1957-1958 Packardbaker

After closing Packard's Detroit operations, and with no hope for all-new Studebaker-Packard designs, S-P asked designer Richard Teague to turn a workaday Studebaker into a patrician Packard. Working with little time and money, he pulled off a minor miracle -- the "Packardbaker."

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Packard offered only two models in 1957, a sedan and a wagon. See more classic car pictures.

The death of Packard 30 years ago provided the cognoscenti with a lifetime of entrails -- reading in search of "The Cause." Each of us has our preferred whipping boy, our favorite villain. But among the many candidates for the lynch mob, nothing carried quite the credentials of the "Packardbakers" -- those ersatz Packards in Studebaker bodies that ushered out the marque in 1957 and 1958. Pseudo-Packards, they are called, bad cars with bad styling-grotesqueries dancing on the grave of the car we couldn't afford to lose.

Sober reflection suggests that the Packardbaker was more an effect than a cause. Pseudo-Packards? No doubt about it. Bad cars? Hardly. Badly styled? Maybe. But look at the styling of everything else in those years. George Hamlin, senior editor of The Packard Cormorant, has a more appropriate suggestion for the Packardbaker: "Think of it as a replicar."

Neither indeed did the 1957s and 1958s assure the final end of Packard. Had their builders wanted that, they would only have needed to refuse to build a Packard of any kind. In reality, they were stopgaps, built with the hope that maybe-if Studebaker-Packard Corporation itself survived-the true luxury Packard might yet be reborn, perhaps in 1959 or 1960.

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Richard Teague, although hampered by a lack of time and money, managed to dress up the President Classic 120.5-inch-wheelbase chassis with a Packard-like grille and Caribbean-style side trim.

By 1952, when an aging management drafted sales whiz James Nance as president of the Packard Motor Car Company, the rot within was far advanced, though few realized it. Nance struggled valiantly to save Packard by buying out Studebaker, hoping (but failing) to merge the pair of them into American Motors. To buy time, he encouraged defense contracts, then watched them disappear as the Korean conflict wound down, Finally, he planned an ambitious new luxury line of Packards for 1957, but ended up unable to wheedle the necessary financing.

On July 26, 1956, Nance resigned in favor of a management agreement with the Curtiss-Wright aircraft company. This, likewise, was no help. By October 1957, when Curtiss-Wright's arrangement lapsed, Studebaker-Packard had accumulated a three-year loss of $85 million as it watched its volume plummet from 112,000 to 72,000 units. Compare that to a break-even point of 282,000 cars per year at the antiquated, high-overhead South Bend plant, where all production was concentrated after 1956.

While we are exonerating, let's also whitewash Curtiss-Wright's Roy Hurley, chairman of S-P during the Packardbaker era. As George Hamlin wrote in the multi-author Packard: A History of the Motorcar and the Company, "His interests, of course, lay first with Curtiss-Wright, but that did not preclude his hoping for S-P's success. After all, the tax write-offs it provided could not continue forever, and C-W knew it could expect generous treatment by the government if it could secure S-P's good health." There are plenty of things to be blamed on Roy Hurley -- but a man out to sink Packard he wasn't.

For more information on the 1957-1958 Packardbaker, continue on to the next page.

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