The Road to Pebble Beach

In the world of automotive elegance and heritage, few events rival the prestige of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This year, I had the privilege of speaking with Mark Smucker, the president of the Packard Motor Car Foundation, who achieved an impressive 3rd place in his class at this renowned competition.

Over the years, Mark Smucker has built quite the collection of Packards, all of which required many hours of painstaking, hands-on restoration. When asked about his collection, Mark proudly listed off his models – 1956 Packard 400, a lovely green 1953 Caribbean, a 1949 Convertible Victoria and four 1931 Model Three Customs by Packard. Owning four of the five known makes of the Model Three, he is far and away considered an expert on the car. It would only make sense that the car which placed 3rd in class in the American Classic Closed would be one of these timeless automobiles. 

Smucker’s Individual Custom by Packard Model Three -All Weather Town Car Landaulet, placing 3rd in the American Classic Closed class at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Amanda: First Mark, let me congratulate you on placing third in class! Could you share how you received the invitation to Pebble Beach and what your initial reaction was, being given such a prestigious opportunity?

Mark took me back to 2015, when he was attending The Red Barns in Hickory Corners for a car show. At the time, he owned two restored individual customs and one that most certainly, was not.

Mark: Some guy walks up to me and says, “have you ever thought about presenting these at Pebble Beach?”

I said, “Well, yeah, but nobody has ever asked.”

He says, “Well, I’m asking you.”

“So which one would you be interested in?”

“You choose.”

“Really?”

He said, “Yeah, just go ahead, and I’ll get an invitation sent to you. You decide which one and put it in.”

Unfortunately for Mark, the custom he brought to the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance didn’t even place, but he held onto that gentleman’s contact information. Fast forward to 2023 and Mark was ready to throw his hat into the ring, once more.

Mark: I called up the guy that had invited us before and I said, “I got another one.” And so he actually said, “well, you know, we need that class. We don’t have enough in it. And if you went into that particular class, we could really use you.” So that’s why I applied.

As it turned out, this gentleman was none other than Chris Bock, the chief judge of Pebble Beach since 2013.

When asked who went with him to this year’s event, it seemed he brought an entourage, which had its own interesting background.

Mark: My wife, Vicki, two restorers and their wives and Jeff Stump, a former owner of this car. I invited him to be at Pebble Beach because he always wanted to see this car restored. He sold it to a guy he thought would restore it, but that guy took it apart along with six other Packards at the same time, all in the same building.

Unfortunately, the man passed away before he was able to put any of the cars back together, leaving his wife with a pile of car parts. Worried that car enthusiasts would come in and low-ball her with offers to take the parts off her hands, she hired two experts from the Peterson Auto Museum in California. For several weeks they lived on her farm, sorting the parts into various piles.

Mark: We went in and bought a pile of car parts. The way this car looked, it was an incredible wreck. And after five years of pretty much continuous work, it’s where it is now.

Amanda: Tell me more about the restoration process that went into this particular custom. 

Mark: Basically, we had nothing but a rolling chassis with no engine and many boxes of parts.

The Custom by Packard and its pile of parts being loaded from the previous owners’ property.

Mark: From there, using the original factory photographs of this very car and our experience in building 840s – we have a number of them and the company that I work with has restored another half a dozen or more of them – So because of our experience with the Packard model 840 1931, we knew how to put it together. We had a lot of parts or knew what the parts should be to find them.

At times, Mark and his crew had to get creative and think outside the box. 

Mark: We knew how the wood should be shaped. I used pieces out of other cars when I didn’t have the wood that we needed to make for patterns. But we had all those kinds of patterns and many blueprints that we got and still have to be sure that everything was done according to the way Packard prescribed. So it was done painstakingly.

Mark: Unfortunately, that also means no expense spared. But that’s what people do, and they do it because of lots of different motivations. I guess, for me, getting it right historically is just really important.

“What I’ve been doing nearly full time for several months,” says Smucker. Smoking and vanity cases, which went on opposite sides of the Custom’s interior. The blueprints were found in the pile of car parts Mark bought from a previous owner.

