Tribune Chronicle Spotlights National Packard Museum's Newest Exhibit
‘America’s Finest Automotive Engineer’
“This guy has more than 400 patents, which signifies to me that he wasn’t a guy sitting at a desk,” said Mary Ann Porinchak, executive director of the museum. “By most historical accounts, he never sat at his desk. If you wanted to talk to him you had to get him out from under an engine.”
What makes his accomplishments all the more impressive is that he primarily was self-taught. His only formal education in engineering came from a correspondence school course.
According to Porinchak, “As any car guy will tell you, body style and design are important, but it’s what’s under the hood that really matters. Without Jesse Vincent, the Packard Motor Car Company would not have achieved such stature in the automobile world. It was Jesse Vincent’s engines that really caught the attention of the buyers, the investors and the rest of the world.”
The two largest pieces in “Jesse Vincent: Packard’s Master Motor Builder” came after the exhibition already was underway.
On display for the first time at the museum is a replica of a race car Vincent built initially to test his speedster engine in 1929, and he used the vehicle to test other engines during his career.
The replica was designed and built by Jerry Miscevich, who grew up in Warren and Bazetta and now lives in Temecula, Calif. Miscevich sold the speedster to Gordon Logan in Georgetown, Texas, and the vehicle is on loan through Logan’s Sport Clips Collection LLC.
“Jesse liked to go fast; he was a speed demon,” Porinchak said. “I’m sure his first thought when he was building it was to get it on that track and run the daylights out of it. Then it became a promotions piece at the proving grounds track to impress investors and dignitaries.
“After he’d tweaked something, he’d go out himself and test it. It was his own personal test vehicle, but at the end of the day, I think he liked getting out there and pedal-to-metal racing it.”
Both Logan and Miscevich have been supporters of the museum, Porinchak said. When Logan acquired the car, she told him, “After you’re done playing with it, we’d like to display it.”
Logan called late last year after work already had started on the Vincent exhibition, and the museum delayed its arrival until after the annual motorcycle exhibition to be a part of the display.
The other large piece is a World War II era Packard Merlin airplane engine on loan from America’s Packard Museum in Dayton.
During World War I, Vincent worked on the Liberty V-12 engine with Elbert Hall and Howard Marmon, and more than 13,000 Liberty engines were produced during the war, according to the Automotive Hall of Fame, which inducted Vincent in 1971
During World War II, the U.S. government contracted with Packard to manufacture Rolls Royce’s Merlin engine for its aircraft. Vincent adapted the hand-built engine so it could be mass-produced in the quantities needed for the war effort.
“His Merlin engine was so precise, they could mass produce them and interchange parts,” Porinchak said. “He made it so precise they could fix and it didn’t take that long if something happened. It didn’t lose much power at 30,000 feet, so they barrel-roll. The other planes could not do that. The engine now at Packard was on display last month at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport as part of the Air Force Rise Above exhibit. It will be at the Packard museum until next spring, when renovations at the Dayton museum are scheduled to be completed.
“It was definitely an eye catcher for the people (at the airport), especially the guys who were in the military,” Porinchak said. “They all knew what it was. It got a lot of attention, especially the cutaway. People enjoyed seeing the inner makings of the engine. It’s pretty amazing.”
The Miscevich-built speedster also will be at the museum for at least a year, and there’s a chance it could be extended.
“I can’t stress enough the generosity of Gordon Logan, the current owner and custodian of the Packard,” Miscevich said. “Before we clinched the deal, I told him I’d like to see it go to the museum in Warren, my hometown. He just kind of smiled and said, ‘If I buy it, I’m going to loan it out to them.’ Wow, that’s really something … He is truly a gentleman and a man of his word.”
Even after those pieces leave, other parts of the Vincent exhibition will be part of the museum’s permanent display.
“Jesse Vincent was probably the most important figure during that time in engineering in the world just because of how many engines he worked on the precision he applied to his craft,” Porinchak said.
If you go …
WHAT: “Jesse Vincent: Packard’s Master Motor Builder”
WHEN: Open today with some elements on display for the next year or so and the rest becoming a permanent display. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: National Packard Museum, 1899 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren
HOW MUCH: $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens, $5 for children ages 7 to 12 and free for children 6 and younger. For more information, go to packardmuseum.org or call 330-394-1899.