Packard was an American luxury automobile marque built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, United States. The first Packard automobiles were produced in 1899, and the last true Packard in 1956, when they built the Packard Predictor, their last concept car.
Packard was founded by James Ward Packard, his brother William, and their partner, George Lewis Weiss, in the city of Warren, Ohio, where 400 Packard automobiles were built at their factory on Dana Street Northeast, from 1899 to 1903. A mechanical engineer, James Packard believed they could build a better horseless carriage than the Winton cars owned by Weiss, an important Winton stockholder, after Packard complained to Alexander Winton and offered suggestions for improvement, which were ignored; Packard's first car was built in Warren, Ohio, on November 6, 1899.
Henry Bourne Joy, a member of one of Detroit's oldest and wealthiest families, bought a Packard. Impressed by its reliability, he visited the Packards and soon enlisted a group of investors—including Truman Handy Newberry and Russell A. Alger Jr. On October 2, 1902, this group refinanced and renamed the New York and Ohio Automobile Company as the Packard Motor Car Company, with James Packard as president. Alger later served as vice president. Packard moved operations to Detroit soon after, and Joy became general manager (and later chairman of the board). An original Packard, reputedly the first manufactured, was donated by a grateful James Packard to his alma mater, Lehigh University, and is preserved there in the Packard Laboratory. Another is on display at the Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio.
In the beginning, all Packards had a single-cylinder engine until 1903. Packard vehicles featured innovations, including the modern steering wheel and, years later, the first production 12-cylinder engine, adapted from developing the Liberty L-12, and air-conditioning in a passenger car. Packard produced its "Twin Six" model series of 12-cylinder cars from 1915 to 1923.
While the Black Motor Company's Black went as low as $375, Western Tool Works' Gale Model A roadster was $500, the high-volume Oldsmobile Runabout went for $650, and the Cole 30 and Cole Runabout were US$1,500, Packard concentrated on cars with prices starting at $2,600. The marque developed a following among wealthy purchasers both in the United States and abroad, competing with European marques like Rolls-Royce and Mercedes Benz.
The 3,500,000-square-foot (330,000 m2) Packard plant on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit was located on over 40 acres (16 ha) of land. Designed by Albert Kahn Associates, it included the first use of reinforced concrete for industrial construction in Detroit and was considered the most modern automobile manufacturing facility in the world when opened in 1903. Its skilled craftsmen practiced over 80 trades. The dilapidated plant still stands, despite repeated fires. The factory is in close proximity to the current General Motors Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly, which was the former site of the Dodge Vehicle factory from 1910 until 1980. Architect Kahn also designed the Packard Proving Grounds at Utica, Michigan.
From this beginning, through and beyond the 1930s, Packard-built vehicles were perceived as highly competitive among high-priced luxury American automobiles. The company was commonly referred to as being one of the "Three Ps" of American motordom royalty, along with Pierce-Arrow of Buffalo, New York and Peerless of Cleveland, Ohio. For most of its history, Packard was guided by its President and General Manager James Alvan Macauley, who also served as President of the National Automobile Manufacturers Association. Inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame, Macauley made Packard the number one designer and producer of luxury automobiles in the United States. The marque was also highly competitive abroad, with markets in 61 countries. Gross income for the company was $21,889,000 in 1928. Macauley was also responsible for the iconic Packard slogan, "Ask the Man Who Owns One".
In the 1920s, Packard exported more cars than any other in its price class, and in 1930, sold almost twice as many abroad as any other marque priced over $2000. In 1931, 10 Packards were owned by Japan's royal family. Between 1924 and 1930, Packard was also the top-selling luxury brand.
In addition to excellent luxury cars, Packard built trucks. A Packard truck carrying a three-ton load drove from New York City to San Francisco between 8 July and 24 August 1912. The same year, Packard had service depots in 104 cities.
By 1931, Packards were also being produced in Canada.
Entering the 1930s, Packard attempted to beat the stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression by manufacturing ever more opulent and expensive cars than it had prior to October 1929. While the Eight five-seater sedan had been the company's top-seller for years, the Twin Six, designed by Vincent, was introduced for 1932, with prices starting at $3,650 at the factory gate; in 1933, it would be renamed the Packard Twelve, a name it retained for the remainder of its run (through 1939). Also in 1931, Packard pioneered a system it called Ride Control, which made the hydraulic shock absorbers adjustable from within the car. For one year only, 1932, Packard fielded an upper-medium-priced car, the Light Eight, at a base price of $1,750, or $735 less than the standard Eight.
