1948-1950 Packard Eight Station Sedan

Not one Packard stylist ever admitted to creating the Station Sedan, although some of them most certainly did. The 1949 Ford, by contrast, has a half-dozen claimants. From different aspects, each car represents an old Detroit adage: Success has a thousand parents, but failure is an orphan. As Lee lacocca once cracked, "Trying to find the designer of the Edsel would be like old Diogenes with his lantern, looking for an honest man."

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
No one wanted to take credit for the 1948 Packard Station
Sedan. See more pictures of Packard cars.

So who among Packard's management team officially approved the decision to make a station wagon one of Packard's priorities after World War II? The heft of opinion has always cited Edward Macauley, son of the company's legendary chairman Alvan, and Packard's Vice-President for Design. Perennially described as "a nice guy who knew nothing about styling," Ed Macauley is regularly dismissed as a fellow placed in high authority because his old man ran the company. And nepotism is a lousy way to run a car company.

Yet the charges against Ed Macauley were made long after he wasn't around to reply to them, and we ought to be careful before we assign him all the blame for this interesting wrong decision. Certainly, he gave the Station Sedan his blessing; just as certainly, he didn't invent it. Even in the relatively uncomplicated Forties, product planning rarely rested on the authority of one person. Sales, marketing, engineering, and advertising departments all chimed in, and, bear in mind, their reasoning was grounded in the situation at the time. Things are clearer 50 years later, and hindsight is cheap -- and far too easily indulged.

As well as they've dodged the bullets, Packard's chief stylists, led by such lights as Howard F. Yeager and Johnnie Reinhart, have to be saddled with a degree of authorship of the Station Sedan. Why should they not? The design files of every car company active during the Forties were stuffed with renderings of modern derivatives of the prewar woody wagon: long, low, and as swoopy as a bar of well-used bath soap. The part-steel or all-steel utility wagon, which became the darling of American suburbia in the Fifties, was taking shape on drawing boards years before the end of World War II. Stylists were eager to promote venturesome ideas for a new world in the morning, set to dawn the moment peace was declared.

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
The 1948 Packard Station Sedan was just one bad
choice in a few that led to Packard's demise.

Why was the Station Sedan a bad decision? Ah, the answer to that has nothing to do with its qualities as a car, which as we shall see, were very good indeed. Nor was it related to the wartime doodles of stylists, passing the time by planning for the future while their companies fueled the "Arsenal of Democracy." It was a bad decision because, once again, it was based on an incorrect or at least inchoate corporate self-image.

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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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Inside the 1948 Packards

Everybody who has considered the subject in hindsight, including most of Packard's surviving principals, concluded that the company should have stuck with the elegant 1941-1947 Clipper styling another year or two, while spending its facelift money to revive old body styles sooner (like a convertible and limousine), and new body styles as soon as possible (particularly a hardtop) instead of creating the Station Sedan. Then Packard would have been poised to deliver an all-new postwar body in 1949-1950, when it really needed a fresh look to take on renewed competition.

This would have proved wise even if Packard had returned to the luxury-car market. And given the crowded medium-price field Packard chose to contest, it could have made the difference between success and failure. But we enter again the area of hindsight; we must deal with what did in fact happen.

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
Part of the design flaw of the 1948 Packards
may have been the lack of rear-end definition.

"The rounded shape of the '48 Packards was a perfectly normal development given the styling impulses of the times," the late John Reinhart told this writer. "Where I was wrong was in not resisting a heavy facelift harder than I did, particularly that facelift." Reinhart admitted that the Twenty-Second Series (1948-early 1949) and near-twin Twenty-Third Series (1949-1/2-1950) had too high a beltline, not enough glass, no rear-end definition -- like, say, Cadillac -- and a bulging fuselage.

He was happier about the interior, a glorious combination of woodgrained metal, chrome, and "Flite-Glo" gauges lit by "black light," but even this looked backward, not to the future. Asymmetric, painted-metal dashboards with clustered instruments and aircraft-inspired toggle levers were already multiplying. Robin Jones, one of Reinhart's young design associates, who had bought a DeLuxe Eight out of corporate loyalty, remembered: "Inside, I felt I was in a reverse time warp, surrounded by all that wood-grained metal."

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
The interior of the 1948 Packard Station Sedan
looked more to the past than the future.

The mechanicals were good, solid, traditional Packard stuff: a smooth 288-cubic-inch L-head straight-eight pushing out 130 horsepower and bags of torque. A development of the 282-cid eight offered in 1947, it provided "Safety-Sprint" acceleration, according to Packard. Drivetrain choices started with the standard "Unimesh" three-speed manual shift. For $123, buyers could have an "Electromatic" clutch, which did away with the need for depressing the clutch when shifting gears or at idle (but proved troublesome).

