Charge of the Light Brigade: The Last Stand of the Packard Motor Car Company

As the 1950s dawned, the Packard Motor Company was down, but not yet out. In 1952, a hotshot salesman from the appliance industry named Jim Nance tried to turn it around with new tactics and new technology. He came close to succeeding, but it would be the venerable automaker’s last hurrah. This week, we look at the downfall and demise of Packard.
Cormorant hood ornament on a 1955 Packard Four Hundred hardtop © 2010 Aaron Severson


In 1950, Packard was in a state of flux. Over the previous decade, outgoing president George T. Christopher and his predecessor, Max Gilman, had turned away from Packard’s traditional position as a high-end luxury car in search of greater volume. The launch of the cheaper One Twenty saved Packard from collapse during the Depression, but eventually cost the company some of its past luster. That retrenchment, combined with dubious styling choices for Packard’s postwar cars, led to a sharp downturn in sales by the 1950 model year.

Saying that Packard had moved down-market demands some qualification. Even the “junior” Packards of this era were not cheap: A basic Packard 200 sedan cost started at almost $2,500 in 1951, about $350 more than an Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight and over $100 more than a Buick Super. The top-of-the-line Patrician 400 started at nearly $3,700, almost $500 more than a Lincoln Cosmopolitan and over $130 more than a four-door Cadillac Series 62. The problem was a more subtle one. The “senior” Packards, once the standard-bearers of the marque’s prestige, were perceived as bigger versions of the middle-class cars rather than the other way around. For a while, the Packard name retained a certain cachet, but that diminished as the identity of the senior cars became diluted. By 1950, Packard had premium prices, but a less-than-premium image. (Ironically, it was not unlike the position Buick, Cadillac, and Lincoln are in today.)

1950 Packard Custom Eight convertible front © 2010 Aaron Severson
The 1950 model year was the last of Packard’s frumpy-looking Twenty-Third Series. The “bathtub” Twenty-Second and Twenty-Third Series cars initially sold well, but when the postwar boom cooled, buyers looked elsewhere. This 1950 Custom Eight convertible is a very rare car; fewer than 80 were sold, with prices starting at just over $4,500.

Despite that uneasy position, Packard was not in bad financial shape. It had no debt, it had a reasonable level of working capital, and whatever else one might say of George Christopher, he had kept a tight lid on spending. Packard finally had an automatic transmission and the Twenty-Fourth Series cars that debuted in the fall of 1950 had all-new, modern styling, courtesy of styling director Ed Macauley and chief stylist John Reinhart. What Packard needed, the board thought, was inspired leadership.


Packard veteran Hugh Ferry, who replaced George Christopher as president on January 1, 1950, accepted that post reluctantly and one of his main objectives was choosing a successor. That successor would have to come from outside. Packard’s internal talent pool was very modest; many of the board members were pushing 70 and many senior executives weren’t much younger. The closest Packard had come to a succession plan was in early 1948, when former chairman Alvan Macauley had tried unsuccessfully to recruit AMA executive George Romney as executive vice president.

1951 Packard Patrician 400 Derham sedan front © 2010 Aaron Severson
The Twenty-Fourth Series 1951 Packards were all new, with a new frame some 200 lb (91 kg) lighter than before. Packard would use this basic body shell and chassis through 1956 with several successive facelifts. This customized Patrician 400 sedan has a new nine-bearing version of Packard’s 327 cu. in. (5,361 cc) straight eight with 155 gross horsepower (116 kW).

In the spring of 1950, Ferry and the Packard board approached James Nance, the president of General Electric’s Hotpoint appliance division. Nance, then 50 years old, was already well known in the business world. In the past five years, he had made Hotpoint the nation’s third-largest appliance manufacturer and he was considered one of the most dynamic and talented sales executives in America — exactly what the Packard board wanted.

The board found Nance surprisingly receptive. A recent GE reorganization had effective demoted him from CEO to executive vice president, a bitter pill for someone as ambitious as Nance. However, Nance’s initial demands were quite high and the negotiations with Packard dragged on for nearly two years.

Part of Nance’s interest in Packard was the possibility of a merger between two or more of America’s remaining independent automakers. Even before accepting the presidency, Nance had preliminary discussions with Nash’s George Mason about a possible four-way merger between Nash, Hudson, Packard, and Studebaker. Nance saw the Packard presidency as a stepping stone to the executive seat of a new automotive conglomerate.

