Those who traveled through downtown Mount Airy yesterday were sent through a time warp, back to an era when luxury automobiles were built to perfection. Packard cars lined one side of the street, shining in the afternoon sun.
A jingle from an old Packard radio ad featured the line “In a Packard you’ve got the world on a string; in a Packard you feel like a king.” The car evoked a nostalgia for the past, a time when the act of riding in a Packard could make anyone feel like a king with the world on a string.
The more modern cars driving through downtown yesterday automatically slowed down as a more leisurely pace took over the entire street, inspired by the presence of the antique automobiles, with multiple pedestrians stopping to snap pictures and commenting on how wonderful it was to see the cars.
Two Packard car clubs, the Blue Ridge Packards and the Old Dominion Packard Club, met in Mount Airy for their spring tour, a perfect location to cruise the roads of the surrounding area and enjoy all the activities the community has to offer.
At least 95 people from the two Packard clubs traveled in 48 cars from their temporary home base at Hampton Inn to the downtown area in a group, thanks to the kindness of the city and the Mount Airy Police Department, who provided escorts for the group and will continue to do the same for their trips through the busy intersections in town as they leave for their tours of the area.
Many arrived in the area as early as Wednesday, for an “early bird” drive through town to the granite quarry. Yesterday, the group enjoyed visiting museums, shopping and dining downtown, as well as sharing stories about their Packards and admiring the other members’ cars.
Today, the club will leave Hampton Inn and drive down U.S. 601 to North Wilkesboro to admire a collection of Cadillacs and Buicks, then they will travel to Cedarbrook Country Club in Elkin for lunch and on to Shelton Vineyards in Dobson to enjoy tours of the winery and vineyards.
Tomorrow, the group will travel Old Highway 52 to Pilot Mountain between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., where they will enjoy the downtown area and tour the Petrol collection, then on to a lunch at Pilot Knob Park Country Club, where they will hear a speech by the president of the Antique Car Club of America, Tom Cox. Many members will travel in their Packard cars after lunch to the top of Pilot Mountain to enjoy the views of the surrounding area, where they will remain until 2 p.m. before returning back to Mount Airy on Old Highway 52.
Club members were encouraged to dress in period clothing for a banquet tomorrow evening at Cross Creek Country Club.
Tom Inman is with the Old Dominion Packard Club, and he served as tourmaster for the spring tour, leading the cars with his 1940 black Packard convertible. Inman said the partnership between the car clubs was successful and the members were enjoying meeting other Packard owners. “It gives us a chance to meet new cars…and new people,” he said with a laugh.
Ted Bunnell drove the oldest car in the group, second in line on the tour, a 1917 Packard Twin 6.
Bunnell is from Wheeling, W.Va. He said his Twin 6 engine is also known as a V12. His Packard featured wooden rims on artillery wheels, which were a high-end option of the day. Bunnell said that type of wheel was featured on Packards through the 1920s, when they were replaced by stronger steel wheels.
Another club member said a similar Packard to Bunnell’s recently sold at the Pebble Beach car auction for $175,000.
Packards are not cheap cars, and they were considered to be the height of luxury for the era: a car of “kings and presidents” and often used as a luxury limousine.
Miles White traveled all the way from Maryland in his 1932 Packard, with only one overheating problem as he traveled over a mountain in Virginia. He already was planning an alternate route to return home, one that avoided any mountainous areas.
White is proud of his car, and it is not a car he purchased because he liked how it looked — his Packard was passed down to him from his parents, who received the car as a wedding present from White’s grandfather. It was purchased brand new for them in 1932 and lovingly preserved for many years.
White said much of the car is still original and only has 24,000 miles.
“It was used very little during the 1930s and retired to the beach house in 1936 where it remained through World War II. When the beach house was sold in 1956, the car returned to the D.C. area where it was stored, maintained as needed and passed on to me when my parents died in the 1960s. The car was painted and upholstered according to my grandfather’s specifications; the [maroon] color is unusual and because it was likely too flashy to drive during the deepest years of the Depression, which is why it was little used and retired early,” explained White.
Bob Woolfitt traveled from Norfolk, Va., to be a part of the spring Packard tour. Woolfitt is a retired radiologist, and his love of Packards inspired his friend, a fellow radiologist, to purchase his own Packard (named Sophie), which was parked in front of Woolfitt’s 1934 12-cylinder formal sedan.
Woolfitt said Packard only made 30 of the model of Packard he owns, and he knows of only six left in existence, including his. “This car was originally sold in San Francisco as a limo, I even have an old business card from the dealership. During the war, the car was put away then a collector in northern California bought it then sold it to a collector in southern California, and I bought it from him in 1989.”
He restored his Packard in 1996 and he and his late wife traveled across the country on the 90th anniversary tour of the Lincoln Highway, which is the country’s first paved trans-continental road that runs from Times Square in New York City to the west coast.
The car, which he named Big Boy, has traveled with Woolfitt across the United States twice, and he will travel in June on the 100th anniversary tour of the Lincoln Highway.
Woolfitt said he was drawn to the Packard visually, as he appreciated the “upright gangster look” of the car.
Curtis Easter and his wife Frances grew up in nearby Virginia and they said they enjoyed the opportunity to see the area from a tourist’s perspective. Frances said she had fond memories of downtown, and remembered purchasing her prom dress from the Baldwin’s store.
Phil Marsh, president of the Mount Airy Downtown Business Association, said he was “pleased everything was going so well.”
“I just want them to all feel welcome here. They may go back and tell their friends and neighbors about our wonderful town. I don’t know how many have already come up to me and thanked me — it really is a great thing,” remarked Marsh.
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1933.