Macauley’s team worked hard to develop a new styling theme, but none of their proposals was deemed satisfactory. Part of the problem was that the styling section was very small, with fewer than 10 employees, including Gubitz and Macauley. Gilman looked for outside help, first from Briggs (which would take over body manufacture for Packard in 1941) and then from the firms of George Walker (later VP of styling for Ford), Don Mortrude (better known for his work on Chris Craft boats), and Bill Flajole (who later designed the Nash Metropolitan).
Still not satisfied, Gilman put in a call to Hollywood-based designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin, who was already selling a modest number of customized “Packard Darrin” roadsters. In early 1940, Gilman offered Darrin $10,000 — a tidy sum in those days — if he could create both a viable design and a 1/4th-scale model in only 10 days. Darrin agreed, and a week and a half later turned over the hastily contrived model to Ed Macauley.
Darrin’s model, for which he always insisted he never received his promised fee, was extremely bold for Packard: long, low, and wide, with flowing fenders that curved back into the doors. It had no running boards and its beltline featured Dutch’s signature “Darrin dip.”
Exactly how much the production model reflected Darrin’s concept remains a matter of controversy. Darrin inevitably claimed most of the credit, although Packard staff members said the finished design was primarily the work of in-house designer Howard Yeager, who skillfully amalgamated the best elements of the various proposals. The resultant design, dubbed “Packard Clipper,” was not as radical as was Darrin’s proposal — for example, Yeager concealed the running boards rather than omitting them — but it was heady stuff for Packard: sleek, streamlined, and thoroughly modern.
Mechanically, the Clipper was based on the One-Twenty, but was priced between the One-Twenty and the One-Sixty, starting at $1,420. This was nearly 50% cheaper than the Sixty Special, which was one of the priciest models in the Cadillac line, but for once, the Packard gave away nothing to its rival in styling sophistication. The Clipper sold very well, accounting for about 25% of Packard’s total volume in 1941, and outsold the Sixty Special by four to one — not surprising given the vast price differential.
For 1942, Packard extended the Clipper’s styling to most of the line, save convertibles and some senior cars. The newly expanded line showed every sign of being a great success, but America’s entry into World War II ended civilian production in February 1942.
THE POSTWAR BOOM
Shortly after the cessation of civilian production, Max Gilman abruptly stepped down. His exit was officially due to poor health following a late-night car accident that January that had hospitalized him and his female passenger, but the real issue, so far as the Packard board was concerned, was that Gilman’s passenger was someone else’s wife. The appearance of impropriety was too much for Alvan Macauley and the board of directors, who demanded Gilman’s resignation and appointed George Christopher to take his place.
In personality and bearing, Christopher was an unlikely choice to lead a company like Packard. Unlike most Packard executives — who, Ed Macauley notwithstanding, tended to the patrician — Christopher spent his off hours working his cattle ranch and hog farm in Ohio or bowling with Packard workers as part of the factory bowling league. These were not simply cosmetic gestures toward Packard’s rank-and-file; we suspect that Christopher felt more at home with the linesmen than in a board room.
Given his blue-collar bearing, it was no great surprise that Christopher disdained the big Packards even more than Gilman had. While Christopher recognized that Packard still needed the senior cars to maintain its reputation, he had a very limited tolerance for extravagance or needless expense, so his support for the pricier models was at best grudging. His goal was maximum volume in the mid-priced field. In 1944, he declared that he would build 200,000 cars a year, more than double Packard’s best previous year. Even the chaos of the war’s end did not dampen his enthusiasm; shortly after V-J Day, Christopher boldly proclaimed that Packard would build 100,000 cars in 1946, 30% more than its 1941 volume.
Packard had emerged from the war in good but not robust financial shape. Its wartime profits had been tightly constrained, but it was well-capitalized and free of debt. Better still, the end of the war brought a robust seller’s market. Customers hadn’t been able to buy new cars in more than three years and pent-up demand was tremendous.
Seeing that market, Christopher made one of his most controversial decisions. When civilian production resumed in September 1945, he chose to concentrate on the junior cars, including six-cylinder models and even taxicabs; the senior models didn’t reappear for another seven months. That created considerable friction with Packard dealers, who would have had little trouble selling as many top-of-the-line cars as they could get. Aside from whatever damage Christopher’s decision was doing to Packard’s prestige, it was costing dealers a great deal of money.
Dealers were even more annoyed when Packard’s actual production fell well short of Christopher’s wildly optimistic projections. Constrained by shortages of raw materials and strikes at key suppliers, Packard built only about 42,000 cars for the 1946 calendar year. Packard still managed to outsell Cadillac, which was struggling with similar problems, but it was not an auspicious start. Christopher responded by announcing a $20 million expansion program and launching an effort to build up Packard’s dealer network to support his 200,000-unit sales goal.
THE BATHTUB PACKARDS: THE TWENTY-SECOND SERIES
Packard’s initial postwar cars, the Twenty-First Series, were basically the same as the prewar Clippers except in minor cosmetic details. Christopher was reluctant to invest in styling, so Gubitz’s already tiny staff was cut back further during the war. For the Twenty-Second Series, the company’s first postwar cars, Packard turned to Briggs, which was now building all Packard bodies. Briggs’ styling section was not huge — many of the designers formerly employed by Briggs’ LeBaron subsidiary had moved on — but it had better facilities than Packard did. Perhaps more importantly, from Christopher’s standpoint, Briggs offered styling services to existing clients as a value-added service — no extra charge.
The Twenty-Second Series was born of several contradictory impulses. Both Ed Macauley and Packard management were concerned that the Clipper would look dated after the war, but Christopher wanted to carry over as many of the existing dies as possible in the hopes of minimizing tooling costs.
As a result, the Twenty-Second Series Packard emerged as essentially a bloated and rather corpulent Clipper. According to John Reinhart, who replaced the retiring Werner Gubitz as chief Packard stylist in 1947, it was contrived by Briggs chief stylist Al Prance and modeler Walt Bracher simply adding more material to the existing shell to visually integrate the body, fenders, and hood. That was the postwar trend, but the main effect, as with the 1949 Nash, was to make the new Packard look like an inverted bathtub. It was more modern, but hardly more attractive.
Christopher apparently liked the design, but few others within Packard agreed. Reinhardt also thought the Twenty-Second Series was a waste of money, which is hard to argue: Not only was the Twenty-Second Series uglier than the Twenty-First, the new model was significantly heavier and ended up costing almost as much to develop as Packard would have spent tooling for an all-new body.
In merchandising, at least, Christopher had learned from his earlier miscalculations. When the Twenty-Second Series debuted in July 1947, the upper-series convertibles were the first to appear, with the rest of the line following in early September. The Clipper name was dropped, replaced by prosaic Eight, Deluxe Eight, and Custom Eight designations. The six was now offered only on fleet and export cars; it had made sense in the late thirties, with the economy still reeling from the Depression, but in postwar America, it only served to drag the brand down. Nonetheless, the senior cars remained hard to distinguish from the cheaper junior models, which for obvious reasons went over poorly with owners of the more expensive versions.