One of the things that I like best about the old car hobby is not only the great cars that you meet but also the great people that sit behind the wheel. This summer at Petit Jean I had the chance to meet lots of great folks. The ones that stuck out the most were Bill and Gale Kennerly and the one and only “Lucky Lady.”
If you’ve been to Petit Jean for the Father’s Day Car show you have no doubt seen “Lucky Lady”. She is a living legend when it comes to Packards. She is one of the last of her breed. “Lucky Lady” as she calls herself is number 1,692 out of 7,206 of the 1955 Packard 400 models. She sports a beautiful coat of Packard Zircon (light blue), Packard White Jade, Packard Sapphire Metallic (Dark Blue) paint. But she wasn’t always this way. For many that just walk by her and admire her without getting to really know her she appears to be one of those trailer queens that has never been down a dusty road or ever so much as had a drop of rain touch her body. She thinks to herself if they only knew! The slogan you’ve come along way baby fits her to a tee. She has so much to tell that she wrote a book about herself and the Kennerly family. They are the ones that adopted her and lovingly helped her get back on the road to recovery in 1992.
The name of the book “Revived from the Dead” A Packard’s True Story of Life after Death is a unique and moving story told by “Lucky Lady” the 1955 Packard 400. The following story is taken from my interview with “Lucky Lady” and our meeting this summer. She tells me that she remembers when things were bad and the old car graveyard was where she believed she was headed. Those years in the early 80’s were bad. Her hopes of ever being out on the road again with the breeze blowing around her bumpers was fading like the paint on her rusting out body.
One day a man named Mr. Kippy McGill bought her. Her faith lifted slightly with the thought that maybe Mr. McGill could get her going. This soon faded as she was just shoved under an old shed and used as storage for other old car parts. Rats and snakes soon made her their home and even more damaging was the fact that the shed even collapsed after awhile on top of her. She had lost hope until the year 1992.
She told me that one day she just felt that someone was looking at her. The following is some of the conversation from my interview on the mountain. “You know when you have that feeling and you just have to turn around and see who it is. Well it was Bill Kennerly doing the looking. Bill was persistent he wanted me and he believed he could even fix me! I think then he was the only one that thought so. He could look beyond my rust and rot and see me for what I really was. That is what you call true love! After twelve years of waiting for someone to come along to help me, help had arrived! My journey to my new home started on November 15, 1992. This day will forever stick out in my mind as the day that I was plucked from the grave. If Bill hadn’t come for me I know that I would have surely died and that my breed would have become extinct. For you see I am a rare breed of Packard you don’t see the 400’s like me everyday. I am SPECIAL!”
It took a lot of work just to get the Packard home but home she went and that’s when the real work started. First a shop had to be built this was completed in 1993. Bill was now looking at the cost involved in this restoration. After making a painful decision to give up his dream of restoring the Packard he sold it. But the man that bought it was slow in coming to pick it up. Bill decided in the mean time to figure out a way to keep her. He made some arrangements and the car title was changed back over to him. She was his again and he vowed to get her going come “hell or high water” so to speak. He talked to Gale and they discussed what it would take to fix the car the right way. They agreed that the only way to do it was to take out a mortgage on their house!
A lot of folks don’t understand how strongly you can feel about a car. I am one of those people that can understand totally how Bill felt. When I see an old car sitting out in a field the first thing I think is how terrible it is that first of all it is just sitting rusting away and second that I wish I had lots of money so I could rescue it! Some people get emotional when it comes to their cars. These cars become a part of your family not just a hunk of iron. They are living, breathing extensions of their owners. If you understand these last few statements then you are a true car nut!
“Lucky Lady” said, “On October 15, 1994, at 2:49 p.m., I heard Bill holler out to his friend Fred, “Fred, open the shop doors, I’m going to get the tractor and we’re going to push in the Old Packard.” After 14 years of waiting “Lucky Lady” was about to become lucky. She said, “I was 40 years old when Bill found me. The sad thing about me had happened almost the day that I was assembled. The Studebaker/Packard Corporation that built me was slowly going out of business when I came off the assembly line in 1955. In 1956 Packard’s became a thing of the past.” Another great automotive line closed down to just take their place in automotive history books. In 1955, the Packard 400 was the most advanced car of its day. This car had equipment that most cars only dreamed of such as power windows, power brakes, power steering, power antennae, seek & scan radio, air conditioning- and some equipment that no other cars had at that time- a transmission with lock-up converter, vacuum oil pump and a very unique torsion-leveling system. Bill’s goal of making her look like she had just rolled off the assembly line was tedious with long hard hours. Bill had lots of help but he also needed to find parts that were almost impossible to find. That is when fate stepped in!
