Most classic car collectors are significantly younger than the wheeled beauties in their garages. So, we here at E3 Spark Plugs give serious props to Plymouth, Michigan’s Margaret Dunning – a feisty but friendly centenarian who loves tooling around town in her mint condition 1930 Packard 740 Roadster.
At 102 years old, Dunning has been driving longer than most of us have been alive. She first got behind the wheel at age eight and landed her driver’s license at 12, which means she’s been legally on the road for 90 years.
“I love the old cars,” she says. “I love the smell of gasoline. It runs in my veins.”
Dunning’s love for all things automotive began early and had a touch of an ulterior motive.
“I’m just a farm girl, and my dad had a lot of machinery, and I adored my dad,” Dunning told reporters at the Concours d’Elegance in Plymouth recently. “I became familiar with the tools, because the minute I said I didn’t know what I was looking for, he’d say, ‘Go back to the house.’”
The Dunning family’s sprawling potato and dairy farm was just down the road from the home of Henry Ford, a neighbor and friend who would pop in for some conversation and huckleberry pie. Dunning no doubt learned a lot from Mr. Ford, especially after her father passed away and she inherited his Model T Ford.
“If you had just a little knowledge and some baling wire and bob pins, you could keep the thing going,” she said of the Model T. “It was the little car that made America.”
Dunning’s politically connected mother had arthritic feet, so she finagled a driver’s license for the precocious preteen, much to the chagrin of a few proper-folk locals.
“I’d see a few friends or race past a blind pig,” she said (“Blind pig” was the term used for Prohibition-era drinking establishments). “Before I could get home, people would be calling saying, ‘I think I just saw Margaret, with quite a dust pile behind her.’”
Today’s paved roads mean the billowing dust pile has been replaced with the occasional flashing blue lights. Dunning’s had a few fender benders and, admittedly, has a rap sheet of speeding tickets.
“I have lead in my feet,” she says. “It disturbs the policemen very badly, but it doesn’t bother me at all.”
Dunning purchased her Packard in 1949 and completely restored it, including four interior upholstery renovations and 22 coats of hand-rubbed lacquer. Over the past few years, she and her beloved Packard have been making the rounds of swank auto shows. She also owns a 1966 Cadillac DeVille, a ’75 Cadillac Eldorado convertible and a 1931 Model A. And she still tinkers under the hood, changing the oil and spark plugs herself when she’s able.
“Before old age overtook me, I could scoot under the car very nicely,” she said.