Back in 2023, after seeking the opinion from someone on the Pebble Beach Senior Leadership Team, he decided to provide a brief story of the car, along with a handful of photos, for the judges. He believes his love for the cars’ history contributed to his success.

Mark: There is literally nothing on this car that I can’t prove. We had factory turntable photos and made high resolution scans. You can’t look at them from every angle, but you sure can blow up this section and that section and the other section.

Mark: They were asking, “Are there really snaps here on the car?” And I said, “There sure are.” So I picked up a picture of that. They did ask some of those kinds of questions, and I could prove that everything was correct on the car.

Mark: The judging was incredibly fair, I thought, and incredibly perceptive. They noticed stuff in this car that I had noticed. Some that my restorers had noticed and not talked to me about, but even some stuff that we hadn’t noticed. The one thing about it, we were going to make the car even more perfect coming out of here. And they actually came around, unasked for and said, “Just so you know, there’s where you lost points.”

All of this attention to detail paid off. By the end of the competition, Mark’s Custom would take 3rd in the American Classic Closed Class with a score of 94.5, just 1.5 points behind Best in Class.

The finished product, after five years of painstaking restoration. Location – Pebble Beach, California.

Mark: The one thing that got the biggest ding was the stripe that we put on, which took the striper two tries before he got it. And they were so  critical of the way the stripe was put on, it lost me more points than anything else. And then other little things that they dinged me on. I think one of them is, frankly, not repairable. The fit of the door is good, but not great. I’d have to take that door off and build a brand new one and put it on. And whether you want to do that or not, at this stage, it’s hard.

Mark: And so I missed being second by maybe a half a point and first by a point and a half. Well, they told me they took a point and a half off because they didn’t like – and they’re correct – they didn’t like the stripe we put on. They told me why they didn’t like it, and that’s the same reason we don’t like it. But we couldn’t change it at the last minute. Once it was on, we were stuck with it. But had I gotten a better stripe, I might have gotten first. Well, who knows?

Interior, complete with the vanity/smoking case Mark reconstructed.

Amanda: I know an iconic part of the event is the Tour d’Elegance, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Tell me about your experience.

Mark: The 17 miles drive was closed because of the heavy rains earlier in the year which washed out the road. The road is virtually abandoned right now, except for Pebble Beach itself.

Instead, participants went from driving what was supposed to be 17 miles, to roughly 60 miles round trip for the Tour. This led to an unexpected “stress test” of sorts for some of the classic cars and their owners. Mark and his Packard were no exception but he still managed to find a silver lining throughout the ordeal.

Mark: On the way back, the fuel pump that I rebuilt failed and we ran out of gas. But it wasn’t that we were out of gas, it’s that we had no fuel pump. And so the car got hauled in on a flatbed, which is sort of a successful tour. And the car looks stunning, even up on one on the back.

Thankfully, Mark and his team were able to make it possible for the Packard to drive up the winner’s ramp.

Amanda: So I do have one last question before I let you go. If you were given the chance to return to Pebble Beach in 2024, which of your Packards would you hope to take with you and why?

Mark: The 1931 Cabriolet Sedan-Limousine, Style #3004. We would use what we learned this time around and change a few things. I would spend a couple of months, not restoring, but fixing things to make sure everything was to spec. I would take that one if I were invited.”

As we ended our call, I couldn’t help but feel energized and inspired to learn more about the 1931 Individual Customs, myself. Mark’s passion is contagious, I spent the next hour reading up on the history of these unique and timeless automobiles.

Mark is getting the stripe fixed on his Custom by Packard, by the way, but not for the sake of future competitions. A true lover of vintage cars and the history behind them, what stuck out most to me during our call was his ability to not get lost in the competition. For him, it’s not about the points or the placing. It’s about the story of each car and the work that went into restoring them. 

Mark: The cars are what I’m interested in. I’m interested in getting it right, but I don’t care if I get a prize. I’ve got a whole shelf full of stuff from my cars and after a while I can think, “Which car won this or which won that?” A bunch of trophies on a shelf just doesn’t do it for me. What does it for me are these cars. That’s the deal.

That’s the deal.

Vicki and Mark Smucker, in front of his Packard, at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach.