For many people, Packard was, in its heyday, "the supreme combination of all that is fine in motor-cars." It may not have always been the technical "Standard of the World," but it was the social Standard of America, even for millions of would-be buyers who could never afford one.
In 1929, more people owned stock in Packard than any other company save General Motors, and there were far more Packard stockholders than Packard owners.
Packard got its start in Warren, Ohio, in 1899, when James Ward Packard figured he could build a better car than the Winton he had purchased. His first was a small one-cylinder model with automatic spark advance. James B. Joy took over the concern in 1901 and moved it to Detroit in 1903, the year of the first four-cylinder Packard.
The car that moved Packard firmly into the industry's front rank was its 48-horsepower Six of 1912. Packard then leap-frogged Cadillac's new 1915 V-8 with a V-12 the following year -- the fabled "Twin Six," though that only lasted until 1923. A new straight-eight arrived for the 1924 season. Packard did introduce a less-prestigious Six in 1921, but that was dropped well before 1930. The make then maintained its reputation mainly with eight-cylinder engines right on through its sad death in 1958.
For a company so single-mindedly devoted to luxury, Packard compiled a remarkable production record. It regularly outproduced Cadillac in 1925-30, even though its GM rival had help from LaSalle beginning in 1927. Except for 1931, '32, and '34, Packard continued to out-build Cadillac/LaSalle until WWII.
Like other luxury makes, Packard relied on middle-priced products to survive the Depression, most notably the One Twenty, new for 1935. This, together with the companion One Ten, enabled Packard not only to endure "hard times" but to grow rapidly from low-volume luxury to true mass-market producer. Unfortunately, the firm was far slower to abandon medium-price products after World War II than either Cadillac or Lincoln, thus sowing the seeds of its ultimate demise.
In 1923, Packard began using a "series" number to designate each year's model line, a practice it continued into the '50s. Historians have since converted these to model years for ease of recognition. The Seventh Series, for example, coincides with 1930.
That hierarchy began with a standard Eight, which had the least-pretentious bodies on relatively short wheelbases of 127.5 and 134.5 inches. Power came from a 320-cubic-inch inline engine making 90 bhp. Next up was the dashing Speedster Eight, offering lithe boattail and standard roadsters, plus phaeton, victoria, and sedan, all on a 134-inch chassis.
Speedsters cost the world -- $5200-$6000 -- so only 150 were built before the series was canceled after 1930. A 385-cid eight delivered 125-145 bhp in Speedsters. A 106-bhp version powered Custom and DeLuxe Eights on respective wheelbases of 140.5 and 145.5 inches. These were generally built with closed bodies, but were also available in phaeton, roadster, and convertible styles by Packard and various custom coach-builders. Prices here weren't quite the world, ranging from $3200 to over $5000. Then again, such sums bought a rather nice house at the time.
The 1931 Eighth Series comprised standard, Custom, and DeLuxe Eights. The standard line now offered "Individual Customs" on the 134.5-inch chassis. Included were a Dietrich convertible sedan and victoria, plus Packard's own cabriolet, town car, and landaulet styles. Standard models retained the 320 engine, now 10 bhp richer; Custom and DeLuxe again carried the 385 unit, now with 120 bhp.
The extra power came from modified intake and exhaust passages similar to those on the 1930 Speedsters. Other linewide mechanical changes included automatic Bijur chassis-lubrication system and a new quick-shift mechanism for the four-speed gearbox to reduce effort.
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Packard Ninth Series
For 1932's Packard Ninth Series came a more-conventional three-speed all-synchromesh transmission, plus lower, more-streamlined styling that was nonetheless similar to upright 1930-31 appearance.
But the big news occurred at the top and bottom of the line. Leading the fleet was a new Twin Six, which was renamed Twelve after this one year. It bore no relationship to the 1916-23 original, with a new 445.5-cid V-12 that had actually been planned for an aborted front-drive chassis. Though a fairly low numerical axle ratio was available, most of these cars got gearsets of 4.41:1 or higher.
The result was smooth, relatively shift-free motoring rather than high performance. The factory claimed a sustained 100 mph was well within the new V-12's capabilities, but that was under test conditions; the 160-bhp engine usually ran out of breath at about 90 mph in stock tune. At 60 or 70 mph, though, it was whisper quiet and highly refined.
