By on July 29, 2015

boyer

There are a lot of things that I like about the car hobby and, at the same time, there are annoyances. As someone who writes about automotive history, I can well appreciate the need for authenticity when it comes to restorations. I also understand that humans are competitive and that car shows are often actual competitions. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a thing as Best of Show. Consequently, there’s a place in this world for quibbling whether or not the wingnut on a 1958 Chevy is true to the VIN, but as I said, it can be annoying.

Once, at an auction preview, I was looking a 1954 Corvette that could either be described as an interesting survivor or a good candidate for restoration. I’ll admit to being drawn to survivor cars. It’s only original once and most of today’s restorations go well beyond the kind of quality control that existed in the car factories of previous generations.

While I was standing there, an older gentleman and his wife came up to the car. A Corvette enthusiast, he started pointed out to her all of the things that needed to be done. I thought he was kind of picky, but then I’m not an expert. His conclusion? Anyone who bought it and restored it would be upside down on its value after the restoration. My conclusion? If I could afford it, I’d keep it as is.

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That’s when the phrase “going all NCRS on it” popped into my head. That acronym stands for the National Corvette Restoration Society, perhaps the world’s most anal retentive group of car guys. NCRS certifies restored Vettes as being right — or wrong — as the case may be. When I say “going NCRS on it” to people who collect cars, they smile knowingly.

It’s one thing if a judge at a show mentions a flaw or inaccuracy. It’s another for someone just attending a show to rag on an exhibitor who’s spent time and a non-trivial amount of money to share his or her car with the public.

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The Concours of America at St. John’s was held this past weekend near Detroit. A member of the troika of world class American car shows that also include Amelia Island and Pebble Beach, the CoAaSJ started out as the Meadow Brook concours and has been operating for 37 years (tip of the hat to Don Sommer who started it all).

Probably because of the Detroit connection, this concours has always featured a lot of classic era Packards, though the marque is well represented at those other two top-shelf shows as well. I started talking to a young man, Jonathan Boyer, 20 years old and very knowledgeable about Packards, who was showing his grandfather’s dark blue 1938 Packard Super Eight 1605 convertible sedan by Dietrich Inc. By then, Ray Dietrich had left the coachbuilding firm that he’d sold to Murray, which supplied Packard with both production and coachbuilt bodies.

In 1938, at $3,970, the convertible sedan was the most expensive eight cylinder Packard with the exception of the catalog customs by Brunn and Rollston. That works out to about $67,000 in 2015 dollars. Last year, a similar car sold at auction for $137,500, so if you bought one new and kept it in good shape, you’d probably be way ahead of inflation. For sure, you can buy a decent used car for what it would cost to replace the Lalique glass eagle’s head hood ornament (it lights up in the dark) that is popular with the senior Packard set.

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The “senior” Packards of the late 1930s were almost in a class by themselves. By then Packard was making two lines: the traditional, more or less hand built, high-end luxury cars and the more affordable, mid-priced One-Twenty models. The Great Depression had taken its toll on luxury car companies. By the end of 1938, Pierce Arrow had stopped making cars, and E.L. Cord’s three brands — Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg — were all out of production. Lincoln sold just 47 Model Ks that year.

The Boyer’s Super Eight is quite an impressive car, painted in a very rich dark blue, which Jonathan told me was “Packard Blue” just as another Packard enthusiast was walking by. “That’s not Packard blue, it’s too purple,” said the passerby. It almost got heated.

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Also known as Minota Blue, Packard Blue was a signature color for that automaker in the late 1930s. Apparently, matching it has become a question, since no original Packard Blue finishes have survived. There are two modern OEM colors from the 1980s that are said to be close, but primer colors, tinting and application method are still a factor in reproducing the original topcoat’s hue.

That’s not how this Packard’s blue was formulated, though. The young man’s grandfather is Ralph Boyer. The name may not be familiar to you but you’ve seen his work. He was a designer at Ford Motor Company for 47 years, his career spanning from working on the very first Thunderbird that came out in 1955 to the last, which was introduced in 2002.

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Of the domestic automakers, Ford probably has the most expertise with paint. Unlike Chrysler and GM, Ford made at least some of their own paint until they sold their paint operations to DuPont in 1986. I worked for DuPont’s main automotive paint R&D lab myself for many years and frequently visited their Mt. Clemens, Michigan paint factory that they bought from Ford, which had acquired it from Ditzler.

When Boyer restored the multiple award winning car in the 1990s (for an older restoration, the car still shows very well, winning a ribbon at St. John’s last weekend), he took a methodical approach to getting the color correctly. Styling executives at car companies have a lot of resources available to them.

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I don’t know when the paint industry first started using actual paint chips to demonstrate their finishes, but it goes back a long way. Boyer obtained two different vintage paint chips for Packard Blue — one from Ditzler and one from Sherwin Williams — and took them to Ford’s paint lab. After delicately cleaning off any possible oxidation from the surfaces, the chips were analyzed with the tools of a modern paint lab like colorimeters and gloss meters. The two chips differed slightly so values were averaged to determine the formula. LaVine Restorations, which has worked on many show winners, was responsible for applying the paint.

