February 04, 2023

Classic Wheels Spotlight: 1941 Packard 120

Great Uncle Harry’s 1941 Packard 120

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1941 Packard 120 Driver Side

Leif Hendricksen and I met in the mid-90s after a friend told me Leif owned my grandfather’s car! My Grandpa Claude passed in 1967 and I knew of his previous rides. Turns out, it belonged to his brother, my Great Uncle Harry Rubens.

In 1969, Leif had spied the 28-year-old Packard behind a gas station on Joliet’s east side, my freshman year in high school. The old girl was in remarkably good shape, rust-free, and still sporting her straight eight-cylinder 292c.i. powerplant with a three-speed overdrive clutch-less transmission, but with a clutch on the floor. It operated as if haunted.

As a grade schooler, I had many conversations with Uncle Harry. I was fascinated with his stories of mining gold in Montana in the 1930s. It was Uncle Harry’s opinion that real men did their own clutch shifting. However, if you were not in the mood to use the clutch, you still had to operate the “three on the tree” shifter located behind the Packard’s bushel basket steering wheel. The 1941 Packard featured the “Electro-Matic” transmission, where the clutch would magically depress and rebound from the floorboard via engine vacuum.

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1941 Packard 120 Fender

The Packard was a luxurious, prestigious, and expensive automobile. The 120 model was, no lesser in quality, but developed and marketed as a midrange motorcar to help sagging sales after the Great Depression. So, before I hear the palm slap against the forehead of purists, the 120 is not the high-dollar classic that the earlier 20s and 30s models have become.

Leif shuffled his 120 around for several years before the transformation to a street rod. Leif is one of those unusual do-it-yourselfers with an engineer’s mind and a heavy streak of creativity. He has resurrected and rebuilt several cars before this Packard rolled under his magic wand. Another thing about Leif . . . he doesn’t throw anything away. Sometimes to the dismay of his bride of 58 years, Barbara Ann.

Leif stripped a worn mid-80s Audi he owned to procure the comfortable bucket seats, power window motors, remote door locks, AC compressor, and other goodies. The 350 V8 came out of a 1976 Chevy Van with over 300,000 miles.

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1941 Packard 120 Steering Wheel

A modern overdrive transmission spins behind the mild-mannered V8 to the point that this car has been to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Oregon to visit the kids, and deep into Canada among other recreational destinations.

Creature comforts include under-dash A/C from his 1965 Chevy. Besides performing all the design, engineering, wiring, and installation, Leif painted the car himself utilizing a Harley-Davidson custom tan and teal paint scheme borrowed from a Harley I was riding at the time!

Leif and I have become great friends since we met. Considering the provenance to original owner Harry Arthur Rubens, I collected pieces including an electric clock, under hood plumbing and other bits from three Rubens relatives, myself included, to complete this rolling relic of a 1941 Packard 120. We keep it in the spotlight and together still call it Uncle Harry’s Packard.