From Limousine To Wrecker: 1929 Packard 645

If cars could talk, I would pull up a chair beside this one and listen. In the late ’20s to early ’30s this car was among the elite probably making regular trips from Long Island into the city. Luxury cars often have a hard time finding a good home after they are no longer useful or stylish enough for their intended purpose. Packards were known for their strength and durability making it ideal for a wrecker conversion like this. Find it here on Craigslist in Cherry Valley, MA with an asking price of $19,512 thanks to Barn Finds reader Brian D for the tip!

This car started life as a Packard 645 with a Holbrook or possibly a Rollston limousine body. Packards and other big cars of the period were sometimes converted into tow trucks because they were powerful enough for the job also converting a used outdated luxury car was cheaper than purchasing a truck. The Packard 645 model was powered by an inline 8 producing around 100 HP and equipped with a 3-speed manual which seems ideal for a tow truck of the day. The seller does not give many details about the conversion other than it is equipped with a manual crank Manley boom. When the conversion was done is not mentioned, I think it was probably done around the late ’30s or during wartime.

According to the ad, the Packard has been stored indoors for the past 50 years and was originally from the  Long Island area. The Packard is not running but the drivetrain is intact, let’s hope the engine is not seized. It would be great to know more about the history of the car or who did the conversion, the ad says this was the Bohaty/Carlson service car which does not turn up much information on the internet other than a few posts on an AACA forum, Bob Bohaty and Don Carlson were early car collectors in the northeast and apparently this was part of a collection at some point. Only 3 pictures are included in the ad, hopefully, more pictures and information will surface on this one because it seems like an important and historic automobile. It would be great to see this Packard cleaned up and on the car show circuit.

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  1. canadainmarkseh Member

    A simpathetic restoration is in order mostly the mechanics. And lightly in the interior. On the outside I’d be torn about repainting it. I’m not a fan of patina but I might have to say to give this one a pass on the current condition and just leave it as is.

  2. Howard A Member

    No, I say leave it as it. If I may correct the author, it wasn’t so much these were a cheaper alternative, trucks in the 20’s simply had not progressed to point of doing HD jobs. These cars were heavier duty than most trucks you could buy. The 30’s, that all changed. The hoist is from the mid-20’s to mid 30’s, so I’d bet it was built in the end of the depression, clearly on a budget in some back garage, and probably dragged many a full classic in it’s time. Very cool piece of history.

  3. IkeyHeyman Member

    What a neat find, hope somebody buys it and gets it running.

  4. Fred H

    Cool find. But if he is asking 19K he should at least tell if the engine is free or not .

  5. Jim in FL

    You could take off the tow rigging and do something similar to Travis McGee’s Miss Agnes. That would look great.

    • Bob

      Excellent idea. It would need to painted “electric blue” though, like Miss Agnes’s namesake, an elementary school teacher named Miss Agnes who had blue hair.

  6. Mountainwoodie

    Very interesting but the seller obviously doesn’t expect to sell it off of Craigslist. I wonder if he has a dartboard with various prices in a circle around the edge………and thats how he decided the ask.

  7. Alexander

    @Bill McCloskey, you need to chime in here with your topical knowledge about early Packards and maybe some history on these types of conversions.

    • Bill McCoskey

      A 645 was the longest chassis Packard offered in 1929, and they make a great long distance driver compared to the competition of the day. What has me baffled is that triangular window at the ends of the windshield. Never seen a Packard with windows like that, either it was a customer request, or it may have started out life as a European body.

  8. DRV

    Seeing this reminds me of an Isotta Fraschini tipo 8 my uncle got in the ’60s from Austin Clark Jr. who found it in an Italian junk yard. It basically was the same look as this and he built a green leather covered 4 door open body convertible on it totally from scratch. Doing something with this tow would be difficult today.

  9. Beatnik Bedouin

    By the time of the Great Depression, these types of luxury marques from the 1920s were simply old, very thirsty cars. Friends of mine who lived during that time said that they could be had for giveaway prices, as the demand for such vehicles had all but disappeared.

    One of them, the late John W. Burgess, who worked as curator of Briggs Cunningham’s museum, had a Minerva limousine as a tow vehicle for his circle-track car. According to John, it made a useful ‘motorhome’ when traveling the Midwest between events, back then.

    I’m guessing that this Packard suffered a similar fate, except that with its heavy chassis and powerful engine, it was converted into a tow truck.

    I’d like to see it restored/refurbished as it’s currently configured as an interesting piece of automotive history.

    • DRV

      Dang, a Minerva limo would be huge!

    • Andy

      My mother often tells a story about a cousin who did his paper route in the ’30s in a Duesenberg. Not chopped up like this, I guess, but it shows that these cars were white elephants at the time.

  10. Frank fitz

    Conversion reminds me of a 1934 Custom bodied Packard 147” wheelbase auctioned off in 2017 that was converted to a “hunting “ car to transport dogs. Love to know the “back story”.

  11. Dale Watson

    Almost ever service station had these heavy car wrecker conversions as they were cheap to purchase and converte to push trucks , some were crude and some looked like factory wreckers , we had three in my home town all were big old Buick’s , there is a nice Packard wrecker conversion here in Maine that was used in Searsport Maine for many years .

