Six months ago, Jerry Brummett used a tractor and a torch to open a big, heavy present he bought himself nearly 50 years ago.
Now, the 71-year-old Springfield Township resident and classic-car enthusiast is happily restoring his very rare, very beautiful piece of local and automotive history: a 1940 Packard Super 8 Formal Sedan, one of fewer than 250 ever made, that family members said was originally owned by Frank Duane Stranahan, one of the founders of Champion Spark Plug Co.
Once it is fully restored, the Packard -- which Mr. Brummett said he bought from an area farmer more than five decades ago for $350 and once used to transport the motorcycles he used to race -- will be just the 15th copy known to exist and probably will be valued at nearly $50,000.
Mr. Brummett, a retired sheet metal worker who owns several other classic cars, said he and his late wife, Rose, found the Packard parked at a farm near Toledo Express Airport in the early 1960s. It's interior was "pretty ratty" and the car didn't run, but he was looking for a unique way to haul the motorcycles he used to race, and the giant Packard seemed a perfect way to fill that need.
He bought the car and had it towed home, where he soon got it running again.
"I drove it for 18 months or two years. I didn't have enough to restore it back then, but I loved the car," Mr. Brummett explained.
A friend at the time had salvaged an underground gasoline storage tank from a gas station nearby, and asked Mr. Brummett if he had a use for the giant steel cylinder.
"I thought it would make a nice garage," he said, smiling. His friend hauled the tank, with its quarter-inch-thick steel walls, to Mr. Brummett's Nebraska Avenue property on a flatbed trailer and rolled it off.
Mr. Brummett said he cut a large door in the end -- after the fumes had cleared -- and loaded in a bunch of sand for a floor, backed the Packard inside, and welded shut the door he had made. He planted some trees on the sides of the rusted tank to mask its appearance, but otherwise left it alone.
That was in 1966, at least according to the Ohio license plate that was still on the back of the Packard when Mr. Brummett cut open the door and hauled it out in November with help from his small tractor. He said he chose to pull it out because his wife had died two years ago, and "I'm getting old."
When it emerged, the tires were flat, there were some serious rust spots throughout the body, and the car was dirty and dusty, but otherwise it looked much as it did when he had backed it into its steel sarcophagus 44 years earlier, Mr. Brummett said.
Mr. Brummett hired fellow classic auto enthusiast and friend Keith Fifer to accomplish the restoration. Mr. Fifer said it took just two days to get the Packard's eight-cylinder engine fired back up. He said it will take thousands of hours to finish the restoration job, but the finished product will be worth it.
"This car was so advanced for its time. It had an overdrive in 1940, and other automakers didn't start using overdrives until the 1980s. But it's frustrating at times, too," Mr. Fifer said, showing off the wooden tack strips on the Packard's interior that secured the leather and fabric upholstery and the repairs to the car's body that had to be completed to get it ready to paint.
As it sits now atop heavy jack stands, the Packard is "about 60 percent restored," Mr. Brummett said.
The rusted holes in its frame and elegant fender wells have been repaired and primed, and its interior panels and upholstery still await some much-needed attention. Its large chrome accents need a good polishing before they are reattached. Mr. Brummett bought a second, lesser model Packard from a woman in Minnesota to serve as a "donor car" for replacement parts that couldn't otherwise be found to help finish the job.
Steve Stranahan, grandson of Frank D. Stranahan, said he recalled his grandfather owning a Packard Touring Sedan when he was a young boy. "I just remember it was huge," Steve Stranahan said, adding that the Packard occupied one of the stalls in his industrialist grandfather's five-bay garage.
The 1940 Packard had one of the first automotive uses of air conditioning, though turning it off required the owner to use a wrench to remove a compressor belt from the engine to shut it down.
Mike Fairbairn of RM Auctions Inc., which specializes in selling classic cars, said records indicate that 243 of the formal touring sedans were built overall. He estimated the current auction value at between $35,000 and $50,000, depending on the success of the restoration.
However, the owner of another 1940 Packard Super 8 Formal Sedan said a similar vehicle sold last year for $60,000.
"There's only 14 of them registered, so it's a very rare car, and his will probably be number 15 when it's done," said Jim Felt, who has owned an identical 1940 Packard Super 8 Luxury Sedan in Glendora, Calif., for the last 25 years.
"If he had a fully-equipped one, that car would have been over $2,500 when it was new. And in 1940, a brand new house in Southern California cost $5,000. So for half the price of a house, you could own that car."
Mr. Felt's Packard has had roles in about a dozen films, including three Clint Eastwood movies, and is a favorite for directors seeking a the look of a particular period.
"When they see that car, it's just so striking. It's an eye-stopper. When they need a 1940s car out here, the first pick is that Packard Formal Sedan," Mr. Felt said. "He's got a really beautiful, valuable, rare car. Just wait until he gets that done."
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: email@example.com or 419-724-6091