Fall from Grace: The Bathtub Packards and the Decline of America’s Most Prestigious Brand

THE 1948 PACKARD STATION SEDAN

The Twenty-Second Series also included a new wrinkle: Packard’s first postwar station wagon.

1938 Packard Six  station wagon front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
A prewar Packard station wagon, built by Cantrell and based on a Sixteen-Series (1938) Packard Six. Its 245 cu. in. (4,020 cc) six was rated at 100 gross horsepower (75 kW).

Commercial-bodied Packards were not new; a number of coachbuilders, notably Freeport, Illinois’s Henney, had built wagons, hearses, and even ambulances on Packard chassis for many years. Packard launched its first catalogued station wagon models midway through the 1937 model year. As was customary for woody station wagons, the bodies were built by outside coachbuilders: initially J.T. Cantrell & Co., later Hercules, which also built wagon bodies for Chevrolet. The market for Packard wagons, which were inevitably very expensive, was small and sales never amounted to more than a few hundred units a year. They were dropped before production ended in 1942 and they did not return after the war.

1948 Packard Station Sedan front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
Like other Twenty-Second Series Eights, the Packard Station Sedan was 204.6 inches (5,197 mm) long on a 120-inch (3,048mm) wheelbase, powered by a 289 cu. in. (4,730 cc) straight eight making 130 horsepower (97 kW). Since the Station Sedan weighs almost as much as the bigger Custom Eight sedans and has 30 fewer horsepower (22 kW less), 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) probably takes close to 20 seconds, with a top speed of perhaps 95 mph (153 km/h).

According to most sources, the new wagon was Ed Macauley’s idea, although it’s conceivable that it was suggested by the sales organization. Unlike previous wagons, the Station Sedan, as it was called, was built by Briggs, like other Packard bodies. It shared much of its inner structure with the standard Eight sedans along with their 289 cu. in. (4,730 cc) straight eights, although it was one of the most expensive models in the line — starting price was over $3,400, more than a Super Eight convertible. The price reflected the wagon’s high tooling costs; despite its commonality with the sedan, it required a new roof and rear quarter panels as well as the tailgate.

1948 Packard Station Sedan rear 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
Twenty-Second Series Packards had independent front suspension and a live rear axle on leaf springs, although the latter also featured an unusual lateral locating strut; it connects the left side of the axle to the right frame rail, like a Panhard rod, but incorporates a hydraulic shock absorber rather than a plain steel rod. The springs and shocks were very soft, giving a smooth ride at the cost of soggy handling and copious body lean.

The rationale for the Station Sedan is unclear. The market wasn’t exactly crying out for high-end wagons; Buick’s Roadmaster station wagon, probably the Station Sedan’s closest direct rival, sold only 529 copies in 1947. The Station Sedan was arguably the most attractive of the Twenty-Second Series Packards — which may have been the point — but its cargo space was modest and the small tailgate limited its load-carrying versatility, reflecting the wagon’s sedan origins. Moreover, while it was steel-bodied in a structural sense, the Station Sedan was still a labor-intensive proposition for owners, requiring regular sanding, sealing, and varnishing to maintain the tailgate and side ribs. If the Station Sedan was indeed Ed Macauley’s idea, we suspect he suggested it more on aesthetic grounds than practical ones.

Station Sedan sales were modest, accounting for fewer than 4,000 units in 1948 and 1949 — less than 4% of Packard production — and it was dropped after 1950. Station wagons enjoyed a tremendous boom in the fifties, but the trend was toward all-steel wagons, with wood giving way to easier-to-maintain ersatz woodgrain.

1948 Packard Station Sedan rear © 2010 Aaron Severson
The Station Sedan is not quite a woody — the door panels and window surrounds are synthetic, but the side ribs and the tailgate structure are real hardwood, which requires annual sanding and varnishing. Aside from being rather small, the tailgate has no drip rail, which made it more susceptible to leaks and led to interior rust problems. Note the license plate holder — it flips down when the tailgate is open, allowing the car to be driven (legally) with the gate open.

PACKARD STUMBLES

While the “bathtub Packards” were much derided in later years, they actually received a number of styling awards when they were new. The public was less enamored of the look, but when the Twenty-Second Series cars first appeared, it was still a seller’s market and people bought them anyway. Packard managed almost 99,000 sales for the 1948 calendar year and the company reported a healthy $15 million profit. It also outsold Cadillac by around 50%, in part because Cadillac’s all-new 1948 models didn’t arrive until the spring of 1948.

In March 1948, Alvan Macauley finally retired as chairman of the board. By the end, Macauley had become quite disgruntled with George Christopher. As proficient as Christopher was at manufacturing, his capacity in other areas was limited; his postwar track record suggested that he had little grasp of design, marketing, or product planning. Moreover, there was an obvious culture clash that only worsened with the passing years.

Dealers were also displeased with Christopher, holding him responsible for Packard’s failure to meet the oft-promised production goals and for the fact that Packard still didn’t have anything to match Cadillac’s popular Hydra-Matic transmission other than the troublesome Electromatic clutch. The production shortfalls were due in large part to steel shortages beyond Christopher’s control, but the latter issue was a direct reflection of Christopher’s reluctance to invest in R&D; production of Packard’s Ultramatic wasn’t approved until that spring, seven years after Cadillac had introduced automatic transmission.

1950 Packard Eight sedan side © 2009 Cortcomp (CC BY 3.0 Unported)
The standard Packard Eight sedan was the mainstay of the Packard line, but by 1950, its sales were dropping precipitously. Comparing its profile with its GM contemporaries makes clear the reasons why. There are still vestiges of the lovely Clipper (note the curve of the C-pillars), but the sedans look decidedly ungainly; the 22nd and 23rd Series design works best as convertibles or wagons. (Photo: “50packard” © 2009 Cortcomp; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

By the end of his tenure, Macauley began looking for expedient ways to rid himself of Christopher, including a proposed merger with Nash that would have made George Mason Packard’s new president. In the spring of 1948, Macauley tried to recruit George Romney, then the president of the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA), offering him a seat on the board and a handsome salary of $50,000 a year to become Packard’s executive vice president. George Mason convinced Romney to join Nash instead, largely on the strength of Nash’s upcoming compact car, but if Romney had accepted Macauley’s offer, he would almost certainly have replaced Christopher within a few years.

1950 Packard Custom  Eight convertible front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
The Twenty-Third Series (1949-1950) Packard had very few changes from the Twenty-Second Series and most modifications were cosmetic. The Super Eights now shared the longer body and most of the styling cues of the Custom, which caused sales of the latter to shrink noticeably. The Custom’s main distinction was now the nine-bearing, 356 cu. in. (5,833 cc) engine, which was discontinued after 1950. Despite its remarkable smoothness, it was expensive to build, heavy, and no longer substantially more powerful than the Super Eight’s 327 cu. in. (5,361 cc) engine. Packard later developed a nine-bearing version of the latter engine, which it used in senior cars through 1954.

The situation grew worse with the arrival of the Twenty-Third Series cars in May 1949, Packard’s 50th anniversary. The seller’s market was losing momentum and GM and Ford Motor Company had already begun to roll out their first true postwar designs. All Packard could boast was a year-old design that hadn’t exactly been a styling triumph to begin with. (In fairness, we’d be hard pressed to say the 1949 Lincolns were any more attractive, but they at least had the virtue of being new.) Packard now offered automatic transmission, but still couldn’t match GM’s flashy new hardtop coupes or Cadillac and Oldsmobile’s advanced OHV V8s. Packard’s well-proven straight eights actually gave away very little to the conservatively tuned early OHV engines, but it was a serious marketing problem, adding to the perception that Packard was falling behind the times.

Packards still sold well in 1949, but there were already signs of trouble. 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. Despite the allowances, some overextended dealers went under, shrinking Packard’s dealer body by about 500 franchises.

SIDEBAR: Ultramatic

Packard’s chief research engineer, Forest McFarland, first began experimenting with torque converters in the mid-thirties, although serious development of a production automatic transmission didn’t begin until 1944. Development continued after the war, but it wasn’t approved for production until May 12, 1948, more than seven years after Cadillac first offered Hydra-Matic, a reflection of George Christopher’s reluctance to spend money on R&D. In all, Ultramatic cost more than $12 million for development and tooling, which was a huge investment for Packard; it would have been much cheaper to swallow some pride and buy Hydra-Matic (which even Lincoln did until 1955) or turn to an outside supplier like Borg-Warner for help.

1950 Packard Custom Eight convertible Ultramatic badge © 2010 Aaron Severson
The Ultramatic first became available with the Twenty-Third Series in May 1950. It was standard on Customs and a pricey $225 option on lesser models.

Mechanically, Ultramatic was a torque converter automatic with a single planetary gearset providing low, direct drive, and reverse. Like Buick’s Dynaflow and the early Chevrolet Powerglide, it normally started in direct drive, with all torque multiplication provided by the twin-turbine torque converter. Low gear could be engaged manually up to about 60 mph (97 km/h), but the driver then had to manually select High.

