Classic Curbside Classic: 1937 Packard Super Eight

There are advantages to being a licensed amateur radio operator. The obvious one: you have communication no matter what happens to the infrastructure. A not so obvious one: Most ham operators are more than willing to help if you have an antenna to put up, or a problem with your equipment. A obscure benefit: Once in a great while you’ll head over to help a fellow ham operator, and discover a Curbside Classic sitting in his garage.

My friend Lee is a retired sheet metal fabricator that lives in St. George, Utah. He asked me to come over a while back and look at some radio equipment, and help him with a computer problem he’s been having. We spent a pleasant afternoon together, and he walked me through his garage.

Over in the corner sat…uh…”Lee, it’s an old car! What is it?”

“An original unrestored 1937 Packard Super 8.”

In 1937, the Super 8 was Packard’s largest and most expensive 8-cylinder model. Listing for $2450 ($38,000 adjusted), this automobile had been modernized for 1937 with more manageable size and lighter weight, which translated into improved performance.  The car was also streamlined, as was fashionable at the time, with a raked radiator. The radiator has adjustable fins, controlled by a thermostat, to control airflow and assist in warming the car on cold days.

The Super 8 came factory equipped with a 320 cubic inch eight-cylinder inline engine developing 130 bhp, with a three-speed floor shifted synchromesh transmission, independent front suspension, and, in a first for Packard, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.

This car was bought in 1937 by Dr. Asa Dewey, as evidenced by the medical symbol on the front license plate. This was back in the days where doctors actually made house calls, so it was vital that the good doctor had reliable transportation. Lee bought the car in 1962, which makes this a 2 owner car.

Did someone mention reliable? I’d say so. 74 years later, Lee takes the Packard out several times a year and exercises it. The only problem he seems to have is keeping the 6 volt battery under the front seat charged enough.

Lee even showed me 65 year old repair manuals that covered all major brands of cars. He showed me the Packard in each of the books. He also showed me a schematic he drew of the car’s electrical system.

Which brings me to the final benefit of having this gentleman as my friend. How many of these curbside classics have the authors ridden in? Lee took me for a spin in the Packard. It fired right up at a touch of the starter (If it doesn’t it provides a means to crank it: The front emblem opens up to reveal a crank hole). For a car almost ¾ of a century old, it has a wonderfully smooth ride. Lee informed me that the car still has the original “fillable” shock absorbers, where you would simply fill the shocks with hydraulic oil when they got low. The surprise was when he said the shocks were dry at the moment, having sat for a while. A testament to the springs and frame of this beautiful unrestored classic. All gauges work, with the exception of the temperature gauge and the clock. Lee has added an aftermarket temperature gauge under the dash on the left side of the driver.

Torque is incredible. In rounding a corner, Lee didn’t even shift out of third. He told me when he lived in Salt Lake City he would start at the bottom of the State Street hill in third, and never downshift the entire way. Quite a feat. Try to do that in modern cars. Especially starting from a stop in high gear. My F-150 complains if I try it in second (it’s a 5-speed).

Unfortunately, Lee is getting up in age and can’t work on this car as much as he’d like to. He told me he’d be willing to sell it to the right person who would appreciate it the way he has and put some real love and care into it. He’d be interested in talking to you if you are that person. I can put you in touch with Lee. Email me at and I’ll pass your message on. He will entertain all offers. (note: this was first posted in 2011 – ED)

Not your everyday Curbside Classic. But a fascinating one. A chance to see an original Packard Super Eight doesn’t come along every day. Grab the chance if you get it.