Back then . . . MacArthur’s ’42 Packard

The 1942 Packard Clipper served Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The 1942 Packard Clipper served Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Following are excerpts of a column, featuring a 1942 Packard of the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in The Denver Post in early November 1979, 35 years ago (I was automotive editor in the Post’s business news department at the time):

What would induce a Colorado man to pay out $175,000 for a drab olive-colored 1942 Packard Clipper?

A peek into the back seat gives a clue to the value of the vehicle, which is sitting in the new facility of Class-iques Colorado Inc., in Golden. There’s an old Army helmet and a corncob pipe, left there by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Gen. Douglas MacArthur

The car was MacArthur’s from his World War II days in the Philippines in 1942 to the end of the occupation of Japan in 1948, when he gave it to a driver who had served the general. The car sat forgotten in a barn in Texas for 30 years.

(The late) Bob Esbenson, co-owner with author Clive Cussler of the new classic car garage in Golden, said the Colorado buyer wishes to remain anonymous. The auto was purchased from Tom Barrett, internationally known car collector from Scottsdale, Ariz.

The khaki car is decorated with stars, flags, military lights, adjustable louvered headlight shutters and siren. Atop the Clipper hood ornament is a cormorant. Inside is a submachine gun mounted at the dash, fire extinguisher and first-aid kit, in addition to the helmet and pipe.

The car was a gift to MacArthur from the employes of the Packard company. It followed him from Australia to the Philippines to the occupation of Japan.

The car was retired in 1948 and MacArthur presented it to his driver. The five-star general made arrangements through a Navy friend, a skipper of the aircraft carrier Princeton, for transportation of the auto to San Diego.

It was loaded onto a military flatbed truck and carried to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where it was released to the driver. In his home city of Dallas, he made arrangements to have the military hardware removed and the body painted a bright postwar color. But the body shop was busy at the time and he agreed to bring it back in a week. That night, after parking the Packard in his small, dirt-floor garage, the driver died in his sleep. There the Clipper remained untouched year after year until Barrett recently acquired it.

How the Packard became a gift to MacArthur is an interesting tale. His check for $2,600 which accompanied the order for the auto was returned to him with a letter (dated Feb. 25, 1942, portions of which follow) from M.M.Gilman, president of the Packard Motor Car Co.:

“We are deeply honored that your interest in the Packard motor car has prompted your personal order for one for military service. A shipment of our vehicles will be leaving our plant in March for the military; these will be the last cars to leave our facilities until the end of hostilities. Included in this shipment is one Packard sedan model 2011motor number E318750D which is a gift to you from all the employees and their families of the Packard Motor Car Company. We hope this gift will express to you our heartfelt thanks, appreciation and support for your fantastic efforts on behalf of our country during this period of great peril. Your two thousand six hundred dollars is herein returned with our compliments.”

I drove the Packard and the old straight-8 engine is amazingly quiet. The starter button is beneath the accelerator pedal. The car is solid and handles fine. Driving it might not make you feel like a five-star general; it makes you feel more like a chauffeur for the general.

If the big auto doesn’t command the road, a flip of a toggle switch puts a siren at your fingertip, activated by the horn ring.

It was equipped with an air conditioner, one of the first in the auto industry, and the cooling unit was so large it had to be mounted in the trunk.

The ’42 Packard Clipper is on a wheelbase of 120 inches and weighs 3,600 pounds. It is 208.5 inches long, 76.1 inches wide and 63.5 high.

The L-head eight-cylinder engine has a 282-cubic-inch displacement and a compression ratio of 6.85 to 1.

It averaged about 13 miles per gallon and had a 17-gallon fuel tank. Tire size was 6.50×13.