As an independent automaker, Packard did not have the luxury of a larger corporate structure absorbing its losses, as Cadillac did with GM and Lincoln with Ford. However, Packard did have a better cash position than other independent luxury marques. Peerless ceased production in 1932, changing the Cleveland manufacturing plant from producing cars to brewing beer for Carling Black Label Beer. By 1938, Franklin, Marmon, Ruxton, Stearns-Knight, Stutz, Duesenberg, and Pierce-Arrow had all closed.
Packard also had one other advantage that some other luxury automakers did not: a single production line. By maintaining a single line and interchangeability between models, Packard was able to keep its costs down. Packard did not change cars as often as other manufacturers did at the time. Rather than introducing new models annually, Packard began using its own "Series" formula for differentiating its model changeovers in 1923. New model series did not debut on a strictly annual basis, with some series lasting nearly two years, and others lasting as short a time as seven months. In the long run, though, Packard averaged around one new series per year. By 1930, Packard automobiles were considered part of its Seventh Series. By 1942, Packard was in its Twentieth Series. The "Thirteenth Series" was omitted.
To address the Depression, Packard started producing more affordable cars in the medium-price range. In 1935, the company introduced its first car under $1000, the 120. Sales more than tripled that year and doubled again in 1936. To produce the 120, Packard built and equipped an entirely separate factory. By 1936, Packard's labor force was divided nearly evenly between the high-priced "Senior" lines (Twelve, Super Eight, and Eight) and the medium-priced "Junior" models, although more than 10 times more Juniors were produced than Seniors. This was because the 120 models were built using thoroughly modern mass production techniques, while the Senior Packards used a great deal more hand labor and traditional craftsmanship. Although Packard almost certainly could not have survived the Depression without the highly successful Junior models, they did have the effect of diminishing the Senior models' exclusive image among those few who could still afford an expensive luxury car. The 120 models were more modern in basic design than the Senior models; for example, the 1935 Packard 120 featured independent front suspension and hydraulic brakes, features that would not appear on the Senior Packards until 1937.
Packard was still the premier luxury automobile, even though the majority of cars being built were the 120 and Super Eight model ranges. Hoping to catch still more of the market, Packard decided to issue the Packard 115C in 1937, which was powered by Packard's first six-cylinder engine since the Fifth Series cars in 1928. While the move to introduce the Six, priced at around $1200, was brilliant, for the car arrived just in time for the 1938 recession, it also tagged Packards as something less exclusive than they had been in the public's mind, and in the long run hurt Packard's reputation of building some of America's finest luxury cars. The Six, redesignated 110 in 1940–41, continued for three years after the war, with many serving as taxicabs.
In 1939, Packard introduced Econo-Drive, a kind of overdrive, claimed able to reduce engine speed 27.8%; it could be engaged at any speed over 30 mph (48 km/h). The same year, the company introduced a fifth, transverse shock absorber and made column shift (known as Handishift) available on the 120 and Six.
1941 saw the introduction of the new body shape of the Packard Clipper which set the style for most European cars of the 1950s.
In 1942, the Packard Motor Car Company converted to 100% war production. During World War II, Packard again built airplane engines, licensing the Merlin engine from Rolls-Royce as the V-1650, which powered the famous P-51 Mustang fighter, ironically known as the "Cadillac of the Skies" by GIs in WWII. Packard also built 1350-, 1400-, and 1500-hp V-12 marine engines for American PT boats (each boat used three) and some of Britain's patrol boats. Packard ranked 18th among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts.
By the end of the war in Europe, Packard Motor Car Company had produced over 55,000 combat engines. Sales in 1944 were $455,118,600. By May 6, 1945, Packard had a backlog on war orders of $568,000,000.
By the end of World War II, Packard was in excellent financial condition, but several management mistakes became ever more visible as time went on. Like other U.S. auto companies, Packard resumed civilian car production in late 1945, labelling them as 1946 models by modestly updating their 1942 models. As only tooling for the Clipper was at hand, the Senior-series cars were not rescheduled. One version of the story is that the Senior dies were left out in the elements to rust and were no longer usable. Another long-rumored tale is that Roosevelt gave Stalin the dies to the Senior series, but the ZiS-110 state limousines were a separate design.