Nance became Packard’s president and general manager in May 1952, signing a five-year contract that gave him a starting salary of $168,000 a year plus options for 100,000 shares of stock and a 15-year pension. Nance had insisted on the pension throughout the negotiations. Not only would it benefit him personally, adding a pension plan would give him a useful tool for removing senior Packard staffers who had outlived their usefulness. (When he arrived, Nance promptly removed nearly 400 Packard executives, replacing some of them with colleagues from Hotpoint like Walter Grant, who became treasurer and vice president of finance.)

In an address to an informal group of Packard “key men” at the end of May, Nance confronted the issue that company management had generally been reluctant to face: that Packard’s once-vaunted reputation was now all but meaningless. He recognized the need for the volume the “junior” models provided, but declared that Packard had left itself in limbo: not quite a prestige brand, not quite a middle-class make. If the company was to survive, it could not afford half measures.

1951 Packard Patrician 400 Derham sedan rear 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
This 1951 Packard Patrician 400 is a customized formal sedan by Rosemont, Pennsylvania, coachbuilder Derham. Packard briefly cataloged a similar Derham sedan in 1953, priced at more than $6,500. Only about 25 were sold. The portholes on the rear fender (officially called “ventiports,” à la Buick, but often nicknamed “bottle openers”) were initially found only on senior Packards, but were extended to all models with the Twenty-Fifth Series (1952).

Nance thought George Christopher’s oft-repeated goal of 200,000 units a year was unrealistic, but concluded that 150,000 units would give Packard comfortable insulation against future economic downturns. However, Nance felt it was vital to restore the distinction between the junior and senior lines. His initial plan called for reviving the Clipper name, which Packard had dropped in 1947, and separating it in size and appearance from the senior Packards. He originally hoped to launch an all-new Packard for 1954, followed in 1955 by an all-new and distinct Clipper. Nance also wanted to reduce costs, improve Packard’s advertising, and adopt much more aggressive sales techniques.

The plans for an all-new car for the 1954 model year were quickly postponed. Although Packard had done quite well in the 1951 model year, the little-changed Twenty-Fifth Series launched that November was down more than 35%. The decline was largely a result of the Korean War, in which the U.S. had been embroiled since the summer of 1950. The war led to renewed shortages of steel and other strategic materials along with production caps and credit restrictions. The bright side was that the war brought an assortment of military contracts for jet and maritime engines, helping to keep Packard in the black.

Nonetheless, Nance made some progress. During his first year, Packard added about 400 new dealerships and culled some weaker franchises. Nance also renewed his conversations with George Mason, discussing the possibility of sharing parts, engines, and even production facilities. By the end of 1952, Packard had reason to be cautiously optimistic.

1953 Packard Cavalier sedan front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
In 1953, Packard renamed its various series, reviving the Clipper name for the low-end cars (called 200 in 1951–1952). Mid-level cars, like this 1953 sedan, were Cavaliers, while senior models were Patricians. Clippers were 213.1 inches (5,413 mm) long on a 122-inch (3,099 mm) wheelbase; Cavaliers were 218.2 inches (5,541 mm) on a 127-inch (3,226 mm) wheelbase. The Cavalier started at about $3,200, a lot of money in 1953 — it was within $20 of a Buick Roadmaster hardtop and over $400 more than an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight sedan.


Add a Comment
  1. Another low-volume automaker that ran into difficulty because they lost Briggs as a supplier of bodies: Jowett of Bradford, England. They didn’t go out of business, but they stopped making cars.

  2. If I could put my two cents in (ANOTHER excellent article, by the way)….

    Packard’s last real chance was right after the war; if they had dumped pinchpenny George Christopher and reestablished Packard as a true luxury marque, they might have had enough momentum to get through the 50’s.

    Demand for cars was such that Packard could’ve sold every car they could put together; if they had dropped the cheaper cars and sold only the high-end versions not only would Packard banked more profit per unit, they would’ve rebuilt the brand equity they lost before the war. By the time the market cooled, Packard would have been in a much stronger position even if they had gone ahead with their bathtub models.

    Having said that, my understanding about the Nash/Packard tie-up (prior to George Mason’s death) is that Nance was all for it until he found out Mason would be the boss; Nance would head what would become the Packard division but in Nance’s mind, that represented a step down. Therefore, he switched gears and went after a merger with Studebaker, where he could be the top dog.

    In turning Nash away, he not only lost the use of what was one of the most modern body plants in the country at that time, but also a merger with a relatively well-run outfit that still had some cash in the bank and some building sales momentum from their Rambler.