The 1932-34 V-12s shared the same two wheelbases and most bodies with the upper Eight series, which was again called DeLuxe for '32, then Super. In all cases, the longer chassis was reserved for Individual Customs and a standard seven-passenger sedan and limousine.
Despite their prestige as the ultimate Packards, the V-12s arrived at only $100-$200 above counterpart DeLuxes with factory bodywork, but the gap grew as time passed, especially between the various custom-body models.
In 1935, when "senior" production was consolidated to make room for the new high-volume One Twenty, the Twelve gained a stroked 473-cid engine with 175 bhp, and shifted to 139- and 144-inch wheelbases. Super Eights offered similar body styles on those same chassis, as well as a trim 132-inch platform. Custom bodies thinned quickly as coachbuilders either went bankrupt or were bought out, but a few were always listed through 1942.
As an independent, Packard couldn't face the Depression with solid financial backing from a big parent, so it tried medium-priced cars well before Cadillac or Lincoln. Its first was the 1932 Light Eight, appearing two years ahead of a smaller, cheaper LaSalle and four years ahead of Lincoln's Zephyr.
A quality product built with the same meticulous care as other Packards, the Light Eight was true to its name. It rode a lighter, trimmer 127.8-inch chassis mounting the standard Eight's 320 engine, rated that year at 110 bhp. The Light Eight was thus faster than its bigger sisters. Body styles comprised four-door sedan, five-passenger coupe-sedan, and rumble-seat roadster and coupe.
But the Light Eight looked chunkier than other '32 Packards because it was shorter overall, and its attractively affordable pricing -- around $2000 -- was more liability than asset. A Light Eight cost almost as much to build as a corresponding standard Eight yet sold for $500-$850 less, so Packard was lucky to break even on any Light Eight sold. The line was accordingly dropped after this one year.
Packard lost $7 million in 1932, much of it on the Light Eight, so company president Alvan Macauley began searching the ranks of GM executives for someone wise in the ways of volume production who could help the firm develop a profitable middle-priced car. Ironically, the firm netted $500,000 with 1933 sales that amounted to 38 percent of the high-priced market -- well above Cadillac's share. Trouble was, the high-priced market was virtually gone.
But Macauley's search was about to pay big dividends. Soon coming aboard were Max Gilman, "that hardboiled guy in New York" (he'd started as a Brooklyn truck salesman in 1919), and George T. Christopher, a production whiz enticed out of retirement from GM. (Gilman replaced Macauley as president in 1938, when the latter became chairman; Christopher replaced Gilman in 1942.) While Gilman astutely set the publicity stage, Christopher modernized Packard's plant end-to-end for much higher volume. The fruit of their combined labors was unveiled on January 6, 1935, as the One Twenty.
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The Packard One Twenty
The One Twenty was a dramatic departure for Packard. Bowing in seven models, the One Twenty cost a little more than half as much as the unmourned Light Eight -- $1000-$1100 -- perfect for those who'd always wanted a Packard but had never been able to afford one.
There were traditional hallmarks like the "ox-yoke" radiator and red hexagon wheel-hub emblems, but styling was updated, emerging conservative but contemporary with rounded contours, "potato-shape" windows, fullsome fenders, and a radiator raked 30 degrees from vertical -- all pretty daring for Packard.
Designed largely by former GM people, the One Twenty engine was a straightforward L-head eight of 257.2 cid and 110 bhp. Features included a heavily ribbed block, individual exhaust ports, ample water jackets, five main bearings, and counterweighted overlapping journals. It was a smooth engine, easy on gas, and granite strong. After 1935, a longer stroke yielded 282 cid and 120 bhp. Most One Twentys could reach 85 mph and do 0-60 in less than 20 seconds -- not bad for a 3500-pound prewar car.
For 1936, the One Twenty added a convertible sedan bearing "Dietrich" body plates, though Ray Dietrich personally had nothing to do with it; his name had been owned by the Murray Body Company since the early '30s.
The following year brought a station wagon, three DeLuxe closed models, and a 138-inch wheelbase sedan and limousine. The '37 Senior Packards joined the One Twenty in offering independent front suspension, grease fittings (instead of the Bijur automatic chassis-lube system), and hydraulic brakes. For 1938, when the One Twenty was simply called Eight (one year only), the standard wheelbase lengthened to 127 inches.
