Hobbyists restore a classic 1938 Packard and a vintage 1935 airplane to their glory days

Bay City’s James Clements Airport has incredible history and big plans in store. Inside its hangars, gentlemen such as Mark Staudacher and Andrew Kolak put time into their passions to keep history alive.

At the airport, Staudacher has restored a rare piece of aviation history: a 1935 WACO YOC Custom Cabin ‘sesquiplane’ — where the lower wings are smaller than the upper wings. Fellow pilot Kolak has changed his focus from airplanes to restoring classic cars, including a 1938 Packard Victoria V12 convertible 3-speed.

Mark Staudacher restored this 1935 WACO YOC Custom Cabin sesquiplane. ​​​​​​​Sesquiplane at James Clements Airport is one of only two still flying.

For 30 years, Staudacher worked as Airplane Maintenance Manager for Dow Chemical’s corporate jets at MBS International Airport.

“It’s a little different than what I do here,” he says.

Much of the interior is new, but Staudacher built the instrument panel to be correct for the period.Staudacher is an avid pilot and participant in fly-ins including the Reunion at Wynkoop, the WACO Museum Fly-In, The Antique Airplane Association, and OshKosh. He is also a member of the National WACO Club.

Despite working with private jets, he’s always had an eye for classics. His sesquiplane is one of 50 built in 1935.

The plane is one of 50 built in 1935.“To this day there’s two of these flying, I know there are others in restoration but not a lot of them survived,” he says.

During World War II, WACO built gliders that carried troops, Jeeps, and artillery equipment.WACO, pronounced ‘wah-co’, was formed in Troy, OH in 1920 by George E. “Buck” Weaver where the name originates — Weaver Aircraft Co (WACO). WACO was a pre-World War II era company known for its unique designs and varieties of civilian biplanes.

The plane is a distinct yellow now, but Staudacher believes it was originally dark blue.During WWII, WACO constructed gliders that were towed behind C-47s. Once cut free of the C-47s, troops landed them as best they could and continued on foot. Some carried Jeeps and artillery equipment, and saw action in the Sicily Campaign, Operation Market Garden, and D-Day.

The steering wheels are original to the plane.After WWII, manufacturers switched to private markets and a surplus of low-cost aircraft made WACO’s designs seem uneconomical. More history here.

Staudacher’s WACO comes with glamorous history of its own.

WACO was a pre-World War II era company known for its unique designs and varieties of civilian biplanes.“This particular airplane was built for a Hollywood movie agent by the name of Leland Hayward,” he says. “He had a lot of pretty big-name actors and actresses that he was an agent for.”

Staudacher used a 'feathered wing' pattern for the stitches on the interior. The featured wing pattern was standard for WACO.Leland was an aviation enthusiast, and participated in the Ruth Chatterton Air Derby, part of the 1935 National Air Races, sponsored by actress and pilot Ruth Chatterton.

The plane is belted for four people.One of his clients and fellow aviation enthusiast, Jimmy Stewart, flew with Leland from California to Cleveland following the race route and finished in 6th place. Interestingly, Staudacher’s documents state the WACO was built on Aug. 17, 1935—just days before the race.

In 1935, Hollywood agent Leland Hayward and legendary actor Jimmy Stewart flew the plane from California to Cleveland.“It turns out that Leland was the producer of the movie Spirit of St. Louis,” Staudacher says. “When you add that all up and you know that here is Leland producing the movie and it stars Jimmy Stewart, all the sudden it makes sense.”

The WACO later found itself in Guatemala where it may have been used as military transport, Staudacher adds.

Staudacher found the plane in Harrison and had it brought to Bay City so he could restore it.In the mid-2000s, Staudacher noticed an ad in Trade-A-Plane for this WACO YOC.

“It was in Harrison, Michigan which just really shocked me,” he says. “I didn’t know there was an airplane that close.”

When he went to see it, he discovered it had some damage. But he was determined to see it fly. In 2011, he purchased it and ferried it to Bay City.

Of the 50 of these planes built in 1935, Staudacher only knows of two still flying.“The instrument panel, all that stuff wasn’t there, and what was there wasn’t in very good shape, so basically everything you see on the inside is new,” he says. “The instrument panel has a real wood paneled veneer, so it’s more or less period correct.” The steering wheels are original to the plane.

Staudacher bought the plane in 2011.The plane is belted for four people, and a fifth could fit for a tight squeeze. The leather seats are based on the original WACO drawings he adds.

“The headliner is broadcloth, and the sidewalls are cloth with a sew pattern that was used in that model of airplane by WACO,” Staudacher says. “It’s called a feathered wing, which is the WACO deal, and it was a standard sew pattern for their cabin airplane.”

A previous owner loved Tweety Bird. Out of respect, Staudacher kept a hand-drawn rendering of the cartoon character on the plane.Although yellow, Staudacher speculates it was originally dark blue based on an old photo he has, however the current design is based on an original paint scheme. A noticeable detail is the Tweety Bird painted on the tail by a previous owner.

