1931 Packard Deluxe 8
An Article for Motor Trend Without the Expected Photograph
By Jeffrey P. Kennedy
photos courtesy of C. Mark Jordan
A couple of weeks ago a friend from college sent me some photos that he had taken that I never saw before. It brought back long forgotten details and, with his encouragement, triggered that I should tell this story.
This is about how an impertinent college student ends up with a 4-page feature article in Motor Trend magazine. The year is 1977 and I am a student at Art Center College of Design in the Transportation Design program, or as we called it “draw cars”. Through a friend at college I had become friends with the then Art Director of Motor Trend, Larry Crane. This in turn led to frequent trips to the Petersen Publications building on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to see him and others on the staff that I would become friendly with.
In those pre-computer days, the magazine was being created about 3 months in advance of it hitting the newsstands. It was a manual operation of doing paste-ups for each page of the magazine grouped into printing sections that would be shipped to Petersen’s printing house somewhere in the Midwest. Then there would be advance proof runs of these sections sent back to the magazine offices for review. During one of my visits to Motor Trend, I saw one of these sections for an upcoming issue where their Retrospective article was on some pre-WWII car that I felt was unworthy of such a feature. During all my sneering remarks I mentioned a classic Packard that would be far more worthy subject matter. That led to a challenge to do an article of my own. Being appropriately naïve, that was a challenge worth accepting.
The Packard was owned by a family friend of one of my Art Center classmates but getting underway would have to wait until the next semester break when I could make the drive north to Pebble Beach. The car was a 1931 Deluxe 8, 840 owned by Chris Bock, a long time Packard collector that is currently the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Chief Judge. A Senior Series Packard with a factory catalogue 5 passenger closed body. Today few may be aware of Packard as a brand and recognize its standing as the dominant American luxury brand of its time; Cadillac aspired to what Packard already was even in these early dark days of the Depression.
When the net semester break did come, I made the drive north, borrowed a Sinar 4” x 5” view camera from my dad and went to Pebble Beach to do the photos that would accompany the article. The first day was spent scouting some possible locations and getting the official photo release forms done with Del Monte Properties for Pebble Beach (Pebble is all private property). On the second day I got the car from the owner along with a friend of his to do the driving and headed out to do some shots. Found a good dirt road inside Pebble Beach that I considered “era appropriate” for a 1931 car and took a series of morning light photos. [For those interested it was shot on Ektachrome transparencies.]
The owner had said to get back to him in the afternoon as he was hoping to arrange a potential backdrop for the photos that might be pretty special. So, in due course I did get back to his office and found out that he had been successful in getting the arrangements set. Now the story gets very interesting as something more than just another car article being written.
The owner had an office person whose father was friends with someone with a special house on the 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. We needed to take the Packard over to the father’s house then follow him to the location. We arrive at the wooden gates to the special house and as we wait for the gates to be opened the father walks back, leaning into the driver’s window, tells us that the person opening the gates is the house’s owner, George Stoll. For all the world this looked more like some long-time family servant that no one had had the heart to retire as he shuffled along opening the gate slumped over in an overcoat with his grey hair shooting out from under his hat. We drive the Packard in, and I start setting up for the photos. The poor driver is wearing out his arms as I have him keep moving the car incrementally then cocking the front wheels just so for the perfect photo; remember that power steering wasn’t introduced for another 20 years after this Packard was built.
Not only is this a magnificent house it has a fascinating story. At the time the locals referred to it as “The Castle” although now one is more likely to find it called The Crocker or Crocker-Irwin Mansion. In any case it was one of the earliest mansions as Pebble Beach was being created as a private development by some of the wealthy San Francisco railroad families. Sitting on nearly 3 acres perched on the bluff that goes straight down to the Pacific Ocean, construction was started in 1926 by Charles Crocker, he of Crocker Bank and Southern Pacific Railroad, and his then wife, Helene Irwin, she from a wealthy sugar family in Hawaii. Taking 5 years to build it is reputedly the only structure in North America in the Byzantine style. Notably a part of that style includes that each of the 45 columns on the front entry porch is unique.
After I finished shooting my photographs George and Dallas Stoll invited us inside as it had started to rain. Over the years I have referred to it as no matter how interesting The Castle is, the Stolls were even more so. She pointed out some of the details of the house as we entered – the Zodiac wheel of mosaiced black and white marble as the floor in the foyer, that the newel at the start of the staircase to the upstairs was the largest piece of cut red agate stone in the world and how she rarely needed to water the indoor plants as the ocean air and regular fog took care of that by just opening the windows. As we sat with them in the living room (hall might be a more apt description of the space) around the fireplace we started to realize some things about this reclusive couple. They had been big time Hollywood people. He had been the music director for MGM from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s; 9 Oscar nominations and 1 win. [Recently found out that George had become friends with Elvis Presley from working together on a couple of his later films.] On a console table behind us they pointed out a pair of Ruby Red Slippers that had been given to them by Liza Minelli as recognition of his voice coaching work with her mother, Judy Garland, from The Wizard of Oz. At around this time in 1977, it had been big news that a car had for the first time ever sold at auction for a million dollars; the ex-Clark Gable Duesenberg SSJ. “I bought that from Clark.” But probably the most notable tidbit came from her when she talked of growing up with Howard; “my daddy worked for his daddy so we would play together”. It became clear that this was not just any Howard but Howard Hughes. They regaled us with and assortment of stories from their days in Hollywood and New York. But eventually we did say our goodbyes.
Upon finishing the manuscript I took it to Larry at the Motor Trend offices along with the photo sets. The answer was that they would consider it for a future issue; that would become the July 1977 issue. I remain forever grateful to the then Managing Editor, Cliff, as he took my manuscript and cleaned it up so it became something far better. Larry, as Art Director, decided to give my article the center spread of the magazine making the feature picture unbroken. Unfortunately, there was arose an issue right as the shipment to the printer deadline came up: I needed a Photo Release from the Stolls as the Del Monte Properties one was not deemed valid for their private residence. I was frantically reaching the car’s owner to have his assistant reach her father to reach the Stolls. But the father was out of town and although the daughter could probably find the phone number at his house the Stolls were so reclusive that she knew that only her father could be the one to make contact. With much disappointment all around, the morning photo was used for the article replaced the intended spectacular shot from The Castle.
These snap shots were taken by one of my Art Center classmates, Mark Jordan. He and his girlfriend had driven up for a couple of days and they joined me for the photo sessions. While I was concentrating on doing the shoot of the Packard at “The Castle” they had the opportunity to explore some of the other areas of the property that I never saw.
About the author:
Jeffrey P. Kennedy is a graduate of Art Center College of Design of Pasadena, California with a degree in Transportation Design. This is the program that for decades has produced the majority of car designers for the US design operations as well as a notable amount of the international companies.
Although Mr. Kennedy does design for bespoke interiors of large corporate jets, he remains a life-long car junkie with automotive industry friends. Besides Motor Trend he has been published by Autoweek and the Missouri & Southern Illinois Chapter of the Ferrari Club of America.
I have been in touch with the then owner of this Packard since I wrote this. The car is now with a restoration shop in California. Several different owners since Chris had it.