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1948-1950 Packard Eight Station Sedan

Packard's Twenty-Second Series
Curiously, in view of the chairmanship of Alvan Macauley, a fixture on Executive Row since the glory years beginning around 1910, Packard utterly failed to understand that its reputation was based on 30 years as the preeminent American luxury car.

Cadillac and Lincoln, whose managers knew exactly where they were going, never offered a station wagon after the war, although their designers, like all designers, certainly conjured up wagon renderings. Although neither Cadillac nor Lincoln ever built a production station wagon, Mercedes has (and does). But Mercedes-Benz smacks of another genre and has a far broader constituency -- there are Mercedes trucks, for instance.

Of course, when the Station Sedan was designed around 1946, Alvan Macauley was aging -- he would retire two years later -- and Packard had been misjudging its strengths for a decade. Since 1935, after Macauley had brought in mass-production experts like George Christopher (Packard's president when the Station Sedan was approved), Max Gilman, and Bill Packer, the company had comfortably thrived on proletarian Packards.

The One Twenty that they had spawned that year certainly saved the company from the perils of the Depression, though in retrospect it would probably have been better to merge with a strong partner and stick to luxury cars. But the $895 Packard Six, which followed in 1937 and soon dominated production, was an irrevocable step on a path that led to the ruin of Packard's luxury image. The elimination of the Packard Twelve after 1939 probably prevented any chance for that image to recover.

After the war, when he had a clear option to reestablish his company's gilt-edged reputation -- which Cadillac and Lincoln were fast accomplishing after a temporary spate of cheaper prewar models -- President Christopher again aimed Packard at the medium-price field. This was a tempting but illusory target, for here was concentrated the greatest number of competing makes and models, which the market could support only while the pent-up postwar demand for cars lasted. That demand was satiated by 1950 and ... well, you know the rest of the story.

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
The shape of the 1948 Packard Station Sedan
earned it the nickname of "pregnant elephant."

The Station Sedan was not a key error; it was just another in a long line of mistakes that had been occurring for a decade. The blame for those mistakes rests on management, as it always does: on George Christopher, on Alvan Macauley, on the board of directors. As Packard's last president, James Nance, once ruefully admitted, "They just handed over the luxury car business to Cadillac on a platter."

The car itself was part of the heavily facelifted Twenty-Second Series, introduced (correctly) by Packard's first postwar convertibles, the Super and Custom Eights, which bowed on July 25,1947, as 1948 models. The rest of the line was filled in on September 8. "Filled in" is a pregnant term, since "pregnant" means "filled in" where Packards are concerned -- and the filled-in, straight-through bodysides earned the car the epitaph "pregnant elephant."

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
A look at the engine of the 1948 Packard Station Sedan.

The Twenty-Second Series, derived from one of Ed Macauley's bar-of-soap-shaped "dream" cars, sold well because people would buy anything in those days. But its shape, touted as "Free-flow" styling, had no staying power -- this despite winning a "Fashion Car of the Year" gold medal from the New York Fashion Academy, and many other awards as well. In any case, the public quickly turned to crisper forms with more chrome. Owners of the derided 1948-1950 Packards dumped them fast in the Fifties.

By 1955, a Packard Eight that had cost $2,300 in 1950 was worth $435, while a comparably priced 1950 Buick went for about $750. The Station Sedan fared even worse. Selling new for $3,425, the price of a Cadillac Coupe de Ville, it was worth just $240 in 1955, against $1,050 for the Cadillac hardtop. Consider these vast differences in resale value at a time when the dollar was really worth a dollar, and you can understand why the 1955 Cadillac outsold the 1955 Packard by a ratio of nearly three-to-one.

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