Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues

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.
Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues
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.
Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues
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.
Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues
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.
Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues
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.
Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues
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.
Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues
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.”
Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues
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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