Also available, with or without Electromatic, was an $87 overdrive unit that reduced engine speed 27.8 percent on the highway, a boon for longevity and gas mileage. Then, at mid-1949, Ultramatic became available. This two-speed transmission, the only automatic ever developed solely by an independent American automaker, boasted a lock-up torque converter, a fuel-saving feature most other automakers wouldn't adopt until after the oil embargos of the Seventies. It also had a kick-down to shift from direct drive to the torque converter under 55 mph, whereby the converter's torque multiplication provided quicker passing times.

The smoothness of this 4,100-pound car on the road has to be experienced. It was achieved not through high-tech methods and space-age materials, as, say, Lexus does it today, but through sheer over-engineering of every component from spring shackles to door latches. If a switch had to last 20,000 flicks over its lifetime, Packard would engineer it to take 40,000. Add the carefully mitered, beautifully finished woodwork unique to this model, and you might decide that the Station Sedan was Packard's finest example of postwar craftsmanship.

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Packard's Twenty-Third Series

Given Packard's management's particular interest in the middle-priced field, the development of the Station Sedan was logical enough. They had existed before the war, even in the senior One Sixty line, and they had every right (if you're providing cars for the masses) to exist again.

But while wagons had always been a couple hundred dollars more expensive than sedans, cost control went out the window with the Station Sedan. At $3,425, it commanded 50-percent more than a Packard Eight sedan and competed price-wise with the Cadillac Series Sixty-Two rag-top. A Lincoln convertible, or Packard's own Super Eight ragtop, sold for $200-$300 less. It was practically the most expensive station wagon in the country, undercutting Buick's Roadmaster Estate Wagon, which rode a 129-inch wheel-base and boasted 150 horsepower, by only eight dollars.

It's all the more baffling, then, that this pricey model rode the standard Eight's 120-inch wheelbase and shared its lower-suds drivetrain. Super Eights had a 327-cid, 145-bhp straight-eight and Custom Eights got a 356-cid, 160-bhp engine with nine main bearings for unsurpassed smoothness. Packard did build one prototype wagon on the 127-inch Super Eight chassis, which with its longer hood looked a lot better, but nothing ever came of it. Given the number of sales the standard model attracted, one can see why, but why didn't they make it a Super Eight from the beginning? Or hold the price to $2,500 on the junior chassis?

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
The decorative wood on this 1948 Station Sedan was
expensive insect- and fungus-protected Northern birch.

The answer to the last question is probably that it cost a bundle to manufacture in any form. First off, the Station Sedan required unique roof and rear steel panels. The only structural wood was in the side window and tailgate framing. But this wood, and the decorative wood ribs on the doors, were expensive insect- and fungus-protected Northern birch (or white ash, some sources state).

Bill Williams, writing in Special Interest Autos in 1973, pointed out that "Packard's Station Sedan looks like a woody, but it uses an all-steel body with bolted-on wooden ribs over simulated woodgrain panels. These painted-on panels were originally applied by rolling graining ink onto a colored enamel ground coat, then sealing the two with a clear, synthetic baked enamel. This wasn't the Di-Noc method, although the factory did suggest using Di-Noc decals if the sheetmetal had to be completely refinished (as in an accident). The factory also recommended restoring the wooden ribs every year or so by sanding them lightly, applying a toxic wood sealer (to kill fungus that might cause wood rot), then applying one of several recommended varnishes. The wooden cargo deck and inner tailgate needed similar periodic restoration. So despite being basically an all-steel wagon, the Station Sedan demanded as much upkeep as real woodies."

Notably, the Station Sedan was the only Twenty-Second Series model that wasn't updated for the Twenty-Third Series, chiefly because its low sales level didn't justify the effort. And according to authors George Hamlin and Dwight Heinmuller in Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company, "In fact, evidence indicates that Twenty-Third Series Station Sedans were actually leftover Twenty-Second Series cars (they bear bumpers and engine numbers from the latter)."

In any case, the facelifted Twenty-Third Series models, which debuted on May 2, 1949, celebrated Packard's Golden Anniversary. Changes were minor: bodyside trim relocated to mid-body height, solid chrome front bumpers, oval taillights in large chrome pods, an enlarged rear window on sedans, five more horsepower for Eights and Super Eights.

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1949-1950 Packard Station Sedan

Packard never said how many Station Sedans it built each model year, but its body style reports listed 126 wagons produced in late 1947, 3,266 in calendar 1948, and 472 in 1949, for a grand total of only 3,864 (an estimated 75 percent being 1948 models). Considering the susceptibility of wood-trimmed bodies and their general survival rate -- aggravated in Packard's case by water leaks around the tailgate (there was no rain gutter above it) -- Station Sedans are fairly rare today, even in Packard circles, where they tend to be looked after and cherished.

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
Packard sold only 472 Station Sedans like this one in 1949.

