When Dave Saam, Archbold, drives his project car anywhere, it’s difficult to go unnoticed.
That’s because Saam’s favorite ride isn’t a plain car or pickup.
It’s an old hearse.
Not just any old hearse; it’s a 60-year-old Henney- Packard, built in 1951.
Its body is essentially untouched, just as it came out of a Williams County wrecking yard one day in February. Before that, it hadn’t moved in 44 years.
“We had to cut down trees to get it out,” Saam said.
In the hot rod world, “The look nowadays is called ‘barn fresh,’ so you leave the body alone,” Saam said.
“That’s why some people might not understand why I don’t paint it, but that’s the look.”
Not that there wasn’t work to do.
“It didn’t have a front end (hood, fenders, grill, bumper) or a dash, or steering column, so I bought a parts car (a 1952 Packard 4-door sedan) to put it all back together,” he said.
Fortunately, Saam owns a shop in Maumee that specializes in modifying cars and trucks into hot rods.
“I put on the visor, the dashboard, steering column, grill, hood and fenders. I hated to tear that one (the parts car) apart,” he said.
When it came to the mechanical parts, engine, transmission, etc., he purchased a used Lincoln Continental and transferred the 460 cubic-inch engine, transmission, and rear axle into the Packard chassis.
“I wanted a bigger motor in it because it had a straighteight in it (eight cylinders in line, rather than the more common v-type with four cylinders on each side) and it has so much room under the hood. I wanted to fill that,” he said.
“We had to weld (engine and transmission) mounts and everything.”
The old suspension pieces were rebuilt, and the modern Lincoln brakes adapted to fit the Packard. The electrical system was replaced from the headlights to the taillights.
“When you’re driving it or riding in it, you don’t even realize you’re in an old car, because it drives and rides so nice,” he said.
Recently, Saam said he took it to a Packard car show in Perrysburg.
“The guys went crazy over it, and they’re Packard experts,” he said.
In fact, at the show, the Packard enthusiasts showed him the hearse’s original front end.
“They said, ‘here’s your front end.’ They had it on a different car, all painted a different color,” he said.
At some point in the hearse’s past, someone cut out some of the door handles with a torch.
“Those guys knew exactly where the door handles went.”
Hearses, of course, are used by funeral homes to transport the deceased.
Saam’s hearse began its life on a Packard chassis, which was shipped to the Henney Company in Illinois to be built into a hearse.
Made By Hand
The hearse bodies were hand-formed. In fact, Saam said the side doors of his car wouldn’t fit another Henney- Packard.
Neither company is in business today.
His car is known as a three-way, because caskets can be loaded from either side, or through the rear doors.
It still has the rollers that allow the caskets to roll in and out.
“It has the original side curtains. Some say, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Others say, ‘How cool is that?”
Saam said Short Funeral Home in Archbold had a Packard hearse at one time.
“It would be really neat if it was his old car,” Saam said.
“Some people would like me to put a real casket in the back. I’m not into that kind of stuff. I always tell them it’s a happy hearse.”
Saam, who grew up in Maumee, moved to Archbold about five years ago.
His mother, Bonita, grew up with her parents, Clarence and Ruth Clingaman, in the Burlington-Elmira area. The Clingamans later moved to DeGroff Ave.
Archbold, Saam said, “feels like home.”
Saam said his old hearse is a fun car to have.
“Everywhere we go, people smile and wave,” he said.
He and his fiancé Deb Saam own the hearse together. When she first saw it, “she kind of looked at it like most people do. Now that she’s been to some (car) shows with me, she loves it.”
When he pulls into a car show, other hot rod owners are busy polishing their cars.
Saam said, “I just pull in and have fun. They’re working so hard on their cars, but there’s always a crowd around this car.”
By definition, a hot rod is a project car, and Saam said as a project car, it’s never really “done.”
“This winter I’ll do the interior all up, so it’s nice and comfortable, but I’ll leave the body alone.”
Saam said he was told the Henney-Packard body is very rare.
“I had a guy offer me $38,000 for it.
“But it’s not for sale. I don’t think they made enough money to get rid of this one.
“It’s my baby. It’s a blast.”