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1937-1947 Packard Six

1942-1944 Packard Six

The recovering economy meant buyers were able to afford better cars, proven at Packard when its new Clipper styling permeated almost the entire 1942 Packard Six line. In that model year, abbreviated by America's entry into World War II, One Twentys drew 1.7 times as many customers as re-renamed Sixes.

1942 Packard Six
The Packard Six claimed a majority of sales for one
last time in 1942.

Testimony is clear on Packard's attitude about naming its cheapest car something other than Packard. ("Macauley" was mooted, but President Alvan refused the honor.) Consider the firm's Promotional Pointers publication for salesmen. A 1937 edition dismissed the LaSalle as a "car of uncertain caste ... for reasons best known to the Cadillac Company," its design varying "erratically" from year to year. A 1939 edition added: "The LaSalle has no lasting identity of its own ... [L]ook at the 1938 LaSalle as compared with this year's model! About the only similarity is in the name."

Seeming to confirm Packard's critique, LaSalle never outsold the junior Packards. Morgan Yost, one of the authors of Automobile Quarterly's history, Packard: A History of the Motorcar and the Company, noted that most other "companion" makes of the time fared even worse, whether priced above or below their parents: Marmon's Roosevelt, Studebaker's Erskine, Buick's Marquette, Oldsmobile's Viking. The Wolverine became a Reo when that company determined the name just wasn't catching on.

No, calling it something else wasn't the problem. Building it in the first place was the problem. The little Six lowered Packard's reputation in the eyes of everyone, and they never got it back. Packard should never have built the 1937 Packard Six.

The One Twenty alone would have seen the company through. The Six sold mightily in 1937, as indeed it should have at $800-$1,000 a pop. And yes, it did account for more than half the company's output through 1939, two-thirds in 1940. But a healthy portion of those sales likely would have been absorbed by One Twentys -- expanded as they were with Deluxe models, convertible sedans, town cars, limousines, and wagons, all competitively priced through economies of scale -- until the handsome Clipper arrived in 1941.

From then on, the One Twentys, with Clipper styling and a convertible coupe added, should have been the lowest-priced Packards available. They would have done no more harm to their builder's reputation than the Sixty-One did to Cadillac's.

The swing back to Eights, evident among 1942 Packard buyers, only accelerated in the booming postwar seller's market, the Six claiming a majority of sales for one last time in model year 1946. The line was belatedly dropped after 1947, though the six-cylinder engine itself continued for taxicabs through 1950, plus a few export sedans and marine applications. It served another six years in various White trucks, but wasn't up to their weight.

Meanwhile, Packard was making fresh mistakes, notably the 1948 restyle of the still-young Clipper. The result looked particularly bad next to that year's sleek new Cadillac, and probably delayed all-new Packard styling for a critical year or more.

Whether even the base-trim Eight should have long continued postwar is a further good question. A few Detroiters who could see past their noses -- Kaiser-Frazer's Hickman Price and Nash's George Mason -- realized the seller's market wouldn't last.

Sure enough, real competition returned by 1950 and proved devastating to middle-priced independent marques. Mason talked of mergers and began building Ramblers. Price quit K-F in disgust. Packard just kept on building cheap Packards.

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