Packard called its Station Sedan "the successor to the station wagon! Here's the 'all-occasion' beauty and comfort of a sedan, all the traditional utility of a station wagon ... along with new strength, streamlining, and proud distinction." The tailgate basically fit into the sedan's decklid opening, which explains why it was so narrow. This, in turn, meant that the upper sides tapered inward at the rear. Combined with the rakishly slanted rear end (for a wagon), that allowed only 63 cubic feet of cargo room with the second seat folded down -- just 2.5 more than a Pinto wagon, according to Williams.

Nathaniel T. Dawes, in his book, The Packard: 1942-1962, tells us there were 21 square feet of cargo area with the rear seat folded, or 29 with the tail-gate lowered, providing a nearly nine-foot-long platform. Packard engineers made the floors, roof, and walls of steel "to provide durability, safety and a quiet ride ... They selected fine-grained hardwoods for the side and rear panels, and specified new types of hardware and other fittings to carry out the massive distinction of its functional styling."

1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan
Packard Station Sedans like this one boasted 21
square feet of cargo area with the rear seat folded.

On the inside, the Station Sedan was swathed in washable vinyls, "new materials that out-look and out-last natural leather," Packard claimed. The cargo compartment floor was finished in thick, heavily varnished outdoor plywood protected by stainless steel "no-mar" strips.

As in years past, Packard offered several hood ornaments. Standard on the Eights, as Williams notes, was a low "flying wing," but buyers could opt for the "Goddess of Speed," irreverently known as the "boy with the donut," or the "Egyptian," which Williams said "looked like a fancified 1949 Ford hood ornament." Standard on Custom Eights was the graceful "Cormorant," which Packard would call the "Pelican" in 1949-1950. Given the lofty price of the Station Sedan, it would seemingly have been appropriate to make the Cormorant standard on this model.

An all-steel wagon had been introduced by Willys-Overland immediately after the war, though most considered it more truck than car. The first all-steel, car-based wagons appeared in mid-1949. The Plymouth DeLuxe Suburban two-door cost just $1,840, but even this low-priced confection took time to appeal to the public. At about the same time, Chevrolet and Pontiac converted their semi-woody 1949 wagons to all-steel bodies.

But, in fact, the great era of the station wagon would come with the vast growth of suburbia in the middle Fifties. Packard could hardly have expected high sales volume for a wagon priced nearly as high as its top-of-the-line Custom Eight sedans. Still, the Station Sedan's market share actually exceeded Packard's overall penetration: three percent of total U.S. wagon output versus 2.5 percent of total car production.

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1948-1950 Packard Specifications

Just who exactly designed the 1948-1950 Packard Eight Station Sedan will likely remain a mystery. Find specifications for the 1948-1950 Packard Eight Station Sedan in the following chart.

1948-1950 Packard Specifications

General

Price
$3,425
Wheelbase (in.)
120.0
Overall length (in.)
204.6
Overall width (in.)
77.5
Overall height (in.)
64.1
Tread, front/rear (in.)
59.69/60.94
Ground clearance, (in.)
7.5
Curb weight (lbs)
4,075
Cargo area (cu ft)
63.0
Fuel tank (gal)
17.0
Engine

Type
L-head straight 8
Bore x stroke (in.)
3.50 x 3.75
Displacement (cid)
288.64
Horsepower @ rpm
130 @ 3,600
Torque (lb-ft) @ rpm
226 @ 2,000
Compression ratio
7.0:1
Main bearings
5
Lubrication
full-pressure
Carburetor
Carter 2-bbl
Choke
automatic
Fuel pump
mechanical
Cooling system
thermostatic temperature control, 18-inch fan, pressure-sealed filler cap, 18-qt capacity
Clutch
semi-centrifugal, single dry plate, ball throw-out bearing
Diameter (in.)
10.0
Transmission
three-speed manual, synchronized in 2nd and 3rd, helically cut gears, 9 ball and roller bearings; overdrive opt
Ratios:

1st
2.03:1
2nd
1.28:1
3rd
1.00:1
Overdrive
0.61:1
Frame
X-member type, box-section side rails, 5 crossmembers
Body
all-steel, wood overlays
Suspension, front
independent, coil springs, short and long arms, double-acting lever shock absorbers, stabilizer bars
Suspension, rear
solid axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs 57.375 inches long, double-acting tubular shock absorbers, 5th shock absorber and lateral stabilizer
Electrical system
6 volt, automatic spark control
Drive
Hotchkiss type, 3-in. propeller shaft with 2 roller-bearing universal joints, hypoid rear axle
Final drive ratio
3.9:1
Brakes
hydraulic, drums, self-energizing
Drum diameter (in.)
12.0
Effective braking area (sq in.)
171.5
Steering
worm and 3-tooth roller
Ratio
26.2:1
Turns lock-to-lock
3.5
Turning circle, dia (ft)
44.0
Wheels/tires
steel disc/6.50 x 16 4-ply

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