Travel photos courtesy of Doug Fernandez. Other photography by the author.
Two things we love to see here at Hemmings are folks who restore their own cars and folks who don’t mind putting miles on their cars. Often enough, if the restoration is of a high-enough caliber, those are often two different sets of people. If we were regular office workers forced into doing sleep-inducing presentations, we’d probably throw out a Venn diagram here. We’ll spare you the PowerPoint, but trust us that the overlapping section is fairly small.
Fortunately, there are people like Doug Fernandez, whose 1934 Packard Super Eight Club Sedan is pictured here and is featured in our February 2017 issue of Hemmings Classic Car, which should be hitting your mailbox or a newsstand near in the next couple of weeks. A former body shop owner, Doug spent the first few years of his retirement restoring this beautiful Full Classic to such a high level that he twice scored 100 point at Classic Car Club of America judged events.
So, that’s not too different from most guys who have restored their Classics or even paid professionals to do them. What makes Doug different? Well, after scoring that batch of awards, he then embarked on an 8,000-mile, coast-to-coast-to-coast journey with the Super Eight. We told you there weren’t a lot of people making their way in that tiny, intersecting part of our Venn diagram, but Doug is one of them.
Despite winning every CCCA and AACA award he could, Doug was not quite content with simply collecting trophies and badges for the Packard. “I kept showing the car,” recalls Doug, “and it came up on one of our newsletters that there was a cross-country trip driving from Times Square in New York to San Francisco. It would more or less follow the Lincoln Highway, which was the first coast-to-coast improved road in 1913. I said, ‘That’s for me.’”
Though every one of the other 57 participants in the tour had planned on a one-way trip with their cars then being trailered home, Doug had other plans. “The route would get me to California, but then I would have to get back,” he says. “My goal was to drive it on Route 66. So, I said, ‘Why don’t I just take that route to California and come back on 66?’ And that’s what we did.”
Even knowing his Packard intimately, after having done virtually everything on the car himself, save for the chrome plating, Doug still did a thorough job preparing for the big journey. “I tore the engine down,” says Doug, “because I only had about 2,000 miles on it and I’m about to put an 8,000-mile trip on this car, so I had better make sure everything is right. I took it apart and found a couple of cracks between the cylinders. So, I ended up putting four sleeves in it and sort of making sure everything was ship-shape. I just did the top of the motor, never did the bottom. And we put new rod bearings in it—I had them poured.
“And, off we went, down to New Jersey, where we met up and then we drove to Times Square and from there we headed across to San Francisco. There were 58 cars—three from Paris, five from Canada and the rest from the United States.” Doug discovered something else about his intimate knowledge and experience working on his Packard. “I was one of the only people that actually built his car. Most of the cars were trailered into New Jersey and they would drive them cross country and then when they got there would have them trailered back to their home states. The reason I bring this up is because when we went cross country, I was helping everybody keep their cars on the road. Some people didn’t even know how to get their spare tire out of the cover without scratching it. We had a two-car Passport trailer and a mechanic following us, too.
“The end result was that when we got across the other side to San Francisco, they gave me the ‘Most Helpful Person on the Tour’ award. They said, ‘Of all the tours we’ve had, we’ve never had anybody get more votes for the Most Helpful Person award.’ It was right to the point of helping change tires, actually telling them that you should downshift going down a hill and stab your rakes rather than ride ‘em. It was to that degree. We made it. We were one of only 19 cars that made it without getting on the trailer.”
Once on the West Coast, Doug helped his new friends some more as they were leaving town. “The tour was over, and everybody was going home and I had a handful of keys. It was my job to make sure all of the rest of the cars that didn’t already get trailered were put on trailers. We hung around one more day and we made sure to put all of the cars that didn’t already get put on a trailer made it to trailers. And then, we were on our own.”
Their first hiccup came not far from San Francisco. While traveling down California’s Pacific Coast Highway toward Santa Monica to pick up Route 66, the Packard’s engine suffered a failed head gasket in Monterey, “which is a good place to blow a head gasket,” says Doug, who was able to have a new head gasket overnighted to a local speed shop. The shop got the engine back together in no time, but had trouble getting it started. Doug’s expertise paid off again: “They had the distributor in backwards. But I fired it back up and we were only off the road two days.”
Back on the road, they continued toward Southern California, and a new problem cropped up. No, it wasn’t the $6.59 per gallon of gas, but a knocking in the engine. “I started retarding it a little bit and adding a little more Lucas oil stabilizer,” Doug shares. That solution would only prove temporary.
“We picked up Route 66 right at the pier in Santa Monica,” recalls Doug. “There’s a sign in the ticket booth noting the end of Route 66. From there, we followed 66 all the way back, heading back to Chicago. The knocking really got loud somewhere around Missouri. From there I was able to limp it into Chicago, but I made it to the steps of the library which is the beginning of Route 66.”
Despite considering some combination of the extended two range of his deluxe AAA membership and a rescue trailer summoned from his home base in Connecticut, Doug instead turned to one of his new friends from the first half of the journey. “One of the fellows that was on the tour sort of put me up and guided me along. We kept talking every night; he wanted to know where I was.” Doug might have been driving an 80-year-old car, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t enjoying the fruits of modern technology, like online social media.
Every night I was posting this on Facebook, my events and my adventures of what I was doing. Somebody emailed me and said, ‘Why don’t you just try pulling the plug wire off?’ So, I tried that, pulled plug wire one, nothing—it still knocked. Plug wire two—nothing—put it back on. Plug wire three and the knock went away. It skipped when it idled, but when I raced the motor, there was no knock. I said, let me try this…I drove it down the road a mile and came back—no knock. At idle, it would skip, but on the highway, it never knew the difference. So, I came home on seven cylinders.”
Doug immediately started digging deeper to find the problem: “I got home, dropped the pan, pulled the head off, checked the bearings and I had three bearings that were bad. One was really bad. These were the new ones. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I had put an overdrive and a high-speed rear end in it, so maybe I was just loading it too much. It just couldn’t take it doing 65 MPH and 350 miles per day. It might have just been too much for it. But, then I miked the crank and I found the crank was three-thousandths out of round. Between that and the hard driving, I just beat it apart.
“I put a set of rod bearings in it temporarily and it started knocking again. I said, ‘That’s it!’ and pulled the motor out and pulled it all apart. I turned the crank and put all the mains and cam bearings and everything back in it. I put it all back together, showed it for my Grand National in 2016, won there, and I just came back yesterday from the Classic Car Club of America New England tour up to New Hampshire and Maine, a nine-day tour.”
Doug makes it sound so easy. And lest you think the restoration was of an already completed car, he reports that the car was rotted the lower six inches throughout. Doug replaced the floors, the fenders, the running boards, the bottoms of the doors and some of the wood framing. Though he upgraded to a custom, hidden electronic ignition and an overdrive unit for long hauls, the overdrive and associated short drive shaft come off and the regular drive shaft goes back in. Just another day for the ‘Most Helpful Person.’
Doug’s experience of restoring a car to 100-point standards, regularly driving it on significant journeys and then getting it ready to score more point and more trophies, should be an example to anyone who ever thinks that a car is too perfect or too clean to ever be driven.
When I asked Doug for a chance to drive the Packard, his response, though understated, was perfect: “Sure, it’s just a car.”
Read more about Doug’s 1934 Packard Super Eight Club Sedan and our experience driving it in the February 2017 issues of Hemmings Classic Car.