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Great Scott! Doc Brown’s Packard convertible comes up for auction

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy Gooding & Company.

The De Lorean is, of course, intrinsically linked to the Back to the Future franchise. Aside from its role as the time machine central to each film’s plot, it has that sleek futuristic sci-fi aesthetic essential to the tone of the films. But of the many other vehicles that joined the De Lorean on screen throughout the series, only two made it into all three films, and one of those — Doc Brown’s 1949 Packard Custom Eight Victoria convertible — will head to auction later this month.

While other mad scientists of the mid-Fifties might have sprung for something like a Tucker, Emmett Brown’s Packard — along with his mansion, Pasadena’s famed Gamble House in real life — hint at the source of the funding for Brown’s eccentric inventions and the time machine itself: a family fortune that, in the mid-Fifties, he’s started to deplete in the name of scientific research.

And hey, we already know based on his choice of the De Lorean for the time machine (“The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”) that he valued aesthetics along with mechanical prowess. So what better car to illustrate Brown’s peculiar inclinations?

Introduced in November of 1948, the 1949 Packards looked just like their predecessors, but did introduce Packard’s first fully automatic transmission, the two-speed Ultramatic, mated to the 160-hp, 356-cu.in. straight-eight. As in 1948, the most expensive model in the 1949 Packard lineup was the Custom Eight Victoria convertible. However, in a year when Packard set high-water marks for sales, the company moved just 275 of the convertibles, most of them early 1949 versions with the double chrome trim extending from the front fenders back to the skirts.

Owned by the same Southern California family since 1977, this particular Custom Eight Victoria (chassis number 2259-9-3113) appeared in the Back to the Future scenes set in 1955, most notably as the car that Marty McFly takes to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance at his parents’ high school (and which goes on to serve as the backdrop for Biff’s comeuppance).

In the sequel, the car reprises that same scene, while in the third film, Doc Brown uses it to take Marty and the De Lorean to the drive-in theater for him to travel back to 1885. Aside from the Packard and the De Lorean, the only other vehicle of note to appear in all three films is the Toyota pickup that Marty longs for.

Whether all 1949 Custom Eight Victorias were supposed to come with the Ultramatic seems to be a matter of debate. According to George Dammann, all Custom Eights came so equipped, but according to research by Kelly Flory, the Ultramatic wasn’t listed as standard equipment until September 1949, late in the model year. This particular Custom Eight Victoria has a three-speed manual transmission with overdrive.

Since filming the Back to the Future movies, the Packard has been treated to new paint, chrome, upholstery, and a convertible top. According to the auction description for the Packard, extensive documentation relating to its film appearances accompanies it in the sale.

The Packard, listed without reserve, is expected to sell for $80,000 to $100,000 at Gooding’s Scottsdale sale, scheduled for January 18-19. For more information, visit GoodingCo.com.