Considered by many to be the ultimate classic car, Packards evoke strong feelings of nostalgia and are one of the classic cars most often associated with wealth, luxury and distinction.
Packard car clubs across the country meet on a regular basis to enjoy driving their antique automobiles on pre-planned tours, and two of those clubs will make a stop in Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain during the last weekend in April: The Old Dominion Packard Club and the Blue Ridge Packards. The two groups partnered for a spring tour of the area from April 25 through April 27.
In a letter sent out to club members the spring tour was described as the “Mayberry Tour…small town America with all the friendly shop owners and a nostalgia for the past.”
According to the Packard Club website, the first Packard automobile was produced by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan in 1899. It was later produced by the Studebaker-Packard Corporation of Indiana, and the last car produced rolled off the line in 1958, which ended the luxury car’s reign as the “car of kings and presidents.”
Tom Inman of Stuart, Va., serves as the tour master for the spring tour. He said he would like to encourage everyone who lives and works along the tour’s pre-planned route to “come outside to wave and greet our club members” as the club members drive by in a parade of classic Packards, arranged in order by year with oldest first, following the tourmaster’s Packard.
“We’ve been to places for these tours where people were standing outside welcoming us to their community when we drove by, like people along a parade route,” remarked Inman. “It’s really a sight to see, with more than 30 old Packards driving by.”
The route for the spring Packard tour of Mount Airy and Surry County is as follows, according to Inman:
• April 25: Leave Hampton Inn and drive along U.S. 601 to U.S. 52, to the West Pine Street/N.C. 89 exit. Then they will travel on West Independence Boulevard to downtown Mount Airy, where they will park the cars along North Main from 10 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at which time the group will go to the Andy Griffith Museum.
•April 26: The group will leave Hampton Inn and drive down U.S. 601 to North Wilkesboro to see the “Jenkins collection of fine Cadillacs and Buicks.” On Friday afternoon, the group will visit Shelton Vineyards in Dobson.
•April 27: The group will travel Old U.S. 52 to Pilot Mountain between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m and will park on Main Street in Pilot Mountain from 10 a.m. until “around 11:30 or 12 noon.” The group will visit the Petro collection while they are downtown. They will then travel at noon to Pilot Mountain State Park where they will remain until 2 p.m. before returning back up Old Highway 52 to Mount Airy.
A total of 38 cars will be a part of the tour with more than 90 people traveling to the area for the event, according to Inman.
Inman is a member of The Old Dominion Packard Club as well as several other classic and antique automobile clubs. He said he has served as a national judge for the Auto Fair in Charlotte “for many years.”
Inman said the “Packard rated ahead of the Cadillac in the 1930s” and was once considered to be “the ultimate car.”
The Packard bug bit Inman early on, after he bought a Packard in the 1960s.
“I’ve had Packards since about ‘66 or ‘67 and I have been in antique auto clubs for around 35 years or so. Packard people always set up booths at the big AACA shows and I’d stop by and chat with them because I had a Packard. They always wanted me to join so eventually I did and I have been involved for several years now,” explained Inman.
Inman will drive his 1940 black Packard convertible during the tour. Also a part of the tour will be a 1917 Twin Six Packard, which Inman said is a “very rare” automobile. The 1917 Packard will be driven by Ted Bunnell of West Virginia. In addition, Miles White will drive his 1932 Packard from Maryland to this area.
Curtis Easter is the membership director for the Blue Ridge Packards. Easter now lives with his wife in South Carolina, but he is originally from Cana, Va., and still has family living in the area, including his mother.
Easter said he owns three Packards and will be part of the spring tour, along with his wife. The Packard was the “ultimate car…the best car of its day,” remarked Easter.
“They had a good product but they refused to change it as other companies were modernizing their cars, and that was ultimately their downfall.”
Easter said he was contacted by Tom Inman about joining with the Old Dominion Packard Club for the spring tour, and he thought it would be a great idea, since he and his wife had planned to put together a tour of the Surry County because of their connections to the local area.
Phil Marsh, president of the Downtown Business Association, said they have been working with the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce to accommodate the Packard club while they are in town.
Marsh, who is also a classic car enthusiast, said he looks forward to seeing the Packards lined up along the streets in downtown Mount Airy and added that it is good for downtown businesses since “they are going to park on the street and will tour the area…they will bring business to us by shopping and dining while they are here.”
“It will be really unique; it’s an amazing group of cars,” said Marsh.
Marsh added that he helped the group obtain a permit from the police department and Jennie Lowry of the DBA put together a coupon flyer that contained discounts for downtown businesses.
The flyer was part of gift bags given to the group prior to their visit and they contain visitor information about the area.
Jessica Roberts, director of tourism and marketing for the chamber and visitors center, said they are excited about the Packard car clubs and have been working with them for more than a year, along with the Downtown Business Association, “to assist in securing the permit and other necessary planning to give them the best experience as they arrive in downtown Mount Airy.”
“We are always looking for opportunities to promote Mount Airy and all of the tourism assets in the county and groups like this allow us to showcase what we have to do…and could possibly bring them back in the future for other events and festivals, shopping and dining…this is such a win for our tourism industry.”
Roberts added that she hopes area residents are interested in greeting the group as they arrive in town, as Inman mentioned that other areas the clubs visited had numerous people waving and welcoming the cars as they drove through town.
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1933.