1957 and 1958 Packard Concept Cars

Image Gallery: Concept Cars All of Studebaker-Packard's 1957 cars were to have all-new styling, patterned on the 1956 Predictor concept car, which inspired this sketch. See more concept car pictures.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

With the introduction of the 1957 and 1958 Packard concept cars, Studebaker-Packard President James Nance hoped to rebuild the luxury end of the business.

In its day, the main Packard plant in Detroit was among the most beautiful and well-ordered of factories, its spotless Packard Gray interior staffed by an experienced workforce of high morale.

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The facade, easily seen from tree-lined East Grand Boulevard, was studded with impressive pillared entrances, each bearing the Packard name in dignified block letters; the effect was not unlike that of a mausoleum.

A mausoleum it was in the summer of 1956, when production ground to a halt after years of customer flight to Cadillac, Lincoln, and Imperial. Hardly anything was left except the styling studio, still valiantly working on "real" Packards for 1957-1958. The late Richard A. Teague, then a staff designer and ever a car enthusiast devoted to the marque, later called this period Packard's "last days in the bunker."

Financial resources dried up one after another that summer. Gradually, big East Grand was emptied when workers were shifted to Studebaker's South Bend, Indiana, factory, where Studebaker-Packard Corporation planned to build Studebaker-based Packards amid a frank cash crisis.

In the authoritative Packard: A History of the Motorcar and the Company, Teague recalled that "Styling was the last to go because [management] thought there was [still] some chance. You knew goddamn well the end was close, but you kept hoping for the life raft. Rumors? You wouldn't believe the rumors. . . . Everybody from Universal CIT to Ford was buying us out."

This rendering showed an early workout for the facelifted Packard Clipper, first planned for 1957.
This rendering showed an early workout for the facelifted Packard Clipper, first planned for 1957.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Left behind in Detroit was the true 1957 Packard, not a pretender in Studebaker dress but the car with which Studebaker-Packard president James Nance hoped to rebuild the luxury end of his business.

Besides the usual numerous renderings and clay models, there were several full-size mockups and a running "mule," all inspired by the distinctive Predictor "dream car" that had toured the show circuit earlier in 1956.

The 1957 Packard Predictor concept car was an attractive and convenient model. Continue to the next page to learn more about this special car.

For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out:

The 1957 Packard Predictor Concept Car

The 1957 Packard Predictor concept car was an attention-getter at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1956.
The 1957 Packard Predictor concept car was an attention-getter at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1956.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1957 Packard Predictor concept car was known as the "dream car." It toured the show circuit earlier in 1956, and was a great influence on future Packard concept cars.

Built by Ghia of Turin, the Predictor was executed under Packard design chief Bill Schmidt, but strongly reflected Teague's thinking.

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Advanced features included a windshield that wrapped up as well as around, quad headlights hidden behind clamshell doors, fenders level with the hood and rear deck, and a square, chiseled shape.

Also on hand were several ideas from recent Teague-styled Packard concept cars: reverse-slant retractable backlight (previewing the 1958 Continental Mark III), shapely "cathedral" taillights, and smart ribbed bodyside moldings that ran from the doors right around to the front.

That trim ended abruptly to frame a slim vertical nose with Packard's traditional "ox-yoke" radiator shape, which Nance had lately been trying to resurrect as a sales-booster. (It might have been used for 1954 had time allowed, though Teague managed something far better for the one-off 1955 Request). "Rolltop" roof panels slid away to ease entry/exit in what was a pretty low car; they could also be left open for ventilation -- a kind of embryonic T-top.

Inside, the Predictor was all convenience, with electronic pushbutton Ultramatic transmission; electric servos for decklid roof panels, and windows; and individual contoured seats with reversible cushions -- leather on one side, fabric on the other, as on Packard's 1956 Caribbeans.

Roof sail panels wore portholes like those adorning contemporary Thunderbirds, plus courtesy lights and a jeweled escutcheon. The decklid was adorned with a large "circle-V" emblem created by Teague with hopes of establishing another "timeless" automotive symbol akin to the Mercedes-Benz tri-star.

Powered by a 300-horsepower Packard V-8, the Predictor was fully driveable -- when it was working right. Ghia had botched the electrical system, so activating any of the fancy servos usually caused a short circuit and great clouds of smoke. Of course, such problems would have been worked out for production, for the Predictor was nothing less than the blueprint for a very ambitious new S-P line.

