There were hundreds of vehicles available to bid on at RM Sotheby’s auction at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pa., that I attended on Oct. 11. As it turned out, at least one of the automobiles sold that evening had a Michigan connection. The car purchased was a 1938 Packard Twelve Touring Cabriolet by Brunn, and the successful buyer was Roy Margenau, a car collector from Grass Lake, Mich. The Michigan connection makes for an interesting story and I’d like to share it.
While I have never met Roy, I became acquainted with him and his car collection through a mutual friend, Eric Soya of Grand Rapids. Eric is the editor of a regional car club newsletter and I have been sharing car columns with the club for the past year. In late October when I shared a Hershey Fall Meet column with Eric for publication, we discovered to our surprise that we were both at the RM Sotheby’s Hershey auction, in the same room and at the same time, and didn’t know it. It was our conversation after this discovery when I discovered the details about Eric and Roy’s Hershey adventure, and also about the magnificent Packard that was the focus of their fast-turnabout 51-hour trip (20 driving and 31 on the ground in Hershey.)
First some background on car collector Roy, then a little history about the magnificent Packard that was purchased and returned to Michigan. Eric met Roy through friends in the car club. Both are enthusiasts of pre-war automobiles and have many friends in common. Roy is a serious collector with remarkable automobiles like a 1934 Bentley drophead, 1925 Packard, 1928 Graham-Paige, 1911 Model T and a 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II in his collection, amongst others.
According to Eric, the Hershey trip was a last-minute decision. Roy, a dentist, has attended Hershey for upwards of 30 years, as has Eric off and on for the past 10 years. Neither was planning to go this year, but then Roy saw a car he wanted and asked Eric to go with him. Both had to be back in Michigan on Sunday of that week, and dentist Roy had appointments on Thursday. That meant they had to depart for Hershey on Thursday after their work day. Eric drove to Grass Lake in late afternoon and Roy was waiting with his trailer hooked up and ready to go. They headed to Pennsylvania from Grass Lake around 6:30 p.m. and arrived at their hotel at 3 a.m. on Friday. They were up early in the morning and reached the famous Hershey swap meet with thousands of vendors at 9 a.m. Both had specific booths that they wanted to go and visit, so they split up and covered as much ground as possible until 3 p.m. Roy made a side trip to the Hershey Store for chocolates for his staff, then they went to the Hershey Lodge site to look at the Packard that Roy was interested in purchasing. Roy had talked to an RM auction representative via telephone beforehand and then took the time on late Friday afternoon to visit the Packard and give it a thorough lookover where it was parked under the big temporary tent prior to the auction. He was pleased that the engine started and ran well and the transmission shifted smoothly. Roy was glad it was a no-reserve show, as that can mean lower prices. At the auction there were several buyers bidding on the car, with bid prices starting pretty low. Unfortunately for Roy the bidding picked up and eventually the car sold in the middle of RM’s estimate.
Roy already has two pre-war Packards in his collection, but the rare 1938 Packard Twelve Touring Cabriolet was on his bucket list. The model for sale at Hershey was built with a body by Hermann Brunn and is considered a Full Classic by the Classic Car Club of America. On a long-wheelbase, the Packard had a landaulet-type body. Working landau bars permit the top to be lowered over the rear section while the forward section over the chauffeur’s seat is fixed. Coachbuilder Brunn called it a cabriolet. The auction house’s pre-sale estimate indicated that this car just might be able to be bought at a price within Roy’s budget. The Packard Twelve Touring Cabriolet was built in minuscule numbers in 1938 and 1939. Altogether only 23 Brunn-bodies examples were built in the two years, and the auction Packard was one of only 13 assembled in 1938. It was the most expensive Packard built that year. The Touring Cabriolet featured Packard’s fabulous V-12 engine that had been introduced in 1932. Named the Packard Twelve, it featured a 473.3 cu. in. engine that produced 175 horsepower and an enormous amount of torque.
I asked Eric what was the most memorable moment of their whirlwind excursion to and from Hershey. He answered that he knew Roy had wanted one of these Packards for a long time, but they were always out of his price range. He was glad to be along for the trip and see his friend realize his dream of owning one. Another memorable moment, Eric recalled, occurred on Saturday morning when they went with the trailer to pick up the newly acquired Packard. While loading the Packard it ran out of gas just as it reached the top of the ramp. Eric was so thankful that the Packard hadn’t run out of gas a few seconds earlier or it would have been a whole new problem getting the 6,150-pound car up the ramp.
The sojourn to Hershey by Eric and Roy came to a satisfying conclusion. In our final conversation, Eric concluded that while the trip was a success, he wouldn’t recommend doing that short of a turn-around for that distance again. He added, “Next year we will be closer to our normal schedule of going for the whole week. We may go Wednesday afternoon so we have at least two full shopping days and then stay for a bit of the car show Saturday before heading back.” That sounds like a much more leisurely, enjoyable timetable, for sure.
• Trivia answer: 1956. Packard production officially ended in 1958.
Dar Davis founded the Lake Bluff Concours and chaired the event for many years. He has been writing this column since 1999. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.