Though long and unfairly criticized as "cheap," the One Twenty was a genuine Packard in appearance, road behavior, and workmanship. To no one's surprise, it sold like nickel hot dogs. As a result, Packard rocketed to 12th in industry production for 1935, leaping from 8000 to nearly 32,000. And it kept right on soaring, reaching about 61,000 in '36 and 122,000 in '37. A sharp recession held 1938 volume to some 56,000, but the firm soon recovered, and output remained healthy until World War II.
Contributing to that 1937 record was an even less-expensive line, the new Six, called One-Ten for 1940-42. Arriving on a 115-inch wheelbase, it used what was basically an over-bored One Twenty eight with two fewer cylinders, which made for a 237-cid six with 100 bhp. Wheelbase stretched to 122 inches for 1938-39, when displacement went up to 245 cid, though horsepower was unchanged.
Offerings basically duplicated the One Twenty's, but prices averaged some $150 lower, so the One Ten outsold the One Twenty by 13-to-10 in 1937. Though its six wasn't as smooth or potent as the One Twenty eight, it did offer excellent mileage and adequate performance.
The One Ten completed Packard's transformation from a purveyor of virtually handmade luxury cars to one of Detroit's top-10 producers. Of course, the firm still sold regular and Super Eights and opulent Twelves through decade's end, but at a rate of only some 6000 a year. The One Twenty was far and away the breadwinning eight, costing some $1200 less than a standard Eight. Testifying to its success, the Super Eight lost its 385 engine after 1936, demoted to the 320 unit of the standard Eight, which itself disappeared after 1937, though not in name.
But the rather small and dumpy One Ten/Six was by no means a Packard in the traditional sense. Perhaps the firm had become too greedy for sales, blinded by George Christopher's push for ever-higher production.
Regardless, by the end of the '30s, Cadillac was in firm charge as the sales and prestige leader of the high-dollar class. Many people who previously wouldn't have been seen in a Caddy now bought them instead of big Packards, which had been upstaged by the low-cost One Ten/One Twenty that looked almost the same, at least in front.
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Packard Design Changes and the Darrin-Packards
A definite factor in Cadillac's leap to luxury-league supremacy was its more-modern Harley Earl styling. True to tradition, Packard maintained a tall, formal look that seemed quite stuffy by 1939, not least because it hadn't changed much since the great design overhaul of four years before.
The line was again anchored for '39 by the Six (soon to be called One Ten), priced as low as $1000 for the business coupe. (Fords and Chevys cost $600-$900 that year.) The One Twenty name returned on entry-level eight-cylinder models, with 127- and 148-inch wheelbases; prices were $1245-$1700.
Super Eights offered the same two chassis, but models were reduced to cover a $1650-$2300 spread. The Twelve, however, still ran a very broad gamut of models and prices ($4155-$8355), including custom styles by Rollston and Brunn. However, the magnificent Twelve was in its final year; the Depression had rendered it an unnecessary anachronism. Only 5744 were built during its eight-year reign as queen of the line (including 1932 Twin Sixes).
More major styling adjustments occurred for 1940, when a new 160-bhp 356-cid engine bowed in an expanded Super Eight line divided between One Sixty and Custom One Eighty models. These spanned wheelbases of 127, 138, and 148 inches and a price band of $1500-$2900 with standard bodywork.
The new 356 was impressively quiet, what with nine main bearings and a crankshaft that weighed 105 pounds. It was also potent enough to push the lighter models to well over 100 mph. The 356 would power Supers through 1947 and Customs through 1950. Another new feature for 1940 was air conditioning. Packard was the first production car to offer it, though it was bulky and not as effective as later units.
Meantime, the low-priced Six was again a One Ten for 1940, but neither it nor the One Twenty was much changed mechanically. However, rumble-seat models were eliminated, and the One Twenty extended its coverage with four new DeLuxe-trim models: a sedan, club coupe and sedan, and convertible coupe in the $1160-$1300 price range.
A stunning exception to Packard's more-competitive 1940 price structure was a new quartet of rakish custom-built Darrin models, the work of renowned designer Howard A. "Dutch" Darrin.
