Learning How to Repair and Maintain a Packard Car

Hey everyone, I’m Kelin Lee, a new volunteer with the Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Township, Michigan. I come from an automotive background and found out about the Packard Proving Grounds last year.  I’ve always wanted to work with cars from a young age and always loved cars of all types, but I’ve always had a soft spot for 2000’s Pontiacs that shared their DNA with the General Motors Holden Brand in Australia. As I worked my way through college and hired in with General Motors as a CAE engineer, I found myself more and more removed from being able to work on cars outside of a computer environment. When the opportunity came to volunteer at the Packard Proving Grounds, I didn’t know much in particular about the company.  I’d seen the cars before at car shows and occasionally on Woodward Ave. during the summer nights in Detroit, but I never really knew much about the brand in particular. None the less, as someone who loves all cars from all periods, I really wanted to take the opportunity to learn about a car company in Detroit’s own backyard that I’d never given much thought too. After my first tour of the Packard Proving Grounds, I knew I would have to find a way to get closer to the cars, whether that be detailing, maintenance, or anything else that needed to be done.

My first opportunity to volunteer came with Steve Cizmas.  We spent the early morning getting familiar with many of the cars in the building, like how to do some basic things I’ve never given much thought to; things that turn out to be incredibly puzzling and different on older cars, like checking oil.  No dipstick on some cars, but an actual series of levers you turn to see where oil drips out of the block. As the morning grew on, we began to work on troubleshooting a straight-eight Thunderbolt with low compression and spent a good amount of time cleaning the block and cylinder head to ensure the replacement gasket had a clean surface to seal to. While it was all apart, we figured we might as well do our best to remove any carbon build-up in the combustion chamber that had occurred since the last time the engine was rebuilt. 

It wasn’t particularly bad, but if you have the head off, you might as well do it.  I’ve never really worked on cars from this era, though it’s really impressive what was done before computers and how well of a job they did. While it’s hard to get excited about the power a flat head strait eight makes now a days, it’s very hard not to admire the simplicity and truly unique designs from another automotive era.  We wouldn’t be where we are today without the hard work of engineers and designers from then that pushed limits of not only power and efficiency, but of durability and drivability as well.