Gear Head Tuesday – Peter Portugal’s Packards

Gear Head

Packard El Paso - Peter Portugal

Above: The original Packard El Paso station wagon built for Carl Schneider by Peter Portugal of Eureka, CA. (The photo above was provided by the photographer.) The “El Paso” shown last week (below) was not built by Peter Portugal, but was built in the style of Portugal’s original El Paso.

Packard El Paso - side

Eureka, California is a small city on the Pacific coast in the far reaches of Northern California, not far from the border with Oregon. Eureka is the principal city and county seat of Humboldt County in the Redwood Empire region of California. The city is located on U.S. Route 101 on the shores of Humboldt Bay, some 270 miles north of San Francisco. The population of the city is just over 27,000. Eureka was founded during the California Gold Rush. During the Gold Rush years, many people who settled in and around Eureka were involved in cutting the plentiful surrounding redwoods into lumber, much of which was shipped south along the coast to help build San Francisco. A shipyard in Eureka built 113 lumber schooners for this purpose.



One of the lumber barons of the Redwood Empire was William Carson. He and his wife Sarah had a magnificent Victorian home built in Eureka as a wedding present for their son, John. This home is considered to be the most magnificent Victorian constructed in the U.S. and is the most photographed house in the U.S.

Carson House, Eureka

The Queen Anne style Victorian Carson House in Eureka is the most photographed home in the U.S.

Eureka is home today for an extraordinary craftsman of customized cars, Peter Portugal. Peter’s twin sister, Pam, described how Peter came to build custom cars:

“When we were 10 years old, my twin brother … modified our long-outgrown tricycles. He took them apart and put them back together with the chassis upside-down. Suddenly we had long, low, hot-looking vehicles with plenty of leg room, more interesting than our customary bicycles. All the kids in the neighborhood brought their old tricycles for Peter to modify, and we held a series of hilarious tricycle races.

Portugal has been modifying vehicles ever since. As a preteen, he rebuilt a couple of scooters and a motor bike. When he was 14, he rescued a Model A Ford that had been sitting in a meadow for many years. By the time he was old enough to get his driver’s license, the Model A was running great and looking beautiful.

While still in high school, he restored a 1932 Chrysler and sold it at a good profit. Our parents convinced him to study architecture at Cal Poly, because he is a genius at visualizing how things will fit together. But his passion has always been cars.

In the 1990s, he designed and built a classic-style sports car, using redwood from a fallen tree in his back yard for most of the body. That car, the Dolphin, was the star of many automobile shows, and was featured in magazines and on TV.

Portugal was commissioned by Carl Schneider, a car dealer and Packard classic-car race driver based in Eureka, to envision and build classic automobiles that Packard might have produced as one-offs.”

The result of this is a retractable hardtop convertible built on a 122″ wheelbase Packard “Junior” chassis and two customs built on Packard’s 127″ wheelbase “Senior” chassis, a Pinin Farina-style Grand Touring coupé and the El Paso station wagon. The retractable hardtop was christened “Pacifica” (not to be confused with the production Packard Pacific hardtop of 1954). The Grand Touring coupé was labeled “Parisian.” Note that the European influence extends to the fact that the “Parisian” is shod with black wall tires rather than the American-style white walls so popular in the ’50s.

Below: the “Pacifica”

Packard Pacifica-top down

Packard Pacifica


Below: the “Parisian”

Packard Parisian



Schneider’s daughter drafted an “advertisement” for the three custom Packards, done in the style common in the early ’50s. (I regret that I only have this grainy image which doesn’t do the “ad” justice, however, I was able to get higher resolution images of the Pacifica and El Paso portions of the “ad.”)

Packard Pacifica-Parisian-El_Paso

Packard El Paso ad

Packard Pacifica

Visit Peter Portugal’s website to see other cars – including several more Packards – he has built.


Add yours →

  1. Now that is design talent. Those are some beautiful vehicles. This was some kind of crafting! Talk about customizing!! WOW!
    Good one my friend, good one@!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Lawrence 16/08/2017 — 08:17

    Recall seeing the “Parisian” at a concours in Northern California some years ago. It may have been at Pebble Beach, but I am not certain of this. Regardless, it is a most attractive automobile. I would love to see this car without the fender skirts. Thanks for sharing. JWL

    Liked by 1 person

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