A team of restoration experts is working long hours to ensure Cleveland’s 2012 Christmas parade includes a special blast from the past.
Restoration of a 1927 Packard — originally owned by John B. Fillauer — is currently under way with a goal of having the automobile appear in the city’s holiday parade.
The automobile was purchased in February by local car collector Allan Jones who said he felt the people of his hometown deserved to see the vintage Packard at the city’s annual December gathering.
“Our local team has taken the Packard down to its base material and is in the process of rebuilding each component,” Jones said. “This could be the most historic car in Cleveland — and when we are done it will look and run like new.”
Automobile restoration expert Ron Bird — who owned the Packard before selling it to Jones — is overseeing the project. Restoration experts Curtis Shook and Gary Ingram are working with Bird to help meet the December deadline.
Jones said John B. Fillauer purchased the Packard new in 1927. Fillauer was a popular entrepreneur who teamed with his brother, William H. Fillauer, to build the Fillauer Brothers Building in downtown Cleveland in 1911.
The building — now on the National Register of Historic Places — housed the city’s first licensed movie house, the Moneta, from 1913 to 1919.
When Fillauer died in 1959, the luxury car was acquired by his nephew, W.K. “Bill” Fillauer, Cleveland mayor from 1959 to 1966.
Bill Fillauer eventually sold the Packard to Cleveland resident Phil Newman in the late 1960s. Newman drove the Packard less than 500 miles and kept it safely tucked away in a garage.
Newman sold the car to Bird in 2009.
Shook said during Newman’s time with the car, he had the engine overhauled, which made the current restoration less challenging. Still, Bird’s team began the project by arranging repairs to engine accessories like the water pump, starter, generator and distributor.
The fenders and running boards were taken off the Packard, while doors and bumpers were also removed, along with the floor pans and windshield.
“The smaller items in the car were carefully catalogued and photographed,” Shook said.
Bird eventually had the Packard’s frame lifted from the car and set on a portable dolly. The gas tank also was removed from the frame.
Hardened dirt was scraped from the frame, and then the paint was clean stripped from the body of the vehicle — although not without careful consideration.
“The paint had been there for the life of the car, but you have to get rid of the old to bring in the new,” Shook said. “As long as people like it — that means more to us than anything.”
After removal of the paint came extensive cleaning.
“We thoroughly pressure-washed and scraped grease from the frame,” Ingram said. “We then took the remainder of the frame apart so that it could be sandblasted. Also sandblasted were small body pieces, the fenders, the spare tire rack, drive shaft and gas tank.”
Jones said the team had a difficult time replacing the Packard’s distributor but eventually located a replacement. A new thermostat was also elusive, while finding a carburetor took seven weeks.
“Every part of the vehicle is essential in a project like this,” Jones said. “If you have one thing wrong it could derail everything. Having the car stall out in the Christmas parade is not an option. The stakes are high.”
Shook said costs for a vintage restoration — especially on a luxury Packard — can often be astronomical.
“The key is to reach out to quality people across the nation who have experience with similar projects and extensive knowledge of vintage automobiles,” Shook said. “You can’t do it alone. In fact, we have already made contact with at least 40 different experts from different parts of the United States and we are only a month into the restoration.”
“There is no handbook on how to do this because every car is different,” Ingram said. “A lot of trial and error is involved and you hope you get it right the first time.”
The Packard, an American luxury car, was built in Detroit by the Packard Motor Car Company. The first Packard appeared in 1899 and the company merged with Studebaker in 1954. The last Packard was manufactured in 1958.
“The Packard company was considered to be the top producer of luxury cars in the United States,” Jones said.
Ingram says that while team members don’t feel pressure to live up to the proud legacy established by the Packard company, they do want to complete the restoration in time for Cleveland residents to see the car in the Christmas parade.
“We are not erasing history — we are reviving it,” Jones said. “This is as exciting as it gets.”