A well-preserved piece of Detroit automotive history has returned to its birthplace, but it couldn’t have made the journey back from the rural outskirts north of Indianapolis without two pieces of modern technology: a ’21 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 heavy-duty pickup and the Gentex rear-view camera mirror onboard.
I bought my first classic car, a 1953 Packard Patrician, a big burgundy sedan with white walls, a straight 8-cyl. engine, tailfins and a lot of mechanical upgrades thankfully already done.
Of course, this car was manufactured at Packard’s historic plant in Detroit, which ended car production three years after my car rolled off the line. For decades, the dilapidated plant has been neglected, looted, spray-painted and reclaimed by the earth – a magnet for urban adventurers and admirers of “ruin porn.”
My grandfather worked at the plant for about 25 years – right up until it closed – so the car is more than just steel and iron on four wheels. For me, the car is a piece of art, with its flowing chrome, stainless steel body trim and glorious dimensions, a reminder of a bygone era in which Packard was America’s most famous luxury brand.
Getting this car safely back to Detroit required careful planning. Although well cared for, the Packard Patrician was not ready to be driven 280 miles (450 km) from rural Indiana, and I didn’t want to pay someone to tow the vehicle. I needed to do it myself.
Chevrolet offered the ideal truck for the job: the Silverado HD pickup (pictured below) with its 6.6L Duramax diesel V-8 hitched to a 10-speed Allison automatic transmission.
With 445 hp and a gargantuan 910 lb.-ft. (1,234 Nm) of torque, this truck never once strained to pull the Packard, which weighs about 4,200 lbs. (1,905 kg). The Silverado 2500 HD is rated to tow three of these.
Base price for the Silverado 2500 Crew Cab is $53,700, but the Duramax diesel adds $9,890. This test vehicle also had a Carhartt special edition package (priced at $3,040) with unique trim, branded all-weather floor mats, aluminum rims and the Carhartt logo on two-tone leather seats as a connection to the popular rugged clothing brand that is ubiquitous at construction sites.
The rear camera mirror supplied by Michigan supplier Gentex is part of a $1,475 Technology package that also includes a head-up display and digital gauge cluster.
Gentex owns this market for full-display mirrors, with eight different automaker customers and 50 different vehicle nameplates.
As the name suggests, it’s not just a reflective piece of glass. A rear-mounted camera triples the rearward visibility (from 20 degrees with a standard mirror to 60 degrees with this technology), which means there’s a whole lot more information to be gained from merely glancing up at the mirror. Gentex can integrate digital video recorders, a touchscreen, a trailering camera and more into this high-tech wonder.
General Motors is Gentex’s No.1 customer for the full-display mirror, and the supplier delivered 730,000 units to all customers in 2020, up from 430,000 in 2018.
For GM’s fullsize trucks, such as this 2500 HD Carhartt edition, the full-display mirror makes a huge difference in reassuring the driver, particularly when trailering.
For the driver, adjusting to this wide-angle view (which at first can seem like too much information) requires an open mind, patience and an embrace of the technology. You can ease into it by toggling between a conventional mirror and the full-on triple-wide camera view.
When towing even the generously proportioned Packard, the full-display mirror provided a crystal-clear, high-resolution rearward view that was so broad it made the sideview mirrors less important. That’s because, particularly for the passenger-side mirror in this big truck, the driver must take a long glance to the right, diverting eyes from the road ahead momentarily.
At the beginning of our journey home, with the full-display mirror on, I would see the Packard right behind and say out loud, “Why’s this jerk right on my tail?”
After about a hundred miles, we stopped for fuel and made a horrifying discovery: The heavy-duty straps (pictured below) holding the front tires to our rented U-Haul car trailer – even though I had cranked them good and tight – had come loose, which means the parking brake and a safety chain over the rear axle prevented the Packard from rolling off the trailer at highway speed. The camera view in back showed me from the headlights up, so I couldn’t see that the straps had come off.
Suddenly, our leisurely ride home in a Chevy pickup that wasn’t even breaking a sweat had become a harrowing seven-hour stress test that intensified as the sun had set and one of the wheel straps came off yet again – and we were still south of Toledo.
In the dark, even the best mirrors won’t let you see clearly whether those wheel straps are holding. There were frequent stops. It seems tires this big and soft compress at highway speed to the point that straps can’t always hold as intended.
It was a white-knuckled ride up I-275 to Detroit, craning my neck for a side mirror view of the strap over the driver-side front tire of the Packard, aided by the headlights of a trailing vehicle. “Yes, it’s holding!” I would shout to my anxious wife as I also steered this massive rig around Michigan potholes.
We arrived home around 9:30 p.m., shaken but so fortunate that we said a prayer of thanks as we pulled up to the curb and turned off the truck engine.
Then I climbed up on the trailer, removed the pesky wheel straps, got in the Packard and turned the key to back it off the trailer.
Hagerty, the Michigan-based vintage-car insurer, sent roadside assistance to help push the car off the trailer in neutral, then into the garage for the night.
I’ll never forget this motoring experience, nor the Chevy and Gentex equipment that got us home.