    Instead, he hooked up with a manufacturer in far-off Indiana, with severe labor troubles and a product line which was, to put it kindly, out of the mainstream at the time and not competitively priced, either.

    If they had hooked up with Nash and not Studebaker, would Packard have survived to today? As much as I would have liked to say yes, I must say probably not; Chrysler was much bigger and they very nearly went under in the early 80’s (it was only the K-car and minivan that saved them). But I believe it would have bought them at least another 20 years or so to live.

    1. George Christopher was a very competent manufacturing man — he was just completely out of his depth in marketing and product planning. He was not a good choice for the presidency, but on the other hand, Packard had a grievous shortage of competent managerial talent that they could have promoted. There was only one board member under 65, and while they had some talented engineers and designers, none of them was really a manager, either. That was why Alvan Macauley courted Romney in 1948; if Romney had accepted, it might have been a very different (if not necessarily better) story.

      Nance had no problem with Mason. He talked to Mason quite a bit before he even accepted the Packard offer, and they got along well. I don’t think Nance would have chafed at becoming president of a Nash-Hudson-Packard AMC, with Mason as chairman — particularly considering that Mason was in his early sixties by then, and even if he hadn’t died suddenly, would probably have retired within a few years, leaving Nance in charge. Nance’s problem was Romney, who had precisely the same ambition. Patrick Foster has suggested that Mason could simply have made Nance the president of Packard Division and Romney the president of a Nash and/or Nash-Hudson division, but in all likelihood, they would have been at war, the same way Lee Iacocca and Bunkie Knudsen clashed at Ford (and for the same reasons).

      Merging with Studebaker was not Nance’s first choice. Even given his conflicts with Romney, he would have preferred Nash and Mason to Studebaker; there’s evidence he had some reservations about the latter. However, Packard’s board had already made up their mind by the time of the AMC merger, and when Mason asked to address the board to discuss his merger plans (in February 1954), the board refused to hear him out.

      Packard’s reasoning was not wholly illogical. By late 1953, when the merger idea became serious, Hudson was clearly moribund; the board had floated the idea of merging with them, but concluded that they were probably terminal. Nash was doing better, but Nash’s sales volume and dealer network were significantly smaller than Studebaker’s generally was. Furthermore, Kenosha was hardly any closer or more convenient to Packard than South Bend, which was what kiboshed the idea of having Nash build Packard bodies.

      Once the AMC merger was in the works, the potential negatives were that much greater. AMC lost a horrifying amount of money in its first year — something like $40 million before taxes — and the combined volume of Nash and Hudson for that calendar year was not encouraging. Part of the Packard board’s objective was to convince the banks and insurance companies (Packard’s principal financial backers) that the company’s fortunes were going to improve. Studebaker was not in a great position (Roy Hurley later told [i]Fortune[/i] that the merger represented "two drunks leaning on each other for support"), but I doubt the financial community would have looked at a merger with AMC any more favorably, at least not in 1954-1955.

      Now, if Packard had clearly understood how bad Studebaker’s position really was, they might have thought twice, but the board had already decided that merger was their only hope of survival, and they had Lehman Brothers (which brokered the merger) giving them the hard sell on how well it was going to work. The consequence was that the board didn’t demand an independent audit of Studebaker’s operations, which was a stupid, stupid mistake.

      Nance didn’t dig in his heels and oppose the merger, but by the time the stockholders approved it, he was already beginning to suspect that Studebaker’s estimates of its break-even level were fishy. When Walter Grant returned with his estimates, the board would have had grounds for a false-conveyance suit, but they were convinced that they couldn’t survive alone, and decided to make the best of it.

    2. Packard no longer had the body dies for the upper-series senior cars, those were ruined in outdoor storage during the war, all they had were the Clipper bodies, which they did make a senior chassis version of. As for the Nash/Hudson merger with Packard, you have your history wrong. Nance was OK being Packard division chief under the plan outlined by George Mason, the CEO of Nash and the man who envisioned the four-way merger of Packard, Hudson, Nash, and Studebaker. The plan was for Nash and Hudson to merge, Packard to buy Stude, and then the two corporations to become one. One problem: George Mason died after merging Nash and Hudson, and the new guy at AMC, George Romney wanted nothing to do with Studebaker-Packard. The animus between Nance and Romney was there, but Romney didn’t see the business case for taking S-P on.

      1. Yes, Nance was fine with the idea of being division head under Mason, but Mason was also more than a decade older than Nance, so Nance would still have been in a position to eventually run the whole show. He and Romney were very close in age, so for both of them, the other running the corporation would have made it unlikely that the other would ever get to unless one of them suffered some kind of illness or injury or, as Romney eventually did, left to go into politics or some other field. It’s not uncommon for senior executives to leave if they get passed over in that kind of circumstance. That was why Bunkie Knudsen went to Ford in the late sixties; he had seemed to stand a pretty good chance at the presidency, but it went to Ed Cole, who was close enough in age that Knudsen was not going to get to be president before GM’s mandatory retirement age.

        Deciphering the motives of executives, especially ones who are all deceased, always involves a certain amount of speculation, but in this case, I don’t know how easily one can really separate Romney’s assessment of the business case from his personal ambitions at that time or his friction with Nance. Romney had been Mason’s right hand and saw all the same plans and estimates Mason did. If Romney had found them wanting, he could have said so (which Mason would probably have considered) or, if he thought the company was going in a direction that didn’t make sense, simply left; he wouldn’t have wanted for other opportunities if it had come to that.

        That said, I would certainly agree that the business case for a Nash-Hudson-Studebaker-Packard merger had a lot of problems, particularly given Packard’s assessment of the actual state of Studebaker’s costs and the logistical problems involved (as there were with the Studebaker-Packard merger itself) given the geographic dispersal of the companies’ respective factories. It might have worked better in the late forties, when the players all had more cash, but they also had less incentive then, as Mason had found. Still, if Packard or Studebaker-Packard had been under the leadership of someone like Hugh Ferry (who hadn’t wanted to be in charge in the first place and was more than happy to hand over the reins), I have to wonder if Romney would have decided there was still something to be done with it.

        You can disagree, of course, but in this case, I’m not going to call a difference of interpretation an error.

        As for the old tooling, there are several different stories about its fate, including the old and by now mostly debunked story about it going to the Soviets. Nonetheless, hindsight suggests that Packard would have been better off bringing the Clipper tooling back in house at the end of the war. Continuing to use Briggs was expedient, but, as eventually happened, it left Packard vulnerable. That was essentially Nance’s take, but by the time that became clear, Packard no longer had the money it would have entailed.

        1. I have friends who met Romney in the late 1980s at separate events. Romney was still very much with it, and these two individuals, being Packard owners and fans asked him separately about why he didn’t honor Mason’s plan. His answer was the same each time, that he didn’t see the business sense in taking on S-P, and “that was George’s (Mason)idea, not mine”. They didn’t get into asking directly about personality skirmishes with Nance, that is all pretty well known. I know the woman who was one of Nance’s secretaries, she confirmed that Nance was willing to wait out Mason until he retired, then become CEO of the new “American Motors”. I have wondered whether the parties involved could have managed an enterprise that large, and could they have combined engineering practices to achieve the economy of scale that the big three were already well versed in. Nance had S-P to himself, and didn’t really make many changes at Studebaker, and basically maintained two of everything–administration, sales, engineering, accounting. He would have needed someone with far more large industry management moxie than he possessed.

          1. I don’t disagree with that assessment, really. As I said yesterday and as the text notes, there were a lot of logistical and organizational obstacles to unifying Studebaker-Packard that would have been compounded with a three- or four-way merger. Even while Mason was still alive, he and Nance ran into that problem in exploring the idea of whether Nash could produce stampings for Packard — the geography was really inconvenient. As for Studebaker, it was not that Nance wanted there to be two separate organizations, but that integration was going to be a cumbersome and costly process that it was becoming increasingly difficult for Studebaker-Packard to afford.

            I get feeling that many of the people involved on all sides got so invested in how great it would be to have this integrated multi-divisional entity that there wasn’t enough thought given to what would have to happen to make that a reality. For instance, if they were to set up a shared-body program à la GM, where were they going to do the stampings? Where were the stampings going to be assembled? Who was going to make the engines and where? Those were not straightforward questions, least of all for simple geographical reasons.

            Obviously, as things actually transpired, Romney’s ideas evolved in a very different direction from Mason’s, most particularly in the later decision to abandon both Nash and Hudson to consolidate around Rambler. That turned out to be the right choice in the circumstances, but it’s interesting to speculate whether Romney would have still gone that way if Mason had been successful in negotiating a four-way merger and Romney had ended up as its CEO. As head of AMC in the mid-fifties, his options were a little more straightforward: Hudson was dying, and of Nash’s product lines, Rambler looked like the more viable, particularly once most of its domestic rivals (Hudson Jet, Henry J, Aero-Willys) had expired. With a four-way merger and essentially five product lines (Studebaker, Hudson, Rambler, Nash, and Packard/Clipper), that would have been a more complicated decision and it’s hard to know (and probably would have been hard for even Romney himself to have known) how he would have gone.

            I will say for the record that I do think Romney made the right choice. I’ve said elsewhere that I think Kaiser-Frazer’s big mistake was in attempting to go head to head with the Big Three on mainstream mid-price cars rather than finding a unique, sustainable niche (which they ended up getting with Willys and Jeep), so I have serious doubts that a four- or five-division AMC could have survived. I think Hudson and the big Nashes would have ended up tripping all over each other as DeSoto and Dodge did and trying to make Studebaker seriously competitive with Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth would have entailed a big investment in plant and product overhaul that I doubt AMC could have afforded. A Packard-Rambler pairing (akin to Chrysler-Plymouth) wouldn’t have been a totally ludicrous idea, but that wouldn’t have provided much in the way of economies of scale for either.

          2. I think Romney did and did not make a major mistake. He relegated Nash to niche-player status, which did ultimately doom it. Any Hudson fan would consider it unforgiveable that he killed the brand and the car. But given the situation as it existed, he must be credited for being a realist. As for Nance, perhaps his greatest sin in the end was in not having the 1957 Clipper as it existed–the big Studebaker with Packard styling cues and the big V-8–on the market by 1956, or maybe 1955. This would have given Packard a real shot at restoring its lost luxury car luster, as it would no longer have been possible to buy something at a major discount that would fool the neighbors into thinking you paid a senior Packard price.

            I think Chrysler missed a real bet in refusing to merge in the mid-1950s. Applying ‘Black Bess’ styling cues to the 1957 Imperial and placing it on the Packard chassis would have created a real force in the luxury car market, one that the Imperial could never be, considering that people had been reflexively calling them ‘Chrysler Imperials’ for thirty years, and (hindsight is 20/20) would never stop. There’s also a lot to be said for Chrysler absorbing Studebaker and dropping Plymouth. Plymouth never could differentiate itself from Dodge anyway; better to have the more popular name, and sell a cheaper car with coil springs and less technical sophistication.

            But what I don’t understand is why Nash merged with Hudson and left Packard to merge with Studebaker. Yes, Packard-Clipper-Studebaker promised the possibility of a full-range carmaker in the event the final merger didn’t happen, but the plan was for the full four-way merger to happen. And in the full, four-way merger, Packard and Hudson were the natural partners, and Nash and Studebaker were the other natural pairing.

            Packard had wheelbases of 127″ and 124″, while Hudson’s main wheelbase was also 124″, so naturally those two would share bodies. Hudson needed an in-house automatic transmission that could handle big-car torque, and Packard had it. Packard needed unitary construction techniques for big, roomy bodies, and Hudson had that. And they were both in Detroit. Meanwhile, Nash’s wheelbases were 114 3/4″ and 118 3/4″, which were a little too short for the market, and Studebaker had two wheelbases, each exactly 1 1/2″ longer than Nash. Nash had a problem with dumpy styling, no in-house automatic, and no V-8, all of which Studebaker could fix, and Stude was desperately in need of quality control, sane labor relations, unitary body construction and twentieth century suspension and steering gear, all of which Nash was in the perfect position to provide. And South Bend and Kenosha are not physically that far apart.

            Naturally there would have been overlap between the big cars and the smaller cars. But in terms of what each company needed right at that moment, Nash and Studebaker had much more to offer each other, and Hudson and Packard would have been the most natural allies in the world. I really don’t understand why the initial pair of preparatory mergers ran so counter to logic. Nash and Hudson had very much the same strengths–unibody, strong sixes–very much the same weaknesses–no automatic, old hat styling–and were close enough in price to step on each others’ toes. And Packard and Studebaker not only had similar strengths and weaknesses, they were so far apart in size, required engine sizes, and etc., as to be on different planets. They had nothing to offer each other, and anything new would have had to be engineered twice–once for big cars and again for smaller cars.

            Imagine how much benefit Hudson would have derived from unitizing Clipper’s body, and gaining the big V-8 and Ultramatic. Imagine how much benefit Nash would have gotten from lowering the beltline on its finely-engineered bodies enough for Studebaker to share them. But perhaps most of all, imagine taking an early Rambler, channeling a few inches out of the cowl height, removing the back seat, and placing a four-fifths scale model of the Loewy Starlight Coupe on–and introducing it at the same time the Thunderbird came out. With the T-Bird on one side, in steel, and a Rambler-sized, two-seat mini-Starlight Coupe on the other, also in steel, we might today be saying to ourselves, ‘Remember the Corvette? That didn’t last long…’

          3. The four-way merger was only “the plan” in the minds of George Mason and, at least for a time, Romney and Nance, who presumably expected to inherit the kingdom upon Mason’s retirement or (as it turned out) death. It was not a plan approved by the boards of the respective companies, so it’s perhaps better described as an ambition than a plan. The Packard board was disinterested in Nash and thought Hudson was too close to death, although ironically, the Studebaker merger presented many of the same problems the board had (correctly) noted about the others.

            As for the rest, I have to say I don’t put a lot of stock in the various counterfactuals about merging the American independents. For one, they all seem to ignore the most pressing issue: effectively sharing platforms and tooling rather than just components would have required a huge capital investment in plant redesign and retooling. None of the companies involved had the money for that — why do you think they kept rehashing their existing body shells? Consolidating production, which could ultimately have saved a lot of money, was an even bigger problem because of the geographic dispersal of the companies and the fact that none of them had a modern factory space that was really suited to the task without a major revamp. (Even the pitch for the Studebaker merger glossed over this point.) Again, nobody involved had anything approaching that amount of money nor any way of getting it. Without that, the rest is pretty much wishful thinking.

            I don’t think Chrysler missed much of anything. Studebaker’s unit costs were much higher than Plymouth’s and Studebaker-Packard had all kinds of financial problems that Chrysler would have had to absorb and then fix at its own expense. It wouldn’t have bought them much of anything but trouble. If they’d wanted Torsion-Level, they could simply have licensed it, which would have been a lot less headache.

            I also can’t see that introducing a Studebaker-based Clipper in 1955 or 1956 would have bought Studebaker-Packard anything. I remain unconvinced that trying to establish Clipper as a separate marque was worthwhile in the first place. Look at it this way: By the mid-fifties, mid-market cars, which is what Nance wanted Clipper to be, depended very much on image — by 1955, there really wasn’t much you couldn’t get on cheaper models in any practical sense. However, Packard’s image was really on the skids by the early ’50s. Clipper, which had always been a subset of Packard, therefore had even less prestige. If buyers weren’t that interested in Clippers wearing the Packard badge and carrying whatever cachet Packard still had, who was going to be interested in a Clipper that didn’t have even that? Or one obviously based on the 1953 Studebaker shell, a car buyers in 1955–56 weren’t exactly clamoring to get either, even at a lower price? Looking at the contemporary example of Buick, or even Packard’s own past history with the 120 and the Packard Six, Packard would have been better off building up the prestige position of its senior models WITHOUT separating the Clipper as a marque.

            As for Nash and Hudson, Romney didn’t “doom” them — he looked at the market and concluded that AMC didn’t have the resources to make and keep them competitive with their half-dozen mid-price rivals, but they could make it by focusing on Rambler, which (especially after Kaiser and Willys bowed out) then had the compact market mostly to itself. It wasn’t a matter of neglect, it was a conscious decision to which the board specifically agreed.

          4. You do make excellent points. We are certainly looking at the thing from different points of view, though. You are looking at the thing from the point of view of making Clipper popular, while I am looking for the possibility of restoring Packard’s viability in the profitable top market segment. Indeed, since Clipper was somewhat made from whole cloth, and therefore had no brand recognition, I see a major advantage in dropping it altogether to make room for Hudson, allowing it to update from the excellent but dated ‘Step-Down’ bodies by offering a facelift of the Clipper body instead. I think Hudson’s strengths and customer base, and a facelift to make that body look sufficiently different from Packard (something I think they could have just afforded, given the facelifts they did manage to pull off) would have put them both in a stronger position going into 1957.

            As for Studebaker, Nash was in a much better position to do something with it. Even so, its weaknesses were indeed legion. Perhaps even Chrysler could not have saved it. But somehow they did manage to last quite a while, and produce some appealing cars along the way.

            Failing that…

            As for Studebaker-Packard adapting Clipper to the Studebaker body, again, it would have allowed Packard a measure of exclusivity. As for Clipper, it’s true that it would not have given it any hope of Packard’s panache rubbing off on it. But Clippers were pricier than Buicks; to put the Packard driveline in a Stude President would have produced a real bomb for the period which could have been sold at Pontiac/Dodge prices. There is something to be said for that.

            Thank you for the insights into the thought processes and the internal struggles going on. Clearly everyone was not on the same page. There does not seem to have been someone as brilliant and clear-headed as, say, Alfred P. Sloan anywhere in any of these organizations. More’s the pity.

          5. I’m not sure what separating Clipper would have done to improve the position of Packard. A divorce in name only (continuing to sell Clippers in Packard dealers, just without Packard badges) was barely even noticeable to buyers. A more formal separation, with different dealerships, would have done existing Packard dealers considerable harm, robbing them of their highest-volume product without replacing it with anything. (And, in your scenario, handing it over to Hudson dealers!) That’s the sort of move that has dealers calling their lawyers about grounds for a lawsuit. And for what? Selling fewer of something doesn’t automatically make it more exclusive or more desirable — sometimes the reverse.

            Nostalgia also makes it easy to lose sight of how dire Hudson’s position was in 1953, particularly from the viewpoint of the Packard board. The principal reason the Packard board wanted a merger with anyone was the hopes of increasing volume to help shore up their cash flow. Hudson’s sales in 1952 were barely better than Packard’s, 1953 sales were actually lower, and Hudson lost a huge pile of money for its 1953 fiscal year. Hudson had bet heavily on the Jet increasing its volume, but when the Jet came out that fall, it got off to a really rocky start and never recovered. Even if Hudson’s overall volume had looked sustainable (which was not the general impression), it wouldn’t have bought Packard anything except more problems to sort out.

            Also, the real-world experience of Studebaker and Packard in this period makes it clear that it was a mistake to underestimate the public’s ability to recognize a made-over body shell. Both brands gave it a good shot, given how little they had to work with, but you sell how well it worked, even with the addition of some interesting new features here and there. It’s hard to see additional badge shuffling doing much to change that, certainly not the the degree necessary to underwrite all-new body shells.

            I would say the importance of vision in this mess has been entirely oversold. The Packard board had a surfeit of vision — of how well they could do after integrating production with Studebaker and rolling out all-new models with new shells in three different sizes — that wasn’t matched by sufficient attention to niggling material realities, like “How, exactly, are we going to pay for that?” Had they been clear-eyed enough to demand an independent audit of Studebaker, they might not have even merged with Studebaker, much less anyone else.

            The disconnect in a lot of AMC-related counterfactuals is that they tend to be driven more by affection for a particular brand than a real consideration of the market and what would sell — “How could they have saved Hudson?” rather than “What would have made Hudson something consumers wanted to buy in that era?” and the realities of accomplishing that. None of these companies could go head to head with GM and Ford on cost or price, and trying to convince prestige-minded buyers to try something new is a challenge even in the best of conditions. To some extent, I think Packard (more than Studebaker and certainly more than Hudson) was on the right track, but without a new rather than made-over body, they weren’t going to make it much farther in any case.

          6. I have no love for the Clipper marque at all. It was Nance’s idea to try to create the Big Four without incorporating Hudson, or Nash, or evenKaiser, or any other existing medium priced marque.

            I see what Nance was trying to do. What I don’t see is why he treated Clipper and Studebaker as though they were on different planets. Clipper needed to cost less, and needed more profit margin, if it was to amount to anything at all. Would it have amounted to anything if it had those advantages? Perhaps not. But given what Nance was trying to accomplish, and given how much Studebaker-Clipper interchangeability was envisioned for 1957, a 1956 Studeclipper seems like a very logical move to me.

            Nance seems to have had precious little regard for Studebaker, as though its problems were so overwhelming that he developed a mental block towards it. The Clipper Division was his one chance to develop a little “synergy” within that company, but it never even offered the smaller, lighter, cheaper Studebaker V-8.

          7. I don’t want to seem like I’m defending Nance, since I think some of his judgment in this area was wrong, but I feel like it’s important to recognize that a lot of Studebaker-Packard’s decisions in this regard were not a matter of lack of vision or talent, but rather an abject lack of capital. The corporation was not in a position to address the various logistical hurdles involved in combining production. Nance sought money to do that — the plan he pitched to investors involved something more in line with what you’re proposing, with three all-new shared body shells (one for junior Studebakers, one for senior Studebakers and Clippers, one for Packards) — but he found no takers.

  3. Interesting article.

    Another problem that Packard had was the lack of a consistent “look.” The company’s main trademark was the upright, “yoked” grille, and the first postwar design really minimized this feature. The subsequent redesigns in 1951 and 1955 didn’t bring this feature to the forefront. While 1951-56 Packards certainly weren’t ugly cars, they really didn’t stand out from the crowd.

