1948-1950 Packard Eight Station Sedan

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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