The rationale for this arrangement, which seems faintly ludicrous today, was greater smoothness. The early Hydra-Matic had four speeds and upshifts involved engaging and disengaging bands and clutches in two separate planetary gearsets. As a result, Hydra-Matic tended to shift with a jolt, particularly if it wasn’t in perfect adjustment. By contrast, the torque converter’s torque multiplication faded smoothly away to direct drive at higher speeds, like a modern continuously variable transmission. On paper, it was a fine trade-off: Ultramatic’s stall ratio of 2.40:1 was very close to the 2.43:1 first gear of Packard’s standard three-speed manual, without any need for shifting. In practice, the automatic made for smooth but sluggish performance off the line.

As with Dynaflow and Powerglide, many drivers compensated for Ultramatic’s lack of off-the-line multiplication by starting in Low and shifting manually into Drive. This made for much quicker acceleration (trimming more than 3 seconds off of 0-60 mph/0-97 km/h times), but it was hard on the transmission; Packard described low gear as “emergency low” for good reason.

What set Ultramatic apart from Dynaflow and Powerglide was its lockup torque converter, a “wet” friction clutch that engaged automatically at cruising speeds — between 15 and 56 mph (24 and 90 km/h), depending on throttle position — to lock the torque converter’s torus housing directly to the transmission main shaft. With the converter locked up, engine torque was transmitted directly to the transmission main shaft with no slippage, improving fuel efficiency and providing better throttle response and engine braking. This feature was previously used by some bus transmissions (and later appeared on some early Borg-Warner automatics) and made a comeback on a much bigger scale in the late seventies. It’s now virtually universal on torque converter automatics.

Despite its technical novelty, Ultramatic invited at least two lawsuits: one from inventor Eduard Fischel, who claimed Packard had imitated his hydraulic valve regulator layout, and the other from General Motors, which claimed Packard had infringed elements of GM’s torque converter designs. Packard won both cases, but in the second case, GM appealed the lower court’s verdict and the matter wasn’t resolved until after Packard had ceased to exist as a separate marque.

1956 Packard Caribbean transmission pushbuttons © 2010 Aaron Severson
The 1956 iteration of Twin Ultramatic included pushbutton transmission controls, a $52 option. The P, R, and N buttons were automatically disabled at speeds above 5 mph (8 km/h) and the starter could only be engaged in Park or Neutral. Like the 1958 Edsel, the pushbuttons were electrically operated and not terribly reliable.

By 1953, Ultramatic’s lack of off-the-line punch was becoming a serious problem, prompting torque converter revisions that raised the stall ratio from 2.40 to 2.55:1. For 1954, the transmission got some internal revisions to better cope with the stresses caused by frequent manual shifting. Late in the model year, Packard added “Gear-Start Ultramatic,” which had a new second driving range that would start in low gear and shift automatically to high.

For the 1955 model, Packard introduced a thoroughly redesigned Ultramatic, developed by McFarland and a young research engineer named John DeLorean. Dubbed Twin Ultramatic, it functioned much like the Gear-Start transmission, allowing starts in either high or low gear with automatic shifting between the two. It retained the lockup clutch, making it a sort of poor man’s three-speed, and the torque converter was revised to raise the stall ratio to 2.90:1.

Unfortunately, the new transmission had many teething problems, in part because it was not quite robust enough for the greater torque of Packard’s new V8 engines. Twin Ultramatic was also too complex for many mechanics of the time and improper maintenance exacerbated its reputation for unreliability. The 1956 version was much improved and some 90 lb (41 kg) lighter thanks to the adoption of an aluminum case, but by then, the damage was done.

Packard V8 in a 1956 Nash Ambassador © 2009 Aaron Severson
Some 1955-1956 Nashes and Hudsons used Packard engines and Twin Ultramatic transmissions, part of a short-lived reciprocal agreement between Packard and AMC. Twin Ultramatic was also found in the Packard-engined 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk.

Ultramatic was dropped when Packard production was consolidated with Studebaker in 1956; the final 1957-1958 Packards had three-speed Borg-Warner transmissions, shared with the contemporary Studebakers on which those cars were based.

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. One of the major problems that Packard had was that Chrysler bought out Briggs, who made bodies for Packard.

      1. 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).

  2. 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!”

  3. 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

    1. 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.

    2. My father owned two Caribbeans. Magnificent automobiles but the early one had valve problems.

  4. 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?

    1. 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.

  5. 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!

    1. Thanks for the corrections! I didn’t know the first part, and the second was obviously just carelessness. I’ve amended the text.

  6. 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?

    1. 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.

  7. [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.

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.)

        2. 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.

          1. (I took the liberty of correcting a typo in your comment when I approved it — I hope you don’t mind.)

  10. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  11. 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.”

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.”

  13. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

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