Between 1935 and 1956, the Packard Motor Car Company went from the top of the heap among American automotive brands to just another independent, struggling to survive on the scraps of the Big Three. This week, we take a look at the Packard Clipper, the “bathtub Packards” of the late 1940s, and how the once-great automaker lost its way. We also examine one of the company’s odder experiments, the 1948 Packard Station Sedan.
PACKARD CHANGES DIRECTION
At the start of the Great Depression, the Packard Motor Car Company was the default choice for American luxury car buyers. There were cars that were more expensive or more exotic, but Packard had an aura of blue-blooded respectability that no other domestic automaker could match. A big Packard was not a sign of material accomplishment so much as a badge of class status, bolstered by graceful but restrained styling, impeccable quality, and exacting engineering.
The arrival of the Depression left Packard in an increasingly precarious position. While Packard’s old-money clientele were less affected by the economic collapse than were the middle class, even the very wealthy were becoming wary of displays of conspicuous affluence. Packard sales began to drop, leaving the company in the red.
President and chairman Alvan Macauley recognized that if it were to survive the decade, Packard would have to broaden its market. He promoted Max Gilman, the gruff, no-nonsense head of Packard’s New York distributor, to general manager and appointed former GM executive George T. Christopher as assistant vice president, responsible for overseeing the development of a new middle-class car, the One Twenty.
The One Twenty, launched in January 1935, brought Packard within the reach of upper-middle-class buyers for the first time. While far from cheap, it was priced to compete with Buick and handily undercut both Cadillac’s LaSalle “companion make” and the Lincoln Zephyr. The One Twenty was followed less than 18 months later by a new Packard Six, the marque’s first six-cylinder engine since 1928. Both the One Twenty and the Six were solid, high-quality cars, sharing the styling of the “senior” Packards on a slightly smaller scale. These “junior” Packards were a great success, making 1937 the company’s best-ever sales year. Of the 87,000-odd cars Packard built for the 1937 model year, about 95% were Sixes and One Twenties.
Macauley assured the press, public, and stockholders that Packard had no intention of abandoning the prestige market, but Gilman, who became president in April 1939, had other ideas. Gilman and Christopher saw the senior cars as inefficient and outmoded. They were expensive and labor intensive to produce — the Main Plant, where the senior models were built, had nearly as many workers as the newer plant that built the junior cars — and their sales were very low. Sales of the Packard Twelve hadn’t topped 1,000 units a year since 1933 and the Super Eight’s annual volume generally hovered below 3,000 units.
The era of the great hand-built Classics was ending in any case. Cadillac had dropped its own V-12 and V-16 models by the end of the 1940 model year, and many other high-end nameplates had already expired. The market for truly bespoke bodywork had all but vanished; the new trend was to factory-built luxury cars with off-the-rack prices. Although Packard still cataloged a few “factory customs” carrying names like LeBaron and Rollston, most were little more than expensive trim packages, analogous to the “designer editions” that AMC and other manufacturers launched in the seventies.
Packard’s slow-selling 12-cylinder cars were quietly dropped in 1939. When the Eighteenth Series bowed in 1940, the senior models were little more than stretched versions of the junior cars, differing mainly in interior appointments and hood length. Even their new designations — One-Sixty and One-Eighty — suggested their commonality with the middle-class One-Twenty and six-cylinder One-Ten. The result was higher volume, but a serious erosion of Packard’s old-money reputation.
Playing in the middle-class market demanded that Packard become more competitive in both engineering and styling. Previously, Packard’s central imperatives were continuity and attention to detail, not innovation or fashion. The marque’s typical customer was very conservative and tended to react poorly to anything too new or too flashy. Packard stylists therefore had to walk a narrow line, updating the company’s look just enough to stay current without alienating existing buyers.
Until the early thirties, Packard styling — known within the company as “body art” — was the purview of engineers and draftsmen, who generally borrowed designs — sometimes but not always under license — from independent coachbuilders. Ray Dietrich (of LeBaron and Murray) became a design consultant in 1926, but it was not until January 1932 that Packard established a real in-house styling department. Its director was Edward Macauley, the 32-year-old son of Alvan Macauley.
By the rather reactionary standards of Detroit society, Ed Macauley was something of a playboy. He loved jazz, was a fair saxophone player, and was very fond of motorcycles and sports cars. He had no formal artistic training of any kind, but, like Edsel Ford, he was a good critic and a decent administrator. To his credit, he was well-liked by Packard designers, engineers, and workers, his warmth, conviviality, and lack of pretension helping to overcome the undisguised nepotism of his appointment.
Since Macauley was an administrator rather than a designer, the real creative force behind Packard design became chief stylist Werner Gubitz. Gubitz, a German immigrant who had joined Packard from Dietrich Inc. in 1927, was actually three years older than his boss, but Gubitz was a quiet introvert, quite different from the bon vivant Macauley. Gubitz’s early designs showed the strong influence of Ray Dietrich (and for a time Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, a Packard consultant in 1931–1932), but Gubitz’s own sensibilities became more apparent as the thirties wore on, gracefully evolving Packard’s traditional themes in carefully measured steps suiting the marque’s conservative character.
THE PACKARD CLIPPER
This cautious approach to styling advancement served Packard well until the arrival in 1938 of the Cadillac Sixty Special. Styled by Bill Mitchell, the Sixty Special was a high-priced fashion leader with many design features that were considered groundbreaking at the time. Despite the reservations of some Cadillac executives, who feared it would be too big a leap for the brand’s existing customers, the Sixty Special became a great commercial success and had a galvanic influence on the American luxury car market, demonstrating that luxury car buyers were far more fashion conscious than most automakers had believed.
The Sixty Special evidently made Max Gilman very nervous, as did his and sales chief Bill Packer’s awareness that GM planned an even more radical new look for 1941. In late 1938, Packard management ordered Ed Macauley to launch a crash program to develop a Packard rival for the Sixty Special.