It seems to me that’s more likely to produce a closer reproduction of the actual original color than starting with a modern OEM shade that’s close. Perhaps, if a fresh Packard Blue barn find emerges with an intact finish some day, we may find that Boyer’s Packard is the wrong blue, but as his son John, also a career Ford employee, later told me, “That color is as close to Packard Blue as Ford Motor Company can make it.”

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With that much effort by his grandfather put into getting the color correctly, you might understand why the young man was piqued by the passerby’s comments. After the man walked away, I said to Boyer’s grandson, “Boy, he went all NCRS on you, didn’t he?” He laughed.

Postscript: After writing the first draft of this post, I checked my photos and I found out that while I spent a fair amount of time talking to Ralph’s grandson, Jonathan, about their Packard, I’d neglected to shoot any pictures of it. When I contacted Ralph to see if I could arrange a brief photo shoot, he told me that the car was still in its trailer from the show but that they were unloading it that afternoon. Fortuitously, I already had to be on that side of town and the Boyer’s graciously let me take photos and even get some video of a rather magnificent blue automobile being driven.

Photos by the author.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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28 Comments on “Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues...”


  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Sounds like the Packard equivalent NCRS would not be able to determine if the paint was a true Packard blue or not. Does it even matter? God forbid you are enjoying a classic no matter the color.

    A beautiful car, that one. Love these articles, I always learn something.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Cool story, my neighbor collects Packards , I think he has the most of any personal collector, his father got him started and when he passed away , his tombstone is the Packard grill. I know he is very anal about them, but than again when you can have the whole lawn at Pebble beach to show part of your packard collection I guess you better be anal.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Everyone is an expert in everything. Things have never been better.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Wow, cars all looked the same back then.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      You say that, but no! I can spot a Packard from a Buick or Cadillac a good ways away. Packards like this had such an elegance. I always find myself really spending more time on Packards at car shows.

      I have a couple good Packard pics here – including some of a 1938 Packard LeBaron V-12 All-Weather Town Car!

      There’s also a gorgeous Peerless V16 Touring in there.

      https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.555867904735.2032455.63400165&type=1&l=3c0116b958

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      They always have, and still do. Only nerds like us can tell the difference.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    A friend of mine has a V12 Packard Roadster that is also about this color blue. Also inherited from his Grandfather. Magnificent vehicles – though he says it drives like a truck!

    Always amusing when some “expect” starts going off on your car. My Spitfire is a true mutt of a thing with bits from 15 years of production. I get all sorts of comments at shows.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I love the cars from the 30’s and truly appreciate articles like this one. I had no idea cord was the man behind the Auburn and Dusenberg.

    You would not make it fifteen minutes today with a glass hood ornament that lit up with the headlights, but honestly, has there ever been a more classy touch?

    • 0 avatar

      E.L. Cord was brought in by Auburn to help with a sales slump and he ended up taking over the business. He then bought out the Duesenberg brothers and gave them the directive to build the best car in the world, resulting in the Model J.

      I should research it more but it’s never been entirely clear to me why E.L. Cord walked away from the car business. By the late 1930s he was a very wealthy man, with interests in a variety of industries, particularly aviation, owning Lycoming and American Airlines. It seems to me that he could have easily subsidized the car making with his other wealth.

      Maybe he just lost interest. After having built some of the greatest cars ever (the Cords and Duesenbergs get most of the attention, but the Cord era Auburns are pretty impressive cars in their own right – Alan Leamy was a genius), maybe he thought there weren’t any automotive hills to climb.

      As for a light up hood ornament, to begin with, pedestrian safety regs make things like Rolls-Royce’s ornament that retracts an expensive proposition. However, the Lincoln Continental concept previewed a not ready for production chrome badge in the grille that lit up.

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/IMG_0730.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        By the mid-1930’s, E. L. Cord was starting to get a little “strange” is what could later be called a “Howard Hughes manner”. Paranoia was starting to creep into his daily existence, and after a supposed kidnapping threat to his child(ren?) he moved to London in 1934, but moved back to the US in 1936.

        This still doesn’t really explain what happened to the A-C-D empire though. 1938 and 1939 model Cords were in clay (check for an early issue of the late Special Interest Autos, which is where I read about them) and we should all be grateful that they never saw metal as they were a definite watering down of the coffin-nose grille and bowdlerization of the original design. All because they HAD to be updated, of course. Not unlike going from a ’57 Chrysler to a ’59.

        I’ve never read anything that the company went down the tubes into bankruptcy like most auto makers. Auburn and Duesenberg were closed down to put everything on Cord, which does give the indication that finances were tight. He was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for stock manipulation, but charges were never filed. He sold Cord, and then went into real estate, which made him more money.

        If anything, his Wikipedia entry is very small; seems like nobody really knew much about the guy.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    So the Eagle light up nonsense hood ornament is something people have decided to do later? I see this often and was never sure.

    Why you wouldn’t want a graceful large swan on there is beyond me.