Although the postwar Packards sold well, the ability to distinguish expensive models from lower-priced models disappeared as all Packards, whether sixes or eights, became virtually alike in styling. Further, amid a booming seller's market, management had decided to direct the company more to volume middle-class models, thus concentrating on selling lower-priced cars instead of more expensive—and more profitable—models. Worse, they also tried to enter the taxi cab and fleet car market. The idea was to gain volume for the years ahead, but that target was missed: Packard simply was not big enough to offer a real challenge to the Big Three, and lacked the deep pockets with which a parent company could shelter them, as well as the model lineup through which to spread the pricing.
As a result, Packard's image as a luxury brand was further eroded. As Packard lost buyers of expensive cars, it could not find enough customers for the lesser models to compensate. The shortage of raw materials immediately after the war—which was felt by all manufacturers—hurt Packard more with its volume business than it would have had it had focused on the specialty luxury car market.
The Clipper became outdated as the new envelope bodies started appearing, led by Studebaker and Kaiser-Frazer. Had they been a European car maker, this would have meant nothing; they could have continued to offer the classic shape not so different from the later Rolls-Royce with its vertical grill. Although Packard was in solid financial shape as the war ended, they had not sold enough cars to pay the cost of tooling for the 1941 design. While most automakers were able to come out with new vehicles for 1948–49, Packard could not until 1951. They therefore updated by adding sheet metal to the existing body (which added 200 lb (91 kg) of curb weight). Six-cylinder cars were dropped for the home market, and a convertible was added. These new designs hid their relationship to the Clipper. Even that name was dropped—for a while.
The design chosen was a "bathtub" type. While this was considered futuristic during the war and the concept was taken further with the 1949 Nash—and survived for decades in the Saab 92-96 in Europe—the 1948–1950 Packard styling was polarizing. To some it was sleek and blended classic with modern; others nicknamed it the "pregnant elephant". Test driver for Modern Mechanix, Tom McCahill, referred to the newly designed Packard as "a goat" and "a dowager in a Queen Mary hat". Despite a few detractors, most seemed to like the design. It won fashion and elegance awards, and more importantly for the company, it was very popular. Packard sold 92,000 vehicles for 1948 and 116,000 of the 1949 models leading the prestige class.
Packard outsold Cadillac until about 1950; most sales were the midrange volume models. During this time, Cadillac was among the earliest U.S. makers to offer an automatic transmission (the Hydramatic in 1941), but Packard caught up with the Ultramatic, offered on top models in 1949 and all models from 1950 onward.
Designed and built by Packard, the Ultramatic featured a lockup torque converter with two speeds. Early Ultramatics normally operated only in "high", with "low" having to be selected manually. Beginning in late 1954, it could be set to operate only in "high" or to start in "low" and automatically shift into "high".
The Ultramatic, the only automatic transmission developed by an independent car maker, was smoother than the GM Hydramatic. However, while the Ultramatic was competitive, Packard was not able to immediately respond to Cadillac's introduction of a powerful overhead valve V8 in 1949. Also, when a new body style was added in addition to standard sedans, coupes, and convertibles, Packard introduced a station wagon instead of a two-door hardtop in response to Cadillac's Coupe DeVille. The Station Sedan, a wagon-like body that was mostly steel, with good deal of decorative wood in the back; only 3,864 were sold over its three years of production. Although the Packards of the late 1940s and early 1950s were built in its old tradition with craftsmanship and the best materials, all was not well. The combination of the lower priced Packards leading sales and impacting the prestige of their higher end brethren and some questionable marketing decisions, Packard's crown as "king" of the luxury car market was at risk — and it would eventually be stolen by a rising Cadillac. In 1950, sales dropped to 42,000 cars for the model year. When Packard's president George T. Christopher set course for an evolutionary styling approach with a facelift for 1951, others wanted a radical new design. In the end, Christopher resigned and Packard treasurer Hugh Ferry became president - he demanded a new direction.
