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

THE FALL OF GEORGE CHRISTOPHER

Packard outsold Cadillac by almost 20% in 1949, but it was for the last time. Although Packard ultimately posted a net profit of $5.3 million for the calendar year, ongoing problems with production and raw materials resulted in operating losses through much of the year. Sales for the 1950 model year declined sharply, as did Packard’s market share, which fell by more than 30% from 1948 to 1950.

By the spring of 1949, a bitter internal battle was taking shape over the design of the Twenty-Fourth Series. Christopher wanted to facelift the “bathtub” body for the 1951 model year, allowing another year to recoup its tooling costs. Aghast, some senior Packard executives went directly to the board to argue that another year with the bathtub cars would be a commercial disaster; engineering VP William Graves threatened to resign if Christopher didn’t authorize an all-new body for the Twenty-Fourth Series.

1950 Packard Custom  Eight convertible taillight © 2010 Aaron Severson
Revised and considerably gaudier tail lamps were another styling fillip of the Twenty-Third Series (except the Station Sedans, which retained the taillights of the Twenty-Second Series). Packards of this era are noteworthy as the last American cars to use glass, rather than plastic, taillight lenses.

Christopher finally conceded, ordering Ed Macauley and John Reinhart to develop a new car for launch in the fall of 1950. This capitulation did not improve Christopher’s internal popularity; in September, the Packard board named many of the executives who’d opposed him to a new advisory committee, which was explicitly authorized to bypass Christopher and advise the board directly.

At the insistence of the engineering staff, Reinhart’s Twenty-Fourth Series proposal, presented in September, was heavily influenced by Oldsmobile’s popular “Futuramic” Ninety-Eight and included Packard’s first pillarless hardtop, dubbed Mayfair. Christopher approved the design, but immediately found himself in a new sparring match with the advisory committee over tooling amortization schedules. The board sided with the committee, leaving Christopher understandably furious.

To no one’s great surprise, the board demanded Christopher’s resignation in an acrimonious special meeting about a week later. Christopher retained the presidency in a titular sense through December 31, but he had already been stripped of any meaningful authority. Operational control of the company fell to finance VP Hugh Ferry, who was promoted to executive vice president.

Cormorant hood ornament on a 1948 Packard Eight  Station Sedan © 2010 Aaron Severson
Packard’s famous pelican hood ornament was introduced in 1932. Influential dealer Earle C. Anthony said it looked more like a cormorant than a pelican and in 1938, the company’s advertising began describing it that way, although in the late forties, Packard management reasserted that it was indeed a pelican. After the war, it was one of four optional mascots; the others were the Egyptian, the Flying Wing, and the Goddess of Speed (popularly known as the “donut-pusher”). Adding any of the four cost an extra $10 or so on most Packard models.

Christopher, frustrated and angry, returned to his farm, where he died less than five years later. On January 1, Hugh Ferry became president of Packard in title as well as name.

AFTERMATH

The departure of George Christopher marked the end of an era for Packard. Fifteen years earlier, Alvan Macauley had looked to outsiders to transform both Packard’s operations and its audience. Now, the company was again in the hands of a longtime veteran; Hugh Ferry had joined Packard back in 1908. Nonetheless, the retrenchment was only temporary; Ferry made clear that he did not want the presidency and his leading priority would be to recruit a successor. The favored choice was another outsider, James Nance of Hotpoint, with whom Packard soon entered into a complicated two-year courtship.

Max Gilman and George Christopher have a checkered reputation among Packard fans, but in some respects, Gilman and Christopher were both successful and necessary for Packard. They presided over a complete modernization of the automaker’s production and accounting methods, without which Packard would undoubtedly not have survived the thirties. In effect, Gilman and Christopher had taught Packard to build high-quality cars to a price, which had never previously been a priority. Unfortunately, in the process, they had also stripped Packard of much of its former identity. By the late forties, Packard had gone from looking down on Cadillac to desperately chasing Oldsmobile and Buick.

1951 Packard   Patrician 400 Derham sedan front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
The Twenty-Fourth Series (1951) Packards, the work of John Reinhart, had a much lower hood, slimmer fenders, and a better-realized horizontal grille than the Twenty-Third Series they replaced. This is the new top-of-the-line Patrician 400 sedan with a nine-bearing version of the 327 cu. in. (5,361 cc) straight eight.

Packard sold more than 100,000 of the all-new Twenty-Fourth Series cars, but while the new model was pleasant, it was conservative and ultimately derivative. Even Packard’s customary high-quality materials were being steadily downgraded in an effort to reduce costs. Worse, the brand’s move down-market had not attracted many new customers; by the early fifties, only 30% of buyers were first-time Packard customers. An extensive Booz Allen study done in early 1951 summarized the situation in painful detail: although Packard was still making money, it had become a dying brand.

20/20 HINDSIGHT

Many historians feel that Packard should have seized upon the postwar boom as an opportunity to reestablish the senior line. Given the production constraints the company face at the end of the war, that probably would have been a wiser course — both Packard and Packard dealers would have been better off if more of the cars they built in 1945 and 1946 had been Custom Super Clippers rather than six-cylinder models.

Nonetheless, Christopher’s reasoning was not wholly illogical. The voracity of the market in those years took many automakers by surprise; even some GM execs feared another deep recession like the one that followed the end of the First World War. Furthermore, the high-end market was the first to be sated as the frenzy abated. Luxury car sales were already softening by 1948 and a “top-heavy” Packard lineup probably would have cut into the company’s overall volume, robbing it of the capital it needed for developments like Ultramatic.

Another common argument is that Packard should have established the junior cars as a separate marque. Packard apparently considered doing that in the late thirties, but decided not to because most newly established brands in the past decade had flopped. Jim Nance revisited the idea in the mid-fifties, briefly registering “Clipper” as a separate marque, but by then, it was really too late.