    • Roger

      My dad used to tell me about a local repair garage who had a homebrewed wrecker similar to this but theirs was built from a Pierce-Arrow and the original rear axle was replaced with one from a truck.

  12. James

    This is the coolest car I’ve seen here in a long time! Park it in front of your man cave!

  13. Wolfram

    what a cool car, i remember more than 30 years ago seeing a (around 1930) Packard Funeral car. That wood carving and dark red velvet stuff inside. To this day i still have it in my mind

  14. Coventrycat

    I love it. There’s a early thirties Caddy wrecker in the same kind of shape at a museum in North Woodstock, NH.

    • M.C.S.

      Holy cow, I think I know the exact NH specimen of which you speak! The Packard above immediately reminded me of it, as well.

      I saw that Cadillac tow truck about ten years ago while on a summer camping trip. The North Woodstock museum it was located in appeared to be an unofficial, impromptu establishment in the back of a local shop/store of sorts. Since the indoor display was unadvertised, we had no idea it was there, and had only stopped to look at three or so interesting cars parked outside (one of which I now believe was a Renault Robin), along with an old Toyota or Nissan mobile home.

      Somebody who happened to be walking out of the store said that there were more interesting cars on display inside… And he spoke the truth.

      It was a really impressive collection, and besides the tow truck, there was an ultra – rare camper trailer, the “roof” of which, when removed and flipped over, doubled as a rowboat/outboard motor boat. The thing is, with the boat removed, the camper would have had zero protection from the elements at all! It had a “stand-up” kitchen in the back, like a traditional teardrop trailer, and was in unbelievable condition.

      The Cadillac was apparently in line for restoration (as a tow truck). I have lots of pictures of the vehicles… somewhere.

      Is that place still there? Do you know what it is/was called? I believe it was near a permanently – parked train functioning as a restaurant, and a miniature golf course, the sign for which featured a bizarre depiction of a cigar – smoking hobo. I would love to go for another visit to that area sometime.

  15. ryber

    That needs to stay as is and donated or loaned to the towing museum in Chattanooga.

  16. Kenneth Carney

    Reminds me of a visit we made to
    Kentucky to see family who lived there in
    the ’70’s. Cousin Tom knew I love old cars so he walked me to the bsrn, where
    he showed me something that just totally
    blew my mind. It was a Packard phaeton
    similar to this one that been converted
    into a mobile moonshine still! The rear
    half of the car had been removed and an
    honest-to-God moonshine still was welded to the rear half of the frame! Tom
    said he didn’t know whether the car would run so just for grins ‘n’ giggles, we
    cleaned and readjusted the points and
    plugs, added fresh gas, hooked it to a
    John Deere tractor battery, kicked it over,
    (While hand-choking the engine) and to
    our surprise, the damned thing started
    and ran!! We even aired up the tires and
    drove it around the farm under its own.
    power! Needless to say, our folks were
    shocked to see this thing tooling around
    the back 40! All my Uncle could do was
    scratch his head and shout “Hot damn!
    I didn’t that damned thing would run a-tall!” Seeing this car reminded me of
    that great time I had getting that old car
    running and the look on my Uncle
    Clarence’s face was priceless. Thanks
    for that great memory!

    • Beatnik Bedouin

      Thanks for sharing yours, Kenneth – that’s just too cool!

  17. Kenneth Carney

    Thanks B2! My Uncle wound up selling it
    on to a museum a year or two later for $10K or so. Don’t recall which one though. That was the most fun I ever had
    on a family vacation. Oh yeah! That was
    also the year that Cousin Tom and I blew
    an old outhouse to smitherines using an
    M-80!! Oh my God did we get our butts
    chewed out for that one! Some of the
    flying debris hit and damaged my Uncle’s
    ’72 Dodge Demon, denting the car and
    breaking one of the side windows. I felt
    bad about it, so I put on my big boy pants
    and wrote my Uncle a check to cover the
    damages when we got back home. If it
    hadn’t been for the money I made playing
    music back then, I would’ve found myself
    in quite a pickle when it came to paying
    the bill. My Uncle said it best when he
    said “Oh well, boys will boys!”

  18. Jay E.

    This is one of those cars that I could see owning for $6500.00 or so, but can also surmise that I had more money I’d pay more just to have something so interesting. I bet it sells, just try to find another one. Very nice find. For me, 20G is too dear for a car that is not useful or functional. I hope they took plenty of photos in its original resting state. It is sort of like artwork in that garage state.

  19. ctmphrs Member

    Too many years ago to remember my great uncle had a garage and tow service near Hemet CA. He had a few home built tow trucks similar to this. His favorite was just about like this one. He named it Packy.

  20. Chinga-Trailer

    When I was a kid, I heard stories of an old Duesenberg, hidden up in the hills behind Santa Barbara that had been converted to a tow truck. Looked, but never found it nor found anyone who would tell me where it was.

  21. Chris

    This has Wayne Carini from Chasing Classic Cars written all over it. Wouldnt be surprised if he has his sights all ready set on giving it a visit. Definitely in his wheel house for sure. I think its a very interesting vehicle of important automobilia significance & should be left as is with the exception of getting it running again very cool indeed.

