Janet Cussler: Can a Woman Have Too Many Packards?

  • story by David M. Brown
  • photos by John Bazay
  • posted on 02/2021
  • posted in: Great Garages

Janet Cussler’s classic-car garage is completely novel.

With daughter Whitney, she owns the Janet Cussler Car Collection in north Scottsdale. For the last 11 years of his robust life, she was married to Paradise Valley’s Clive Cussler (1931–2020), who wrote or co-wrote 80-plus adventure/ thriller novels, including bestsellers Gray Ghost and Raise the Titanic!

Their 40 cars represent collectibles from the Brass Era through today, with an emphasis on large, luxurious pre-World War II touring vehicles, Clive’s favorites. Other family members, including three other daughters with his first wife, Barbara, own and manage the Cussler Museum in Arvada, Colorado. The two venues are not associated.


Cussler loved cars throughout his packed life, Janet explains. The collection begins chronologically with an 1880s Concord stage coach. ”You can see John Wayne in it,” Janet says.

Following are cars from the first 20 years of the 20th century: a 1902 Curved Dash Oldsmobile; 1911 Model T, which sold new for around $700; a 1919 Kissel, one of 37 known to exist; a 1907 Mitchell, with its distinctive horn; a running all-original 1914 Pathfinder, one of three known; a 1913 Everett; and a massive 1916 Seven Passenger Pierce Arrow.

Two Cadillacs are a 1917 Cadillac Opera Coupe including spacious seating in the back for the wife, with a wide-ranging dress, and her portly husband, both flourishing their wealth, he in the waistline, she in couture; and the quintessential post-War “boat,” a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible with a one-off special order color, Kensington Green on white, and bucket seats, one of only 98 so equipped.


Some of the vehicles have biographical tie-ins with the Cusslers. A 1922 Jewett, for example, was the make Clive had for his first car when he was 13 in Aurora, Illinois. A 1931 Model A Ford, celebrating the year Clive was born, was given to him on his 80th birthday. And, the most recent classic is a low-slung orange 2005 Lotus Elige that he regularly drove into his 80s.

In addition, the women are stewarding five great Packards, including a 1906 Model S, one of three known, and a 1949 “woodie” station wagon in which Whitney learned to drive a standard shift, “three on a tree.” “Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but a woman can never have too many Packards,” Janet says with a smile. “I am crazy for all of the cars and those in particular.”

Throughout the space, the women have displayed collectibles to intensify the ambiance: a 1911 Link Nickoledeon manufactured in Binghamton, New York, which plays the hit music of the time, a piano rag; Janet’s mother’s secretary desk, with a Winky Dink TV screen toy from the 1950s; a vintage Mobil Gas sign and an early tire changer; and a Southern-pine porch from a late 1800s house, disassembled in Tupelo, Mississippi, and rebuilt in the museum. Above one of the aisles is a 1/8th model plane, sponsored by Vin Fiz, a domestic grape drink. The actual plane flew cross country before Lindberg piloted the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris, Janet notes.


Also displayed are vintage dresses beginning with a 1908 lace tea dress and a later Georgette day dress, which Janet recently wore a few years back at the Boca Raton Concours. “In the same way as fine art, sculpture and rolling art, clothing is a reflection of our love of design and beauty,” Janet says. “What we often don’t realize is that the automobile revolution impacted style and design of dress for both men and women.”

Duke, Clive’s service German shepherd, is a constant companion at the collection, watching over Janet and Whitney and their family treasures. In May, the women plan to open the 7,500-square-foot museum for self-tours as well as catered dinners and family, business and fund-raising events.

The cars were a shared mission for husband and wife. “With Clive’s intuitive knowledge and years of collecting, my love of design and fine art and our enthusiasm for classic cars, the building of this collection became a passion of love and joy,” says Janet, who has a master’s in Fine Art, Design and Education. “Each car has a unique story that reflects the whys and emotional attachment Clive and I felt that led to its purchase.”


Classic Drives

She and Whitney regularly take their joys to the road: to shows, concours and events and just for Sunday drives. Recently, they took us through more than a century of fine motoring. “Roughriding” Teddy Roosevelt was president when the first one debuted.

1906 Packard, Model S –– A total of 728 of these were produced this year, but only three exist. “This is considered the 22nd oldest Packard known, and she runs beautifully,” Janet explains.