On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz has managed to maintain its snob value for decades despite applying the three-pointed star to an abundance of diesel taxicabs and down-market forays like the A-Class. The difference is that Mercedes has never deemphasized its high-end S-Class models. Instead, it uses the sales of the mass-market cars to fund the development of the S-Class as its styling and technology leaders and then allows those design cues to trickle down to the cheaper models.

Packard could have done the same thing, but neither Max Gilman nor George Christopher had any interest in doing so. Hugh Ferry and Jim Nance took steps to restore the balance, but by then, economic crises had drained Packard’s cash reserves, pushing the company into an ill-fated and ultimately terminal merger with Studebaker. That, however, is a story for another day (which you can read about by clicking here).

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NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources included Robert Ackerson, “1950 Packard DeLuxe Eight: The Last of Packard’s Postwar Pachyderms,” Special Interest Autos #64 (July-August 1981), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor New, 2001), pp. 58–65; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1937-1942 Packard Clipper” (31 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1937-1942-packard-darrin.htm, accessed 24 April 2010); “1941-1947 Packard Clipper” (23 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1941-1947-packard-clipper.htm, accessed 24 April 2010); “1948-1950 Packard Eight Station Sedan” (11 September 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1948-1950-packard-eight-station-sedan.htm, accessed 24 April 2010); and Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Arch Brown, “1937 Packard Six: A Packard for $795,” Special Interest Autos #67 (January-February 1982), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 34–41; Eduard Fischel and Johannes Thiry, assignors to Siemens Apparate and Maschinen Gesellschaft mit beschänkter Haftung, “Servomotor for the Remote Control of Aircraft,” U.S. Patent No. 2,179,179, filed 24 November 1937, issued 7 November 1939; “Golden Anniversary Packard Models,” The Motor 6 July 1949, reprinted in Packard Gold Portfolio 1946-1958, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1988), pp. 19–21; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Rev. 4th ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997), pp. 217-228; Bob Johnstone, “Packard History – 1945-1984” (n.d., Bob’s Studebaker Resource and Information Portal, www.studebaker-info. org/ text3/pack-hist-1945.html, accessed 13 March 2010); John Katz, “Dazzling Darrin,” Special Interest Autos #188 (March-April 2002), pp. 32-37; George Hamlin and Dwight Heinmuller, “A Normally Tall Man Can Easily See Over It: The Clipper, The Nineteenth and Twentieth Series, 1941-1942” and “One Guess What Name It Bears: The Twenty-Second and the Twenty-Third Series 1948-1950,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company (Automobile Quarterly Magnificent Marque Books), Third Edition, ed. Beverly Rae Kimes (Princeton, NJ: Automobile Quarterly Publications (CBS Inc.), 1978); Michael Lamm, “Body by Briggs,” Special Interest Autos #19 (November-December 1973), reprinted in Hemmings Classic Car #44 (May 2008), pp. 62–67, and Hemmings Classic Car #45 (June 2008), pp. 56-62; and “1956 Packard Patrician,” Special Interest Autos #36 (September-October 1976), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 88–94; George Mattar, “1941 Packard One-Ten Deluxe,” Hemmings Classic Car #4 (January 2005), pp. 28–33, and “1948 Packard Station Sedan,” Hemmings Classic Car #12 (September 2005), pp. 50–55; Mark J. McCourt, “Dramatic Darrin,” Hemmings Classic Car #53 (February 2009), pp. 20–29; “Packard’s Ultramatic Drive,” Product Engineering July 1949, reprinted in Packard Gold Portfolio 1946-1958, pp. 22–24; Richard K. Phillips, “Into a New and Untried Middle Ground: The One Twenty, 1935-1936,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company; Jim Richardson, “A Taste of Opulence: The affordable beauty of Packard’s Model 120 sedan,” Special Interest Autos #196 (August 2003), pp. 24-29; Mark Theobald, “Hercules-Campbell Body Co.” and “J.T. Cantrell” (2004, Coachbuilt, www.coachbuilt. com, accessed 23 April 2010; James Arthur Ward, The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995); Burt Weaver, “driveReport: 1941 Packard 6,” Special Interest Autos #11 (June-July 1972), pp. 44–49; Bill Williams, “1948 Packard Station Sedan,” Special Interest Autos #17 (June-July 1973), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 51–56, and “The Heraldic Packard: Company Hood Ornaments and Emblems,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company; Josiah Work, “Classic Fastback: 1947 Packard Custom Super Eight,” Special Interest Autos #144 (November-December 1994), reprinted in ibid, pp. 43–49, and “Packard’s Handsome Hybrid: 1951 Packard Series 250,” Special Interest Autos #84 (November-December 1984), reprinted in ibid, pp. 66–74; J. Patrick Wright, On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors: John Z. DeLorean’s Look Inside the Automotive Giant (Chicago, IL: Avon Books, 1980); and L. Morgan Yost, “The End of an Era: The Seventeenth Series — September 1938-August 1939, The Eighteenth Series — August 1939-September 1940, The Nineteenth Series — September 1940-August 1941, The Twentieth Series — August 1941-February 1942,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company.

We also consulted the following period road tests: Tom McCahill, “MI Tests the New Cars: Packard,” Mechanix Illustrated April 1946, “MI Tests the ’48 Packard,” Mechanix Illustrated January 1948, and “New Packard Takes McCahill for a Ride,” Mechanix Illustrated August 1949; “Comfort and Convenience — U.S. Style,” The Autocar 29 April 1949; and “Golden Anniversary Packard Models,” The Motor 6 July 1949), all of which are reprinted in Packard Gold Portfolio 1946-1958.


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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.)

  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.

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