The 1951 Packards were completely redesigned. Designer John Reinhart introduced a high-waisted, more squared-off profile fitting the contemporary styling trends — very different from the traditional flowing design of the immediate postwar era. New styling features included a one-piece windshield, a wrap-around rear window, small tailfins on the long-wheelbase models, a full-width grill (replacing the traditional Packard upright design), and blunt "guideline fenders" with the hood and front fenders at the same height. The 122-inch (3,099 mm) wheelbase supported low-end 200-series standard and Deluxe two- and four-doors, and 250-series Mayfair hardtop coupes (Packard's first), and convertibles. Upmarket 300 and Patrician 400 models rode a 127-inch (3,226 mm) wheelbase. The 200-series models were again low-end models and now included a business coupe.
The 250, 300, and 400/Patricians were Packard's flagship models and comprised the majority of production for that year. The Patrician was now the top-shelf Packard, replacing the Custom Eight line. Original plans were to equip it with a 356 cu in (5.8 L) engine, but the company decided that sales would probably not be high enough to justify producing the larger, more expensive power plant, and so instead the debored 327 cu in (5.4 L) (previously the middle engine) was used instead. While the smaller powerplant offered nearly equal performance in the new Packards to that of the 356, the move was seen by some as further denigrating Packard's image as a luxury car.
Since 1951 was a quiet year with little new from the other auto manufacturers, Packard's redesigned lineup sold nearly 101,000 cars. The 1951 Packards were a quirky mixture of the modern (the automatic transmissions) and aging (still using flathead inline eights when OHV V8 engines were rapidly becoming the norm). No domestic car lines had OHV V8s in 1948, but by 1955, every car line offered a version. The Packard inline eight, despite being an older design that lacked the power of Cadillac's engines, was very smooth. When combined with an Ultramatic transmission, the drivetrain made for a nearly quiet and smooth experience on the road. However, it struggled to keep pace with the horsepower race. In May 1952, aging Packard president Hugh Ferry resigned and was succeeded by James J. Nance, a marketing specialist recruited from Hotpoint to turn the stagnant company around; its main factory on Detroit's East Grand Boulevard was operating at only 50% capacity. Nance worked to snag Korean War military contracts and turn around Packard's badly diluted image. He declared that from now on, Packard would cease producing midpriced cars and build only luxury models to compete with Cadillac. As part of this strategy, Nance unveiled a low-production (only 750 made) glamour model for 1953, the Caribbean convertible. Competing directly with the other novelty ragtops of that year (Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Fiesta, and Cadillac Eldorado), it was equally well received, and outsold its competition. However, overall sales declined in 1953. While the limited edition luxury models as the Caribbean convertible and the Patrician 400 Sedan, and the Derham custom formal sedan brought back some of the lost prestige from better days, the "high pocket" styling that had looked new two years earlier was no longer bringing people into the showrooms for the bread and butter Packards.
While American independent manufacturers like Packard did well during the early postwar period, supply had caught up with demand and by the early 1950s they were increasingly challenged as the "Big Three"—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—battled intensely for sales in the economy, medium-priced, and luxury markets. Those independents that remained alive in the early '50s, merged. In 1953, Kaiser merged with Willys to become Kaiser-Willys. Nash and Hudson became American Motors Corporation (AMC). The strategy for these mergers included cutting costs and strengthening their sales organizations to meet the intense competition from the Big Three.
In 1953–54, Ford and GM waged a brutal sales war, cutting prices and forcing cars on dealers. While this had little effect on either company, it gravely damaged the independent automakers. Nash president George Mason thus proposed that the four major independents (Nash, Hudson, Packard, and Studebaker) all merge into one large outfit to be named American Motors Corporation. Mason held informal discussions with Nance to outline his strategic vision, and an agreement was reached for AMC to buy Packard's Ultramatic transmissions and V8 engines, and they were used in 1955 Hudsons and Nashes.
Packard's last major development was the Bill Allison–invented Torsion-Level suspension, an electronically controlled four-wheel torsion-bar suspension that balanced the car's height front to rear and side to side, having electric motors to compensate each spring independently. Contemporary American competitors had serious difficulties with this suspension concept, trying to accomplish the same with air-bag springs before dropping the idea.
