Cleveland and Bradley County residents who attended the Museum Center at Five Point’s annual fundraiser Friday night got a first glimpse at one of the city’s most historic automobiles.
A 1927 Packard once owned by the late John B. Fillauer and purchased in 2011 by the Allan Jones Foundation was unveiled exclusively at the museum’s Blue & Grey Gala. The car spent much of this year undergoing a complete restoration.
The 1927 model was originally purchased new by Fillauer, an entrepreneur whose father helped organize Merchants Bank in 1902 and served as the bank’s first president.
“This was a full restoration project, taking the car down to its base material and rebuilding each component,” Jones said. “Every detail of the car is as close to original as possible.”
Fillauer died in 1959 and had no children. The Packard was then acquired by his nephew, W. K. “Bill” Fillauer, the Cleveland mayor from 1959 to 1966.
Bill Fillauer eventually sold the Packard to Cleveland resident Phil Newman in the late 1960s. Bill Fillauer passed away in 2000.
Newman, who was honored at the Museum Gala on Friday night, said he drove the Packard less than 500 miles and kept it safely in a garage.
“We drove it once a year to the Museum Gala, but other than that it was kept in storage,” Newman said. “When I acquired the car, it had all of its original operating and repair manuals, including a gas-rationing stamp on the windshield.”
The Packard changed hands again when Newman sold the vehicle in 2009 to Cleveland automobile restoration expert Ron Bird.
Bird eventually sold the Packard to Jones, who said he wanted to have the car completely restored so that it could run again.
Jones asked Bird to perform the restoration due to Bird’s knowledge of history and vintage automobiles. Restoration experts Curtis Shook and Gary Ingram worked with Bird on each step of the process.
“Every part of the Packard was essential for this type of first-class restoration,” Bird said. “If one part breaks down it could have derailed everything. Having the car stall out on the way to the 2012 Museum Gala was not an option. The stakes were very high.”
The Packard, an American luxury car, was built in Detroit by the Packard Motor Car Company. The first Packard appeared in 1899 and the last car was manufactured in 1958.
“When the Fillauer Packard was built, the Packard company was regarded as the elite producer of luxury cars in America,” Bird said.
Jones noted that Packard automobiles were known for introducing several innovations, including the first 12-cylinder engine, the modern steering wheel and the first air-conditioning in a passenger car.
Bird said rebuilding the car piece-by-piece was a challenge.
“There was no set of rules we could go by because every car is unique,” Bird said. “A lot of guessing is involved and you hope you make the right decision. Otherwise you start over.”
Bird reached out to Fully Loaded Interiors in Ooltewah for the upholstery on the vehicle. Upholstery experts Kyle Wilson and Carlos Rodriguez took the seats apart, rebuilt the springs and reproduced the covers.
“It was a lot of fun to know we were working on a piece of history,” Rodriguez said. “We knew we had to get it right so that everyone could be proud of the car. This Packard is very special.”
Another invaluable source of expertise came from Howard Horn, a paint striper from Knoxville who worked 25 hours on the car to ensure every detail was perfect.
Jones pointed out those who missed seeing the Packard on Friday night needn’t worry. The car will also be on display during another high-profile event at the end of the year.
“My expectation is that the Packard will be in the Christmas parade,” Jones said. “We will work very hard to make that happen for the people of Cleveland.”