  22. ACZ

    Tow Mater’s Great Grandad.

  23. Dickie F

    I am printing that 1st photo and framing it for my mancave….

  24. Bix

    I ran across this ad and thought it was amazing–it’s in a phone book from 1933. So they were chopping up cars like this Packard when they were just a few years old, not worn out old junkers in scrap yards. Tells you how much things had changed after October, 1929.

    • Burger

      I remember LOTS of these car-based wreckers still around when I was a kid. They were the norm until after WW2. When I decided to get into pre-war cars, it was one of these or a flatbed conversion that I wanted. But I waited too long and values were going sky-high and guys were rebodying them back to original. But for the longest time, no one wanted a chopped up Hudson, Cadillac, or other large teens/twenties car and they could be had for nothing.

  25. p.t. cheshire

    I rented Bohaty’s
    garage in Centerport L.I. N.Y. in the 1980’s to 2009. I have period photos of this unit in front of the garage. I don’t have a way to copy it to post it here. Mr Bohaty was a restorer and collector of teens through early 1930’s cars and motorcycles until his death. One of his Delahaye coupes won at Pebble Beach in the mid to late 1970’s. and a few were used by Austin Clarke in his Auto Mueseum in the Hamptons. The shop when I rented it was almost as he left it with period tools hanging on wall racks, WWII gas rationing signs and even the original gas pumps from the Socony Station.
    I sent the info to his grandson who has many of his vintage motorcycles. Hope he acquires it.

  26. Bob Member

    If Shirley Stone were still alive, I would try to talk her into buying this and put it into her Packard museum in Fort Lauderdale. All of her cars are near perfect, so it would be nice to show what happened to some Packards in years passed.

  27. Burger

    Sadly, too many old cars are over-restored into what are essentially paperweights. Just seems to be the old car culture, to want to make everything
    hyper perfect. Some though, prefer to see old vehicles in as-used condition, as we remember them when they were still on the road, or lingering in quiet repose in some barn or backshop. I will take a car like this any day over a pristine Pebble Beacher.

    In 1969, my parents bought a farm and within a short time I began to hear stories of “the old Packard”. Now, in 1969, cars like this were still little more than novelty toys for the eccentric. They were not uncommon to see almost anywhere an old car minded person might look. It took years of asking around before I finally got to see “the old Packard”. It was registered as a 1923, had the Twin Six and 3-speed, and packed around an extended sedan or limosine type body. It sat in a basement of house about a mile from ours. Last driven into that basement in 1947 and packed in with mountains of NOS parts and extra engines, transmissions, and body parts the original owner had hoarded for it. It was breathtaking. I still think about that car all the time. About a half mile north of where the Packard sat, an implement shed on another farm held a Model TT flatbed that looked like it was ready for harvest with a simple pull of the crank. That one too occupied my memory for many years, until I decided to find one to own and drive. I won’t restore this truck, but I have made it very reliable and use it all the time to haul lumber and firewood and all those things it was built to do. People are fascinated by such a beast being used and not carried around on a pillow to car shows to be polished to a high gloss.

    This world has enough perfectly pristine restored old cars. What it doesn’t have is enough Americana rolling down the road in work mode, reminding us all of where we came from.

  28. Larry

    What ever happened to the Minerva that Wayne Carini and his buddy bought on his TV show ???

  29. P T Cheshire

    Found the photo from 1933 taken at his shop in Centerport .He was also a Pontiac dealer from his 5 bay shop/gas station at the time. . The car was quite a bit more finished with the touring body back half modified to a tow body, push bumper, and commercial truck head lights.

    • Burger

      In 1933 that car would have only been 4 years old ! Cutting up a 4-year-old custom bodied Packard limo to make a tow truck ? The Depression hit some people hard. Maybe the original buyer lost it all in 1929 and this poor Packard found no limo-type buyers, so it found a second trip to the custom body shop while still pretty new ?

      I wish this car was a little older. I’d be seriously tempted if this was built on a 1915-1925 Packard.

      • P T Cheshire

        The original buyers last name was Weeks, a stock broker during the crash and shot himself a year or two after the crash, so the story went. .

  30. Bill McCoskey

    There are 2 logical possibilities for this being turned into a tow truck at such an early age:

    1. Perhaps Mr. Weeks shot himself in the car’s back seat.
    2. The limo might have been involved in a serious accident that demolished the back half of the car.

    Either situation would pave the way to create a tow truck.

    • P T Cheshire

      Mr Weeks shot him self at his wifes dressing table in Oyster Bay Cove, my mother worked for them at the time.The car was sold because as a widow in the early 1930s you were pretty much on your own, savings lost in the crash, husband dead, no income or ability or skills to work, a woman and no safety net to fall back on ,you sell what you have for what you can get to survive.

  31. Bill McCoskey

    Thanks for the details.

    I continue to be amazed and surprised at the amount of information Barn Finds members bring to the table!

  32. Dustin

    This happened to a lot of old limousines back in this time period. I cant believe that there is a picture from back when it was in service

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