As of October 1, 1954 Packard Motor Car Company bought the failing Studebaker Corporation to form the US's fourth largest automobile company but without full knowledge of their circumstances or consideration of the financial implications. However, SPC's Nance refused to consider merging with AMC unless he could take the top command position (Mason and Nance were former competitors as heads of the Kelvinator and Hotpoint appliance companies, respectively), but Mason's grand vision of a Big Four American auto industry ended on October 8, 1954 with his sudden death from acute pancreatitis and pneumonia
A week after the death of Mason, the new president of AMC, George W. Romney, announced "there are no mergers under way either directly or indirectly". Nevertheless, Romney continued with Mason's commitment to buy components from SPC. Although Mason and Nance had previously agreed that SPC would purchase parts from AMC, it did not do so. Moreover, Packard's engines and transmissions were comparatively expensive, so AMC began development of its own V8 engine, and replaced the outsourced unit by mid-1956. Although Nash and Hudson merged along with Studebaker and Packard joining, The four-way merger Mason had hoped for, which would have joined Nash, Hudson, Studebaker and Packard, did not materialize. The S-P marriage (really a Packard buyout) proved to be a crippling mistake. Although Packard was still in fair financial shape, Studebaker was not, struggling with high overhead and production costs and needing the impossible figure of 250,000 cars a year to break even. Due diligence was placed behind "merger fever", and the deal was rushed. It became clear after the merger that Studebaker's deteriorating financial situation put Packard's survival at risk.
Nance had hoped for a total redesign in 1954, but the necessary time and money were lacking. Packard that year (total production 89,796) comprised the bread-and-butter Clipper line (the 250 series was dropped), Mayfair hardtop coupes and convertibles, and a new entry level long-wheelbase sedan named Cavalier. Among the Clippers was a novelty pillared coupe, the Sportster, styled to resemble a hardtop.
With time and money again lacking, 1954 styling was unchanged except for modified headlights and taillights, essentially trim items. A new hardtop named Pacific was added to the flagship Patrician series and all higher-end Packards sported a bored-out 359-cid engine. Air conditioning became available for the first time since 1942. Packard had introduced air conditioning in the 1930s. Clippers (which comprised over 80% of production) also got a hardtop model, Super Panama, but sales tanked, falling to only 31,000 cars.
The revolutionary new model Nance hoped for was delayed until 1955, partially because of Packard's merger with Studebaker. Packard stylist Richard A. Teague was called upon by Nance to design the 1955 line, and to Teague's credit, the 1955 Packard was indeed a sensation when it appeared. Not only was the body completely updated and modernized, but the suspension also was totally new, with torsion bars front and rear, along with an electric control that kept the car level regardless of load or road conditions. Crowning this stunning new design was Packard's brand new ultra-modern overhead-valve V8, displacing 352 cu in (5.8 l), replacing the old, heavy, cast-iron side-valve straight-eight that had been used for decades. In addition, Packard offered a variety of power, comfort, and convenience features, such as power steering and brakes as well as electric window lifts. But air conditioning was an anomaly. Although available on all makes by the mid-fifties, it was installed on only a handful of cars in 1955 and 1956 despite Packard's status as a luxury car. Model year sales only climbed back to 55,000 units in 1955, including Clipper, in what was a very strong year across the industry.
As the 1955 models went into production, an old problem flared up. Back in 1941, Packard had outsourced its bodies to Briggs Manufacturing Company. In December 1953, Briggs was sold to Chrysler, which notified Packard that they would need to find a new body supplier after the 1954 model year ended. Packard then leased a building on Conner Street and East Warren Avenue from Chrysler, and moved its body-making and final assembly there. The facility proved too small and caused endless tie-ups and quality problems. Bad quality control hurt the company's image and caused sales to plummet for 1956, though the problems had largely been resolved by that point. Additionally, a "brain drain" of talent away from Packard was underway, most notably John Z. DeLorean.
For 1956, the Clipper became a separate make, with Clipper Custom and Deluxe models available. Now the Packard-Clipper business model was a mirror to Lincoln-Mercury. "Senior" Packards were built in four body styles, each with a unique model name. Patrician was used for the four-door top of the line sedans, Four Hundred for the hardtop coupes, and Caribbean for the convertible and vinyl-roof two-door hardtop. In the spring of 1956, the Executive was introduced. Coming in a four-door sedan and a two-door hardtop, the Executive was aimed at the buyer who wanted a luxury car but could not justify Packard's pricing. It was an intermediate model using the Packard name and the Senior models' front end, but using the Clipper platform and rear fenders. This was to some confusing and went against what James Nance had been attempting for several years to accomplish, the separation of the Clipper line from Packard. However, as late as the cars' introduction to the market, was there was reasoning for in 1957 this car was to be continued. It then became a baseline Packard on the all-new 1957 Senior shell. Clippers would share bodies with Studebaker from 1957.
