Historian looking for former Packard employees

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

An antique-car historian is looking for former employees of the Packard Motor Car Co.

Dwight Heinmuller is asking anyone who worked at the Detroit plant — or knows someone who did or has photos or documents from the company — to contact him for a book he is writing about Packard automobiles. The ruins of the factory that went out of business in 1956 still stand on East Grand Boulevard and Concord.

The 68-year-old Packard collector’s book with the working title of “The Greatest Packards of Them All” focuses on the engineering and styling of Packard’s 1957 model that was never put into production after the company went under and merged with Studebaker Corp. of South Bend, Indiana. Heinmuller hopes to self-publish the book in the next year and sell a few hundred copies.

The Sparks, Maryland, resident has collected information on the company since the early 1970s, when co-authoring “Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company,” published in 1978 by Automobile Quarterly. He’s focused more intensively on this book in the past 10 years.

“I have so much information on these cars: Photographs, documents, interviews with the people who designed them and so forth — that’s what the purpose of the book is,” Heinmuller said.

He wants to ask those who worked for Packard about their experience with the company, what they did, when they started and how long they worked there. Heinmuller is also looking for any photographs of Packard automobiles or the interior of its plant as well as memos between management and employees.

“I have a huge collection of that material already, but when you start a massive compilation of information for a book, you never seem to want to stop,” Heinmuller said.

Heinmuller said he still finds new information every so often. He discovered some “rare” information from a relative of a Packard vice president on a trip to Detroit in June.

“Very often, former Packard employees do have old materials that they’re able to share with me,” Heinmuller said.

Packard’s 1957 line would have been the second time Packard had redesigned its cars since World War II. The first time was in 1951, Heinmuller said.

The ’57 model would have continued Packard’s hold on the top horsepower rating for a fourth year — 310 horsepower for the Patrician and 330 horses for the Caribbean, Heinmuller said. They sat 41/2 inches lower than the 1956 models and had revised torsion-level suspension.

“They would have been very modern and updated in appearance, as compared to some of their competitors,” he said.

Heinmuller interviewed George Krispinsky, 92, of Bloomfield Hills, who was the manager of exterior design for the ’57 Packard. He said the Packard would have been recognizable only by a few details on the front of the car.

“It was a fast and furious development,” Krispinsky said. “We had a short deadline. It was difficult. Everybody had to work hard. Unfortunately, it was never built.”

Although the company never made functioning ’57 Packards, full-scale models were photographed in black and white, and Heinmuller is having an artist in the Detroit area create full-color renderings for his book.

Heinmuller has five Packards from 1948-56, buying his first — a 1953 Patrician — to fix up at the age of 14. He jokes he’s been a Packard fan since birth.

“It’s mother and dad’s fault because they brought me home in a ’41 Packard,” Heinmuller said, adding that his relatives have owned Packards since 1937.

Heinmuller has retired from the real estate and financial planning business. “I am actually a fairly normal person,” he noted. He has been a member of the Board of Trustees of The Packard Club since 1970 and sells Packard parts and does appraisals through PackardParts.org.

Packard automobiles are relatively rare, Heinmuller said. Only 1.56 million were made in the company’s 60 years of business.

Dwight Heinmuller can be reached at (410) 329-3022 or dheinmuller@gmail.com.