Effectively filling the glamour gap left by the departed Twelve, these comprised a One Twenty convertible victoria, a Custom Super Eight One Eighty version on the same short wheelbase, and a long-chassis Custom Super convertible sedan and closed Sport Sedan. All boasted ground-hugging silhouettes enhanced by the complete absence of running boards (Dutch detested running boards, though they were fast-fading anyway). The victorias were exquisite: smooth, low, ideally proportioned, yet with just the right amount of proper Packard dignity.
The Darrin-Packards evolved from a handful of 1938-39 specials that Dutch had built at his Hollywood works for various celebrities, including actor/crooner Dick Powell. Strong response encouraged Dutch to convince Packard to catalog such wares on a special-order basis. In a clever ploy to do just that, he got the Powell car parked at the Packard Proving Grounds in the summer of 1939, where it was roundly cheered by dealers attending their annual sales meeting.
Save sectioned radiators and hoods, the Darrins wore unique body panels. The Sport Sedan was a handsome "gentleman's" car with a semblance of Bill Mitchell's 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special in its curved, blind-quarter roof, chrome-edged windows, and sharp beltline. But the real eye-catcher was the sleek victoria, with cut-down windshield and an abrupt kickup to the rear flanks from a gradually sloped doorline -- the famous "Darrin notch."
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The Packard Clipper
The Darrins were naturally Packard's priciest 1940s -- $3819 for the One Twenty victoria, $6332 for the Custom Super convertible sedan -- so sales were naturally minuscule. Then, too, planned production (at the old Auburn plant in Connersville, Indiana) was deliberately limited. Only 50 victorias were built for 1940 and a mere 12 convertible sedans (of which nine survive today).
The Sport Sedan was announced as "virtually a request car -- built for those who look to Packard to...create the newest, the finest, the most luxurious in motorcar transportation." But it never got going, and was dropped after only two were completed at Dutch's shop.
Packard itself built two "Darrinized" sedans with stock 1940 front ends, but they weren't nearly as pretty and led nowhere productwise. As you might expect, all Darrin-Packards have long been deemed "Classics" by the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA).
Also offered for 1940 were an all-weather cabriolet and town car by Rollston, priced at $4473 and $4599, respectively. Only a handful were built. But even some regular models were quite scarce. Of the 98,000 Packards built for 1940, only 5662 were Super Eights and just 1900 were Customs. The rest were One Tens and One Twentys.
Packard finally rebodied its entire line for 1941, though it wasn't blindingly obvious. The main visual clues were slightly larger windows and -- in a big styling innovation for Packard -- headlamps set firmly within the front fenders. Wheelbases were unchanged, but floors were lowered, suspension was suitably revised, motor mounts were enlarged, and engines benefited from steel-backed rod bearings and an oil-bath air cleaner.
These changes also applied to Darrins, but there was only one now: a Custom Super Eight One Eighty Victoria. This retained its general 1940 appearance save minor trim, a slightly different "notch" treatment, and the flush headlamps.
One other difference: Its production was transferred to Cincinnati, where ambulance/hearse builder Sayers and Scoville crafted 35 as '41 models and another 15 to little-changed 1942 specifications. Overdrive was still optional throughout the Packard line, but for 1941 it could team with a new $37.50 "Electromatic" clutch. This disengaged by manifold vacuum upon releasing the accelerator to permit "clutchless" driving in second gear, which covered most day-to-day use; the pedal could still be floored to select first.
But Packard saved its biggest '41 news for mid-season when it unveiled the Clipper, a four-door sedan priced at $1420, squarely between the One Twenty and One Sixty. Though built on the One Twenty chassis, it looked like no Packard before: smooth and modern -- a bold, unexpected bid for industry design leadership.
The Clipper bore the unmistakable Darrin touch but was actually a joint project with contributions from Packard's own stylists under Werner Gubitz, plus several stellar consultants. Still, it was mostly Darrin, seen in the descending beltline, tapered tail, and long prow-front with the slimmest Packard radiator yet. Predicting postwar styling at Packard and elsewhere was a nearly flush-sided "envelope" body with front fenders "swept-through" into the doors -- and width that exceeded height.
Dutch had dashed off the Clipper in just 10 days to meet Packard's deadline, but never got a promised $10,000 fee. That was poor form, for the Clipper alone garnered some 16,000 sales -- 22 percent of Packard's total '41 volume, which was down some 25,000 from 1940.