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Although you focused on Packard’s management along with the company’s (mis)fortunes, there were always rumors of external forces that contributed to Packard’s downfall. After WW2, the Big 3 seemed to gang up on the independents and there was some scuttlebutt regarding the sale of the mid-50’s Packard tooling to the Russians. I don’t know much detail and I’m curious if you had any insight.
The rumors of Packard selling its tooling (first for the pre-Clipper senior cars in 1941-42, then its final mid-fifties cars) have persisted for many years.
I’m not at all sure what to make of them. The idea that Packard might have sold or transferred the tooling in 1941-42 is conceptually plausible, but James Arthur Ward, who went through Packard’s records at some length in the late eighties, found no documentation whatever of any official transfer, nor any mention of it in minutes of Packard board meetings. Other historians have suggested that the Soviet ZIS, despite its obvious resemblance to the prewar Packards, couldn’t have been struck from those dies. The idea that Packard would have sold or given its 1955-56 tooling to the Soviets in the late fifties strikes me as outlandish. My suspicion is that the Soviets simply found or bought a couple of actual Packards and produced studious locally made copies, just as they did with the Boeing B-29 Superfortress (knock-offs of which were manufactured as the Tupelov Tu-4).
Even if the Soviets did somehow end up with the actual tooling, it hardly would have made any difference, because Packard had already stopped using them. The prewar tooling was abandoned in 1941, when Briggs Body Co. persuaded Gilman and Macauley to transfer all body stamping work to Briggs. In retrospect, that wasn’t a good decision for Packard, but even if Packard had built the Clipper and later cars in-house, the outdated tooling would have been abandoned anyway. Much the same is true of the ’55-’56 tooling; in 1956, Studebaker-Packard shut down production in Detroit, as we’ll see in next week’s article. S-P had little choice about consolidating production in South Bend, and they had to sell the only Studebaker plant that could have accommodated Packard’s existing tooling. (Which at that point was seven years old, anyway.)
The only way the Big Three — or, more precisely, Ford and GM — "ganged up" on the independents was the price war between Ford and Chevy in 1952-1953, which we’ll also talk about next week. I don’t think there was any specific intent of smashing the independents, although certainly it was difficult for the independents to keep up with GM and Ford in pricing, frequent redesigns, etc.
GM senior management actually would have preferred for the independents to remain reasonably healthy, although they did little to make that happen. General Motors management (at the corporate level, not the individual divisions) lived in mortal fear that if they controlled too much of the market, the Justice Department would break them up on antitrust grounds. Still, I suppose you could compare GM’s actions to ‘incidentally’ wiping out a species by overdeveloping its habitat and disrupting its food supply…at that point, it hardly matters if you’re intending to cause extinction or not.
I’ve had an opportunity to examine several examples of the Russian ZIS 110 and the armored version – the 115. The body pieces are 100% NOT from the original Packard dies. I’ve measured both the Packard & ZIS body panels, and while some appear to be Packard, they are not. Some areas of the ZIS are not even close, for example, the windshield on the ZIS is sloped back about 15 degrees more than the Packard. The rear body panels, including rear window area and trunk lid, are more like the Cadillac limo of the 1941-48 period.
I had the chance to examine 3 very early [1949-52] ZIS limousines in great detail. What I discovered was quite interesting when it comes to individual parts. Let’s start with the intake manifold. The ZIS has electric windshield wipers, the post-war Packards had vacuum wipers. The Packard from 1946 to 1950 had an option of a vacuum operated clutch. The ZIS did not.
The Packard intake manifold had 2 drilled and tapped ports for engine vacuum, a small port towards the front of the manifold allowing for a vacuum line from the vacuum pump on top of the fuel pump, to aid in maintaining engine vacuum for the wipers. There was a larger drilled port toward the back of the intake manifold. If the vacuum clutch was ordered, a line was connected between the valve unit for the vacuum clutch and the intake manifold port. If the car was not equipped with the vacuum clutch, this port was sealed with a threaded plug.
ALL 3 of the ZIS limousines I examined had BOTH of the drilled and tapped ports, but they were sealed with threaded plugs. These plugs had SAE threads, not metric. Also of note, where the Packard manifold had a raised cast part number, the ZIS engines had a flat area, having been ground smooth. The ZIS exhaust manifold also didn’t have a part number. It’s obvious the ZIS engines had Packard manifolds.
Let’s look at the ZIS dashboard components. While the gauges had Russian markings, on close inspection behind the dash [I was lying across the front floor area with a small mirror and flashlight], I was able to spot markings on the 4 gauges for fuel, oil pressure, generator and water temperature, that were identical to markings on the ’41-’42 Packard 160 and 180 gauges made by King Seeley Corp. The back side of the speedometer was identical to the Packard one built by Auto-lite. The Clock on the glove box door had the same back side as the Packard clock from Borg Clock Co. It should be noted that the actual letters/numbers on these gauges were imprinted on the back of the glass panels in front of the gauges, speedometer and clock, so only the glass required changing to the Russian letters & numbers.
The radios in the ZIS dashboard were identical to the Philco radio found in the Packard, except the numbers on the dial face were different. On the side of the Philco radios in the Packard can be found a metal plate with the Packard/Philco name and part number. On the 1949 ZIS, the same plate was still riveted in place. On the other ZIS vehicles, the 2 holes were there, but the plates were not.
The Packard and ZIS both used electro-hydraulic windows [except for the series 115 ZIS armored vehicles]. The power window switches mounted towards the top of the dashboard, on either side of the ash tray, have mounting studs that can be accessed from under the dashboard as well. It’s a little bit hard to reach them, but in checking the studs with a thread gauge, it was clear they were also SAE thread, not metric.
The other ZIS dash components, including the Bakelite plastic parts, the chrome radio speaker grill, even the steering wheels [but equipped with a ZIS horn button] are identical to the 1942 Packard 180 cars.
