Retired Independence car dealer is a Packard man

06/17/2014 7:42 PM

06/17/2014 10:55 PM

William Rodekopf’s got a thing for Packards.

The 91-year-old Independence resident has bought several of the automobiles over the years. In 1951, he bought a brand new Packard Patrician. It’s the last Packard he ever bought.

That’s it right there, in his garage.

The car has 79,703 miles on its odometer. Some of its key specifications: 327-cubic-inch, eight-cylinder engine (the owner’s manual doesn’t list the car’s horsepower figure, but “it’s got enough,” Rodekopf said); Ultramatic transmission; length of 18 feet; 20-gallon gas tank; 6-volt battery; and tires whose manufacturer-recommended air pressure is 24 psi. It burns regular gas and gets about 18 miles per gallon.

The exterior is “Packard Blue,” and it has a tan-and-blue interior. Its back seat is like a living room couch. It has headroom sufficient for an NBA center to comfortably sit upright with room to spare.

Its factory AM radio has a “wonderbar” signal-seeking feature, which combs the spectrum for the next signal powerful enough to be clearly received. Who knew they had that technology back then?

Oh, and “it’ll go over a hundred miles an hour,” Rodekopf said.

His son, 61-year-old Brian Rodekopf, said his father paid “in the mid-$3,000 range” for the car. This particular Patrician “is in what the classic-car crowd calls ‘unrestored, all-original survivor’ condition,” his son said.

The elder Rodekopf turned the Patrician over to his father in 1955, and he drove it for 10 years.

“He wanted to get granddad into a newer, nicer car,” Brian Rodekopf said.

His grandfather gave it back to his father and got a new car with more creature comforts, at his father’s urging.

Now, the ’51 Patrician, and Brian Rodekopf’s 1969 AMC AMX (396 cubic-inch, 315-horsepower four-speed on the floor, painted “Big Bad Orange”), will be on display among more than 200 classic cars on Sundayat the Art of the Car Concours on the Kansas City Art Institute’s campus. The event is a fundraiser for the institute’s scholarship fund.

Packards in general have funded a lot of affection in the elder Rodekopf since the early 1930s. He was 11 years old when he fell in love with his first car, his father’s 1918 Packard 12.

He started a Packard dealership, Rodekopf Motors, in 1955 in Independence. His dealership also sold Ramblers; Hudsons; Ford, Chevrolet and GMC custom vans; International Harvester light-duty trucks; Bricklins, and Renaults.

From 1960 to 1965, he took on a partner, Bill Clippard, and the dealership was called Clippard-Rodekopf Motors during those years.

Rodekopf sold cars, and he also raced them. In 1968, he set the American Hotrod Association world record in the quarter-mile, at 13.67 seconds from a “standing stop.” He did it behind the wheel of a 1968 AMC AMX.

American Motors Corp.’s business dwindled in the 1970s, prompting him to close his dealership in 1980, his son said. He then went to work for various dealerships until he retired in 2011.

He still drives his Patrician, maybe once every three to four months, he said. He drove it about a month ago, to gas it up and run an errand. He afforded his son the privilege of driving it for the first time just a few years ago.

“That car has been the most significant memory in my life,” his son said.

Brian Rodekopf works as an automotive manufacturer’s representative. He was a “gearhead” in his youth and a drag racer from 1968 to 1980, he said. He started working at his father’s dealership when he was 16 and continued until age 30.

“I started out sweeping floors, washing cars, running errands — learning the business from the ground up,” he said. “I worked after school, on weekends and during the summer. The greatest education I’ve had in my entire life was from the mechanics at the dealership.”

His father “has had literally hundreds of cars over the years, but he was exposed to Packard as a child.”

His dad’s Patrician is worth about $35,000, he said.

“The neatest thing about this car, to me, is the interior,” Brian Rodekopf said. “It’s got wool and mohair upholstery, and the way it smells: Anytime I stick my head inside it, I’m a five-year-old boy again.”

Art of the Car Concours

What: Eighth annual event features more than 200 vintage, classic and special-interest vehicles.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick Blvd.

Tickets: $18 online or $20 at the door for adults; free for children 16 and under, but organizers ask that tickets be obtained online for them, too. Special tickets for admission two hours early. Go to artofthecarconcours.com to buy online.

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