The Predictor outlined a whole raft of cars built from just three basic platforms: a 130-inch wheelbase for Packard and Packard Executive (the latter basically a detrimmed Patrician), 125 for Clipper and Studebaker President, and 120 inches for Studebaker Commander and Champion.

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©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Though hardly original, this plan was a great cost-saver, allowing the three makes to look quite different from each other despite a common inner shell and some shared exterior panels. It was a grand strategy worthy of General Motors-S-P's last attempt to cast itself as a "full-line" producer.

The Predictor had a big influence on the other Packard concept cars. Check out the next page for more information about the line of 1957 Packard concept cars.

For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out:

The 1957 Packard Line Concept Cars

This Clipper sketch shows a rather down-to-earth interpretation of various ideas, plus a hint of Predictor in a squarish roofline with vee'd C-pillars.
This Clipper sketch shows a rather down-to-earth interpretation of various ideas, plus a hint of Predictor in a squarish roofline with vee'd C-pillars.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Naturally, the Predictor influence was most evident in the proposed 1957 Packard Line concept cars, but the entire line had the concept car's general feel.

Clipper evolved as something wilder than the Packard, with sharp "shark" fins and more sheetmetal sculpturing in line with Schmidt's aim of appealing to younger buyers in the Dodge-Mercury-Olds class.

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The 1957 Packard line would have been the same as 1956: four-door sedans in Patrician and Executive trim; Caribbean, Four Hundred, and Executive hardtop coupes; and Caribbean convertible.

A Patrician/Executive hardtop sedan was slated for 1958, when Executive would divide into Standard and Deluxe series. Also planned was a new factory-built limousine for the "carriage trade" market that Packard had abandoned after 1954; the proposed limo was another Nance ploy to restore the make's once-proud pure-luxury image.

A rear view of the Clipper concept sketch. A showroom 1957 Clipper would not have looked nearly so long and low as shown here.
A rear view of the Clipper concept sketch. A showroom 1957 Clipper would not have looked nearly so long and low as shown here.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Clipper was first intended to go through 1957 as a holdover 1956 then be updated for 1958. Later, it was decided to offer the new one for 1957.

In both cases it was planned for just two- and four-door Standard and Deluxe hardtops, though a convertible was sketched and would have been a first for Clipper. Technically, none of these cars would have been Packards, as Nance had registered Clipper as a separate make for 1956.

Down in the low-priced ranks, where a broad lineup was essential for sales, Studebaker was assigned all the above body styles save the limo, plus a station wagon.

The pillared and pillarless Hawk "family sports cars," which Raymond Loewy had evolved from his timeless 1953 coupe design, would have returned with few changes from debut-year 1956, again in pillared and pillarless styles.

This 1957 Clipper Custom series concept car would have been offered as two- or four-door hardtops in Custom and less-costly Deluxe trim.
This 1957 Clipper Custom series concept car would have been offered as two- or four-door hardtops in Custom and less-costly Deluxe trim.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

There were also plans for a new Express Coupe, reviving Studebaker's light-duty car-based pickup from prewar times. This was set for 1958 as the same sort of station wagon "hatchet job" that Ford used to create its new 1957 Ranchero and which Chevy emulated two years later in the El Camino.

The 1957 Packards offered advanced engineering features. Continue to the next page to learn more about these features.

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Engineering Features of the 1957 Packards

This sketch from January 1956 shows one proposal for a 1957 Packard Clipper convertible.
This sketch from January 1956 shows one proposal for a 1957 Packard Clipper convertible.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1957 Packards offered advanced engineering features. Plans called for Bill Allison's effective "Torsion-Level" self-adjusting suspension to be simplified for greater reliability.

Ditto the firm's troublesome Twin-Ultramatic transmission. And according to engine designer Bill Graves, Packard's existing 374-cubic-inch V-8 would have been bored to a massive 440 cubic inches for 1957, good for at least 300 horsepower and probably far more.

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Most intriguing of all was the novel plan for a new V-12, something Packard hadn't offered since 1939. According to Richard Stout, then of Packard Product Planning, this would have been derived from Clipper's smaller 320 ohv V-8, again to conserve scarce cash.