What I believe happened is that the ZIS factory, making less than 2 dozen ZIS 110/115 vehicles a year, decided it was easier and cheaper to simply have buyers, either in north America or western Europe, buy genuine Packard parts and modify them as needed, for the ZIS vehicles.
But the major parts of the ZIS, including the engine & drive train, as well as the suspension, are manufactured with metric specifications and threads. that said, I have compared a new ZIS 110 head gasket to the Packard 356 head gasket, and they are basically the same, and interchangeable.
The ZIS does have a modified engine block. It has a huge adjustable pressure regulated oil pump, to allow the car to be started at extreme cold temperatures, by manually reducing the oil flow from the oil pump. This does require the driver to watch the oil pressure carefully, and as the engine starts to warm up, he turns a threaded rod, to maintain the oil pressure as the oil thins out.
That is very interesting, and sheds some new light on this subject. I had tended to assume the stories about Packard selling the body dies to ZIS were mainly speculative, based on the cars’ external resemblance rather than the kind of comparison you were able to make (which obviously would have been difficult to make in the seventies). It hadn’t occurred to me that the ZIS organization might buy and repurpose Packard components in this way. It would also parallel Soviet efforts in the immediate postwar period to reverse-engineer Western technology, like the aforementioned Tupolev Tu-4.
Soon after the fall of the USSR, I was in contact with the ZIL factory, and when I found out they had NO original brochures for the ZIS 101, 110, or 115, I made color copies and sent them, to help them in setting up a new historical department. So for several years I stayed in contact with one of the managers at ZIL, who explained how the ZIS 110 vehicles came about.
Thru the WW2 Lend-Lease program, the American government sent Stalin two 1942 Packard 180 series 2008 limousines. Stalin loved these cars and used them extensively during the war [the Russian government still has them].
After the war, Stalin said to create the new ZIS based on the Packard 180 limousine, but with a few changes [these are the major changes]:
1. Eliminate the sidemount tires.
2. Eliminate the running boards.
3. Design the back trunk area based on the 1941-49 Cadillac limo.
4. Increase the angle of the windshield posts.
5. Increase the size of the hot water heaters front & rear.
6. Create a system to keep the engine sump warm when car is not in use. 7. Design the variable oil pump for the engine.
I have a color photo of the ZIS 110 engine on a test stand, showing the special oil pump and the intake manifold plugs, if you can provide me with an email address I will send you a copy.
Now as to other Soviet luxury cars, In 1988, while in England, I bought what was supposed to be a 1961 GAZ-13 Chaika 7-passenger sedan. That said, when I went to ship the car I discovered that the VIN for the car showed it was a 1969 version, and too new to bring into the USA. But during the couple of days I “owned” it, I did a lot of investigating.
Like the ZIS before it, the Chaika had many US made parts, especially in the engine compartment. While the Engine was a GAZ-designed unit, the various underhood accessories were all from the MoPaR parts bins, from the 1957-62 Chrysler period. For example, the carb was a Carter WCFB without the Carter identifying marks. The Power brake booster is an external rubber bellows type made by Bendix, and used on the bigger Chryslers. It’s identical to the Chaika version! The Generator on the ’50s Chryslers has a mount on the back end for a Bendix power steering pump & reservoir, identical to the Chaika’s system! The ID plates on the Chrysler generators have 180 degree curved ends [not square corners like on Delco and Autolite ID plates] and the paint in the plate recesses is green. Same color as on the Chaika’s generator! The 2-speed automatic transmission in the Chaika uses a 4-push button cable control, like on Chrysler products! And it’s no surprise to discover the emergency brake is a single drum on the tail shaft of the Chaika, just like the MoPaR Powerflite! I’ve not been able to compare the details between the Powerflite and the Chaika transmission, but I’m pretty damn sure they are basically the same, & the Chaika gearbox could have even been made by MoPaR. One of my restoration mechanics was a former Chrysler dealer mechanic in the 50s & 60s. On seeing the photos of the Chaika, he remarked “It’s all Chrysler stuff!”
Now let’s look inside the passenger cabin. Look closely at photos of the power window switches in a Chaika. Now compare them to the 1955-56 Packard power window switches. They are identical. In fact, when I took one of the Chaika switches apart, I found the same part number cast into the chrome housing as on my Packard!
Let’s look at the speedometer on the Chaika. Compare it to the 1956 Packard senior speedometer. Except for the MPH and KPH difference, they are virtually identical! And I do know up into the 1970s, S-P had boxes full of these speedometers in KPH, for export cars. Also look closely at the 4 individual gauges, compare them between the Chaika and the Packard. But they didn’t stop there. The V8 Packards & Clippers [1955-56] had unique bases for the switches on the dashboard. The Packards had a brushed metal surface, and the Clippers had a polished chrome surface. The only other car to use these polished chrome bases was [you guessed it] the Chaika, except they had Russian Cyrillic lettering. The Packard & Clipper switch bases require a special hollow hex wrench to remove or install the switch and base together, so does the Chaika! No other automobiles used this type of hidden attachment! NONE!
In 1955 Packard was in the process of developing the new 1957 Packard & Clipper lines, and it was planned to use the same instruments and switches in the 1957 and later cars. So It would be normal for Packard to arrange for subcontractors to tool up and make enough to supply Packard for at least 5-6 years of production. So after only 2 years, when Packard closed the Detroit plant, these suppliers would have been left with thousands of gauges, switches, bases, and many more pieces no longer required by Packard.
It is only logical to assume that manufacturers like King-Seeley, Autolite, and others, would be happy to unload large amounts of these now obsolete parts, to anyone who wanted them. So an auto parts wholesale company in Europe approaches these parts companies [as a front man] and buys wholesale lots. Once the parts are in Western Europe, they are then imported into Russia, probably thru AVTO, the Russian government agency for the import/export of transport items.
And it’s entirely possible that the Russians also bought the tooling as well. This would help explain the switch bases bearing Russian language instead of English. Sometimes the most expensive aspect of a small part is the tooling to make it. Buy the tooling at scrap prices, and the rest is history!