Despite the new 1955/56 design, Cadillac continued to lead the luxury market, followed by Lincoln, Packard, and Imperial. Reliability problems with the automatic transmission and all electrical accessories further eroded the public's opinion of Packard. Sales were good for 1955 compared to 1954. The year was also an industry banner year. Packard's sales slid in 1956 due to the fit and finish of the 1955 models, and mechanical issues relating to the new engineering features. These defects cost Packard millions in recalls and tarnished a newly won image just in its infancy.
For 1956, Teague kept the basic 1955 design, and added more styling touches to the body such as then−fashionable three toning. Headlamps hooded in a more radical style in the front fenders and a slight shuffling of chrome distinguished the 1956 models. "Electronic Push-button Ultramatic", which located transmission push buttons on a stalk on the steering column, proved trouble-prone, adding to the car's negative reputation, possibly soon to become an orphan. Model series remained the same, but the V8 was now enlarged to 374 cu in (6.1 L) for Senior series, the largest in the industry. In the top-of-the-line Caribbean, that engine produced 310 hp (230 kW). Clippers continued to use the 352 engine. There were plans for an all−new 1957 line of Senior Packards based on the showcar Predictor. Clippers and Studebakers would also share many inner and outer body panels. (A private presentation of this 1957 new-car program was made to Wall Street's investment bankers at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in January 1956.) These models were in many ways far advanced from what would be produced by any automaker other at the time, save Chrysler, which would soon feel public wrath for its own poor quality issues after rushing its all−new 1957 lines into production. Nance was dismissed and moved to Ford as the head of the new Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division. Although Nance tried everything, the company failed to secure funding for new retooling, forcing Packard to share Studebaker platforms and body designs. With no funding to retool for the advanced new models envisioned, SPC's fate was sealed; the large Packard was effectively dead in an executive decision to kill "the car we could not afford to lose". The last fully Packard-designed vehicle, a Patrician four-door sedan, rolled off the Conner Avenue assembly line on June 25, 1956.
In 1957, no more Packards were built in Detroit and the Clipper disappeared as a separate brand name. Instead, a Studebaker President–based car bearing the Packard Clipper nameplate appeared on the market, but sales were slow. Available in just two body styles, Town Sedan (four-door sedan) and Country Sedan (four-door station wagon), they were powered by Studebaker's 289 cu in (4.7 l) V8 with a McCulloch supercharger, delivering the same 275 hp (205 kW) as the 1956 Clipper Custom, although at higher revolutions. Borrowing design cues from the 1956 Clipper (visual in the grille and dash), with wheel covers, tail lamps, and dials from 1956 along with the Packard cormorant hood mascot and trunk chrome trim from 1955 senior Packards, the 1957 Packard Clipper was more than a badge-engineered Studebaker—but also far from a Patrician. Had the company been able to invest more money to finish the transformation and position the car under a senior line of "true Packards", it might have been a successful Clipper. However, standing alone the cars sold in very limited numbers—and a number of Packard dealers dropped their franchises while customers stayed away, despite huge price discounts, fearful of buying a car that could soon be an orphaned make. With the market flooded by inexpensive cars, minor automakers struggled to sell vehicles at loss leader prices to keep up with Ford and GM. Also, a general decline in demand for large cars heralded an industry switch to compact cars such as the Studebaker Lark.
