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Packard Museum acquires car bought by Howard Hughes

By ANDY GRAY

Staff writer

WARREN — Jean Peters didn’t like the 1955 Packard Caribbean bought for her by her future husband, Howard Hughes.

The National Packard Museum loves it.

The convertible, which is in pristine condition with less than 2,000 miles on it, now is part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Executive Director Mary Ann Porinchak said the car was donated by Stanley Zimmerman, founder of the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, Calif., and a longtime member of the National Packard Museum.

“He wants this car’s story to be told, and he knows that’s what we do,” Porinchak said. “His mission is to put people in cars and drive them around; our is to tell the stories about the cars and keep those stories alive.”

This car has quite the story to tell. Peters, a Canton native who appeared in such films as “Niagara,” “Viva Zapata” and “Pickup on South Street” between 1947 and 1955, dated the billionaire industrialist off and on for years before they got married in 1957. They divorced in 1971, and Peters returned to acting, appearing in a few television roles until her death in 2000.

Charles Ohlin, director of educational services at the museum, said Hughes bought the car direct from the factory in Detroit, and it was the eighth 1955 Caribbean to come off the assembly line.

“The first seven were testing models, and it would have been a testing model too,” Ohlin said. “It was originally painted all white. After Howard Hughes ordered it, they painted the pink and black stripes on it.”

Hughes souped up the vehicle with two four-barrel carburetors, Porinchak said.

“He ordered it as a birthday present for Jean Peters,” Ohlin said. “They took it for a drive to Malibu and back, and for whatever reasons, she didn’t like the car and it was stuck in the garage.”

According to Ohlin, the car’s history contradicts the conventional wisdom that the Packard brand had lost some of its luster after World War II.

“Howard Hughes, the richest man in the world, could buy any car he wanted for Jean Peters, and he bought a Packard,” Ohlin said.

Zimmerman first saw it when the the car was at the shop for regular maintenance. He tried to buy it from Peters, who lived near him, but she wasn’t interested in selling. Years later the car was put up for sale by Hughes Industries, according to a history on the Automobile Driving Museum website, and Zimmerman was able to purchase it.

At the time of that sale, the car had less than 500 miles on it. It has about 1,750 miles now. Along with the car came paperwork, including its California license registration with Jean Peters name on it.

“The provenance is rock solid,” Ohlin said.

The car hasn’t been appraised yet for insurance purposes. Porinchak didn’t offer a guess about its value but said, “Obviously the provenance of the car will add to that. The rest of the value will be based on the fact that it is one of the first ones sold to the public, the hand-painted colors on it and some under-the-hood modifications.”

Its history will be incorporated into the supplemental materials that will be displayed with the car. The car was delivered to the museum about three weeks ago, and the museum staff has been busy preparing its “Mustang vs. Camaro — Battle for Supremacy” exhibition, which opened Tuesday.

Porinchak said the permanent display should be completed by the end of the month, although the car currently can be seen at the museum with its ragtop up. It will be shown with the top down when its permanent display opens

“Just because of the volunteers and the whisper campaign, we’ve had a pretty good stream of people coming in — ‘I want to see the Hughes car,'” Porinchak said.

agray@tribtoday.com