Still, this performance encouraged Packard to proceed with making "Clipper styling" virtually linewide for 1942. The sole exceptions were commercial vehicles, One Sixty/One Eighty convertible coupes, and custom bodies. The last again included the Rollston styles as well as new LeBaron-built long sedans and limousines and a beautifully formal Sport Brougham.
Like other makes, Packard's 1942 production was cut short by America's entry into World War II, the total ending just shy of 34,000, mostly Clipper-styled 110/120 and One Sixty/One Eighty models.
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Packard After World War II
After building Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engines and power units for military vehicles and PT boats, Packard returned to peacetime as the only independent free of debt. But then came a decision that would ultimately prove fatal.
Instead of reverting to luxury cars alone, Packard continued to stress medium-price models in the One Twenty tradition. While such cars had been vital during the Depression, they simply weren't needed in the hectic sell-everything postwar economy, and they severely squandered what remained of Packard's grand-luxe image.
Still, disaster was a long way off in 1946, when Packard followed most other Detroit makes in reprising its final prewar line, though abbreviated. That year's low-priced Clipper Six sedan and coupe looked exactly like the Clipper Eight models, which included DeLuxe versions. All used the familiar 120-inch wheelbase.
Clipper Super and Custom sedans and coupes had the equally familiar 127-inch chassis save the seven-passenger Custom sedan and limo (which had a 148-inch wheelbase). Basic Eights retained the 282 engine with 125 bhp, Supers and Customs kept the 165-bhp 356 from '42, and the Six continued with its 105-bhp 245. Overdrive and Electromatic clutch returned as options. Customs were trimmed with plush broadcloth and leather upholstery, special carpeting, and beautiful imitation wood paneling. Packard moved more than 30,000 cars in 1946 and over 50,000 of the '47s, which were identical except for serial numbers.
There was just one problem. Most automakers were able to stretch their prewar tooling through 1948, then issue all-new postwar designs that were ahead of the Clipper in style. But Packard, despite its postwar financial health, couldn't afford to junk its prewar dies so soon because they hadn't been amortized over sufficient production.
Accordingly, Packard stylists loaded on heavy chunks of sheetmetal to give the Clipper a modern "flow-through-fender" effect. It also added 200 needless pounds in curb weight.
The result looked fatter too, aggravated by a short, squat grille -- eggcrate on Customs, bar-type on other models -- that was far-less-elegant than the slim prow of 1941-47. All this moved auto writer Tom McCahill to pronounce the '48 Packard fit for "a dowager in a Queen Mary hat." Many simply called it a "pregnant elephant."
Still, in 1948 it didn't matter whether a Packard looked trim or tubby or cost $2500 or $4500. Like most everyone else in the postwar seller's market, Packard could sell every car it built, and it sold a respectable number: some 92,000 for model-year '48 and about 116,000 of the similar '49s -- two of its best years ever.
Engine and chassis assignments altered somewhat for the '48 line of standard, DeLuxe, Super, and Custom Eights. Customs retained their 160-bhp 356 engine, but Supers got a new 327 unit with five main bearings and 145 bhp; standard Eights used a much squarer new 288 engine with 130 bhp. These powerplants carried through to May 1949 in the Twenty-Second Series. Then the Twenty-Third series appeared with horsepower raised to 135 for standards and to 150 for Supers.
As before, sedans and coupes were Packard's mainstays in 1948-50. Standards, DeLuxes, and Supers kept to 120-inch wheelbases, Customs to a 127-inch chassis; a 141-inch platform supported four new Super Eight long sedans and limos, while a 148-inch chassis continued under counterpart Customs. Packard also crafted a few long Custom commercial chassis, plus some six-cylinder 1948 platforms for taxi and export use.
Also new for '48 were Custom and Super convertibles and the novel four-door Station Sedan in the standard Eight series. The last, priced at $3425, had a wagonlike body made almost entirely of steel, though it employed structural wood at the tailgate and decorative timber on the doors. It was unusual for a Packard, which may be why it didn't sell too well: just 3864 copies through 1950. The Custom Eight convertible was Packard's priciest standard model tagged at $4295 for 1948-49, then $4520.
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Packard Twenty-Third Series
Ushered in with the Packard Twenty-Third series of mid-1949 was Ultramatic, the only automatic transmission developed by an independent without outside help.
