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.

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Design of the 1957-1958 Packardbaker

The Packardbakers for 1957 were designed largely by Dick Teague and the 1958s by the late Duncan McRae. As Dick has been heard from often in this context, let's begin with McRae, whom this writer interviewed in the late 1970s.

Like Teague, "Dunc" McRae enjoyed an interesting career with a variety of companies, including several independents. He broke in as a clay modeler with Ford in 1940, then served in the military during World War II. Hired as a designer by Kaiser-Frazer in 1947, he was the unsung "number two" to Dutch Darrin in the design of the seminal 1951 Kaiser. McRae left Kaiser to return to Ford in 1949, but Kaiser-Willys hired him back as chief designer in September 1953; from this frying pan he jumped over to Studebaker-Packard in August 1955.

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The taillights of the 1956 Clipper were grafted on to the Studebaker fenders.

"I was hired by Roger Bremer, who was in charge of product planning," McRae recalled. "Since the Loewy Associates were still under contract at Studebaker, and Ed Macauley was directing Packard design in Detroit, it was decided to establish an office for me at Creative Industries, on Outer Drive near the Detroit city airport. My first assignment was to design the interiors of the new 1956 Studebaker line." Creative Industries, it might be noted, is still in business today, and also played a strong role in Packard design, notably with the Panther sports cars in the early Fifties.

The 1957 Clipper-a Studebaker wearing Packard makeup-was a stopgap model intended to buy time until a "real" Packard could again be fielded.
"Vince Gardner had been employed by Mr. Bremer about six months before me," McRae continued. "He had completed two full scale models of the facelifted 1956 Studebaker while working in a small tool and die shop on the far east side of Detroit near Mt. Clemens. One of his models was approved for production, and was later shipped to South Bend. I hired two designers, Don Dunaski and Ed Develin, and we successfully completed the interior designs and selected the fabrics and colors for the new sedan line of vehicles. I don't believe that either Loewy or Macauley knew that Vince and I were doing work for Studebaker.

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Even the dashboard was reminiscent of the "real" Packards of 1955-1956.
"Bill Schmidt was then brought in as vice-president of design at Studebaker-Packard and Mr. Macauley, without warning, was told to leave. Dick Teague was made chief designer of Packard in Detroit, while I became chief designer of Studebaker and was sent to South Bend. My first unpleasant duty was to hasten the departure of the Loewy personnel, except for those few we had previously asked to join us. This was very difficult, since Bob Bourke (Loewy chief designer) and many of the others were good friends of mine. Bob had completed the front end and rear deck for what became the 1956 Studebaker Hawks, which were produced as he had designed them.

"The first major program under Bill Schmidt was to work out the famous interchangeability plan for Studebaker, Clipper, and Packard. It was at this time that the Predictor show car was done. The clay models were finally approved and tooling was under way, as well as several prototypes, when it was realized that there was not enough capital available within the corporation to complete tooling and introduce these cars."

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Creating the 1957-1958 Packardbaker

Thus, Nance's plan for a new line of Predictor-based Packards perished -- but there were still several blind alleys to be explored before the advent of the Packardbakers.

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The Packardbaker weighed 3650 pounds and listed at $3384. Production came in at just 869 units.

"Mr. Nance was a good friend of Ernie Breech of Ford," McRae continued. "He approached Breech to find if it would be possible to purchase bodies from Ford and, with our unique front and rear sheetmetal and mechanicals, save the day for Studebaker-Packard. Both Ford and Lincoln shells were considered, for the Studebaker and Packard, respectively. Evidently Mr. Breech was willing to consider this proposal, but wanted to know what our products would look like using the Ford bodies. So he sent 1/10th-size drawings of the yet-to-be-introduced all-new Ford lines to Mr. Nance, and Dick Teague and I had drawing boards set up in an office next to Nance to make illustrations of both the Studebaker and Packard for presentation to Mr. Breech."

This was an extraordinary development in those days of styling rivalry and secrecy, and incidentally gives lie to the theory, often expounded, that Nance was a pariah to his Detroit colleagues. In any event, it proved impossible: "It must have been Breech's decision to end the project," said McRae, "because as we learned later, the 1957 Ford and our Studebaker proposal had too much in common appearance-wise."