Staudacher keeps a stuffed Sylvester the Cat in the cockpit to match Tweety Bird on the tail.“He and his wife seemed to really have a thing about Tweety Bird,” he says. “I think he hand painted that Tweety on the tail.” Out of respect, Tweety stays. Staudacher also keeps a stuffed Sylvester the Cat in the cockpit.

One distinctive characteristic of the sesquiplane is the lower wings are smaller than the upper wings.“For traveling, it’s really nice,” he says. “I’ll leave real early in the morning to try and stay in the smooth air and boy, I’ll tell ya what, it’s so nice flying that thing a lot about 1,000 feet above the ground with the window rolled down and just watching the countryside go by.”

The front fenders, hood and grille were built by Packard.1939 Packard is one of only nine in existence

Across the taxiway is Saginaw Steering Gear veteran Kolak. He retired at 50 and has tinkered on projects ever since.

“I built four airplanes, I’ve since sold them all,” he says.

Packard was a legendary American luxury car brand throughout much of the 20th Century.Kolak built a Starduster Too that is still in Michigan, a reproduction Piper Cub J3 that is now in California, and two reproduction WACOs based on the 1929 and 1932 factory drawings from the Smithsonian Institution.

For security, Kolak doesn't publicize where he stores the car.Now, Kolak works only on cars: a 1973 Plymouth Barracuda for nice days, and a late 1950s/early 1960s sprint car for dirt tracks.

The car is drivable, but Kolak says it's too valuable to take on the road.But his third car — kept at an undisclosed location — is a rarity amongst rarities: A 1938 Packard Victoria V12 convertible 3-speed. It is one of 11 models built in this body style for 1938-39, with nine still in existence.

The interior was upholstered by Mark Larder of Homer, Michigan and features European rawhide.According to Kolak, the front fenders, hood and grille were built by Packard. The rear fender and the body were consigned to a custom coach builder. “It was titled as a Packard because 75% of the car is Packard parts,” he says.

This special model went to top Packard dealerships in major cities. Kolak says this one was on display in Detroit.Packard Motor Car Company was established in Warren, Ohio by the Packard brothers in 1902. Before automobiles, they founded Packard Electric Company in 1890. In 1899, the first Packard automobile was built inside one of their subsidiary plants. By 1903, they moved to Detroit. Packard become a legendary American luxury car brand throughout much of the 20th Century. More history here.

The 1938 Packard Victoria V12 convertible 3-speed is one of 11 models built in this body style for 1938-39, with nine still in existence. Kolak purchased the car from former State Sen. Joel Gougeon of Gougeon Brothers eight years ago.

“I ended up looking at the rarity of it, doing some research online, found out just how rare a car it was, so I ended up buying it from him,” Kolak says.

“He (Gougeon) comes over occasionally to check on the progress, and he just wanted to see it stay in the neighborhood.”

The V12 makes this Packard stand out. Most came with a straight-8, and were set aside for the sportier or convertible models, Kolak says. This Victoria weighs 6,000 pounds and needs extra power. To fuel it, Kolak uses 100 octane aviation fuel.

This special model went to top Packard dealerships in major cities. Kolak adds his Packard was on display at the Detroit showroom, but he could not find information about the original owner.

This Victoria weighs 6,000 pounds and needs extra power. To fuel it, Kolak uses 100 octane aviation fuel.Once, while attending the Concours d’ Elegance at The Inn At St. John’s, Kolak met Ralph Morano of Morano & Sons Auto Sales, Inc., who has appeared on Discovery Channel’s Chasing Classic Cars. According to his IMDB page, he has one of the largest Packard collections in the world.

Features include cigarette lighters and ashtrays on each side of the interior, and a cigar lighter in the dashboard. Kolak had a brief discussion with him to which Morano was amazed at what he had.

“I ask what he’s got, and he says ‘Well, I got 97 of them,’ I said ‘You got 97 Packards?!’ and he says ‘But I don’t have a 1938 Victoria!’”

'I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I get a project like that done,' Kolak says. 'I enjoy the process. I think it’s a real sense of pride. Not everybody can do this.'In total, the restoration took Kolak six years. Features include cigarette lighters and ashtrays on each side of the interior, and a cigar lighter in the dashboard. The interior was upholstered by Mark Larder of Homer, Michigan and features European rawhide.

Kolak says he may eventually consign the car to a museum.“I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I get a project like that done,” he says. “I enjoy the process. I think it’s a real sense of pride. Not everybody can do this.”

The front fenders, hood and grille were built by Packard. The rear fender and the body were consigned to a custom coach builder. Although 100% drivable, he does not plan on driving it. “It’s simply irreplaceable, too valuable,” he says.

Kolak bought the car from former State Sen. Joel Gougeon about eight years ago.Kolak would like to haul it to the Inn At St. John’s and Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance before parting ways with it. Ultimately, he may consign the car to a museum someday.