This combined a torque converter with multiple-disc and direct-drive clutches, plus forward/reverse bands. The car started from rest using the torque converter, then shifted into direct mechanical drive at about 15 miles an hour. Though much smoother than GM's rival Hydra-Matic, Ultramatic provided only leisurely acceleration, and frequent use of Low range for faster starts caused premature wear.
Also arriving with the Twenty-Third series was a mild facelift distinguished by a beltline spear on most models, plus new Deluxe-trim Eight and Super Eight sedans and coupes. The Super versions carried a 327-cid engine and the same eggcrate grille as corresponding Customs but cost about $1000 less, so Custom sales suffered mightily. So did Packard as a whole. The seller's market was ending, and production showed it, plunging to just under 42,400 units for the model year.
Packard finally managed a total redesign for 1951, adopting John Reinhart's squarish, but praiseworthy, "high-pockets" notchback shape -- a complete break with the "elephants." A new 122-inch chassis supported a "200" series of standard and DeLuxe two- and four-door sedans, plus a spiffy "250" convertible and Mayfair hardtop coupe, the latter body style a first for Packard. A 127-inch platform was used for "300" and Patrician 400 sedans.
Like the old One Ten, the 200s weren't traditional Packards even though they carried the same 288 engine as the previous standard Eight. The line even included a $2302 business coupe, $529 less than the cheapest '51 Cadillac. But with the market ended, the 200s couldn't hope to do well against established price rivals, and they didn't.
The "real" Packards of 1951 were the 250s, which did sell pretty well, and the regal 300 and Patrician. At just under $3700, the Patrician effectively replaced the broad Custom Eight line. But though very smooth and utterly reliable, the Custom's 356 engine cost too much to build in light of expected sales, so Packard's biggest '51 engine was the destroked 327, previously the middle powerplant and with nearly as much horsepower: 155 for Patricians and Ultramatic 250/300s, 150 otherwise.
Overall, Packard's new '51 package fared quite well -- probably because it was new in a year when little else was. Model-year production ended at 101,000, more than twice the dismal 1950 total. (Packard also built 401 "300" chassis that year for the professional car market and what remained of its once-thriving custom-body business.)
Unfortunately, 1952 production was down substantially, sliding to just under 63,000 units. Changes were few. The 200 business coupe was dropped, power brakes arrived as a (postwar) first-time option, and there were colorful new interiors in high-quality fabric and leather by fashion designer Dorothy Draper. Styling was virtually untouched, however. The most-obvious change was a different wing position for the traditional "pelican" hood ornament.
A far more significant change occurred in the executive suite during 1952. In May, aging president Hugh Ferry (who'd replaced George Christopher in 1949) stepped down in favor of James J. Nance, a market-wise hotshot recruited from Hotpoint to turn Packard around. That was sorely needed. By the time Nance arrived, Packard's Detroit plant was working at only 50 percent capacity. Incredibly, several long-time executives felt that was good enough, but Nance saw then what we all see now: At that pace, Packard was doomed.
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James Nance Revamps Packard
James Nance blew in like a tornado, aggressively seeking new military business while declaring that the firm's continued emphasis on medium-price cars was "bleeding the Packard name white."
Accordingly, he made the 200/250 into new Packard Clipper models for 1953, stage-one of his plan to divorce the cheaper cars from the rest of the line in both fact and name. Packard, he decreed, would henceforth build nothing but luxury cars, including the long-wheelbase formal sedans and limousines it had lately neglected.
Lack of time and money precluded a line-wide makeover for '53, but Nance did see to the inclusion of an eight-place Executive Sedan and "Corporation Limousine" on a massive 149-inch chassis, priced around $7000. He also contracted with the Derham Body Company for a few formal Patricians with leather-covered tops, tiny rear windows, and $6531 price tags.
Also for the top of the 1953 line, Nance pushed out the Caribbean, a glamorous convertible on the short wheelbase with colorful styling by Richard A. Teague. Inspired by Richard Arbib's 1952 Packard Pan American show car (built by Henney), the Caribbean carried a 180-bhp 327, rakish circular rear-wheel cutouts, jaunty "Continental kit" outside spare tire, and chrome wire wheels, plus most every optional amenity in the book. It cost a lofty $5210 and was deliberately limited to 750 copies -- for snob appeal -- but the Caribbean was as well-received as Cadillac's new '53 Eldorado.
