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Family’s Packard roots run deep

Mary Beth Kuester, Bob Kuester and Kay Doran stand next to the 1953 Packard Caribbean, one of hundreds of vehicles displayed at this year’s Iola Car Show. Bob purchased the car in Texas, oversaw its restoration and recently sold it to Mary Beth and Kay, who are sisters and Bob’s cousins. All three grew up in Clintonville, where the Kuester family operated a Packard dealership on Main Street. Greg Seubert Photo

Kuesters attend Iola Car Show

By Greg Seubert

After spending a lot of time and money restoring a 1953 Packard Caribbean, Bob Kuester was thinking of selling the car.

“When I bought the car, it didn’t have an engine or transmission and it didn’t have an interior, but the body work was pretty much done,” said Kuester, who joined his cousins, Mary Beth Kuester and Kay Doran, to display the vehicle at the Iola Car Show.

“It needed everything,” he said. “It had been in an accident, so the right front fender was dented up. The fellow that had it prior to me didn’t do much of a job restoring it. The pieces didn’t fit.”

Although Bob now lives near Dallas, Mary Beth and Kay, who are sisters, live in Antigo. All three grew up in Clintonville, where the Kuester family operated a Packard car dealership on Main Street for several years.

“Three generations of us went to Clintonville High School,” Doran said. “We all grew up there. What’s left of the family is now scattered like most families, but it was a good place to grow up.”

Bob purchased the car in Texas and oversaw its restoration, a three-year process.

“I’ve been brought up with Packards,” he said. “The first Packard we had that was restored for my father was a 1929 Packard 640 Roadster. After Dad died, I got that car and sold it to a fellow in Florida. Then, I bought a 1953 Mayfair, which is a two-door hardtop. People ask, ‘How do you do that?’ I said, ‘Well, you just take one piece at a time.’ I started with the engine, then the transmission, then the suspension. Then, we started working on the sheet metal, like the right fender.”

First car show

Bob attended the first Iola Car Show in 1972 with his father.

“We were driving a 1932 Cadillac,” he said. “When I was still living in Wisconsin, we came to every one of these shows and Dad always showed his 1929 Packard Roadster. Since I moved to Texas, I’ve only been up here three or four times.”

Bob purchased the gulf green metallic Caribbean in New Braunfel, Texas, about a decade ago.

“A collector had it and was going to restore it,” he said. He got part way through it and he gave up. I can put them together mechanically, but the painting, the upholstery, the body work, you have to have somebody who knows what they’re doing. There are a lot of restoration shops down there that specialize in cars like this. I have a very close friend who’s a mechanic and really gave me a lot of guidance. It turned out very well and it’s a very nice driving car. Everything’s new in that car. It’s like a new car.”

Bob never planned on keeping the vehicle.

“Mary Beth said, ‘Don’t sell it to anybody else outside the family, sell it to me,’” he said. “She wrote the check and she got the car.”

FWD Seagrave Museum

Mary Beth now owns the car with her sister. It also has a permanent home at the FWD Seagrave Museum in Clintonville.

Doran serves on the museum’s board of directors.

“Our family had the Packard dealership and when my sister and I were little girls, we lived up above the garage, right downtown on Main Street,” she said. “We lived up there in the late ‘30s until after World War II. You can still see the building, it says, ‘Kuester Block.’ The dealership was around from the early ‘40s until ‘56 or ‘57.

“We were always associated with the implement business, the car business,” she said. “My dad was into steam engine restoration and (Iola Car Show founder Chet) Krause bought almost all of my dad’s stuff after my dad died. My dad was into steam tractors and his brother Bill – Bob’s dad – was into cars, predomiinantly Packards.”
Detroit-based Packard Motor Car Co. manufactured the Packard Caribbean, a full-sized luxury car, from 1953-56.

“The Packard was a high-end car and people were looking a little bit less,” Doran said. “We also sold Diamond T trucks, which was a high-end truck.”

“In the ‘20s and ‘30s, the Packard was a premium automobile,” Bob said. “Even through their demise in ‘56, they still were a premium automobile.”

A new Packard Caribbean sold for $5,200 in 1953.

“In 1953, you could buy a real nice car for under $2,000,” Bob said. “Like this Lincoln Continental over here. In 1956, you could be a very nice car for under $3,000 and that car sold for $10,000. You’d find them in the bigger cities where the wealthy people would buy them.”

“We’ve always been interested in restorations,” Doran said. “Our family is a bunch of gearheads from way back, girls as well as boys. We love the smell of rust and axle grease.”

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