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Open Diff: What’s your “what if” car?

Published in blog.hemmings.com

A 1952 Packard 200 Deluxe Touring Sedan. Images via OldCarAdvertising.com.

You often hear about “the one that got away” — a car or truck that somebody once owned that they regret selling. I don’t actually have one of those. The closest may be my Rambler, but it had reached the end of its useful life when I sold it and required major, economically prohibitive rust repair to go any further. It is awaiting this with its current owner now.

What I do have is a “what if” car. When I first decided to get a cheap, old car to play with (as opposed to the ’68 Camaro convertible that was my first old car and was more of a “collector car”), I had fairly broad requirements: four doors, $3,500 or less, and old enough to wear wide whitewalls. That ultimately led to me getting a 1961 Ford Falcon Futura and an involvement with ’60s compacts that only recently ended — or went on hiatus, since one of my daughters was mighty unhappy when I sold my ’62 Falcon recently.

A “what if” car is one that might have changed your trajectory as a hobbyist entirely. I can think of a few candidates in my own past — the pair of ’35 Chevy sedans my father and I went to look at when I was 11 or 12, or the ’53 Cadillac Series 60 Special that I tried mightily to find a way to buy about five years ago, but both of those are long shots.

My big “what if” car is a 1952 Packard 200 Deluxe Touring Sedan. When I was hunting for that first car, there was one behind a repair shop only a couple blocks away from my house — Packard Blue over Yosemite Blue with a gray-primered hood. I stopped in and asked if it might be for sale. I was promised they would ask the owner to contact me, but I never heard from him or her. I bought my ’61 Falcon a few weeks later, in March 2009.

This is a top-of-the-line Patrician 400, but the Packard-Blue-over-Yosemite-Blue color scheme is the same as the 200 Deluxe that tempted the writer years ago.

Recently, I encountered a nearly identical Packard for sale, and it made me wonder how my automotive path might have evolved differently had I pursued that first car more aggressively. It later did turn out to be for sale, and it was within my budget — but the money was already spent. I had essentially talked myself out of the car anyway, due to the poor reputation of the early Ultramatic transmission, but ultimately having had three daughters, the big four-door with a massive trunk would have been a lot more practical.

Instead, I commuted in my compacts, and most family trips were taken in my wife’s GMC Yukon XL — not what I had envisioned when I first went looking for a practical oldie to drive on the regular. Oh well, as my father always used to say, “Hindsight is 20/20.”

Do you have a “what if?” What was it? What did you get instead?