When Margaret Dunning was 10 years old, she lost control while driving the family’s Overland touring car and careered into a barn, fracturing several boards.
“I hit it, and it didn’t move,” Ms. Dunning, who turned 101 last month, said…“That car had a mind of its own,” she said. “And I’m not a very tall person, so I had trouble getting onto the brakes with enough power to hold that engine down. It just got away from me…”
After that, Ms. Dunning, an only child, drove everything on the farm that was drivable, she said, including a Maxwell truck and eventually, tractors.
When she was 12 her father died, and his Model T Ford became hers.
Once her politically connected mother, who had arthritic feet and could not drive cars, finagled a driver’s license for the 12-year-old Margaret, she drove her mother everywhere…
Her love affair with vehicles never waned. She drove a truck as a Red Cross volunteer and has owned a parade of classic and antique cars. At her home, she also keeps a 1931 Ford Model A, a 1966 Cadillac DeVille that she often drives to car meets, a 1975 Cadillac Eldorado convertible and her everyday car, a 2003 DeVille. A battered Model T steering wheel is her garage doorstop.
But her real love is a cream-color 1930 Packard 740 roadster, which she has owned since 1949. She plans to show the Packard at the Concours d’Élégance of America in Plymouth on July 31…
Since it was restored, the Packard has mostly been a show car, although Ms. Dunning used to drive it more often than the three or four times a year that she takes it out now. “It’s always been a car that I’ve kept separate from other cars,” she said, adding that she has owned other Packards.
“They’re just made out of such fine material,” she said. “I love the engineering that went into it. There’s just a lot of very, very fine workmanship.”
Packard, an upscale brand produced from 1899 to 1958, ushered in several innovative designs, including the modern steering wheel. Ms. Dunning’s roadster was built in Detroit in an Albert Kahn-designed factory complex, now abandoned, that covered 3.5 million square feet and once employed 40,000 workers. In addition to the luxury vehicles, the factory turned out engines for World War II fighter planes.
“With the older cars you have to use what I call arm-strong steering. But cars like the Packard make it all worthwhile. I love that car a great deal. I mean, I honestly do love it.”
A wonderful car, A wonderful brand. They were still advancing new engineering and design ideas into the 1950’s – but, didn’t make it through to a period when classic cars returned to being part of American style.