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1957-1958 Packardbaker


The end of the 1957-1958 Packardbaker
By the time the last 1958 Packard rolled out of South Bend in mid-1958, management had put all its remaining faith and finance into the compact Lark. This car proved Duncan McRae's worth: despite being saddled with an inner shell dating to 1953, he came up with a new, highly marketable shape, and the Lark temporarily saved Studebaker. With it, Studebaker went from 1958's $13-million loss to a $28-million profit in 1959, and forgot all about building a mass-volume Packard. In 1962, the Packard name was scrubbed from the corporate title.

packardbaker
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Life magazine rated the 1957-1958 Packards among the "ten worst cars" in history.

And ever since, it seems, the 1957-1958 Packardbakers have been tarred and feathered as the ugly death of an American standard, the dreadful and undeserved end of a proud name. In 1983, Life summoned a panel of automotive experts to choose the "ten worst cars" in history; these worthies ranked both the 1957 and 1958 Packards fourth in line, right up there with the 1959 Cadillac, Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, Graham Sharknose, and everyman's favorite scapegoat, the Edsel.

packardbaker
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The 1958 was also one of the strongest cars of its day.
What utter baloney.

Let's grant, on an absolute scale of values, that the 1958 Packard (but certainly not the 1957) had fairly awful styling. Let's not forget, however, the contemporary 1958 mode -- remember the chrorne-studded, sway-backed horses from GM, the elephantine Lincolns and Mercurys, the grotesque Imperials?

Using Life's proclaimed criteria of "form, function, fun," the Packardbaker ranks as quite a decent car. It had an indestructible engine, the Studebaker smallblock V-8; high performance, especially in supercharged form; excellent roadability; a fine automatic transmission; and better-than-average quality of fit and finish.

Some writers have described Packard as the car we couldn't afford to lose. But with dismal sales of the 1958, we did in fact lose it.

The South Bend people who built them were proud to be building Packards, and took special pains with them. The 1958 was also one of the strongest cars of its day: it had the highest section modulus, a measure of twisting resistance. We cannot call the Packardbaker a great car; equally, we cannot say it was a bad one.

The Life panel allowed emotion to affect its judgment. In the end, the Packardbaker's worst feature was the fact that it went down in history as the end of the line: the very last example of the car we couldn't afford to lose.

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