Again, much of this is based on a logical extrapolation of the facts. But so far I’ve not been able to find any paperwork or people who were involved in sourcing parts for cars like the ZIS, ZIL, and Chaika. The people still employed at the ZIL factory tell me they were only involved in the building of the cars, not in knowing where the parts came from.
It certainly seems plausible, at any rate.
The Chaika and ZIL cars were for the Soviet elite. Most Dictatorships which weren’t waving the red flag would buy Cadillacs, Mercedes Benz’s, Rolls Royce or other cars from the top tier of upmarket cars.
Communist ideology would frown upon such practice, so the made their own in tiny numbers. They almost no background in auto manufacturing, so it makes sense that they would simply copy something from the biggest car manufacturing nation. I believe their motorcycles were knock-offs of Wermacht BMW’s
The Soviet union was good at making machinery that was tough enough for the job, yet could be built and operated by a poorly trained workforce. I cite the T34 tank and Kalashnikov AK47 as examples. However military hardware, agricultural machinery and I dare say public transport vehicle would be made in large scale production, so it was worth developing their own machines to suit their particular requirements.
Very interesting. Where were the cars when you looked them over?
Regarding the instruments, I see what you’re saying about the glass panels marked in Russian. But I’d think that changing the odometer from miles to km would be a bit more of a production. Perhaps they sourced instruments and/or odometer drive gears intended for cars that were to go to metric countries?
As a former typesetter, I’m curious: Were the Russian markings in the same font as on the stock instruments?
I saw a ZIS 110 and a ZIS 115 at the giant Auto Technica “Oldtimer” show in Hannover, Germany, in 1996. I was able to examine them in great detail during the non-public times [Press and special event times in the evening]. I also found a ZIS 110 in a private collection in the former DDR area.
As for changing the speedo from MPH to KPH, all it takes to accomplish the task is to remove the reverse printed MPH numbers from the inside of the glass speedo cover using paint remover, then silk screen the KPH reverse numbers back onto the glass. No mechanical changes were required.
I visited the Studebaker-Packard parts facility in South Bend, Indiana, back in the early 1970s, and I actually found post war Packard and Clipper KPH speedometers, the only difference was in the clear plastic front, they had KPH markings. I bought one of each as they were only $5. [Today I wish I had bought more!]
As for the lettering, I don’t have the photos handy for referencing, but my memory is the gauges in the ZIS were Russian characters on the inside front of the glass.
In the ZIS 115 armored limo, the rear door glass and the front vent windows could be opened. However the vent window could only be pivoted about 45 degrees due to the 3″ thick glass, any more and the glass hits the steering wheel. This allowed a gap of only about 1/4″, just enough to pass a note or talk to someone thru the opening.
The 2 flexible defroster ducts, from the heater under the dash up to the defroster vents on the Packard and ZIS 110, were re-directed back down to the left & right corners of the front floor area. With a 3″ thick windshield, it was obvious that the heater wasn’t going to defrost that windshield. So I assume they used a rag or hand scraper as needed.
Now here is something to make you chuckle; The rear door window opening is very large. I estimated that 3″ of armored glass had to weigh at least 400 pounds. The normal hydraulic window system could not possibly have handled that amount of weight, yet it was obvious that the car’s owner wanted those 2 door windows to open.
So this is how they solved the problem: Sitting in the back seat of the limo, I saw 2 openings in each interior door panel, centered below the window opening, about 3″ and 6″ from the floor area. The lower opening had a small chrome knob protruding out about 1″, the upper opening was oblong [tall and narrow], and a chrome 1/4″ round lever stuck out about 5 inches.
Now picture a universal 5 ton hydraulic bottle jack, the type found in almost everyone’s garage. That knob and lever on the bottle jack matched perfectly with the ZIS window controls. Yep, that’s right, they used a bottle jack to raise & lower the heavy glass window!
Now I had to test my theory, so I turned the chrome valve, and as I heard the hydraulic fluid flow thru the valve, the window began dropping. It only dropped a few inches before it reached bottom. I closed the valve and started moving the lever up and down. And with each pump downward, the window raised about 1/8″.
And that is when my imagination took over: I imagined I was a Soviet diplomat or army officer, with the window down for some fresh air. All of a sudden I see a crazed terrorist running towards the car. I drop to the floor and start pumping furiously, watching in horror as the glass window slowly, and ever so slowly, begins it’s upward journey, 1/8″ to each downward pump action.
I’m pretty sure that terrorist could run faster than I could make that window go up!
One of the major problems that Packard had was that Chrysler bought out Briggs, who made bodies for Packard.
As discussed in the separate article on Packard in the fifties, that did become a serious problem for Packard, but that didn’t happen until 1953, which is why it isn’t mentioned here. It wasn’t on the table during the period discussed (except insofar as deciding to rely wholly on Briggs for bodies turned out to have been a mistake).
I never knew Packard had such a great reputation–I finally get the punch line of a classic James Thurber cartoon in which a society matron is showing her dog’s new litter of puppies to another matron and says, “…and their father belonged to some people who driving through in a Packard!”
the author is not very knowledeable about Packard, many errors contained, like:
“Darrin also built a modest number of Clipper-based Convertible Victorias, based on the One-Eighty chassis; this is the 1941 model. Production amounted to about 35 cars in 1941, 15 in 1942” Packard only built ONE of these, no mention of Nance and the great Caribbeans? too much opinion in this article
Jim Nance and his tenure are outside the scope of this article, which focuses on the period from the late thirties to the end of the 23rd Series in 1950. The Caribbeans are mentioned in the subsequent article, at least briefly; while they were magnificent automobiles in many respects, their sales and impact were sadly limited.
According to L. Morgan Yost’s chapter in the [i]Automobile Quarterly[/i] book [i]Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company[/i], there were about 50 Clipper-based Darrin Convertible Victorias in all, 35 in 1941, 15 in 1942. The one-off was the Sport Sedan, Type No. 1422. This was listed in the catalog, but apparently the only one built was for a Packard executive. If you have other information to share, I’d be happy to see it.