The engine was rated at 24 horsepower, but the real output was 40 to 50 horses, and it was capable of 60 mph. The cost was a stratospheric $5,200.

The engineers innovatively used aluminum, and the intake and exhaust valves are arranged on opposite sides of the cylinders for improved breathing, with each side actuated by a camshaft, she explains.

And, the coachwork was roomier and more comfortable than on previous models. Among the features are a brass wood-rimmed steering wheel, throttle and spark controls and an extremely rare Waltham wind-up clock on the ash dashboard.


A few changes have been made in the engine, transmission and an electric starter added, but most of the car is original.

For some time in Bill Harrah’s collection in Reno, the Packard was sold at his auction in 1986 to the new owner in Texas.

On May 19, 2018, while the Mecum Car Auction was taking place in Indiana, the Cusslers were in Baltimore for the Preakness. “Windy and cold, it had been raining for a week and the track was muddy, the skies darkened, there was lightening and the race was postponed again waiting for a break in the weather,” Janet recalls.


“But the fates were kind, and we were able to bid by phone to get this beautiful Packard –– just before they called the horses to the track.”

1908 Columbus 10 HP Two-Cylinder Autobuggy –– Popular in the Midwest, with its tall, spindly wheels, an air-cooled twin-cycle engine and chain drive, the Columbus was practical transportation. “It was not sophisticated but charming, hard-working and simple to work on, making it ideal for the deeply rutted farm roads of its era,” Janet explains. A 1990 restoration was completed.

The documentation is spare. What is known is that Captain Eddie Rickenbacker (1890– 1973), America’s most well-known fighting ace of World War I and one-time owner of the Indianapolis Speedway, helped design this while he was an engineer for the Columbus Buggy Company of Ohio.


“Indicative of early auto-making, this is a fun, jaunty machine that is fondly remembered by many today,” she says.

1914 Pathfinder Touring –– Built in Indianapolis, Indiana, by the Motor Car Manufacturing Co., this innovative Brass Era car would remain in production until 1917, when the company went out of business.

A 42-horsepower, 281-cubic inch four-cylinder powers the car. The gas pedal is unique: The driver slides a floor mounted lever with his or her foot. The original leather-covered horse hair seats are still intact as well as a full set of tools with leather cover. And, the original 1914 Illinois plates remain in place.


The Pathfinder included a factory-installed electric starter, a new feature for the times. With swept windshield and chariot wheels, the model came with double rear spare tires and both electric and kerosene coach lamps. The double-sided wide white 1919 Inland tires still hold air and rolled onto the field at the 2019 Pebble Beach Concours, Janet explains.

The car was discovered in a basement garage under the Glen Art Theater in downtown Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and was purchased and moved to suburban Chicago garage in 1946. For the next 64 years, it stayed in the same ownership until purchased by an enthusiast who recognized that it was exactly as it had left the factory decades before. “It is our honor to continue the preservation of this original car,” Janet says.

1916 Pierce Arrow Series 4 48 HP 7 Passenger –– This mammoth car is powered by a 48-horsepower, a 525-cubic inch T-head six-cylinder connected to a four-speed selective sliding gear manual transmission.


“This beautiful ghost of the past was nearly as strong as a WWII Sherman tank,” Janet says with a smile. “A force to be reckoned with, she was renowned from the beginning for remarkable power and near silence, a trait that unexpectedly drew the favor of the era’s more successful bootleggers.”

This seven-passenger touring car was specially ordered without jump seats by Denver banker Albert Swabacher. “He spent all available free time at a ranch he owned in the Teton Mountains,” she explains, noting that he kept the Pierce there for nearly three decades and used it for chauffeured hunting and fishing trips.

She notes that an early photo shows the Series 4 with a bed in the back where Swabacher would camp out during the hunt; another shows mules towing the Pierce-Arrow up a hill.


The horn is mounted on the left. “While he used a chauffeur, Mr. Swabacher preferred to blast the car’s horn himself, and he would often do so to alert his staff that he had returned from another expedition into the wilderness,” Janet explains.

All of this big living had a price: The car started at $5,000 and climbed to $6,200, depending on body style.

