Bill Terpening replaces the hood ornament of his 1926 Packard Roadster. - Jamie Lusch

Pack Up The Packard

Sure, there's the orchard estate, circa 1899, with its remarkable 1920s swimming pool.

Then there's the original party barn, complete with ancient wooden bar and dented dance floor from times gone by; and of course the colorfully remastered Chevy and Ford pickups in the double garage.

What's most notable, however, about Bill and Patsy Terpening's Carpenter Hill Road property is the lineup of meticulously restored, richly finished Packards staring expectantly from a custom-built shop at the bottom of a slope.

"Bill proposed to me on the running board of this one," Patsy says sweetly, pointing to a turquoise and white 1926 Roadster. "It was red and black back then and didn't look as good. He said, 'Do you want to go to Reno and get married?' I said, 'I guess so.' "

The year was 1960 and Patsy (who'd been fixed up with Bill by his mom when she and Patsy were both teaching school on the McKenzie River) married blissfully into a life of Packard restoration. The Roadster was the first of many to pass through their garage doors.

"He bought it in high school and kept it in his parents' driveway," she remembers. "I think that's why he fixed it up — they didn't want the heap of junk just sitting there. Plus he's always liked the front grill of a Packard."

To Bill, the allure of the classic American car was more complex than just having a hobby or some wheels. From modest stock who grew up in the deprivation of the Depression, he secretly pined for the fancy autos.

"My family couldn't afford a Packard — it was an upper-end thing and we never knew people who had them because of the scarcity of the times," he explains. "And there was a mystique about having one and caring for them — JFK had one — they were up there with Cadillacs and Rolls-Royces and Mercedes."

The young couple drove the Roadster to Medford in 1964, when they moved to Carpenter Hill Road and purchased the Mobil Oil plant (now Medford Fuel). Three daughters soon arrived, and the family filled summers with long road trips. Before long, the family car started to feel cramped — two of the girls had to duck the rain by crawling under the rumble seat, and the specially-built golf club compartment didn't hold much luggage.

"That's when the word went out that we were looking for a bigger Packard and they started to flow in," says daughter Mary Gardner, who co-owns Crater Lake Cellars in Shady Cove with her husband, Steve.

A softie when it came to injured and abandoned Packards, Bill rescued several from unceremonious burials at various Oregon junkyards. "When people started coming to me with these old cars, I just felt a desire to save them," he says. "And, to me, when I'd drive them, each one is different and a lot of fun."

There was the 1940 Coupe he got at auction for $76 ("I figured someone would bid $75 so I bid $76 so I'd get it," Bill says with a chuckle), the 1954 Cavalier he got for "33 bucks and four new tires," and the 1939 V-12, a behemoth limo-style Packard that had been stripped for parts in L.A.

"It took him 10 years to restore that one," says Mary. "It gets 7 mpg and it takes a huge battery to start it — or three girls!"

Indeed, the Daughters Terpening were no strangers to their father's restoration jones.

Starting in 1973, the whole family would pack into a Packard, strap on the specialty luggage trunks, load up the rails with tents and blankets, and take off to Victoria, B.C., San Antonio, Texas, or California. "It looked like we were leaving the Dust Bowl," Patsy says with a grinning shake of the head.

Each girl left her mark on every vehicle: "My sister Debbie would paint parts because I was messy — cleaning engines was my forte — and Karen was usually on undercarriage because she was little," says Gardner.

"We were raised in the cars," Gardner recalls. "I remember at first being embarrassed, because we'd go Christmas shopping in Old Ugly, but, really, we knew how cool it all was."

"Old Ugly" — a 1940 four-door Super 8 sedan Bill scored for a hundred bucks — was roundly ridiculed by the girls. It was a real speed demon, though.

"That thing screams," says Mary. "The previous owner used to taunt people to race him on Highway 62 and it would always win, making the corners that even the Jaguars couldn't make."

Also often ridiculed are the Packard "Bathtub" models, so called because of their resemblance to an upturned bathtub. But a red 1950 convertible Bathtub is one of Bill's stalwart favorites, delivering years of reliable performance and fond memories of trouble-free travels.

"Everybody into Packards laughs about the Bathtub, but they have the least bugs in them, they're very quiet, heavy and fairly economic," Bill says. "This one sat in a field for 28 years — the engine has never been rebuilt — and I drove it 10,500 miles to New York and back a couple years ago."

Terpening also purchased a 1949 Bathtub for $250 in Bend, thinking it would make a good parts car. He'd hauled along a battery in hopes of starting the old boat and when he turned the key, it vroomed to life and made it problem-free back to Medford, forever finding a place in Terpening's garage.

After nothing but new upholstery, some detail work and a coat of paint, the car became a perfect traveling vessel, tripping several times across the country. It's also featured on Crater Lake Cellars' 2005 Pinot Noir label.

None of Bill's 10 Packards were built after 1956. That's when the Packard Company (started in Ohio in 1899 and later transferred to Detroit) was sold to the company that made Studebakers.

"The last year they made a good one was 1956," declares Bill. "Before that, they were part of the premium-car family — you could get into the best places in the world if you were driving one."

Still active members of three Packard clubs, including the Los Angeles-based Packards International, the Terpenings continue to keep an eye and four wheels firmly on the road. They join friends for annual tours, when up to 40 Packards might cruise the same route; they also go to meets to search for parts, catch up on club gossip and find out what's happening in the Packard market.

"It's changed a lot, though," Bill says. "Today I wouldn't touch a Packard — the parts have gone up so much. Back in the '60s and '70s, you could go out and find them cheaply. It used to be more fun."

So maybe the unrestored Packard that's hidden in yet another garage will never see the same gleam and shine of Bill's polished beauties — or maybe he'll sell it to someone else?

Not likely, says his daughter.

"My father always said, 'I won't sell my daughters and I won't sell my cars,' " Gardner says. "And even though some people thought he was crazy, now he's got a great collection of local cars that could've landed in the scrap heap, but have survived because of one person's love of automobiles."

Jennifer Strange is a freelance writer living in Central Point. Reach her at

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