If you note other specific factual errors, feel free to point them out, and I’ll investigate. As for the opinion, I make no apologies for that — you’re free to disagree.
My father owned two Caribbeans. Magnificent automobiles but the early one had valve problems.
It very interesting reading about the Packard tooling from the lean-lease program from ww2 and how the Russians got the tooling for free but every time I try to get an answer it scenes to me that there is government cover –up as to how the dies were sent to Russia during the war? It also scenes to me that even during the mid 1950’s when times were good that it was very odd how a ww2 military contractor was at the forefront of technology then is beaten in the ground! It is very to understand how a well run indention car company just went out of business when it was well diversified in car, aircraft engines, marine engines and even jet engines?
As I said earlier, there’s considerable doubt as to whether Packard actually did send its tooling to the USSR at that point. (Even if it did happen, I doubt it would have been a formal part of Lend-Lease, since calling tooling dies for an automobile war materiel would be a stretch.) James Arthur Ward found no evidence of it in Packard’s internal records, including board meeting minutes. I suppose if someone were motivated to investigate further, a Freedom of Information Act request might provide some answers, since I can’t imagine anything like that would be classified, particularly now.
I don’t see what anyone would stand to gain by covering it up. Used (and, one could argue, obsolete) automotive tooling hardly seems more sensitive than military aircraft, tanks, ships, etc., which are pretty well documented. Occam’s Razor and the “cui bono” (who benefits?) principle would seem to apply.
The article on Packard in the fifties touches on Packard’s defense contract woes, which Ward’s book discusses at greater length. Basically, a lot of automakers who had defense contracts lost out in the mid-fifties, both because of contracts canceled following the end of the Korean War and shifts in U.S. defense policy under Defense Secretary (and former GM president) Charles Wilson.
Just a few quick comments — The 1951 and 1952 “200”, the 1953 Clippers and the convertibles from those years (except for the ’53 Caribbean), all used glass taillight lenses. (In the taillight caption)
And, the California Packard dealer was Earle C. Anthony, not Anthony Earl. (In the pelican caption)
Other than that, a very nice and informative article. Thank you!
Thanks for the corrections! I didn’t know the first part, and the second was obviously just carelessness. I’ve amended the text.
I founded a good text writen by Patrick Foster, about what if Packard had merged right away with Nash instead of Studebaker?
And here another "what if", if Packard had used the body of the Facel-Vega excellence.
Or a how about a Packard (should we call it a "Packoln" or "Linckard"?) using the 1956-57 Lincoln body?
This week’s article will talk a bit about the prospects of a Nash/Hudson/Packard merger, and why that didn’t happen. In hindsight, it would have been a better choice, because Studebaker was in far worse shape than anyone (including Paul Hoffman and Harold Vance) really grasped, but Packard’s board saw them as bigger, and assumed they had more of a future.
The fundamental problem with Foster’s theory, which was the flaw that also undid the Studebaker merger, was that consolidation and shared tooling take time. Studebaker-Packard also had a plan for shared bodies — not the “slap a Packard grille on a Commander and call it a Packard” deal, but a GM-style shared-body plan. The problem was that they did not have the capital to implement it, and when Nance tried to raise money for exactly that purpose, his creditors said no. Nash/AMC was in somewhat better shape, but at the point where a merger would have been possible, it was also losing money, and the same problem would have existed. Nance and George Mason DID discuss building Packard bodies in Kenosha, but the cost of shipping bodies-in-white back to Detroit was just too high.
Packard did approach Ford in and ask to share the Lincoln tooling for the 1957 Packards, promising to make them look different enough to not infringe on Ford’s business. Packard also offered to merge with Ford, suggesting that Ford either badge the E-car (which became the Edsel) a Studebaker, or badge it as a Lincoln and apply the Packard name to the high-end Lincoln line. The latter offer was not taken seriously, but Henry Ford II did make encouraging noises about the former. While Henry was potentially amenable, his ambitious executive staff was most certainly not, however, and when Packard executives went to Ford, the engineering staff flatly refused to even allow them to inspect the tooling. Those sketches, done by Dick Teague’s staff, were as far as the plan ever got.
The problem with that plan, even if Ford had been more cooperative, was that Lincoln was about to abandon its body-on-frame construction for 1958. That would have left Packard either having to start from scratch or once again facelifting an outdated body, as they’d been doing since 1951. Packard management recognized that problem, but they dismissed it as something to worry about later (the attitude in the board minutes discussing it was something like, “Yeah, we should all live so long.”) It would at best have been a temporary stopgap.
[size=medium][/size]A couple corrections. The caption of the two-tone 1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper photo cites 0-60 in 19 seconds and a top speed of 108. 0-60 is around 13 seconds, and top speed around 104 mph, still the fastest postwar car ’til the ’49 Cadillac ohv V-8 and ’51 Chrysler hemi V-8.
The “1941 Darrin Clipper” isn’t. Darrin did build one convertible using a ’41 Clipper for his friend and customer Errol Flynn, but that car vanished decades ago in Mexico. The pictured car is a recreation on the more robust 1947 Super Clipper chassis by a gentleman in Seattle, who has never presented the lovely car as anything but a faithful homage to the original, which he briefly owned as a young fellow just out of the Navy in the 1950s.
Finally, all the corporate survival “what ifs” overlook that [b][/b][i][/i]all [b][/b][i][/i]independents were doomed by the 1950s because they couldn’t compete with GM/Ford tool amorization costs, afford costly TV advertising, nor the increasingly “necessary” if silly annual facelifts.
For example, Rolls-Royce from 1935 was chiefly an aero engine manufacturer, the cars a boutique sideline with postwar bodies stamped by Pressed Steel, who also supplied Austin and much of the rank and file English motor industry.