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The 1957 Packard Clipper station wagon rode the same 116.5-inch wheelbase as the Studebaker wagons.

This refusal set the stage for Dick Teague, veteran of what he calls "the last days in the bunker," to salvage some semblance of a Packard automobile. On August 20, 1956, with Hurley in the chair, the S-P board chose the worst-case scenario. "It was the same old story," Teague remembers. "Teague, we need a Packard based on Stude bodies. You have three dollars to do the job and we need prototypes in half an hour." In reality, Dick was given three months, and likely they let him have at least $500 to work with! Even so, it delayed the announcement of the 1957 Packard until January of that year.

Sales wanted two Packards, so they got a four-door sedan riding the President Classic's 120.5-inch wheelbase and a four-door wagon based on the 116.5-inch Provincial. Engineering, under the resourceful Gene Hardig, thought it right to power both cars with Studebaker's best engine: the Golden Hawk's Paxton-supercharged 289 V-8. It developed a rousing 275 horsepower, coincidentally the same rating as the '56 Clipper's V-8. The excellent Borg-Warner "Flightomatic" transmission was made standard, as was the Packard-originated "Twin Traction" limited-slip differential, running in this case a stump-pulling 4.27:1 ratio. This combination gave the 1957 Packard real performance: 0-60 mph in 10-11 seconds, the wagon a shade quicker thanks to its better weight distribution.

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The 1957 Packardbaker

Torsion-bar suspension had vanished with the last Detroit-built Packards, but Studebaker's chassis was also quite sophisticated. It featured variable-rate springs, which compressed quickly at first, but stiffened as the load increased. Variable-ratio steering provided quick response at low speeds, then increased with speed -- a feature the entire industry aped some years later. Meanwhile, marketing loaded the car with goodies like a padded dash, thick carpeting, foam rubber seat cushions, electric clock, and back-up lights; power brakes/steering/seats/ windows, factory air conditioning, and power antennas were available. Marketing, no doubt realizing that even at its best the 1957 was no Packard, also chose the name: "Packard Clipper." That represented quite an irony since Nance had labored so hard to separate the two names in order to save Packard's luxury soul; he would have abhorred the choice.

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Designer Richard Teague did his best to make the Studebaker body shell look like a Packard.

All this, and Teague besides! Considering the time and money constraints, Dick really worked miracles (as he would later at American Motors). He grafted on a Packard-like grille and wide, 1956-style bumper bombs and decorated the sides with "Reynolds Wrap" trim reminiscent of the Caribbean. Then he crafted special elongated fenders for the rear; twin antennas sprouted rakishly above them, another Caribbean throwback. Teague also scrounged the parts bins, and saved money by using 1956 Clipper tail lamps, emblems, script, and wheel covers, plus a 1955 Packard hood ornament and lettering. Finally, he climbed inside the clay buck and carved a dashboard that, while not as glitzy as the 1956 Packard's, at least looked like part of the family. "And you know," Dick told this writer years later, "as a Studebaker -- as a Stude, mind you -- the damn thing wasn't half bad!"

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The Packardbaker dash.
The press agreed. The designers of the 1957 were "to be commended for grafting much of the Packard tradition and flavor onto a reluctant and foreign body shell," wrote Walt Woron in Motor Trend. Later, in the same magazine, Joe Wherry tackled the likely root of criticism: the Studebaker shell "should cause little concern because the use of one body shell over two and even three different name-plates is an old Detroit habit, too. [The 1957 Packard] is readily distinguishable from the Studebaker and is, in fact, from two to five inches longer, station wagon and sedan, respectively." Indeed, except for track, the 1956/1957 measurements were amazingly close:


1956
1957
Wheelbase (in.):122.0
120.5
Overall length (in.):213.0
211.0
Overall width (in.):78.0
77.0
Front track (in.):
59.8
56.7
Rear track (in.):60.0
55.7

­ "We cannot forecast the future," Wherry concluded, but "the driver who wishes something off the beaten path at least owes it to himself to closely examine and drive the new Clipper." Alas, in 1957 few wished to tread unbeaten paths, unless it was with a Volkswagen. Along with its late introduction, the new Packard was hampered by S-P president Harold Churchill's decision to "dual" all dealerships. Longtime Studebaker dealers didn't have a Packard clientele to buy this car, while longtime Packard dealers didn't have a Packard to sell them.

