When Adlai Pennington set out to find one of the last of Packard Motor Company’s prestige cars of the postwar period, he had no idea that the quest would result with him unexpectedly acquiring one of President Harry Truman’s limousines.
He located this unrestored 1949 classic in Houston, purchased it for $2,500, had it repainted and replaced the tattered upholstery.
Adlai’s eclectic collection, as we discovered when we featured his 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak a few months back, consists of a wide variety of vehicles, with almost all of them in the condition just as he found them.
The more original, the better. So, with only the new paint and seat covers, he proudly parked the Packard in his garage/man cave among the other autos in his collection that visitors are able to explore and admire.
However, that turned out to be only the beginning of the journey that led to the discovery that this car came from the Truman Presidency.
A Pennington family friend was getting married, and she asked Adlai if he would deliver her to the wedding in his sleek antique Custom 8 Packard that was bound to turn everyone’s head upon its arrival.
He gladly agreed – only the old limo never made it to the desired destination. En route it sputtered to a stop on the highway. With a fresh battery, Adlai was able to maneuver it into the parking lot at Mansfield’s Cinemark Theater, where it died again.
Fortunately, a backup plan was available just in case something like this happened. His
daughter was following in a SUV with the bridesmaids, so she was able to rescue the bride and get her to the altar. Adlai’s wife retrieved him from the parking lot so he could join the ceremony, and he left the Packard behind. It would be several days before arrangements could be made to get it going again, so it just sat there appearing, for all intents and purposes, as an old deserted car. Local authorities weren’t sure how to find its owner, but the Mansfield newspaper entered the picture and began to report on what had become the “Mystery Packard.”
A trace of the car’s vehicle identification number discovered it had been first delivered to the White House, where it joined the fleet of vehicles supporting the movements of the president. That finding, of course, became part of newspaper’s coverage. With the impressive pedigree now attached, it added an unexpected dimension to the saga of the mystery car, with the newspaper estimating its value at somewhere around $150,000.
It was then that Adlai made contact, identified himself as the rightful owner, brought in some help to get the car running again, and returned it to its place in his collection.
Harry Truman was born before the age of the automobile. Historians tell us he developed a fondness for cars as they progressed from the horseless carriage to modern vehicles that transformed the country. By the time he became the nation’s 33rd president, his travels were being provided by Secret Service men in the presidential sedans and convertibles moving from place to place and often in the presence of adoring crowds.
Sometimes, maybe often, he insisted on driving the cars himself. He enjoyed doing that and, seeing how he was the president, he got what he wanted. There is, of course, no way of knowing if he ever drove this one. But it’s fun to imagine that he did.
So, when Adlai is sitting behind the steering wheel, like he is in the photo on page 50, he can visualize it as a seat once occupied by the man who helped to shape the world following the end of history’s most hellacious war.
It is entirely possible that Truman, along with members of his cabinet, foreign dignitaries and other famous figures of that time did, in fact, occupy the spacious limousine’s interior on their way to somewhere.
Among them may have been Adlai Stevenson, a close Truman friend who served on the committee in 1945 that led to the creation of the United Nations and would seek, with Truman’s endorsement, the presidency in 1952.
Coincidentally, Mr. Pennington just happens to be Stevenson’s namesake. Very likely, that makes him the second Adlai to occupy the car that can now, thanks to the local research of the “Mystery Packard,” rightfully be called famous.