Packards at Play Life in the Past Lane

By Brian Cox

Legal News

The sky is blue, the sun warm, the wind cool, and the top of the convertible is down.

Maybe there's a destination. But just as likely there isn't.

This is driving.

And in a Packard, it can become something far more.

Attorney John MacArthur was returning from a wedding and still wearing his chauffeur's cap when he pulled up at a stoplight in his black 1946 Packard Limousine.

A teen-ager leaned out of the car in the next lane and cracked, "Excuse me, sir, do you have any Grey Poupon?"

A prepared MacArthur didn't miss a beat.

"But of course," he said, popping open the glove compartment and removing a jar of the mustard.

When he drove on, the kids in the car were still at the light, howling with laughter. They had no idea who they were dealing with.

MacArthur, who practices in Mount Clemens, is president of the Packard Motor Car Foundation. He's had a passion for cars since he was a kid and a doctor in the neighborhood who collected cars had the young MacArthur come down to help dust the beauties off.

His particular passion for Packards is personal. His grandfather, Fredrick MacArthur, started as a draftsman at the car company in 1928 and worked his way up to chief body engineer until he retired in 1956. For MacArthur, the cars are a connection to the past and to his roots - in much the same way his law firm does. Nunneley Hirt & MacArthur, a Michigan Centennial business, was founded by his maternal great-great grandfather, Bert Nunneley, in 1903, the same year, coincidentally, that Packard moved its automobile operation to Detroit.

MacArthur bought his first Packard, a 1950 sedan, in 1983. Since then, he's possessed several, including one his father owned, a 1910 Packard that was found shut up in a chicken coop in western Pennsylvania. He's also owned a couple of 1956s, a 1946 Packard that once belonged to the governor of New Jersey, and a 1930 Packard, of which there were only two left in the world - the other was owned by Otis Chandler, the late publisher of The L.A. Times.

Classic cars like the Packard can sometimes be a great leveler, bringing together people from disparate backgrounds and lifestyles.

"A neat thing about the old car hobby is that you have this interest and it doesn't matter where you come from," said MacArthur. "You can have a special car and some gazillionaire has the same car and you have something in common."

If MacArthur could have any car he desired, he'd get his hands on a 1930 734 Speedster, the first car his grandfather worked on.

But that classic American hot rod, of which only 11 are believed to still be around, is a little pricey, exceeding the $300,000 mark at auction.

"The practice is okay," said MacArthur, "but it's not that good."

He currently owns a 1948 Packard Super 8 Convertible and a 1933 Packard Super 8 Club Sedan. Over the 18 years MacArthur has owned it, the '48, which features a cormorant hood ornament, flow-through styling, original French blue exterior and 5-inch white wall tires, has served as a wedding car for several of his friends and family. When he purchased it, the car had 36,000 miles on it. It not exceeds 60,000 miles.

MacArthur's Packard is no "trailer queen," a pampered car that is transported by trailer from car show to car show and only driven on and off the trailer. MacArthur prefers to take his cars on the road.

"They were built to be driven," he said.

And there, he is in full agreement with Southfield attorney David Snyder, who has had a passion for automobiles since the age of 5 and over a span of 40 years has owned more than 70 cars.

"I respect people who are into the judging side of the hobby," said Snyder, who turns 80 this year, "but I like to play with my toys."

He relishes the challenge of driving classic automobiles, a challenge that is lost in most modern cars that he says you "just have to aim."

"As the cars get older, they require less thought," said Snyder. "Getting from A to Z is only incidental to me. Everything is more important to me than transportation."

He recently completed a 1,500-mile tour along the Pennsylvania turnpike in his 1990 Buick Reatta limited production convertible, of which only 2,132 were manufactured.

He purchased his first car, a 1934 Plymouth for $165. He bought it with a buddy, each coughing up $82.50, and they alternated using it every other week.

Since then, Snyder has owned variety of cars, including a 1911 Buick, a 1929 Model A Roadster and a 1931 Model A Deluxe Roadster; a 1940 Ford Convertible; a 1951 MG TD Roadster; a 1939 Buick Roadmaster Touring Sedan; and a 1952 Buick Super Riviera 2-door hardtop. He's even owned a 1909 Hupmobile, a 2-seater he purchased because he wanted to join a "Brass and Gas Club" for cars built before 1913.

He's been through a lot of cars. There is, after all, the thrill of the acquisition and the thrill of the deal.

"If I see something that I can't live without, then something I couldn't live without yesterday has to go," said Snyder.

That was until he attended a picnic of Packard enthusiasts 11 years ago and a friend showed up driving a magnificent 1941 Packard convertible.

Snyder, who had lusted for a Packard for years, was instantly swept away.

"After months of ferocious negotiations," he recalled straight-faced, "I gave him every penny he wanted for it."

When he brought the car home and pulled into the driveway, his wife Cyvia greeted him and said, "Geez, I expected Clark Gable to get out of that thing."

Driving a Packard can transport the driver to another age. Some owners when driving go so far as to deck themselves out in period clothing and play music from the era.

"It's kind of like time travel without the complications," said MacArthur.

CUTLINES:

Photos by Robert Chase

Mount Clemens attorney John MacArthur has owned his French blue 1948 Packard Super 8 Convertible for 18 years. In addition to running his practice, Nunneley Hirt & MacArthur, MacArthur serves as president of the Packard Motor Car Foundation.

Having owned some 70 cars over a span of 40 years, Southfield attorney David Snyder has collected Model As, a 1909 Hupmobile, and numerous classic Buicks. He purchased his 1941 Packard Convertible 11 years ago.

Published: Fri, Nov 20, 2009

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