The 1958 Packardbaker

Once a make is discontinued it is hard to resurrect, as Chrysler's experience with the Imperial attests. For that reason, Churchill and Hurley refused to give up. The former announced that a new Packard would debut for 1958, a car that would recover "its own unique identity." He was right about that . . . .

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©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
For 1958, a hardtop rejoined the lineup. It listed at $3262 and came with a Studebaker 210-bhp V-8 as standard.

The 1958 Packard was developed with almost as much haste as the 1957, and under worsening money constraints. Even designer Duncan McRae wasn't entirely happy with the result.

Stylist Duncan McRae was assigned the unenviable task of designing the 1958 Packard. He was strapped by a minuscule budget, so there was little he could do but graft on extra pieces, like the fins and headlight pods, to differentiate it from Studebaker.

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©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The styling -- controversial at best -- helped keep total production down to just 2622 units, 675 of which were the Starlight hardtop.

"Dick Teague and most of the Packard design staff left to work under William Schmidt Associates as design consultants for Chrysler," McRae recalled. "I was charged with developing the 1958 Packards. Most of our limited tooling money had gone into a new Studebaker hardtop -- there is no truth to the rumor that its roofline came from DeSoto, it was just coincidence -- so we decided to add a Packard hardtop to the sedan and wagon."

These three models were cut from an identical pattern: slathers of mylar and chrome, and a styling trick for the record books: double tailfins! "We did that by retaining the 1957 rear fenders and tacking new fins on top of them," McRae said. "Then there were those frog-eye headlamps. It was felt that somehow we must come up with quad lights since that was the industry trend. There was no money for fenders so we came up with a pod design. Looking back today it seems ridiculous, but in the short time available it seemed to give us something new looking."

There was not very much on the 1958 Packards that Duncan McRae was proud of, but he did mention one item: the traditional Packard "cusps" or side ridges on its sloping bonnet: "These had been a Packard hallmark dating back to the 1904 Model L. They'd been dropped on the 1957s; I was proud to bring them back." Ironically, the beautiful Model L now displayed at the Henry Ford Museum was restored by Dick Teague, who dropped this feature on the 1957, doubtless in haste and to hold down costs.

Then, very late in the day, came a fourth 1958 Packard, Duncan's Waterloo, aka the "Hurley Hawk."

"Mr. Hurley had seen a Ferrari and the Mercedes 300SL during one of his European trips," Duncan said. "He asked me to attempt to use the design theme on a Hawk. It was my opinion that we were doing a one-off special job for him, and I still believe that was the original intent. But it did go into limited production." Limited is the word: the Packard Hawk saw just 588 units.
Life magazine rated the 1957-1958 Packards among the "ten worst cars" in history. That probably isn't totally fair, but probably the styling of the Packardbakers did serve to hasten the make's demise.

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©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The Packardbaker had an indestructible engine -- the Studebaker smallblock V-8.

Essentially this car was a Studebaker Golden Hawk 400, the luxury version with full leather interior and extra trim bits, like the broad chrome band wrapping over the backlight. To turn it into a Packard, McRae gave it a Martha Raye mouth, odd vinyl exterior padding along the tops of the doors (inspired by classic aircraft), gold mylar set into the tail-fins, and Packard badges. As the only 1958 Packard to retain the 275-bhp supercharged engine (the rest used 210-bhp unblown units), the relatively light Hawk became the fastest street Packard in history, with 0-60 available in eight or nine seconds and a top speed exceeding 120 mph. Unfortunately, at $3995, it was $700 more expensive than the Studebaker Golden Hawk, $300 more than a Corvette, and a salesperson's nightmare. So was the rest of the line; the wagon, for example, sold a depressing 159 copies. Total 1958 production came in at 2377 units.

For more information on the end of the Packardbaker, continue on to the next page.

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