Cadillac was downsized in 1936 and from then on essentially a GMobile, sharing parts with lesser divisions. A ’41 Cadillac convertible, for example, shares every piece of sheetmetal with a ’41 Pontiac ragtop.
By 1953, there was only a “Big Two,” as Chrysler’s market share had fallen to only 12.9%.
Nice article otherwise, but let’s stick with “Just the facts, ma’am” and less conjecture.
I will bow to your recollections on the peach-colored car; I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to the owner when I saw it. The acceleration times you mention for the Super Clipper sound more plausible, so I’ve updated the text.
I agree that by the fifties it was increasingly (and probably prohibitively) difficult for the smaller automakers to compete with GM and Ford on their own terms. However, that didn’t necessarily mean that they were doomed, just that they needed to offer something the larger automakers did not, and not just try to go head to head with Chevrolet or even Oldsmobile. AMC did that and survived for more than 20 years, arguably stumbling only when it backed away from the niche philosophy to try to become more mainstream.
In any case, I reserve the right to conjecture — if you disagree, that’s certainly your prerogative.
I found your article on the fall from grace of the Packard Motor Company in the late 1940’s, both stimulating and informative. There was one bit of information presented in your aticle however that seemed to me completely at odds. You mentioned in regards to the 22nd series, which came out in the model year of 1948, that “Macauley was not the only one displeased with George Christopher. Packard dealers held him responsible for insufficient production, which left them with far more buyers than cars. That wasn’t really Christopher’s fault — the main culprit was a severe shortage of steel, something that affected most automakers — but Christopher’s repeated promises of 200,000-unit production had led dealers to expand their facilities in anticipation of extra volume that never materialized.” Fair enough, but then you go on to state: “The arrival of the 1949 models left dealers with large stocks of unsold ’48s, prompting Christopher to ask the board for $2 million in dealer allowances to move the leftovers. The resulting price cuts on nearly new models had a chilling effect on resale values, something that would haunt Packard for the rest of its existence.”
How is it possible for dealers to be griping about not enough Packards being made for the model year of 1948, and yet have large stocks of that same model unsold with the arrival of the new 1949 models? It doesn’t seem to make sense. Were you not perhaps thinking of the 1949 models, as 116,000 cars rolled off their assembly lines that year, which dealers may well have ended up with a surplus of, as only 40,000 cars were sold the next year? Overall however, a great article, and it is indeed a shame that later when Packard was heading into more choppier waters that it did not choose to merge with Nash, which in 1954 had a working capital of nearly 100 million, though that figure would be significantly reduced after they took on the moribund Hudson. But Hudson had the Jefferson body plant available, and that may have made all the difference in the world, as Packard would have had neither the quality control probelms which plagued many of their new cars, or delayed their 1955 models from reaching the market by almost six months, with the transfer of assembly to the Conner Street plant, which probably resulted in a sales loss of as much as 40,000 autos in the short term, and a great deal more in the long term. Indeed, what a shame that Packard has been long gone from the auto scene.
Couldn’t the Packard Twin-Ultramatic be counted as a “poor-man’s four speed,” because of the up-down or down-up, then the lock-up in each shift be sort of like four speeds? The reason I ask is because of the comparison section of the GM Roto-Hydramatic page on Wikipedia.
I have heard people describe the later Ultramatic as short of a poor-man’s three-speed because it started in low, shifted to direct drive, and then locked the converter. I don’t think the converter lockup would function in low (which is also true even of most modern torque converter automatics) — if you were really feathering the throttle, the transmission would shift into high as low as about 15 mph and then lock the converter — so even by that standard, it wouldn’t constitute any kind of four-speed.
The Ultramatic gearset uses the same gear train layout as GM’s Powerglide, which incidentally also didn’t shift automatically in its first few years on the market. Both use a Ravigneaux gearset and a band to lock one sun gear for “reduction” and a clutch to power that same sun gear for direct drive. The Ultramatic does have the converter clutch, and I believe it only applies in direct drive, but it doesn’t change the effective gear ratio. It only eliminates converter slippage. Considering that the Ultramatic had a “loose” converter like the old Dynaflow design, I have to wonder if the converter clutch apply felt like a shift to a higher gear.
The Roto-Hydramatic is entirely different, using two separate simple gearsets. A fluid coupling transmitted power to the rear gearset for first gear, then the coupling drained and a friction clutch applied for second gear via front gearset reduction. For third gear, the coupling filled again and locked the two gearsets together for direct drive. There was no converter lockup, but there was a split torque path because some power flowed through the coupling and some through the front clutch.
Powerglide, Dynaflow, and Roto Hydra-Matic are discussed in detail in a separate article. I don’t think Nickolaus was implying Ultramatic was like Roto Hydra-Matic (which it obviously isn’t).
A converter lockup is not a gear ratio, which is why I said I think the “poor man’s three-speed” argument is very dubious. Locking or unlocking the converter can affect the speeds in gear (insofar as there would otherwise be a bit of slippage and if engine speed drops enough, the converter will start providing multiplication again), but I assume the main reason for that characterization is that the later, automatic-shifting Ultramatic was a “two-clunk” transmission: once for the 1-2 shift, again for the lockup. (Even on much later cars with tighter converters, the lockup clutch often engages with a perceptible thunk.)
From 1978 to 1994 I owned a 1955 Packard Caribbean convertible with Ultramatic. That was the 2nd year that the Ultramatic had an optional 1st gear automatic start. I also owned a 1953 Packard Cavalier with Ultramatic. With both the torque converter could be locked in either low gear or high gear.
With the 1953 Ultramatic, there were 2 forward positions on the selector, i.e., H and L. H gave only high gear; the car would start in direct drive with the aid of the torque converter. Then, depending on accelerator position, the convertor would lock up at as low as about 20 mph or as high as about 55 mph. The convertor would lock up in either high gear or low gear. Fully depressing the accelerator would cause the converter to unlock at speeds of up to about 50 mph.
