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Packard history inspires Warren native's speedster- Tribune Chronicle

Packard history inspires Warren native’s speedster

Warren native Jerry Miscevich is shown next to the replica he built of Jesse Vincent's 1929 speedster. The car will be on display for the next year as part of an exhibition devoted to Vincent, who as an engineer with the Packard Motor Car Company. (Submitted photo)

Jerry Miscevich learned to swim at the old Packard pool. Now, a vehicle that Miscevich built is about to make a big splash at the museum on the former site of that pool.

Miscevich, a 1971 John F. Kennedy High School graduate who grew up in Warren and Bazetta, created the replica of the 1929 Packard Vincent Speedster that will be part of the “Jesse Vincent: Packard’s Master Motor Builder” exhibition opening today at the National Packard Museum.

The creation of the car was the culmination of a lifelong interest in the legacy of the Packard Motor Company.

“My passion lies with being born in Warren and knowing all about what went on there,” said Miscevich, who now lives in Temecula, Calif. “As a student of history, I was amazed at this company that was built on the Packards values, their work ethic and their ability to achieve a high-quality product that was revered, not just domestically, but internationally. The car was in the garages of kings and queens all over Europe, and it all stemmed from their start in Warren, Ohio. It’s just crazy that little old Warren was the birthplace of the greatest luxury car that the United States ever produced.”

“He was so affable and welcoming, Miscevich said. “He had J.W. Packard’s diary and his camera and some other things and it was like, oh my gosh, I just had a bird’s-eye view of everything. He was telling me about all the people he’d interviewed who worked at the company in 1900. Just a fascinating guy. I have to give him a lot of inspiration and credit for getting me down the Packard line. He was just a great guy.”

In the late 1970s as a gift, Miscevich got a copy of the book “Packard, A History of the Motor Car and the Company.” That was the first time he saw the boattail speedster that Packard engineer Jesse Vincent designed as a test vehicle for new engines and engine modifications. He knew he wanted to recreate that car, but work and a growing family delayed that dream for about 20 years.

In the late ’90s, he was working as a visual effects model maker for the movies (his credits include “Independence Day,” “Batman & Robin,” “Godzilla” and “G.I. Joe”), and that job put him in contact with metal fabricators and others who he could hire to do some of the work he couldn’t do himself to make his speedster a reality.

He found a yacht builder to do the frame and a coach builder / metal man to do the body (both had worked on the film “Titanic”). Work commitments still intruded, but Miscevich continued to work on it when he could.

The work finally was finished in 2016. Miscevich described his first experience behind the wheel as surreal.

“To actually drive it was just like, am I really doing this? It was like a dream. Any restorer will tell you the same thing. You envision this. You just have to envision mentally envision every step before you do it. Every step I envisioned a dozen times before I did it, so that when I actually did it, it was second nature almost.”

One of his friends who tracked his progress on the car is Bob Schmitt, who works with “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. Schmitt encouraged Miscevich to let his boss take a look at his creation.

When the car was finished, Schmitt asked him to bring the car to the multiple-air-hangar complex where Leno keeps his massive collection. It’s also where the comedian and car enthusiast did his web and CNBC series “Jay Leno’s Garage.”

He showed Leno the car, gave him a ride and let him get behind the wheel, and Leno asked if he wanted to appear on “Jay Leno’s Garage.” Miscevich initially said no. He was fine working behind the scenes on movies seen by 10 of millions of people. He was less interested in being on camera.

Jay told him, “Look, the people who watch my show don’t want to see what a bunch of millionaires have thrown together or paid to have done. They want to see what a hands-on restorer can do,” Miscevich said. “I told him I didn’t do everything. I didn’t build the wood or do the sheet metal, but I did everything else. He goes, ‘That’s good enough for me.’ Bob’s looking at me like, ‘Are you crazy?,’ and I didn’t want to insult Bob or Jay, so I reluctantly said OK.

“He was just so gracious. I’ve been around a lot of stars, or so-called stars, and some of their egos are what you would expect. With Jay Leno, what you see on camera is how he is off-camera, and that’s just a regular Joe.”

Schmitt also is the one who first showed the car — or footage from the episode — to its current owner Gordon Logan, who got to take a tour of Leno’s collection after making a charitable donation. When Logan mentioned his Packard collection on the tour, Schmitt pulled it up on his phone.

“Bob said Gordon almost didn’t want to go on the tour he was so interested in the speedster,” Miscevich said. “If I never did the show, he wouldn’t have been able to know about it.”

Miscevich has another restoration project in the works. It won’t attract as much attention as the speedster, but it has more sentimental value.

“It’s a 1969 Dodge Coronet RT. It was sold new in Warren in March 1969. I bought it March 10, 1973. My wife and I went on our first date in it. We went to the Kenley Players at Packard Music Hall in June of ’73.”

Miscevich has sold and reacquired the vehicle a couple of times over the years. It was offered back to him while the speedster recreation was in progress, and he initially turned the owner down.

“I told my wife, Karen, and she went, ‘Are you crazy? We went on our first date in that car. You’re never going to get it back.’ So it’s sentimental. I just got it back on the road last month … On the 50th anniversary of our first date, we’re going to go somewhere special and take the RT.”