D.D. Gross Motor Sales: Stories from a 1950s Packard Mechanic

Click here to read Part 8.

My father, Roger Gross, started working at D.D. Gross Motor Sales in 1950. He was about fourteen years old at the time. By 1950, Roger’s father (Frank) was the head mechanic at the dealership. This narrative is based upon numerous emails and discussions with my father over the past few years. Roger explained:

My first productive days were when I was about fourteen years old, around 1950.

The state required a work permit for underage kids, so I had to get one. My job was sweeping up, as well as other odds and ends. I started out by sweeping and cleaning in the showroom and offices after school. In 1950, the showroom was set up for selling appliances, televisions and radios. Since we did not have a TV at home yet, I could watch a little TV while working.

One of my first big jobs was washing and cleaning the used cars. I was driving cars around the lot long before I ever had a driver’s license. It sure helped my parking skills. Uncle Dan was very particular about how the cars were parked. They had to be lined up just perfect for his inspection. The doors had to open with enough room for clients to get in. At first, I didn’t park them correctly and promptly received instruction.

I then moved up to prepping new Packard for either display or delivery. This was one of the jobs I enjoyed the most. The cars didn’t come ready to go as they do today. They required quite a lot of time to get ready. They were loaded with a zillion stickers and stuff that had to be cleaned off. The floor carpeting, wheel covers, trunk mats and many other items all had to be installed.  Sometimes, we even put in the radios, antennas, speakers, mirrors, hubcaps and other accessory items. If the customer ordered it, they got a special hand wax job. It often took more than a day to prep the vehicle.

I then got my driver’s license when I was 16. I learned to drive in my dad’s 1940 black Packard sedan. It was a huge car. It did not have power steering and it had a large steering wheel. Actually, it was just like the black Packard sedan that we saw at the Packard Proving Grounds.

Image provided by Scott Gross.

Once I got my license, I also starting delivering parts to shops in the Toledo area.

While I was in high school, Carl Cardosy and I once went up to see a new Packard model unveiling in Detroit. Carl was selling Packards for Dan at the time. It was a big party held at one of the big hotels. For some reason, neither Chuck nor Dan went. Maybe they wanted Carl to go because he was selling. I’m not sure why they wanted me to go. They had an open bar, but Carl made me drink ginger ale while he drank the good stuff. Carl said he wasn’t going to be part of “messing up the kid”. I think this was the first cocktail party that I ever attended.

As I got older, I helped move the new Packards into the showroom. The showroom addition floor was about two feet higher than the shop floor of the original building. Very carefully, the large Packards were driven up a ramp and through the double doors and into the showroom. The opening was very narrow and care had to be taken to not scratch or damage the new cars. The Packards were a very tight fit. Typically, two cars could be shown by the front plate glass windows with another car or two behind them.

When a car went on the showroom floor, the process of getting it in there was kind of tough. Since I had a lot of practice parking used cars on the lot, I usually drew the short straw. I would drive them from the shop into the first part of the office. With the clearances so tight, we had to use big floor jacks to hand push and manipulate the cars into their final position in the showroom. One time, we only had one car on display and I drove it in all the way! I just had to do it!

Image provided by Scott Gross.

However, Murphy’s Law of the showroom floor was that the car that got sold was always the first one in the line-up, so all the cars had to be moved to get it out. It seems like we never had the time to get its replacement ready, so the whole process had to happen again in a few days.

I then graduated from high school in 1954.

After graduation, I started working full time at the dealership. I worked as a mechanic and also in the parts department. I started out helping on the mechanical side, doing oil changes and similar jobs. I was working on 1948 and 1949 Packards, but nothing newer than that.

Roger with his baby daughter Deb, circa 1958. Image provided by Scott Gross.

We had to tear down a lot of engines. I got involved in a lot of valve grinding and reassembly. They were all mechanical valves, no hydraulic lifters. After reassembly, you had to go in and adjust the lift clearance on the valves by using two wrenches and a feeler gauge. It was a miserable job leaning over the fender and down the side of the engine of the ‘49s. We learned if you took the front wheel off, there was an inspection panel up in the inside of the fender. My job was to sit on a little stool, go in from the side and make the adjustments on the side of that straight 8 engine.

My father (Frank) was primarily self-taught on working on engines, but he had a lot of training for working on engines. When a new Packard model would come out, he would go to training. Packard would find a location where multiple mechanics from various dealerships could come for training. Twice, I can remember him going to the factory or to a Packard training center. It may have even been to the Packard Proving Grounds, I’m just not sure. I know he went for training on the Ultramatic transmission. This was a big deal because it was so different.  A mechanic just couldn’t noodle his way through it without training.

I earned extra money at the garage by repairing carburetors after hours. There was a local Chevy dealer that hired me to repair and rebuild carburetors. The carburetors would accumulate dirt and residue that would plug up the tiny nozzles that atomized the gasoline. I had to clean the entire assembly with solvent and replace the warn parts. This extra money helped to pay for parts for my Packard.

From high school on, I often went to Detroit to pick up new Packards from the factory.

By 1955, the Packards had torsion bar suspension.

There were two separate torsion bars that were hooked only to the rear wheels. The system had an electric motor and gear box which kept the rear level, no matter how much weight was in the trunk. Many times, the ‘55s would be out of kilter and would not work when we picked them up in Detroit. We could trick the system by crawling under the car and using a jumper wire; we could bypass all of the switches in the system and run the gear up or down. We then shut it off with the manual shutoff switch. If you ran the gear down, the front end of the car was higher than the back end. This was called a “Rake”.

Around 1960, Dan was not very involved at the dealership, partly due to his health. Dan made the business a closed corporation and made Frank, Ted and Chuck partners. I had been at the dealership for about ten years, but was not considered part of the corporation. It was clear that I was not going to be a part of the business, but just another employee. At this time, I began considering other options for work. After looking into several Toledo companies, I started work at Dana in 1964. My first job there was a technician in the test lab.

In the next installment, Roger Gross fondly remembers working on the 1952 “twin Packards.” This was a 1955 father and son project that involved his father, along with his Uncle Ted and Cousin Ron. Click here to read Part 10.

Author

  • Emily Benoit

    Lover of research and writing, libraries and archives. Graduate of Oakland University's MA of English Literature program; and Wayne State University's MLIS program with an additional certification in archival administration.