“The Pierce Model 48 was revered when new and perhaps even more so today,” she says, noting that she and Clive purchased this one from the RM Auction in Scottsdale. “It remains a mighty car, capable of carrying the most imposing coachwork and covering great distances with ease. It always turns heads.”


1917 Ahrens Fox –– Founded in 1910 in Ohio by principals John P. Ahrens and Charles H. Fox, their Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine Company built its first motorized fire engine in 1911.

“The Rolls-Royce of firetrucks,” the company’s engines were distinguished by a chrome sphere above a regulating pump that could throw a stream of water 450 feet into the air; no other engine could equal this. In addition, its step-down nozzle further assisted fire fighters.

The 1917 Ahrens Fox could top 50 mph from its 6-cylinder engine. And for reliability, the engine was equipped with a dual ignition system, double spark plugs on each cylinder as well as other safeguards.


After they were married, Clive gave her the truck for her birthday in August 2015. “I told him it won’t fit in my jewelry box. He replied, ‘Then get a bigger jewelry box.’ She’s a beauty,” she says, quoting from Clive’s novel, Gray Ghost, “and I love her.”

In Gray Ghost, Sam gives Remi a fire engine for her birthday to their home in San Jose:

“A big red monster made its appearance, Remi broke into unrestrained laughter. ‘It took a year to give it a first-rate restoration, but she’s a beauty.’


[T]he Ahrens-Fox fire engine [gleamed] under a bright sun. The sterling valves and silver pump were a blinding reflection, the . . . red paint shined brightly enhanced by a golden script throughout the body.”

1919 Locomobile Model 48, 6 Fender Town Car –– One of the finest cars of its time, the Locomobile is best associated with its solid bronze crankcase.

In 1905, designer Andrew Riker began designing new gasoline-powered cars in the new factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Debuting in 1911, the Model 48 remained in production until the marque ended in 1922. Today, they are very rare.


The renowned Demarest Company of New York provided the coachwork for the Cusslers’ “six-fender” vehicle. The coachwork was triple the price of an open car.

“The exotic six fender treatment has a wonderful carriage-like feel, and the crisp brougham sides on the body show off the builder’s skill and flair,” Janet says, noting that the six fenders were incorporated to protect womens’ flowing skirts from mud. “This was the pinnacle of hand-built custom coachwork, quality and styling of the era.”

In 2012, the couple purchased it at an auction in Greenwich, Connecticut; Janet is a native of nearby Fairfield. “This was one of the few Clive and I disagreed on,” she says, “but, after a little persuasion, Clive could just see Mae West emerging from this elegant carriage to the waiting hand of Cary Grant.”

1937 Cord 812 Sportsman Coupé –– Is this the most beautiful vehicle ever? Some believe the car developed by Gordon Buehrig, with its enclosed radiator, front-opening coffin-nose and pontoon fenders, is.

Just a small number of 810s and 812s were built. The convertible coupé, the Sportsman, was the rarest, with only 195 manufactured, just 64 with superchargers, including this one.

The 812 Cord won its class at the 1937 Gilmore–Yosemite Economy Run, exceeding 18 miles per gallon. The great racer, Ab Jenkins (1883–1956), also won the 1937 coveted Stevens Trophy by covering 1,900 miles, averaging almost 80 mph, in one. And, in an 812 sedan, he established 36 closed stock car unlimited class records on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Janet explains.

In 2006, RM Restoration completed its work, and the car promptly won its class at the Pebble Beach Concours the following year. “After an exciting drama during a spirited classic car auction, Clive finally won out and took the car home,” Janet recalls.

1954 Jaguar XK120 Roadster –– When the XK 120 debuted in 1948, it could attain 120-miles per hour, making this the fastest production car until 1954 when the Mercedes-Benz Gullwing supplanted it.

The straight-6 dual overhead aluminum engine outputted 160 horses in standard form and 180 in the modified model, which made an impressive 0 to 60 in 10 seconds.

Clive, though, had the engine upgraded to a 3.8 liter and the carburetors to triple SUs, as found on E-Types. “No Ferrari, no Lamborghini, no Ford Cobra ever had an exhaust sound that could rival the 120,” she says. “The blast from the twin tailpipes is unique. No car ever built has the rumbling, ratty tone of the 120.

“This car is a sentimental favorite,” she recalls. “Clive courted me in this car in 2005. We would go out, and windows in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley would rattle a few streets away.”

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