With the 1955 Ultramatic, there were 2 drive positions; one for automatically starting in low gear, the other for starting only in high gear. With the automatic low gear start, the shift from 1 to 2 would occur between about 20 mph and 65 mph. Shortly after the 1 to 2 shift the converter would lock. Up to about 40 mph pushing the accelerator part way down (the amount depended on speed) would unlock the torque converter; pushing the accelerator fully down would cause a high to low shift. The converter would lock in either low gear or high gear.
(I took the liberty of correcting a typo in your comment when I approved it — I hope you don’t mind.)
This is a very biased and slanted piece. Very anti-Packard, probably anti Studebaker-Packard. The real truth is vastly more complicated than the “bathtubs”. The writer tipped his hand by bringing AMC into the mix, Who would ever compare Packard with AMC? Who could compare coachbuilt Packard’s with levi Gremlins? Geez!
I tipped my hand? Howso?
I really don’t have an agenda in regard to these articles and am puzzled by people who seem to think that I have a secret plan to extoll or disparage companies that in this case haven’t existed (at least as automakers) in many years.
Perhaps so, Packard has been gone for 59 years. Exactly the number of years in existence. The difference is the reverence by which this brand is held by those who remember it and those who came along after it was gone, like myself. For me only Duesenberg comes close to the aura of the Packard legend. Studebaker killed Packard along with market forces. Ditto Pierce-Arrow. Ford was crazy not to buy Packard when they had the chance, instead they built the Edsel.
Well, the Edsel was not a luxury car and wasn’t intended as one; it was aimed (albeit not very well) at Buick, Oldsmobile, Dodge, and DeSoto. In any case, buying Packard would have been a tough sell for Ford, which on top of the Edsel debacle had just lost a lot of money on both Continental and Lincoln. (If Bob McNamara hadn’t like Elwood Engel’s alternate Thunderbird proposal, Lincoln might very well have gone the way of the others.) For all its history and pedigree, Packard was widely perceived as a has-been by the mid-50s and altering that perception would have required a substantial investment that Ford was certainly in no mood to make, particularly since the U.S. market’s appetite at that point for high-end luxury cars in the classic Packard mold was clearly limited. Both the Mark II and the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham were serious money-losers and it’s arguable whether they even offered any meaningful image value to justify their cost, which is the same equation that pushed Packard out of its traditional ultra-lux role in the ’30s.
Packard management made some mistakes such as keeping the “upside down” bath tub style too long(could have kept 1941 style), investing 12 million in Ultramatic (could have purchased a Borg Warner trans), and not having an overhead valve V8 in 1951 for the first post war restyle (could have offered the 327 inline engine with a supercharger for the Patrician,the 327 normally aspirated for the 300 and the 288 engine for the 200). In addition 1951 Patrician should have had power windows, seats, steering, brakes and AC. With the knowledge that power windows, seats and AC were on previous models leaves a puzzleing question unless production cost was a factor. That said, it was and still is the longest surviving luxury independent. As a child, growing up in a “Packard” family the quality was without a doubt its strong suit. “A car made by gentlemen for gentlemen.”
I am a serious Packard aficionado, and I’ve owned over 300 of them starting in 1968 when I was 16. I’ve owned multiple 1951 Packards with power windows and seats. I own 3 Packards today, including a 1948 with power windows and seat. Very few early post-war cars were equipped with power windows & seat, due in part to the high costs.
As for the “bathtub” design, are you aware that of the 8 automobile design awards offered in America for 1948. the new 1948 Packard Super Eight convertible won ALL EIGHT of the awards, and one of those cars was displayed in the NYC MOMA museum that year!
1951 saw the introduction of the Bendix Treadlevac hydraulic power brake unit in Packards only. GM and the other car companies didn’t get them until 1952 or later.
1952 saw the introduction of Bendix hydraulic power steering for Packard, ahead of GM and Ford. The 1951 Chrysler “Gemmer” power steering was considered a failure by many as it had no power return, the wheel would stay where ever you stopped turning it – a serious safety issue.
As for A/C, Packard was the first to offer CFC refrigerated air conditioning in 1940. However this was a costly option due to the factory having to send each A/C car to another non-Packard factory location for it’s fitment. So few Packard cars were ordered with A/C in the 3 years 1940 to 1942, that the company lost money on each one it sold. Until the technology improved enough, no other automobile company offered it until 1953, when Both Packard and Cadillac introduced the Frigidaire trunk mounted units. As the costs came down, by 1956 almost every American car companies offered A/C.
So as we can see, Packard was an industry leader in offering these options.
There will always be a debate when it comes to the horsepower race. As you said earlier, Packard was considered a gentleman’s car. Gentlemen were not that interested in the HP race. It wasn’t until Nance took over in ’53 that the company felt it needed to enter the race. I’ve owned other manufacturer’s cars as well, and I found the senior Packard engines to be more than adequate in propelling Packard vehicles forward. The conservative Packard corporate executives would never had offered a supercharger on the Packard straight eight.
As to Packard electing to use the Borg-Warner automatic as used in the Ford, AMC, and later [’55 to ’66] Studebakers, The Ultramatic was already in use by Packard in late 1949, in the 23rd series cars. The Studebaker “Automatic Drive” was not the same as the Borg-Warner used in Fords, it was only available in Studebakers 1951-1954. The Borg-Warner series 35 automatic was offered to various automobile manufacturers for inclusion starting in 1951. So as you can see by these timelines, The Ultramatic was already in full production a year BEFORE any other automatic gearbox was available [GM’s Hydramatic excluded of course].
Packard had good reason to keep their straight eight engines, as they had one of the best, if not the best, reliability record in the industry. I know of many Packard Eights still on the road with more than 250,000 miles without a total engine rebuild, usually they only required a valve overhaul after about 100,000 miles. This was in an era where the typical American automobile engine was considered worn out after about 75,000 miles, and the typical European engine was worn out at about 50,000 to 60,000 miles.