Dealers deserted in droves to pick up Big Three luxury-make franchises and many -- ironically -- went to Ford's "E-car," the Edsel. Not surprisingly, Packard model year production skidded in 1957, from nearly 29,000 in 1956 to only 4809.

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The 1958 Packardbaker

Once a make is discontinued it is hard to resurrect, as Chrysler's experience with the Imperial attests. For that reason, Churchill and Hurley refused to give up. The former announced that a new Packard would debut for 1958, a car that would recover "its own unique identity." He was right about that . . . .

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For 1958, a hardtop rejoined the lineup. It listed at $3262 and came with a Studebaker 210-bhp V-8 as standard.

The 1958 Packard was developed with almost as much haste as the 1957, and under worsening money constraints. Even designer Duncan McRae wasn't entirely happy with the result.

Stylist Duncan McRae was assigned the unenviable task of designing the 1958 Packard. He was strapped by a minuscule budget, so there was little he could do but graft on extra pieces, like the fins and headlight pods, to differentiate it from Studebaker.

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The styling -- controversial at best -- helped keep total production down to just 2622 units, 675 of which were the Starlight hardtop.

"Dick Teague and most of the Packard design staff left to work under William Schmidt Associates as design consultants for Chrysler," McRae recalled. "I was charged with developing the 1958 Packards. Most of our limited tooling money had gone into a new Studebaker hardtop -- there is no truth to the rumor that its roofline came from DeSoto, it was just coincidence -- so we decided to add a Packard hardtop to the sedan and wagon."

These three models were cut from an identical pattern: slathers of mylar and chrome, and a styling trick for the record books: double tailfins! "We did that by retaining the 1957 rear fenders and tacking new fins on top of them," McRae said. "Then there were those frog-eye headlamps. It was felt that somehow we must come up with quad lights since that was the industry trend. There was no money for fenders so we came up with a pod design. Looking back today it seems ridiculous, but in the short time available it seemed to give us something new looking."

There was not very much on the 1958 Packards that Duncan McRae was proud of, but he did mention one item: the traditional Packard "cusps" or side ridges on its sloping bonnet: "These had been a Packard hallmark dating back to the 1904 Model L. They'd been dropped on the 1957s; I was proud to bring them back." Ironically, the beautiful Model L now displayed at the Henry Ford Museum was restored by Dick Teague, who dropped this feature on the 1957, doubtless in haste and to hold down costs.

Then, very late in the day, came a fourth 1958 Packard, Duncan's Waterloo, aka the "Hurley Hawk."

"Mr. Hurley had seen a Ferrari and the Mercedes 300SL during one of his European trips," Duncan said. "He asked me to attempt to use the design theme on a Hawk. It was my opinion that we were doing a one-off special job for him, and I still believe that was the original intent. But it did go into limited production." Limited is the word: the Packard Hawk saw just 588 units.
Life magazine rated the 1957-1958 Packards among the "ten worst cars" in history. That probably isn't totally fair, but probably the styling of the Packardbakers did serve to hasten the make's demise.

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The Packardbaker had an indestructible engine -- the Studebaker smallblock V-8.

Essentially this car was a Studebaker Golden Hawk 400, the luxury version with full leather interior and extra trim bits, like the broad chrome band wrapping over the backlight. To turn it into a Packard, McRae gave it a Martha Raye mouth, odd vinyl exterior padding along the tops of the doors (inspired by classic aircraft), gold mylar set into the tail-fins, and Packard badges. As the only 1958 Packard to retain the 275-bhp supercharged engine (the rest used 210-bhp unblown units), the relatively light Hawk became the fastest street Packard in history, with 0-60 available in eight or nine seconds and a top speed exceeding 120 mph. Unfortunately, at $3995, it was $700 more expensive than the Studebaker Golden Hawk, $300 more than a Corvette, and a salesperson's nightmare. So was the rest of the line; the wagon, for example, sold a depressing 159 copies. Total 1958 production came in at 2377 units.

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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.

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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.

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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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