Farm truck gets new life
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By golly, this 1929 Packard Victoria convertible is an imposing beast, and not just in the confines of a suburban garage, but out on the road.
Sitting in the luxuriously appointed cabin and looking down the long bonnet, you wonder whether Arnold van Zon attained a captain’s ticket aboard an aircraft carrier — there’s just so much car in front of us, and so little view behind, with the roof up, that he’s fitted a reversing camera, which he also uses for rear vision on the motorway.
Even more impressive is that he bought the car as a wreck in about 2001. It had been used as a farm truck, with the rear cut off and converted to a tray.
It took him nine years to restore, using photographs of what it was supposed to look like to find or create damaged or missing areas.
“Being an engineer, it was easy,” he said, with what I suspect is breath-taking understatement.
After all, hardware like the door locks, and those side mirrors strapped (as they originally were) to the side-mounted spare wheel, were made from scratch, the design replicated perfectly by Arnold himself.
He did use other experts where he felt he was lacking. He acknowledges there’s a lot of talent in New Zealand, and, “you don’t get the quality you want if you do it all yourself.”
Arnold van Zon and his 1929 Packard Victoria convertible. Pictures / Jacqui Madelin
Quality is vital with a 1929 Packard Victoria, as it was a luxury conveyance, not at the Rolls-Royce level, but competing not far below it.
“This car was bought by bankers, movie stars and politicians in the US. The top of the line was Duesenberg, then this, the Pierce Arrows. Most went broke during the Depression.”
I was admiring the woodwork, when I realised the grain is not, quite … “It’s aluminium, painted. It would have been done a similar way. The dash is steel, painted,” and he winds the windows down to show me — yes, the car had wind-down windows when new and the fog lights even turn when the front wheels do.
The designation describes the car.
A Victoria seats four, with the cabin accessed via two doors, “The terms go back to the horse and cart days.”
He made the seats from drawings — the originals hadn’t fared too well down on the farm — with the steel laser cut.
“I drew the profiles on my computer and had it laser cut in Auckland,” while the folding fabric roof was made by a Swedish guy in Whangaparaoa.
At this point he whips out a photo of what he started with, and it did indeed look like a bit of a basket case, though more of the metalwork is original than I’d guessed.
For example, “The bonnet didn’t need any work — it came from Texas originally, where nothing rusts,” and he says the engine is from the original car, with any parts sourced from the correct period, and the whole brake system is original.
“I went to get a warrant, and the guy said, ‘I have to drive it for the brake test,’ so I said ‘do you know how to double declutch.’ He didn’t, so I had to drive the car. I applied the brakes and he shot forward — he’d forgotten there are no seatbelts!”
I admired the mascot, and he admits that had been missing, “I borrowed one and had a mould made, had it recast and spent days filing it.”
The car arrived with disc wheels, “The wires were optional and I found four in the Waikato and two in Australia and had them respoked by a very clever guy in Auckland, a Vintage Car Club member.”
All the bearings had to be repaired, in white metal, “I had to put in new pistons and valves, you can buy new ones as there’s a big following in the US.”
He opened the petrol tap, switched on the battery master switch and started her up, the eight-cylinder in-line engine firing easily, thank goodness — the motor is too big to start with the crank, and the car’s too heavy to push-start — and we waited for the oil pressure to build before we rolled sedately forward.
Despite the 6.3-litre capacity there’s only 79kW available — that’s less than a 1.5-litre Toyota Yaris, at half the weight given the Packard weighs two tons, so I doubt we’ll break any records.
He sticks to around 80 km/h, top in the three-speed box, though it will go faster.
He has driven it from Auckland to the South Island three times, as far as Dunedin. “It used a humungous amount of petrol!” He’s not kidding, it guzzles more than 25 litres per 100km.
It’s comfortable, but he admits he prefers restoring and making bits to driving.
“This is the fourth car I’ve restored, though it’s the first Packard.” He says this could be his last project, as he won’t sell the Packard and the garage has no room for another car, though he’s already started on a 1942 Harley WLA, so watch this space ...