About 20 years ago I bought what I considered the ultimate classic, or at least, the ultimate classic that I could afford, and that was a 1939 Packard 120 convertible coupe. I had always loved the neoclassical Packard styling, and had always wanted an open model. And I must say, I still love it and very much enjoy slow Sunday drives in it.
But there are some downsides to an open car that I hadn’t reckoned on when I obtained it. For example, I purchased it about 400 miles from where I live in Southern California, and proceeded to drive it home with the top down and no hat. Big mistake. I felt fine while I was doing it, and loved the experience, but when I got home I was chapped and burned to a reddish purple from the neck up. Yes, I know. I was an idiot. Don’t rub it in.
You see, convertibles have their limitations. As elegant as my Packard is, it only accommodates two people comfortably, and it rattles due to all the top hardware. And with the top up, visibility is marginal. It is heavier and slower than a closed model, too. It was after that I wised up. My next purchase was a 1955 Chevrolet Beauville station wagon. It was in good shape with very little rust, but it needed some restoration.
I wanted a comfortable, roomy family driver in which we could do some long-distance touring, and the Chevy wagon seemed like the ideal solution. I got it for a fair price, which was about a quarter of what the convertible set me back, and it was essentially just what I was looking for. The Beauville was the Bel Air version of the station wagon, and this one had all the goodies, such as a push-button radio, windshield washer, and the rare original Saginaw three-speed standard transmission with Borg Warner overdrive. That is ideal because it allowed me to cruise at freeway speeds with the engine loafing along, and it gave me the control of a manual shift.
But best of all, it had plenty of room for five passengers to cruise in quiet comfort, and it had a fold-down rear seat that turned into a cargo bay big enough for even the luggage my wife insists on taking along. By today’s standards, it is huge. That’s because the car was built when Americans were moving to the suburbs in the 1950s, and buying ranchettes. Those were nice spacious ranch houses with big yards in which you could have gardens, and live a semi-rural life.