Anchoring the '53 line were Nance's Clippers: two- and four-door sedans in standard and DeLuxe guise powered by unchanged 288 and 327 engines. Included in the standard group was a snazzy hardtop-styled pillared two-door called Sportster, attractively priced at $2805. The 250-series was defunct, but the Mayfair and standard convertible returned; the cheapest long-wheelbase '53 was a sedan called Cavalier, replacing the 300.
Nance had hoped for all-new '54 Packards, but time and money were again lacking, so a look-alike interim series was fielded with rimmed headlamps and integrated backup lights the only visible differences. The 327 engine was enlarged to 359 cid and 212 bhp for Patrician, Caribbean and standard convertibles, commercial chassis, and a hardtop named Pacific. Air conditioning now returned for the first time since the war.
But 1954 was a terrible year, with production of only 31,000 cars. Of these, some 23,000 were Clippers: Specials and DeLuxes as before, plus new Super sedans and a Super Panama hardtop coupe. Specials again used the 288 engine, but the DeLuxe's 327 was bumped up five bhp; the latter also powered Supers. The Cavalier sedan used a 185-bhp version. Chassis production came to 335.
The revolutionary new model Nance wanted for '54 was postponed to '55 partly by the so-called Studebaker-Packard merger, which was actually a Packard buyout. What Nance didn't know when he signed the papers was that Studebaker had huge productivity problems in its high-overhead South Bend, Indiana plant, with a break-even point somewhere over 250,000 cars.
Contrary to many accounts, Packard was still a fairly healthy company at this point, but Studebaker was sinking and would eventually drag Packard down with it.
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Packard Builds Bodies Again
As the all-new '55s neared production, another smoldering problem burst into flame. Back in 1940, Packard had stopped building its own bodies, contracting the work to Briggs Manufacturing Company. But Packard lost this supplier when Chrysler bought Briggs in 1954, and thus had to build its own bodies again. Inexplicably, it settled for a cramped body plant on Conner Avenue in Detroit.
Never large enough, this facility caused big production tie-ups and quality-control problems that hampered sales of the '55 Packards and forced immediate cancellation of long models. Though Packard built some 55,000 cars for prosperous '55, it would have done better to assign body production to its old, but adequate, main plant on Detroit's East Grand Boulevard.
Despite these woes, the 1955 Packard was a technological marvel. Prime among its wonders was "Torsion-Level" suspension: long torsion bars connecting front and rear wheels on each side. A complex electrical system enabled the suspension to correct for load weight, and effectively interlinked all four wheels for truly extraordinary ride and handling despite two-ton bulk.
And there was more: powerful new short-stroke ohv V-8s, ousting the old-fashioned flathead straight-eights at last. Clipper DeLuxes and Supers (now shorn of two-door sedans) used a 320-cid version with 225 bhp. A bored-out 352 delivered 245 bhp in new Clipper Customs (a sedan and Constellation hardtop), 275 bhp in Caribbeans (via twin four-barrel carbs) and 260 bhp in Patrician sedans and new "Four Hundred" hardtop coupes. Ultramatic was suitably modified to handle the higher V-8 torque.
The engines, improved Ultramatic, and Torsion-Level gave the '55 Packards a fine chassis. Despite their heft, these were impressively fast and roadable cars -- real Packards in every sense. Styling was equally impressive. Dick Teague's clever facelift of the old '51 body produced "cathedral" taillights; peaked front fenders; an ornate grille; and that '55 must-have, a wrapped windshield. Clippers gained their own special grille and retained 1954-style taillights.
Production problems at the Conner plant were finally licked, but not in time for '56, when customers were scared away by Studebaker's desperate struggle as well as the '55 Packards' notorious quality and service problems. Ironically, the '56s were better built.
Nance's "divorce action" reached fruition that year in an entirely separate Clipper line. Besides registering the name as a distinct make, he decreed separate Clipper and Packard dealer signs, and changed Packard Division to the Packard-Clipper Division of Studebaker-Packard Corporation. As a final touch, "Packard" appeared nowhere on '56 Clippers except for tiny decklid script -- and some didn't even have that.
