wis., high school. Shortly before Ruesch retired in 2002 a friend of his bought an antique car. Ruesch began accompanying his friend to antique car shows. It didn’t take long before Ruesch was bitten by the old car bug.
“I decided to buy a vintage car of my own as a retirement gift to myself,” Ruesch says, so he started searching the Internet. It was online that Ruesch found several post-war Packards advertised for sale. “Unfortunately,” he recalls, “most of the prospects turned out to be far less attractive in person than their Internet pictures suggested.”
After many disappointments, Ruesch says, “I discovered a broker in Woodbury, Conn., who specialized in mostly 1940s Buicks and Packards.” On the Internet he had posted more than a dozen pictures of a blue 1949 Packard Deluxe 8 sedan from every angle.
“The asking price was over my budget,” Ruesch says, “but it was within haggling distance.”
Ruesch telephoned the broker for more details about the Packard. The information he received sounded very good. He told the broker that Connecticut was a long way from Wisconsin and he didn’t want to make the trip if the car wasn’t worth the journey. He was assured the Packard would be satisfactory.
The previous owner of the car had replaced the upholstery on the two bench seats and even painted the Packard with blue lacquer. When Ruesch arrived in Connecticut he found a car that met or exceeded his expectations.
Negotiations ensued until Ruesch got a price that fit his budget. He bought the car in August 2003 with an odometer that had counted about 56,000 miles. From the overall condition of the Packard he suspects that the mileage figure is accurate.
The 3,840-pound car made the trip to its new home in Lodi, Wis., on the back of a truck. Once there, Ruesch discovered in the trunk a small log with one end cut at an angle. “I wondered why the previous owner had been carrying firewood in a collector car,” Ruesch says.
He soon discovered the brakes were sorely lacking which explained the “firewood” wheel chock. “My first task was to have the brakes totally redone.
In the trunk was a wrong size spare tire on a wrong size wheel. He replaced the spare with a 7.60×15-inch bias-ply General Dual 90 tire that matched the four tires on the ground.
Ruesch learned that when new his Packard had a base price of $2,543. Under the hood (which can be opened from either side) is an inline eight-cylinder, 288-cubic-inch engine that develops 130 horsepower compliments of a single two-barrel Carter carburetor that Ruesch had rebuilt. As powerful as it is, Ruesch describes the 110-mph speedometer as “wildly optimistic.” He reports that his car “feels good at 55 to 60.”
When Ruesch had the massive rear bumper replated with chrome and became aware of the expense involved he was grateful that the previous owner had replated all the chrome on the front of the car.
Ruesch has twice replaced the original gasoline tank. The original tank had a serious sediment issue and the first replacement wasn’t much better. Special listed features on the car include: Heater, AM radio, Signal indicators, Cormorant hood ornament, Roof-mounted radio antenna, Ventalarm (whistling) gasoline tank, and Flite-Glo (black light) instrument panel.
All 11 of the windows remain the same glass that was installed at the factory 60 years ago. Just recently Ruesch observed the odometer roll over 60,000 miles. “That’s about 4,000 miles over the five years I’ve owned the car,” he says.
Those miles have been comfortable thanks to the 120-inch wheelbase. Ruesch reports an average mileage figure of about 14 mpg although original Packard literature suggested 17 to 18 mpg was to be expected. — Vern Parker