David J. Smith has owned some spectacular classic cars over the years, but the one parked in his Lexington garage right now just might outshine them all.
It's an elegant 1935 Packard 1202 convertible sedan, resplendent in rich burgundy paint, and it was personally selected by its onetime owner, the late actor Andy Griffith.
"Andy bought the car in 1988 from Don Miller, the former president of Penske Racing South, and spent almost $600,000 having it completely restored," Smith said. "The car is really something, absolutely better than new."
Smith, who acquired the car about seven years ago, will show it Saturday at the 2012 Keeneland Concours d'Elegance at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington. Several hundred rare and classic vehicles will be on hand for the ninth annual car show, which benefits Kentucky Children's Hospital.
Packard is the featured make for this year's concours, and Smith's car will be one of about 25 on display. But because Smith's Packard was formerly owned by Griffith, who died July 3, it is particularly interesting.
Smith said Griffith drove the eight-cylinder car for several years after buying it. Griffith decided to restore the car about 1993. It was an expensive process that took roughly two years. Griffith and his wife, Cindi, drove it around their home on North Carolina's Outer Banks. About 2004, Griffith donated the Packard to the Kruse Museum in Indiana, where Smith eventually bought it.
"Packards were a car for the elite," Smith said. "A lot of top people, a lot of movie stars owned Packards. If you drove one, it meant you were really doing well."
It has been said that Ohioan James Ward Packard bought a Winton automobile back about 1898. Finding it unsatisfactory, he wrote company owner Alexander Winton, suggesting some improvements. An annoyed Winton wrote back, telling Packard that if he thought he could build a better car, he should go ahead and do it.
Thus was born the Packard Car Co., which went on to produce some of the most stylish, powerful and luxurious cars ever built. Packard's simple advertising slogan was, "Ask the Man Who Owns One."
Packard went out of production in 1958. But the cars remain a temptation that's hard for collectors to resist. Ask a man who owns one: Cy Hanks, another Lexingtonian.
Hanks will be at Saturday's concours with a 1931 Packard Dual Cowl Phaeton that has been in his family since his father bought it in 1968.
"Old cars were sort of our family hobby," Hanks said. "We had several cars, but this was Dad's favorite."
Tom Jones, co-chairman of the Keeneland Concours, promises that this year's show will offer plenty of pleasing cars, whether you like Packards or Porsches. He credits the show's acquisition committee for coming up with exciting cars every year.
"I'm absolutely floored by the level of automobiles these guys keep putting together," Jones said. "You'd have go to the biggest shows in the country, Pebble Beach or Amelia Island, to see world-class cars like these."
Among the most powerful cars this year will be a McLaren C4 and a Ferrari 599 GTO, said to be the fastest road car the Italian company has ever built. There also will be a 1930 Stutz Lancefield supercharged coupe, the only one ever built; a 1933 Packard Cabriolet; a one-off 1936 Delahaye; a 1932 Stutz Bearcat; and a 1946 Cisitalia GT, like the one displayed in New York's Museum of Modern Art.
The most unusual local entry might be the 1932 Ford coupe in which Clay Miller of Nicholasville, along with his son and grandson, completed the 2011 World Race from New York to Paris.
Finally, there will be a display of microcars, tiny vehicles built to satisfy the need for cheap transportation after World War II. Some had three wheels, and many had less than 30 horsepower.
"I think the kids particularly will love them," Jones said.