When you visit the 2014 Masterpiece, pull up a chair and talk with Jack Bonham, a man of incredible patience and commitment who revived and restored a beautiful 1941 Packard 120 convertible coupe.
The Packard, returning to The Milwaukee Masterpiece competition for 2014, has a storied past. While many vehicles shown at the Masterpiece have survived trials, Serial # I499-2174, owned by Jack and Annie Bonham of Shawano, Wis., literally was brought back to life over a 14-year restoration project.
Bonham, originally a “Ford guy,” had always liked Packards. He had owned a 1950 Packard but was especially attracted to the convertible model. He bought the 1941 convertible in 1993, sight unseen. At the time he purchased it and had it shipped from San Francisco to his home in northern Wisconsin, he estimates that the car spent “more miles on a trailer in the last 60 years,” than it did on the road.
Packard produced 1,655 of this mid-priced automobile with a 127-inch wheelbase. Packard Club records indicate fewer than 40 of these cars exist today.
Bonham’s research of the car’s early years revealed it had met a disastrous fate in the 1950s when its driver failed to negotiate a hair-pin turn and tumbled into a ravine off Mount Lemmon, part of the Santa Catalina mountain range north of Tucson, Ariz. Many cars had met a similar fate at that turn.
The car had been abandoned and stripped when it was found in the ravine. The finder started to restore it, using a 1939 chassis. The man died before his project was completed.
Subsequently, the car made its way to various dealers in California and Alabama and back to California again before Bonham rescued it.
When the flat bed arrived at his home, Bonham pushed the Packard into his garage and started to take it apart, piece by piece. He went to a Packard owners meeting where he started to acquire information and make the acquaintance of knowledgeable collectors.
Through these connections he found an original motor for the car. He also found a 1941 frame and the “only way to get the frame was to buy a rolling chassis,” he said. He found the chassis in Buzzards Bay, Mass. His wife Annie accompanied him on the road trip to pick up the chassis. The arduous round-trip journey was a far cry from a relaxing vacation trip and when they finally got home Annie declared, “I am never going on a road trip with you again.”
Eager to complete a first-class restoration, Bonham enrolled in an Antique Auto Restoration course. He took the class for 10 years as he painstakingly rebuilt the frame, front end, transmission and rear end. He took the motor to a professional engine builder in Green Bay, Wis. (Yes, there is more to Green Bay than the Green Bay Packers). He also needed a new trunk lid. He found one that needed some work and was lucky to find a local man who was handy and knew how to restore sheet metal. The handy guy visited Jack every Thursday for two years to complete the project.
After a project that started with literally boxes and boxes of parts, the car was finally completed in 2007. “Every part of the car has a story because I had to go find each part,” Bonham said.
Today, the car has fewer than 1,000 miles on the new engine. The exterior is finished in Royal Red, an original color. Annie happily joins him in the car as they travel to local car shows in the summer.
This 1941 Packard 120 convertible earned a first in class at The Milwaukee Masterpiece in 2008 and an award of excellence in 2011.
Tickets are on sale for the 2014 Masterpiece.