TERRE HAUTE —
A pair of unused World War II-era gasoline rationing tickets found under a back seat convinced Brent Merrill of the possible original owner of his 1934 Packard Eight convertible.
“It started, I am pretty sure, as a car for a funeral home,” Merrill said of the original blue colored exterior/interior, four-passenger, 136-inch wheelbase car with a standard inline, eight cylinder engine.
Merrill, 53, of Toronto, Ontario was among 15 drivers to arrive in Terre Haute Friday during a round-trip scenic driving tour, part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s third annual Celebration of Automobiles. The vehicles parked in front of Clabber Girl along Ninth Street, with a small section of the street closed for two hours.
The tour went through Parke County, where drivers saw covered bridges, and briefly stopped in Bridgeton.
“It gives the individuals in the event a chance to see a pretty part of Indiana and historic covered bridges. We are looking to try different things and have fun with this event,” Tom Surber, spokesman for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said of the scenic driving tour.
Vehicles that stopped in Terre Haute included Rolls Royce, Dusenbergs, Packard, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Sunbeam, among others.
Those automobiles will be among 175 classic/vintage and alternative-energy vehicles to be parked today on the east side of Pagoda Plaza during the Opening Day of the 97th Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis. Other makers of cars to be featured include Cord, DeSoto, Excalibur, Bentley, Knox, Alfa Romeo.
The classic/vintage cars in the Celebration of Automobiles range from 1910 to 1970.
Merrill said the rationing tickets were discovered during a restoration in 2000. The tickets bore the name of John Finegan of New Jersey for a 1934 Packard. “There is a funeral home in New Jersey that is in the third generation and they confirmed, that yes, their father had owned Packards and had used them in the funeral home in the 1940s,” Merrill said.
“I can’t say for sure that he is the original owner, but there is a high probability or he is very close to the first owner,” said Merrill, who bought the Packard in 2011 from another collector in Canada.
Todd Nagler of Rochester, Michigan, climbed out of the driver’s seat, then carefully buttoned and covered the seats to his four-passenger convertible six-cylinder 1926 Springfield Ghost Rolls Royce after he arrived in Terre Haute. Nagler bought the car from his passenger, Dr. Gail Reingold of Los Angeles.
“We’ve been friends for years and years and years,” Reingold said. “The whole idea was it is time for me to work on cars that aren’t this difficult and pass it on. He wanted it and bought if from me a month ago,” Reingold said of Nagler.
The car is a left-hand drive vehicle built in the United States in Springfield, Mass. “The vehicle has a custom coach work body and it is a Pall Mall. That is the model,” Reingold said. “It is the epitome of touring cars. This car has been all over the world.”
One feature includes an auxiliary gasoline tank on the side of the car. It looks like a black-colored metal gasoline can, but has a tube that can be pulled out that contains oil. “So it holds oil and gasoline around it in the can,” Reingold said.
Nagler said he wanted to participate in the scenic driving tour “Always looking for a new adventure,” Nagler said. “I really like the beauty of the car and the elegance and it is a relatively easy car to drive at modern type of speeds.”
Public gates to the Indianapolis 500 today open at 10 a.m. Admission is $10 for adults with fans 12 and under admitted free with an adult. Drivers in the Indianapolis 500 this year include three-time winners Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti, who will attempt to join the exclusive company of A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time winners.
Rookie drivers seeking to quality for the race this year include Conor Daly of Noblesville, winner of the 2010 Pro Mazda Championship, as well as AJ Allmendinger, four-time Champ Car race winner and NASCAR standout. Also, reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristian Vautier.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.