Predictably, many Packard devotees were disappointed by the marque's perceived further loss of exclusivity and what they perceived as a reduction in quality. They joined competitors and media critics in christening the new models as "Packardbakers". The 1958 models were launched with no series name, simply as "Packard". New body styles were introduced, a two-door hardtop joined the four-door sedan. A new premier model appeared with a sporting profile: the Packard Hawk was based on the Studebaker Golden Hawk and featured a new nose and a fake spare wheel molded in the trunk lid reminiscent of the concurrent Imperial. The 1958 Packards were amongst the first in the industry to be "facelifted" with plastic parts. The housing for the new dual headlights and the complete fins were fiberglass parts grafted on Studebaker bodies. Very little chrome was on the lower front clip. Designer Duncan McRae managed to include the 1956 Clipper tail lights for one last time, this time in a fin, and under a canted fin, a wild—or to some bizarre—mixture. Added to the front of all but the Hawk were tacked on pods for dual headlights, in a desperate attempt to keep up with late-1950s styling cues. All Packards were given 14 in (36 cm) wheels to lower the profile. The public reaction was predictable and sales were almost nonexistent. The Studebaker factory was older than Packard's Detroit plant, with higher production requirements, which added to dipping sales. A new compact car on which the company staked its survival, the Lark, was a year away, and failed to sell in sufficient numbers to keep the marque afloat. Several makes were discontinued around this time: Packard, Edsel, Hudson, Nash, DeSoto, and Kaiser. Not since the 1930s had so many makes disappeared, and it wouldn't be until the automotive industry crisis of 2008–10 that so many makes would be dropped at the same time again.
During the 1950s, a number of "dream cars" were built by Packard in an attempt to keep the marque alive in the imaginations of the American car-buying public. Included in this category are the 1952 Pan American that led to the production Caribbean and the Panther (also known as Daytona), based on a 1954 platform. Shortly after the introduction of the Caribbean, Packard showed a prototype hardtop called the Balboa. It featured a reverse-slanted rear window that could be lowered for ventilation, a feature introduced in a production car by Mercury in 1957 and still in production in 1966.
The Request was based on the 1955 Four Hundred hardtop, but featured a classic upright Packard fluted grille reminiscent of the prewar models. In addition, the 1957 engineering mule "Black Bess" was built to test new features for a future car. This car had a resemblance to the 1958 Edsel. It featured Packard's return to a vertical grill. This grill was very narrow with the familiar ox-yoke shape that was characteristic for Packard, and with front fenders with dual headlights resembling Chrysler products from that era. The engineering mule Black Bess was destroyed by the company shortly after the Packard plant was shuttered. Of the 10 Requests built, only four were sold off the showroom floor.
Richard A. Teague also designed the last Packard show car, the Predictor. This hardtop coupe's design followed the lines of the planned 1957 cars. It had many unusual features, among them a roof section that opened either by opening a door or activating a switch, well ahead of later T-tops. The car had seats that rotated out, allowing the passenger easy access, a feature later used on some Chrysler and GM products. The Predictor also had the opera windows, or portholes, found on concurrent Thunderbirds. Other novel ideas were overhead switches—these were in the production Avanti—and a dash design that followed the hood profile, centering dials in the center console area. This feature has only recently been used on production cars. The Predictor survives and is on display at the Studebaker National Museum section of the Center for History in South Bend, Indiana.
One unusual prototype, the Studebaker-Packard Astral, was made in 1957 and first unveiled at the South Bend Art Centre on January 12, 1958, and then at the March 1958 Geneva Motor Show. It had a single gyroscopic balanced wheel and the publicity data suggested it could be nuclear powered or have what the designers described as an ionic engine. No working prototype was ever made, nor was it likely that one was ever intended.
The Astral was designed by Edward E. Herrmann, Studebaker-Packard's director of interior design, as a project to give his team experience in working with glass-reinforced plastic. It was put on show at various Studebaker dealerships before being put into storage. Rediscovered 30 years later, the car was restored and put on display by the Studebaker museum.
Studebaker-Packard pulled the Packard nameplate from the marketplace in 1959. It kept its name until 1962 when "Packard" was dropped off the corporation's name at a time when it was introducing the all new Avanti, and a less anachronistic image was being sought, thus finishing the story of the great American Packard marque. Ironically, it was considered that the Packard name might be used for the new fiberglass sports car, as well as Pierce-Arrow, the make Studebaker controlled in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
In the late 1950s, Studebaker-Packard was approached by enthusiasts to rebadge the French car maker Facel-Vega's Excellence four-door hardtop as a Packard for sale in North America, using stock Packard V8s and identifying trim including red hexagonal wheel covers, cormorant hood ornament, and classic vertical ox-yoke grille. The proposition was rejected when Daimler-Benz threatened to pull out of its 1957 marketing and distribution agreement, which would have cost Studebaker-Packard more in revenue than they could have made from the badge-engineered Packard. Daimler-Benz had little of its own dealer network at the time and used this agreement to enter and become more established in the American market through SPC's dealer network, and felt this car was a threat to their models.