As Stout later wrote in The Packard Cormorant: "Eight of the cylinders would be bored, then the block moved [halfway down] to do the remaining four. The block was a 90-degree type, 30 degrees off for [the desired] in-step-firing V-12. To compensate, each throw was to be split and staggered 30 degrees to provide in-step firing. [It was] similar to the principle Buick [later] used to make its existing 90-degree V-6 into an in-step-firing engine."

This early sketch for the 1957-1958 featured flaring shark fins and headlamps set high in sculptured fenders.
This early sketch for the 1957-1958 featured flaring shark fins and headlamps set high in sculptured fenders.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Displacement would have worked out to 480 cubic inches, just seven cubic inches above the 1939 twelve, but with much "squarer" bore/stroke dimensions. Stout added that tooling would have cost only $750,000.

Another bold but ultimately unworkable idea for the big 1957 Packards was the "radar brake." This comprised a small grille-mounted radar sensor connected to an electric screwjack that engaged or disengaged the brakes independently of the driver. As Stout related, the radar brake proved itself when a Four Hundred hardtop so equipped was driven at a wall.

But later, "a company official drove the [car] home. On his first right turn the sensor picked up a cross-traffic car waiting for a light. Screech! Halt! Recovering, our shaken driver proceeded down a narrow street with parked cars, two-way traffic and pedestrians, all of which alarmed the sensor. . . . Our official was astounded [and] made a beeline for the company garage."

The V-12 wasn't as impractical as the radar brake, but both were forgotten along with the rest of the program when Nance failed to obtain financing.

One of many 1956 renderings for the ambitious but cost-effective new Studebaker-Packard
One of many 1956 renderings for the ambitious but cost-effective new Studebaker-Packard
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Though not widely known for many years, Nance had proposed selling a "Predictorized" reskin of the all-new 1956 Lincoln as a desperate last-minute ploy to attract needed funds. The notion went no further than a single Teague sketch depicting a pretty and remarkably adept blend of two disparate designs.

The 1957 Packard Black Bess concept car was developed as a last-ditch effort to obtain money from the bankers. Continue to the next page to learn more about Black Bess.

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1957 Packard Black Bess Concept Car

A sketch for the new-generation 1957 Packard Caribbean convertible.
A sketch for the new-generation 1957 Packard Caribbean convertible.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1957 Packard Black Bess concept car was a last-ditch effort to obtain money from the bankers. Unfortunately, Bess's end was bittersweet.

Packard's own 1957 was all but finished long before that trying summer of 1956. Again, as engineer Herb Misch later noted, the reason was to give Nance something tangible to show the bankers.

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What's more, tooling could have been ordered right then, though it's questionable whether Packard could have started production in time for model-year 1957.

A sketch for the new-generation 1957 Packard Four Hundred hardtop coupe.
A sketch for the new-generation 1957 Packard Four Hundred hardtop coupe.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Among the rubble in the Detroit bunker was a single running prototype of the big new 1957. Factory hands dubiously called it "Black Bess."

Teague remembered it looking "like it had been made with a cold soldering iron and a ball-peen hammer . . . a last-ditch effort to come up with some money for die models. The doors opened, but it was a very spartan mule. Herb Misch had put it together. There wasn't anything old on it except the V-8. . . ."

The fate of Black Bess is the sort of bittersweet tale that auto-industry insiders find irresistible. Teague said Misch called up one day in 1956 and told him to see to the car's destruction.

This 1958 Packard rendering shows only minor trim changes that are usual for a new design in its second season.
This 1958 Packard rendering shows only minor trim changes that are usual for a new design in its second season.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

But Misch didn't have the heart to carry out the "execution" himself, so Teague called in Red Lux, "an old welder in the studio who had been there since the cornerstone. There were two or three other cars . . . including another black one, a Clipper. I said, 'Okay, it's official, cut the black one up.' I came back around 4 p.m. and he was just finishing. The pieces were lying all around like a bomb had gone off. It was probably the dirtiest trick I ever played, but I said, 'My God, Red, what have you done? Not this one, man, the one over in the corner!'. . . . His face drained, and when I told him I was just kidding, he chased me around the room. You've got to have a sense of humor in this business."

Teague always did. He certainly needed it during Packard's last days in the bunker.

For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out: