A passion for Packards connects Viera couple to local Lions Club


Ken and Paula Hayden show off a scale model of a 1953 Packard Caribbean in their Viera home.

photo by Mary Brotherton

Ken Hayden’s father was a Packard man until the day he died.

“He worked at the plant six days a week, 10 to 12 hours every day. After church on Sundays, he and his friend sat at our table and talked about Packards for the rest of the day,” Ken Hayden said. “I grew up hearing about how the Packard compared to a Rolls Royce or a Düsseldorf.”

If the Packard Motor Car Company had remained in business long enough, Hayden would have probably worked for them. Instead he worked his way from the assembly line to management at Chrysler before retiring. 

He spent many days driving past what had been the Packard Proving Ground in Shelby Township in Michigan without realizing it. The 600-acre test facility had been dormant for more than three decades until Hilary Davis and other Shelby historians took steps to resurrect as much of the property as possible and turn it into a national historic site.A model Packard sits atop a certified piece of the Packard Motor Car Company assembly floor that was auctioned off to help restore the national historic site known as the Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Township, Mich. The model is part of the Hayden’s collection of Packard memorabilia.

That’s where Hayden became involved. He read a call for volunteers to work with the Packard Motor Car Foundation and jumped at the opportunity to be involved. He spent his early years of retirement as the building and grounds chairman of the nonprofit organization. 

“My dad drilled his love for Packards into me,” Hayden said, “so when I heard the historical society was going to make a museum of what was left, I knew I had to get involved.”

His wife, Paula Hayden said, “I was impressed by how instrumental the Shelby Township Lions Club was in helping restore the Proving Grounds. They worked hard to help.”

When the couple moved permanently to Viera in 2014, due to Ken’s disabilities that limit his work at the historical site, they decided to join the Viera Lions Club even though they had not been involved in Lions Clubs in Michigan.

“We can’t work like we did at the Packard Proving Grounds, but we can find a way to help here, through the Lions Club,” Ken Hayden said. “It just feels like the perfect place for us to be. Besides, they seem to like hearing me talk about Packards.”

To talk with Ken Hayden about Packards, email him at hayden2007@cfl.rr.com

Packard Motor Car Foundation

The Packard Motor Car Foundation was created in 1997 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of products, history and properties of the Packard Motor Car Company. 

The first project of the foundation was the restoration of the Packard Proving Grounds historic site, which was built in 1927 at a cost of more than $1 million. 

The Packard Proving Grounds was a test facility for Packard, innovators of the steering wheel and other automotive and aviation firsts. 

The Packard Proving Grounds was home to the fastest and safest test track of the early 20th century. At the time of its closing, the site had no fatalities or serious injuries. In 1928, Leon Duray set the world land record for speed, which he maintained until 1938.

Packard’s Proving Grounds employed the best engineers and used the latest technology for testing cars and airplanes. During World War II, Chrysler leased space at the grounds to test tanks.

The Chrysler Building has been renamed the Arsenal of Defense Museum and will showcase Chrysler and Packard’s collaboration.

In an effort to keep up with Detroit’s “Big Three” auto makers, Packard merged with Studebaker in 1954, but in 1958, the Packard brand was phased out. 

After several owners, the Ford Land Development Corporation bought the property and eventually redeveloped the majority of the acreage into residential property. After extensive negotiations, Ford donated seven acres and sold seven acres to the Packard Motor Car Foundation so the site could be turned into a national historical site.

When Dutch elm disease wiped out 80 majestic trees on the Packard Proving Grounds in the 1960s, the property was already on its way to neglect. The Elms of Honor program was a project that allowed donors to purchase disease-resistant elms to be placed in the exact locations as the original landscape. 

To donate or learn about donor naming options, go to packardmotorfdn.org