1938 Packard Super Eight Convertible Sedan
The result is an imposing, elegant car which, when the top is down, has the dashing profile of a convertible.
The Packard name is legendary, whether you’re an automotive enthusiast or not. From the very beginning, the Packard name stood for luxury and quality and became one of the top brands in the US. Steeply based in tradition, Packard espoused reliability and effortless operation in their machinery, and that philosophy reached its apex in the 1930s. Featuring a variety of straight-eight and V-12 powered chassis (and even a sprightly Six), Packards were adorned with some of the most handsome bodywork available anywhere. Both factory-issued sheetmetal as well as those from the very best coachbuilders were available, with differences sometimes hard to discern.
This 1938 Packard 1605 Super Eight convertible sedan represents the pinnacle of Packard design, placing a sporting yet practical convertible sedan body on a mammoth 139-inch wheelbase. The result is an imposing, elegant car which, when the top is down, has the dashing profile of a convertible. Roll-up windows and a surprisingly large trunk make it an ideal touring partner, and following a top-flight restoration in the ‘90s, it has been extensively toured and remains completely sorted and ready to drive any distance.
The French Blue bodywork is admittedly a polarizing feature, but among the more common burgundy and dark green Packards of the era, it truly stands out and looks quite spectacular. Although there’s no documentation, rumor has it that the car was originally owned by silent film actress Zasu Pitts, which would certainly explain the flamboyant color scheme. The restoration work was done to the highest standards of the time, and there’s no indication that this car was ever wrecked, rusty, or salvaged. Instead, it has always been a complete, well-cared-for machine that was finally given a comprehensive rebuild in anticipation of enjoying its impressive road manners. Fit and finish are what you would expect of Packard’s finest, with doors that close with just gentle pressure despite their considerable heft, a hood that fits snugly and doesn’t vibrate, and paint that remains shiny and bright despite almost 20 years of touring. Yes, there are a few signs of use here and there, but the overall presentation is extremely impressive, and not just because of its age.
Chrome and other brightwork was restored at the same time, including the grille louvers, massive bumpers, and beautiful details throughout. Of note, the hood grilles remain excellent and, of course, the famous Packard Cormorant hood ornament exhibits crisp details. Accessory Trippe lights offer much-appreciated extra lighting for nighttime driving, and to give you a good indication of this car’s remarkable preservation, it appears that the running board rubber is original. Contrasting dark blue pinstripes highlight the traditional Packard spear side moldings, and a folding trunk rack adds capacity for long-distance tours.
The interior offers sumptuous dark blue leather that’s the ideal contrast to the light blue bodywork. Still in outstanding condition, it shows no issues, no dryness, no cracking, and no split seams, and only very minor signs of use. Matching door panels and refinished wood garnish moldings add to the upscale elegance, and all the door hardware is correct. The gauges offer interesting pointers that seem to float in the center of the dial, and all the accessories save for the AM radio and clock are fully functional. Accessory control panels for the heater/defroster, Trippe lights, aftermarket turn signals, and overdrive unit have been professionally installed and all operate properly. The dark blue dash might be a little too sparkly to be authentic, but it looks good and probably reduces strain on the driver’s eyes when the top is down. In back, there’s enough room for three to stretch out in luxurious comfort, with high-quality carpets, a foot rest, and a robe rail behind the front seat. The top requires at least two people to fold and erect, but it stows neatly in the surprisingly small compartment behind the seat, where it’s hidden under a matching canvas boot.
All Super 8s featured the legendary 320 cubic inch straight-eight which was rated at 130 horsepower. But the real story is torque, and this car moves so effortlessly you might think there’s an electric motor under the hood. It was rebuilt with touring in mind, and over the past few years it has covered thousands of miles without incident. Useful upgrades include a 6-volt alternator hidden down low, an over-sized radiator core fitted to the original tanks, as well as a rebuilt high-efficiency water pump, so it runs cool under all conditions. Lloyd Young installed one of his Borg-Warner overdrive units, so this big convertible will cruise effortlessly at 70 MPH all day. The engine bay is accurately detailed, with Packard Green enamel on the block and head, satin black accessories, and fresh plugs and correct fabric plug wires. The carburetor was recently rebuilt, and in the years that I have personally known this car, it has never failed to start: hot or cold, after long storage or a quick trip up the street, hit the button and it’s running.
The chassis shows signs of use, of course, and is no longer shiny and show-worthy, but thanks to consistent and conscientious maintenance, everything is in top mechanical condition. Packard added an independent front suspension and hydraulic brakes in 1937, making these late-30s Packards some of the most highly-sought tour vehicles due to their comfort. This one tracks like a cruise missile on the highway, the brakes are firm and effective, and while the BFGoodrich wide whitewall tires are a little noisier than radials would be, they have a lot of life left in them.
This is unquestionably a first-rate Full Classic with impeccable tour credentials. Only the mighty Twelve can compare, and there are more than a few who will claim the Super 8 is a better car for touring. Having been invited to the Amelia Island Concours, this convertible sedan can still hold its head high in show situations, but out on the highway is where it really shines. Fully sorted, mechanically excellent, and cosmetically spectacular, this is a no-excuses Packard that more than lives up to lofty expectations.