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Rivet Gun Hot Rod Packard

Rivet Gun Hot Rod Packard


Ask the man who owns one (Packard’s famous sales slogan).


Words and Photos: John Gunnell

Brian Thomas likes rivets. His supercharged Packard hot rod proves it. About 1,200 stainless steel fasteners were used throughout the car to clone the look of bridge-style rivets. The car should really be an airplane, but it is a hot rod, and it's amongst the coolest looking hot rods you’ll ever see.

There’s no getting around it—a Packard hot rod is just about the “chillest” car you can think of.  It even stood out at the Bonneville Speedway, where Brian work for the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association ( during their September World of Speed event.

The rivets on his car flash at you like a string of LEDS on an 18-wheeler crossing the desert. They outline the rounded rectangle contours of the air filters, the subtle arch at the base of the Lexan plastic windshield, the interior body sills and panels, the wood floorboards, the edges of the cowl and the lower body perimeter. A few “studleys” decorate the blower, gauge cluster and tranny hump.


A do-it-yourselfer, Thomas built the car in under 12 months. He fabricated the open tub body from a pickup truck bed and ancient car cowl and also built his own frame. As far as using a classic Packard straight eight, Brian was only trying to one-up his dad, who had built a rod around a Pontiac straight eight. We assume both of them were taken by the Hiram Walker whiskey ads in Motor Trend in the ‘70s that pushed the distiller’s “Great Eight” theme with pictures of straight eight powered cars owned by a bunch of Milwaukee area car collectors featuring a McCulloch-blown 327-cid ‘48 Packard eight-in-a-row flathead for power.

According to a Hot Rod magazine story, Brian’s passion for the straight eight stemmed from a project his father Richard had begun with a smaller (try moving one) Pontiac straight eight. Vowing to outdo his dad, Brian swapped some truck parts for an early postwar Packard eight that had a larger displacement than the 268-cid Pontiac engine, as well as additional ponies.

Brian's ’48 Packard 327-cid eight features an aluminum cylinder head made by Norman Frick, of “Flatheads Forever” in Colorado. Ed Iskenderian made him an extra-long hot cam and period-correct McCulloch supercharger was used with four Stromberg 97s on custom-made tubes with air filters.

There is even an enameled Packard badge on the repop type Ford radiator shell. Speedway Motors provided the heavy-duty radiator. The front axle and steering wheel are out of So-Cal Speed Shop’s catalog. The Swiss cheese interior has four-inch holes punched in the door panels, tub liner and seats. To make the huge craters Brian utilized an hydraulically operated electrician’s punch that bevels the edge of each opening. The black-rimmed 4-spoke steering wheel is mounted on a column that holds the tach and old-fashioned directionals.


Exterior body finish is very Mad Max-ish, in contrast to the engine block that’s neatly painted with correct Packard Green high-heat enamel. The front of the blower shows the Maculloch “flying goose” emblem. The reproduction radiator and parts of the blower are shiny bright metal, while the pot metal carburetor bodies are done with “rust paint.” The words “Packard Thunderbolt” embossed with block letters on the cylinder head are highlighted with white paint to make them stand out. The Packard trade name is also painted in black script on the outside of each satin-finished brushed silver air cleaner. A custom trumpet exhaust header with a rusty iron look exits on the passenger side of the engine.

All of this makes the Packard absolutely "riveting."