The end of February is always a great time in San Diego, since it’s time for the annual Big 3 Parts Exchange, an old car/parts/stuff swap meet that fills the parking lot at SDCCU Stadium.

If you’ve never been to one of these things, they’re amazing. Acres of water pumps, fenders, folks debating paint colors… I actually overheard “… we can go back to the shop and look on the paint chart and I’ll show you that this is a correct color for a 1959 DeSoto…”

1958 Packard. Shot at the Big 3 Parts Exchange, San Diego, Feb. 28, 2009
1958 Packard. All photos from the Big 3 Parts Exchange, San Diego, Feb. 28, 2009

One car and a guy that caught my attention were the 1958 Packard Sedan and Dave Gahlbeck. Body No. 78 (out of only about 1,500 made) passed into his hands a few years back and it’s what you’d call a survivor. Sold originally by AC Almind Studebaker in Redlands, the car had passed to the original owner’s son when Dave No. 3 bought it. Dave No. 3? The original owner was Dave, Dave Jr. was his son and Dave No. 3 (no relation except for the name) took possession.

If one fin is good, two is even better on this 1958 Packard. Shot at the Big 3 Parts Exchange, San Diego, Feb. 28, 2009
If one fin is good, two is even better on this 1958 Packard. 

There’s something about a Packard, but this was the wildest. A last-gasp attempt to put something in showrooms by a company in desperate condition (see The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company), the last of 58 years of Packard production came out of the Studebaker factory in South Bend, Ind. It was called a Packabaker because it was a facelift of the Studebaker President model. Sporting the weirdest of the tailfins, tacked-on dual-headlight pods and what auto historian Richard Langworth has called “vacuum cleaner frontal styling,” it probably looked weird even in a year where the Edsel was the newest thing on the road.

Dave No. 3 eagerly tells the curious about all the car’s features — power steering, power brakes, the unique fiberglass features in the snout, the back bumper that’s interchangeable with Studebakers of the same year. And for somebody who looks to be around 40, he’s a rarity. Not only is he into Studebakers, but into the arguably firm’s darkest years before it stopped making cars, the 57-58 models.

1963 Studebaker Wagonaire
1963 Studebaker Wagonaire

As I was whining about not having the space or other attributes to own a really old car (remember, my daily driver is a ’91 Miata), Dave No. 3 pointed me over to a nice ride that was for sale, a ’63 Lark Wagonaire. Yes, it’s the car with the sliding rear roof pictured in my viral YouTube commercial posting, live and in color. And this was a pretty cherry… I didn’t even see any rust around the notoriously leaky sliding roof.

Sliding roof on 1963 Studebaker Wagonaire
Sliding roof on 1963 Studebaker Wagonaire

The Stude folks are a lot of fun. When Weekend Driver San Diego came out a few years ago, I went and spoke at one of the regular meetings of the local chapter of the Studebaker Drivers Club. I was still freelancing at the time and tried to sell a couple of auto magazines on a true survivor… the ’59 Lark still with its original owner. No luck, but they’re great folk.

I also visited the Studebaker National Museum a few years ago… check out my diary.

Even if you’re not looking for a rebuilt water pump for your ’53 Willys Aero, a car swap meet like this is an interesting place to visit. Put it on your calendar for next year.


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