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Dayton: Arrive in style in a highly polished Packard

Courtesy Citizens Motorcar Co.

A limousine slinking around town can give pause, but when it comes to stopping traffic and dropping jaws, there’s nothing quite like a line of Packard limousines parading down the street.

“People are completely intrigued,” said Jackie Maddox, events director for the Citizens Motorcar Co. — America’s Packard Museum in downtown Dayton. “They’ve never seen a Packard going down the road — they’ve seen a Ford, they’ve seen a Chevy, but they have never seen a Packard.”

Dayton preserves dozens of Packards — first developed in Warren, Ohio — in the Packard museum, housed since 1992 in a former Packard dealership building on a prominent corner about four blocks from the Dayton Convention Center.

Among the museum’s features is a fleet of Packard limos available for private rental. Imagine being driven to an important event in a creamy white 1935 Packard V-12 convertible or to a business conference in a serious black 1953 seven-passenger Packard Henney Executive.

Given the gleaming autos in its two side-by-side buildings, the museum draws special events and even small meetings in a new library in the museum’s annex.

The library was built along one wall of the annex, a separate building across a small parking lot from the main building. A wall of glass and handsome woodwork salvaged from the Packard manufacturing plant in Michigan forms one wall of the room; Oriental rugs soften the concrete floors beneath a board table, also scavenged from the plant. Walls are lined with bookshelves and books, and Packard memorabilia provide accents. The glass-and-wood wall makes the room private, while it gives meeting goers a view of the Packards exhibited a few feet away.

The original dealership, connected to the annex by a covered walkway, is snappy, with black-and-white tile floors and large display windows. In addition to the Packards, it houses the service department, which is still stocked with thousands of parts.

The museum’s collection is valued at $20 million, yet the cars can still be enjoyed by patrons. “You can’t eat in the cars, but you can sit in the cars,” said Maddox. Groups like to snap souvenir photos of guests behind the wheels of the shiny mega motorcars.

The cars do more than sit around looking glamorous. Several have had roles in Hollywood. “We sent three of them off to ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’” said Maddox. A Packard hearse in the collection was used in “The Godfather”; another car belonged to Al Capone.

The museum reminds visitors that Dayton’s impact on transportation goes beyond the airplane.
“Dayton has a huge automotive history as well,” said Maddox.

Although it is not exactly historic, another automotive option with ample room for events is a block from the Packard museum. Housed in a series of connected warehouses, the Taj Ma Garaj is 23,000 square feet of meeting space enlivened with tutti-frutti Volkswagen Beetles and sleek Porsches, some of which have been cut in half and hung on the wall like a moose head. In the Taj West Wing, which was once home to the tool company where Ermal Fraze invented the aluminum can pop-top, a Dayton-inspired mural and four Porsches liven up the old industrial space. In the Taj Lounj, now-vintage video games, air hockey, foosball and Pop-A-Shot add fun.