In the late 1990s, Roy Gullickson revived the Packard nameplate by buying the trademark and developing a Packard Twelve for the 1999 model year. His goal was annual production of 2,000 cars, but lack of investment funds stalled that plan indefinitely. The only prototype Twelve made was sold at an auto auction in Plymouth, MI, in July 2014 for $143,000.
Packard's engineering staff designed and built excellent, reliable engines. Packard offered a 12-cylinder engine—the "Twin Six"—as well as a low-compression straight-eight, but never a 16-cylinder engine. After WWII, Packard continued with their successful straight-eight-cylinder flathead engines. While as fast as the new GM and Chrysler OHV V8s, they were perceived as obsolete by buyers. By waiting until 1955, Packard was almost the last U.S. automaker to introduce a high-compression V8 engine. The design was physically large and entirely conventional, copying many of the first-generation Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Studebaker Kettering features. It was produced in 320 cu in (5.2 L) and 352 cu in (5.8 L) displacements. The Caribbean version had two four-barrel carburetors and produced 275 hp (205 kW). For 1956, a 374 cu in (6.1 L) version was used in the Senior cars and the Caribbean two four-barrels produced 305 hp (227 kW).
Packard also made large aeronautical and marine engines. Chief engineer Jesse G. Vincent developed a V12 airplane engine called the "Liberty engine" that was used widely in Entente air corps during World War I. After the war the Liberty was adapted for marine use, becoming a multiple world record setter under inventor and boating pioneer Gar Wood from the late 1910s through the 1930s.
In the interbellum, Packard built one of the world's first diesel aviation engines, the 225-hp DR-980 radial. It powered the Stinson SM-8D, among others. It also powered a Bellanca CH-300 on a record endurance flight of over 84 hours, a mark that stood for more than 50 years. Other Packard-powered airplanes set several records during the 1920s.
During WWII, Packard license-built Rolls-Royce Merlin engines under the Packard V-1650 designation, used with great success in the famed P-51 Mustang fighter. A marine version of the successor to the V12 Liberty was adapted in three versions – M3-2500, M4-2500, and M5-2500 – to power the war's iconic PT boats. Packard also developed a jet-propulsion engine for the US Air Force, one of the reasons for the Curtiss-Wright take-over in 1956, as they wanted to sell their own jet.
The Packard advertising song on television had the words:
Ride ride ride ride ride along
in your Packard, in your Packard.
In a Packard you've got the world on a string.
In a Packard car you feel like a king.
Ride ride ride ride ride along
in your Packard, what fun!
And ask the man, just ask the man
the lucky man who owns one!
The electrical connectors developed by Packard were used extensively by General Motors in its automobiles. The first series of connectors was the Packard 56, followed by the Weather Pack, and finally the Metri Pack, which are still in common use today.
A massive crushing of circa 50 vintage Packards happened in 1977 in southern California and was dubbed by the Special-Interest auto magazine as "Crushathon". Cars formerly property of a Packard collector were auctioned off after his death. Due to different disagreements in the terms of the auction between SoCal Packard fan clubs, roughly half of the cars auctioned off did not meet the listed price leading to the cars being ultimately destroyed, despite their purportedly good mechanical and rust-free condition.
Pierce-Arrow, founded in 1901, once ranked with Detroit's Packard and Cleveland's Peerless as the Three P's of Motordom
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Packard passenger vehicle timeline, 1899–1958
|Number of Cylinders||1900s||1910s||1920s||1930s||1940s||1950s|
|Single and Twin||Model A-F||Model G/Model M||WWII|
|Four||Model K,L,N,S,18(NA,NB,NC,NE)||Model 30(Model U,UA,UB,UBS,UC,UCS,UE)|
|Six||Six (Dominant Six & Single Six)||110 & 115||Clipper||Clipper|
|Eight/Super Eight||Custom Super Eight 180/Super Eight||Super Eight/Station Sedan||Patrician/400/Caribbean|