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

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.

1948 Packard Super Eight Victoria badge © 2010 Aaron Severson

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.

1929 Packard 640 Runabout side © 2010 Aaron Severson
A Sixth Series (1929) Packard Custom Eight (640) 2/4-passenger roadster. The 640 was styled in-house by Werner Gubitz, but many of its design cues came from Ray Dietrich, who was a design consultant for Packard in this period. The Custom Eight was powered by a 385 cu. in. (6,306 cc) straight eight rated at 106 gross horsepower (79 kW).

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.

1934 Packard Twelve 5-passenger coupe side © 2010 Aaron Severson
An Eleventh-Series (1934) Packard Twelve five-passenger coupe. It rides a 141.9-inch (3,604mm) wheelbase and is powered by a 446 cu. in. (7,300 cc) flathead V-12 with 160 gross horsepower (119 kW).

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-16s 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.

1941 Packard One-Ten club coupe front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
1941 Packard One-Eighty Custom Super-8 LeBaron sedan front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
Two Nineteenth-Series (1941) Packards: a six-cylinder One-Ten club coupe (top) and a One-Eighty Custom Super-8 LeBaron sedan. Other than the side mounts, trim, and the substantial wheelbase stretch — 138 inches (3,505 mm) for the One-Eighty, 122 inches (3,099 mm) for the One-Ten — they look very much alike, although the One-Eighty cost about five times as much as its junior brother.

SIDEBAR: Series and Model Years

Early in its history, Packard resisted the industry trend toward model years and their implications of planned obsolescence. The company’s general policy was to introduce new models when they were ready, not at some arbitrary point each fall. Models were initially designated with letters and later with a confusing array of model numbers and sub-series. Packard did somewhat grudgingly assign model years to its cars for registration and licensing purposes, but the series sometimes overlapped model years. Usually, the only difference between two model years of the same series was the serial number, although there were some exceptions.

In the early twenties, Packard restarted its numbering with the First Series (sold from September 1920 through February 1925), followed by the overlapping Second Series (sold from December 1923 to August 1926) and so on. It skipped the Thirteenth Series in the mid-thirties, so the final prewar models were the Twentieth Series, sold between August 1941 and February 1942.

Packard president Jim Nance abandoned the series numbering in 1953. Subsequent years still technically had series designations, but they corresponded to the model year; the 1954 cars were the Fifty-Fourth Series, while the final Packards were the Fifty-Eighth Series.

As a side note, Packard’s model designations shifted slightly from year to year, often with little apparent rhyme or reason. For example, “One Twenty” was not hyphenated from 1935 to 1937, was renamed “Eight” in 1938, went back to “One Twenty” in 1939 to 1940, and gained a hyphen (“One-Twenty”) from 1940 to 1942. For this article, we’ve attempted to use the correct nomenclature for each specific model based on the information in Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company, which was in turn drawn from factory records. If you’re confused, join the club …

PACKARD STYLING

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.

1936 Packard Twelve convertible coupe front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
A Fourteenth Series (1936) Packard Twelve convertible coupe. From 1935 to 1936, Packard’s V-12 was stroked to 473 cu. in. (7,756 cc), making up to 180 gross horsepower (134 kW) with the optional high-compression heads. Production of the Twelve ended in August 1939.

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.

1936 Packard One Twenty business coupe front 3q © 2008 Aaron Severson
A Fourteenth-Series (1936) Packard One Twenty. In appearance, the One Twenty was essentially a slightly shrunken version of the senior Packards, riding a shorter, 120-inch (3,048mm) wheelbase. It was the first Packard with independent front suspension, dubbed Safe-T-fleX, and hydraulic brakes, which were added to the senior lines in 1937.

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.

1941 Cadillac Sixty Special front 3q at dusk © 2007 Aaron Severson
Today, the Cadillac Sixty Special’s lines clearly mark it as a car of an earlier era, but in its day, its notchback profile, gently rounded beltline, and thin pillars were quite radical. This is a 1941 model, featuring the new “tombstone” grille that would become a Cadillac trademark.

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.”

1940 Packard Darrin Custom Super Eight One Eighty Convertible Victoria front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
In 1937, Dutch Darrin began offering customized Packard Darrins based on the One Twenty chassis; staring in 1940, Packard offered a Darrin-styled factory model as well. Most were Convertible Victorias, although there were a few Convertible Sedans. All of the Darrin-styled cars were lowered, stripped of their running boards, and featured the designer’s signature “Darrin dip” in the doors.

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.

1941 Packard Clipper advertisement
A magazine ad for the 1941 Packard Clipper. The quoted price is rather misleading; while the cheapest One-Ten business coupe started at $907 FOB Detroit, the Clipper actually started at a hefty $1,420. (Ad scan: “1941 Packard Clipper” courtesy Alden Jewell; used with permission)

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.

1941 Packard Clipper Darrin Victoria front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
Darrin also built a modest number of Clipper-based Convertible Victorias based on the Packard One-Eighty chassis. Total production amounted to about 35 Victorias in 1941, 15 in 1942, plus perhaps a dozen Convertible Sedans. This is a postwar recreation, based on the later Super Clipper.

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.

1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
Packards of the Twenty-First Series (1946-1947) were nearly identical to the prewar 1942 Clippers, differing only in detail. This is a 1947 Custom Super Clipper, the top-of-the-line series. It’s 215.5 inches (5,474 mm) long on a 127-inch (3,226mm) wheelbase, weighing around 4,300 lb (1,950 kg) all up. Base price was $3,449, more than $250 more expensive than a contemporary Cadillac Sixty Special.

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.

1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper front © 2010 Aaron Severson
The Packard Custom Super Clipper was powered by Packard’s 356 cu. in. (5,833 cc) straight eight with nine main bearings and 165 gross horsepower (123 kW). It’s not particularly powerful by modern standards — although 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 13 seconds and a top speed of perhaps 104 mph (167 km/h) were quite brisk in its day — but it’s among the smoothest engines ever built.

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 the 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.

1947 Packard Custom  Super Clipper dashboard © 2010 Aaron Severson
One hallmark of forties Packards was a high standard of interior materials, including luxurious and durable Mosstred carpeting. The wood paneling on the dash is synthetic, albeit very well executed.

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.

1948 Packard Super Eight convertible coupe front © 2010 Aaron Severson
The front-end treatment of the Twenty-Second Series, which attempts to translate the traditional Packard yoke grille into a more horizontal idiom, was based on ideas tested on Ed Macauley’s heavily customized personal car, “The Phantom,” which Packard employees nicknamed “The Brown Bomber.”

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 France 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.

1948 Packard Super Eight convertible coupe rear 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
The Twenty-Second Series Packard Super Eight used the short-wheelbase (120-inch/3,048mm) chassis, but the bigger 327 cu. in. (5,361 cc) straight eight with 145 horsepower (108 kW). A close look at its lines suggests its structural similarity to the outgoing Clipper, with the slab sides that earned the Twenty-Second Series its “bathtub” nickname.

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.

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.

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).

# # #


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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