    • 0 avatar

      Packards called those birds pelicans and cormorants, not swans. Packard also used variations of The Goddess of Speed. I think the “Adonis” hood ornament, with a half nude little boy diving feet first into water, is a bit creepy.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Pelicans have a huge gullet, and cormorants are ratty looking black things! Why would they use these names over a swan!

        http://www.secondchancegarage.com/public/classic-car-photogallery2/1939-packard-twelve/1939-packard-twelve-hood-orn.jpg

  • avatar
    InterstateNomad

    That was a great article. I love the way these cars look. The history behind them is also very interesting.

    If an “NCRS” kind of person made a snipe like that, I’d suggest they go get their cataracts extracted first. Mr. Boyer did a good job taking care of that car.

  • avatar
    Syke

    NCRS does have its good side – I find it refreshing after all those shows about hot-rodding old cars, and taking the cheap and easy way out to get them back on the road.

    I grew up with Packards – helping the local AACA chapter president restore a bottom line 1930 rumble seat coupe was my first induction into the antique car hobby (this was about six months before I got my first car, my 1937 Buick Special). And I learned a lot about Packard from that car.

    Forty years later, I’m riding thru Schellsburg, PA (10 miles west of Bedford on US30) and drive by an antique restorers shop, and I see the same car sitting in there. As the guy I helped restore it had been dead about thirty years, I’d completely lost touch with the car. Turns out it was in for a complete tear down and re-restoration from our admittedly amateur efforts. When the shop owner called BS on my knowing the car, I told him to lift the right hood and where to find the yellow overspray on the blue firewall. Bonafides established, I spent four hours at the shop that day, going over, under and around every inch of that car, letting him know where we had problems, what short cuts we took (it was a rush job for the chapter’s first show) and any other detail I could remember.

    The shop’s gone now. I’d love to find that car again.

    But what you’ve written about here, that’s the REAL antique car hobby – not Fast ‘N Loud street rods, or overly pimped 60’s muscle cars. Genuine, restored to factory original in excruciating detail antique automobiles.

    It sickens me how the hobby in general is getting away from this.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      “But what you’ve written about here, that’s the REAL antique car hobby – not Fast ‘N Loud street rods, or overly pimped 60’s muscle cars. Genuine, restored to factory original in excruciating detail antique automobiles.

      “It sickens me how the hobby in general is getting away from this.”

      Syke; it partly has to do with the “Fast ‘N Loud” culture; but I think another aspect of it is that many of today’s owners no longer have first hand experience with the real thing; and either have no idea what the original car was like; or just have crude of a machine they really were.

      My son says he would love a ’60s Mustang; but I think after a few days of no A/C, AM only radio, drum brakes and manual steering; he would be looking at doing a restomod on it so that it was closer to today’s car that is all he knows.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      We get it: Syke’s way is the only, correct way.

      Now do the rest of humanity two favors: 1. look up “solipsism” in a dictionary, 2. get over yourself.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “most of today’s restorations go well beyond the kind of quality control that existed in the car factories of previous generations”

    Based on my reading of a few dozen reviews and tests from Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, that is an understatement of the most profound variety.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I had a chevelle for quite awhile and people would always tell me the hood was crooked and the headlight bezel was also off in alignment, further that I should have done a better job in my restoration to get the body panels lined up correctly….my response was always. It is factory correct. You can’t possibly think a 72′ anything from GM came out of a UAW factory with all of the body panels in perfect alignment?

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        I would like to invent a time machine (the good kind, not the bogus Terminator one-way kind). Make a bunch of money from the lottery, stock market, and gambling. Go back to 1963 and buy a split window Corvette direct from the factory, and then take it to a show in the present day and have the NCRS tell me everything that is wrong with it.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Paint colors, like dimensions on mechanical parts, have variability.

    And in the “old days” there was a lot more variability than there is today.

    Paints are mixed up from a lot of different components. I can remember in the 60s seeing a lot of mismatched shades on cars, likely because various parts of the vehicle were refinished in the rework bays.

  • avatar
    64andahalf

    I love these old cars but can’t say I would ever buy one and wonder if the supply of people willing and able to buy and care for them is more or less in continual decline going forward…

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I’ve always wondered that myself. I’m much too anal to own a rare one of a kind antique vehicles, I have one such modern vehicle and it’s hard for me to do anything that I can’t think over and deem wrong or irresponsible.

      It takes a special person to devote their lives and vast fortunes to these hobbies, and hidden parts are only getting further lost, or further closer to an incinerator. It’s too much stress unless you have more money than you can deal with. The ones that remember studebakers and packards roaming the streets in typical fashion are falling in numbers by the day.

      And then we have people that are still destroying these rare vehicles to hot rod, there’s a guy in town that bought a matching numbers fully restored Model A or T, who immediately took the sawzall to the cab to bolt onto a hotrod frame.

  • avatar
    drewtam

    Here’s a fun statement to nit pick, ” Last year, a similar car sold at auction for $137,500, so if you bought one new and kept it in good shape, you’d probably be way ahead of inflation.”

    2015 minus 1938 is 77 yrs.
    rate of return = ln(137500/3970)/77
    rate of return = ~4.60%/yr

    While it may be double the CPI inflated value ($67,190), this is about 0.93% better than the average inflation since 1938. Overall this is a pretty poor rate of return.

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