One weekend Bill and Gale decided to go to Canton, Texas to the huge Canton First Monday Flea Market. They say, “If you can’t find it in Canton then it doesn’t exist!” Bill happened upon an antique car place. Bill wanted to walk behind the building to see what may be hiding in the back. Lo and behold, but what did he find! A 1955 Packard Four-Hundred, under a tree with the front-end burned off of it and covered with a trap. He knew he needed that car, to get his 400 back on the road. All the parts that he needed were, right in front of his eyes in the old burned out half of a car in front of him. He knew he better get the grin off of his face, before he went inside to face the owner. He didn’t want to seem too excited about what he had just found! I guess he did a good job of not looking like he was about to jump out of his skin with excitement. He made the deal for $800.00 but would have eagerly paid twice that to get that car. The man that sold it to him even agreed to deliver the car to Arkansas for him! Bill knew that only God could have had a hand in him finding that car that day. He has never seen another one like it since.
The day that “Lucky Lady” knew she was accepted as part of the Kennerly family was on February 21, 1996, Bill’s 50th Birthday. She told me how everyone went out for Bill’s birthday supper that night. “Some of Bill and Gale’s friends had a special surprise waiting on Bill when he got home that night. They had pulled me in the shop as the center piece for the surprise. She said, “All of the Kennerly friends and family were all around they loved me so much that they wanted me to be a part of this special day. That is when I knew deep down that I was a Kennerly Packard 400 not just a Packard 400! For Bill’s birthday present they had an easel with a 24”x36” airbrush painting of me parked in front of the shop. It was the prettiest painting I have ever seen. It was airbrushed using an old picture from a 1955 Saturday Evening Post advertisement. It was exactly the same car and same color as me. They even had a huge cake decorated to look like me! A few of the folks even dressed in the 50’s clothes! It was Bill’s 50th over-the-hill and my 1st re-birthday party! They still had some last minute things to complete me but I was well on my way to living again.”
Rick Hall, the man that painted and did the body work on the ‘55 urged Bill to take her to one of the biggest car shows in the area. The Petit Jean, Arkansas annual Father’s Day weekend show is put on every year by the Mid-America Old Time Automobile Association (MOTAA). The car was still so fresh that the paint on the steering wheel needed to dry before it was driven. This would be the longest distance that “Lucky Lady” had made in many, many years. She did just fine for those 75 miles and going up the mountain was a breeze. This was the first show for Bill and Gale as well as the car. The Petit Jean show is a national show with strict judging. If you make it to Senior Status at Petit Jean you can say you have done pretty well for yourself. The crowd was constant, around the Kennerly’s on that first outing with tons of questions and comments. The judges were also impressed with “Lucky Lady” at this show. She was made a Senior Car and given her special Senior Car Badge to be placed with pride under her hood! She was the best overall that year which is a huge accomplishment in the car show world.
April of 1997 was another important event for the car. It made it finally to the Packard Swap meet held in Salado, Texas. After some near misses with the weather and some almost catastrophes with the car they made it to the show and took home another 1st place. The car won 19 trophies in its first four months of showings.
This car is a hit wherever she goes and so are the Kennerlys. Bill was urged to write her story and with the help of his family did just that. The words for the story come from the car herself. Bill just helped her get them out. This is an emotional story of how a car and a family came together and formed a very unique bond. If you would like to read a great story, I urge you to get the book. You can contact Bill and Gale for a copy of “Revived from the Dead a Packard’s true story of Life after Death” at 501-844-4222 or email@example.com . I would like to thank Bill, Gale and “Lucky Lady” for the chance to get to know them better. They are a true inspiration to the car enthusiast world.