As you said: “As a child, growing up in a “Packard” family the quality was without a doubt its strong suit.”
Chrysler’s “full-power” approach to power steering was driven by a desire to avoid having to pay patent royalties, since what later became the more orthodox approach to hydraulic steering assist was heavily encumbered by (non-Chrysler) patents.
As a minor point, the Borg-Warner automatic that became available in 1951 was not the Model 35, which was a later development.
It was not only a car built for gentlemen by gentlemen, but also for ” young ladies” One of the first of the upside down bathtubs was my light yellow convertible 16th birthday present’ We were flown out to Detroit from Philadelphia to pick mine up right off the assembly line, or so we were told. They even had a photographer to take pictures at the airport as we boarded our flight to Detroit and the long drive home.
My step-mother had a 1951 4-door Packard. I rode in it first in 1954. Later, when I was 16 (1956) I began to drive it and Dad’s Chevy. We went to Disney-Land in ’56 and I believe my dad exceeded 100mph. Am I correct? After I got out of the A.F. in ’62, I drove the Packard till I bought a ’51 Chevy. That straight-eight flat-head was smooth and very powerful. It seemed that it became more stable the faster it went.I wrote in my memoir that Dad hit 105 on the Portland-Salem expressway in’56. I think I was right.
None of the contemporary testers were able to reach a true 100 mph with the ’51 Packard, although the 300 with the more powerful engine could get close. However, that’s true speed, calculated with a stopwatch over a measured distance. Speedometers typically aren’t super accurate at higher speeds and tend to read higher than the car is actually moving. Based on the period magazine tests, a speedometer reading of 105 mph was entirely possible, although that translated into an actual measured road speed of more like 96–98 mph.
My mothers car was a 1948 Packard Victoria Convertible. It was called the family car, but women, in those days, always got the new or (in our case)newer car. We were headed for a week in the high Sierra’s at 80 mph (that car’s happy speed) when a new Carribean passed us like we were tied to a post. It was trailing a cloudlette of blue smoke. My father said to me, over his shoulder, “Son, you see that smoke? That’s what happens when you don’t break-in an engine properly.”
I will have to agree with acw02. Looking back on the litany of why Packard failed can be daunting. It’s like accident investigation usually not one single thing but a series of events leading up to the incident. I have to agree that the money spent on the Ultramatic should have instead gone into the development of a modern OHV V8 instead. My father’s family were very affluent by mid-century standards and could have easily purchased a Packard but chose Caddy’s and Oldsmobiles in the late 40’s and beyond and the OHV motors were a factor in why the went the way they did.
I have a different take on that.
Packard spent too much on developing the V8. Instead of doing that, I think they should have introduced an advanced straight 8 with twin overhead camshafts and 4 valves per cylinder. That would have outperformed the V8 and cost far less to develop.
Converting to OHC would have been less costly than one might suppose. An after-market manufacturer offered a kit to convert the model A Ford to an OHV pushrod engine, so that couldn’t have been too expensive. Also, at least a couple manufacturers converted their flat head sixes to pushrod OHV engines (Studebaker and Nash). So, I think that Packard could have pulled it off without excessive cost.
An OHC engine with 2 camshafts and 4 valves per cylinder would have greatly outperformed any contemporary V8s by a considerable margin. Packard advertising would have treated the V8 as a fad and legitimately claimed to have the most advanced and best performing engine. In addition, their engineers could have worked with Borg Warner to develop a 4-speed Ultramatic. BW had the necessary experience. Placing an overdrive gearset between the torque converter and a 3-speed gearset would have been able to provide 6 speeds, but it would have been simpler to use only 4 speeds. Actually, that is exactly how some manufacturers went from 3 speeds to 4 speeds; that way to get 4 speeds greatly reduced development costs.
Think of the performance which would have resulted with a dual OHV twin came engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a 4-speed Ultramatic! The competition could not even have come close.
Although it was not a great transmission in execution, the Ford AOD of the early ’80s offers an interesting example of how one could derive a four-speed overdrive transmission from the three-speed Ravigneaux layout that dated back to the ’50s Borg-Warner/Fordomatic units. (It even had a completely mechanical lockup in fourth gear, like the early Studebaker DG transmissions.) There’s nothing in the AOD layout that would have been technically infeasible in 1954–55.
I will say, however, that public perception can be a tough hill to climb, performance advantages or no. As a nonautomotive example, consider the BlackBerry smartphone. The BlackBerry was a much better business productivity tool than most current smartphones, and older models offered some features current iPhone and Android devices still can’t really match (although newer rivals have much faster processors and more RAM). However, when the early iPhone made the BlackBerry look and feel clunky and old-fashioned, the manufacturer kind of turned up its nose, assuming that the BlackBerry’s clear advantages for productivity and enterprise use would naturally win out over faddish, less-practical touchscreen phones. This did not work out, so their market share collapsed, and now current BlackBerry phones (which no longer have their own native OS) are stuck trying to establish some kind of compelling USP in a market where physical keyboards seem anachronistic to many reviewers and buyers. It’s regrettable (the last round of BlackBerry OS phones would have suited me much better than the current Android ones and were still superior productivity tools), but that’s how it played out.
I have a hard time envisioning a modernized Packard straight eight not facing a similar challenge. The last ’54 straight eights really didn’t give anything away to contemporary V-8s in performance and they were smoother, but they were faced with not just one but many rivals pushing the idea that the V-8 was smart and modern while straight eights were old and clunky.
Two minor corrections to offer: Briggs’ chief stylist was Al Prance (with a “P”), not France. And, in 1948, George Mason was president of the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) (he took over for Alvan Macauley in 1946). Romney was the head of the AMA’s Detroit office. After Mason’s death in 1954, James Nance was elected the AMA’s president in 1955. After he left Studebaker-Packard in 1956, Romney was elected president.
Thanks for the corrections (particularly on Prance — I might never have caught that if you hadn’t pointed it out!). I’ve amended the text.