Nevertheless, the line again offered five models: DeLuxe, Super, and Custom four-door sedans and Super and Custom Constellation hardtops. Wheelbase was unchanged, but horsepower was lifted to 275 for Customs and 240 for other models. Torsion-Level was again featured too, although a conventional suspension was available on the DeLuxe. Options included overdrive manual transmission ($110), Ultramatic ($199), power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning.
These Clippers were luxuriously trimmed and nicely styled, but sales weren't sufficient to help floundering S-P. The DeLuxe sedan was the most popular, attracting 5715 buyers. Least popular was the handsome Custom Constellation hardtop, garnering under 1500 sales. Though still obvious Packard relatives, the '56 Clippers retained their own grille and taillamp designs, made even more different in line with Nance's aims.
The Packard line still listed Clipper-type models in the 1956 Executive, a sedan and hardtop coupe announced at midyear to bridge the price gap with Clipper. Executives even shared the Clipper's chassis, 275-bhp 352 V-8, and pointy taillights, but wore "senior" '56 front-end styling, plus higher prices in the $3500-$3600 range.
The longer 127-inch chassis returned for Patrician, Four Hundred, and two Caribbeans: the familiar convertible and a new hardtop, both with unique seat covers that could be reversed from fabric to leather. All these models were upgraded to a bored-out 374 V-8 packing a mighty 310 bhp in Caribbeans and 290 bhp elsewhere. But none of this helped, and only 10,353 Packards were built for '56, including just 263 Caribbean hardtops and 276 convertibles.
For more on defunct American cars, see:
The Packardbaker and the End of Packard
Packard was now sinking fast, being pulled down with Studebaker. Including Clipper, 1956 production totaled 28,835 cars, just slightly more than half of '55 volume.
Studebaker-Packard had planned an all-new 1957 corporate line that included a shared bodyshell but totally different looks for Studebaker and Clipper, plus a much larger separate platform for a group of high-luxury Packards styled in the image of Dick Teague's 1956 Packard Predictor show car.
But S-P was on the ropes, so no financial backing could be found, leading Nance to resign in August 1956. (He soon resurfaced at another ill-fated outfit: the new Edsel Division of Ford Motor Company.)
Salvation finally arrived in the form of Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which picked up Studebaker-Packard as a dalliance and/or tax write-off. C-W's Roy Hurley began directing S-P's affairs. One of his first decisions was to end Packard production in Detroit and substitute Studebaker-based models built in South Bend.
Thus appeared a new Packard Clipper for 1957: the infamous "Packardbaker," as many have since called it. Though a very good Studebaker, it was hardly in the same league with the '55-56 Packards. It came in just two models: four-door Town Sedan and Country Sedan station wagon.
The sedan was on Studebaker's longer 120.5-inch chassis while the wagon was on a 116.5-inch chassis. A supercharged Studebaker 289-cid V-8 delivered the same 275 bhp as on '55 Caribbeans and '56 Executives, but Ultramatic, Torsion-Level, and other "real Packard" features were gone.
Styling, at least, played on Packard themes. Prices were higher than for comparable Studeys: $3212/$3384. But everyone recognized this as a charade, and only about 5000 of the '57s, mostly sedans, were bought.
A big-Packard revival was still theoretically possible as the '58s were planned, so S-P again tried a holding action. This time there were four "Packardbakers" priced as high as $3995. Studebaker's shorter 116.5-inch platform carried a two-door hardtop and four-door wagon, the 120-inch chassis a sedan and the Packard Hawk. The last, perhaps the most-famous of this series, was a more-luxurious version of Studebaker's Golden Hawk.
All featured full-leather interiors and bizarre styling announced by low, "fish-mouth" grilles. In defense of stylist Duncan McRae, the Hawk was really built only because of Roy Hurley, who also dictated its long, bolt-on fiberglass nose and gaudy gold-mylar tailfins.
McRae, however, gets the blame for the Hawk's outside "armrests" and styling on the other three models: also garishly finned, and with hastily contrived four-headlight systems to keep up with an industry trend. Only the Hawk was supercharged. Other '58 Packards used a stock 289 with 210 bhp. Production was uniformly low: 159 wagons, 588 Hawks, 675 hardtops, and 1200 sedans.
With that, there was no point in going on, and once-proud Packard vanished from the scene (though its name continued in the corporate title until 1962). It was a great loss, but it did give Studebaker a new lease on life, though that make, too, would soon expire.