JACKSON TWP.: Not many folks change their own oil anymore.
Fewer still are women.
And I’ll bet you a week’s pay there’s not another woman on the planet who continues to change her own oil at the age of 102.
Meet Margaret Dunning of Plymouth, Mich.
I’m serious. Born in 1910. Still sharp. Still spunky. Still crawling around under the hood with a funnel and an oil pan.
Of course, this is no ordinary car. It’s her baby, a 1930 Packard 740 Roadster.
She bought it back in ’49 when it was in sad shape. Four upholstery jobs and 22 coats of hand-rubbed lacquer later, it became the first vehicle to be awarded a perfect 100-point score by the Classic Car Club of America.
Dunning is exhibiting her gem today at the 18th annual Glenmoor Gathering of Significant Automobiles at Glenmoor Country Club. You can get up close and personal with it and 250 other rare and unusual vehicles from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The fact that she’s a generation older than her 82-year-old automobile merely amuses her.
“I love the old cars,” she says Saturday afternoon, seated in front of her stately Packard. “I love the smell of gasoline. It runs in my veins.”
Dunning not only changes the oil, she says, but the spark plugs as well.
She started driving at the age of 8 on her family’s big dairy and potato farm west of Detroit.
She suffered her first crash at the age of 10. She was cruising around in her dad’s Overland touring car when she couldn’t quite navigate a turn and bumped into the barn.
“I’m a little short,” she says. “I tried to put on the brakes and I couldn’t. That was a disturbing development in our family.”
“My father never spanked me. He never said a word. He just said, ‘Well, just get out.’ ”
Other than a bruised ego, the damage was minor. The barn suffered the worst of it, a broken board.
Since then, Dunning has experienced few accidents, all of them fender-benders. But apparently she has run up her share of speeding tickets.
“I have lead in my feet,” she jokes.
“It disturbs the policemen very badly, but it doesn’t bother me at all.”
If you haven’t already noticed, Dunning is a hoot. A regal-looking woman with thick white hair and penetrating eyes, she is witty, engaging and razor sharp.
On Saturday, with friends encouraging her to assume various positions for photographers, she bounds up onto the running board of the Packard, then steps smoothly back down before seating herself on the board as instructed.
Although she owns a number of other collector cars, the Packard is by far her favorite.
“The lines of a Packard car are very artistic as far as I’m concerned. My family drove Packards, and I was very proud of the fact. I guess I got indoctrinated,” she says.
She still drives her Packard occasionally, but not as often as in recent years. What wears her down is not so much shifting the manual 4-speed transmission but turning the enormous steering wheel.
Her everyday car is a 2003 Cadillac.
Mind you, this woman has had a driver’s license for 90 years. Got her first one at the age of 12.
Really. Her father died that year, and her mother, who didn’t drive, needed someone who could. The family was politically connected, and Mom was able to wrangle a license for little Margaret.
It was a good life, growing up on the farm. She had some interesting neighbors, too. Henry Ford’s family lived only a few miles away.
“I’m proud to say I [also] lived very near the Gleasons,” Dunning says.
The head of the Gleason family, John, was universally referred to by the neighborhood kids as “Grandpa Gleason.”
“He hired Henry Ford as a very young man to come and run his steam engine. I understand Henry Ford acquired his mechanical knowledge for internal combustion engines from his stint with Grandpa Gleason.”
Ford never forgot his roots, Dunning says.
“Even after he became quite famous, he would like to go back to his childhood haunts. He would stop in at the Gleasons and the Dunnings. ...
“He was a very kind man, very much of a gentleman and very interested in the young people of the community. He did a lot for the young engineers. He loved, as he would say, the ‘raw recruits.’ ”
Dunning never married. She enrolled at the University of Michigan, but dropped out during the Depression to help at her mom’s real estate company.
Later, she was a success in banking and retail.
After her mother died in 1957, Dunning built a library for the town in her honor. She also has given more than $1 million to the Plymouth Historical Museum.
“I’ve had a very interesting life in this old world,” she says.
“My mother kept telling me what a beautiful old world this is, and as I gain a few years, I realize what she was talking about, because each year I see more beauty in the things that I observe.”
Takes one to know one.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.