1957-1958 Packardbaker

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.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
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!"

©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
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:

Wheelbase (in.):122.0
Overall length (in.):213.0
Overall width (in.):78.0
Front track (in.):
Rear track (in.):60.0

­ "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.

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

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