    Cadillac, meanwhile, had its eggcrate grille, and added the famous “fishtails” for 1948, followed by the Dagmar bumper guards in the early 1950s.

    As a result, by 1951, everybody knew what a Cadillac was, and what it looked like – an important feature for people who are paying big money for a luxury car. There is no point in buying a car to impress the neighbors if they can’t immediately figure out what it is.

    Even today, 50 years later, people who aren’t particularly interested in cars can recognize a 1950s Cadillac and correctly identify it.

    Cadillac also aced Packard with the Coupe de Ville. When it came time to offer a new bodystyle in the postwar years, it’s telling that Packard went for a utilitarian wagon, while Cadillac rolled out a sexy hardtop coupe.

    At the big Hershey Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) fall meet, it’s not uncommon to see 1950s Cadillacs and Packards parked next to each other on the showfield. When parked side-by-side, it’s not hard to see why Packard really didn’t have much of a chance against Cadillac in those years. The Packards – even the 1955-56 models – look more than a little stodgy and upright, while the Cadillacs look long, low and sexy.

    I’ve often felt that the eclipsing of Packard by Cadillac also represented an important social change. Packards were bought by people who were part of the “old money” crowd, and really didn’t feel the need to flaunt their wealth. They appreciated mechanical refinement and quality craftsmanship. I’ve read that, in some cases, these customers requested that the factory remove all identifying badges on their new cars!

    The Depression, Roosevelt’s higher taxes, and the social revolution brought about by World War II swept away these people – or, at least, greatly diminished their influence. A new class of well-to-do customer emerged – one who was less likely to come from old money and therefore wanted a vehicle that made a more blatant statement to bystanders. These customers were more concerned about having the latest and greatest in features and performance than the ultimate in refinement. A tailfinned Cadillac with the new OHV V-8 was more to their taste.

    I wonder if there is even a place for a car like the Packard of the 1920s and 1930s in 21st century America.

    1. Packard didn’t really lag that far behind Cadillac on the pillarless hardtop. The Coupe de Ville appeared quite late in the 1949 model year, and the Packard Mayfair appeared with the Twenty-Fourth Series the following fall, so the gap was perhaps 15 months. It didn’t help, but at that point, the hardtop was still a novelty, rather than a market mainstay. Packard did suffer as the fifties went on from not having a full line of hardtops. Until 1954, when they added the Panama, they only had the one, which was quite expensive, whereas Buick and Olds offered them on every series, including the Special and Eighty-Eight.

      In terms of styling continuity, Packard was really hampered by the unpopularity of the 22nd/23rd Series cars. The “bathtubs” suffered from their structural kinship with the Clippers (which were far better looking) — they had all the wrong sort of continuity. They sort of resembled the Clipper, but a Clipper that had a bad thyroid problem. If they’d done an all-new car for the 22nd Series, building on the themes of the original Clipper, they probably would have done a lot better, but Christopher was convinced it would cost too much to do that. That left Ed Macauley and John Reinhart in an awkward position for the Twenty-Fourth Series; the 22nd/3rd Series had been such a mess that they were obliged (and probably ordered directly) to start from scratch.

      The Twenty-Fourth Series is not a bad-looking car, especially in Mayfair form, but I agree it’s pretty ordinary. I think it looks a little more modern than a contemporary Buick, which still had the bulbous hood and low fenders, but it’s generic. I also agree with John Reinhart, who lamented the fact that the engineers insisted on raising the beltline (their rationale was that it would reduce the size of the greenhouse, which would be cheaper to build). I think you’re right about their lacking a coherent idiom. That reflected the ongoing confusion about what they wanted Packard to be, which very definitely hurt them during this era.

      I have mixed feelings about the ’55-’56. I think Teague did an amazing job of making it look different (until I did this story, I thought it was a new body, which it wasn’t), and it has some interesting details, but it does seem a little tall and awkward.

  4. I grew up with the post war Packards. My father had a 42 Clipper fastback that he sold right at the end of war. At the same time His mother had a 38 v-12 that i remember well. It was like a locomotive. My maternal grandparents only had packards to the very end. So i learned to drive 50s Packards.

    I loved them. They were faster than given credit for especially the 56’s. The handling was spectacular when compared to Lincoln, Cadillac and Imperial. I was lucky enough to drive all of these cars in 56 and 57. The 57 Cadillac was a complete dog. Sloppy handling, poor mid range acceleration, and constant problems with transmission, brakes, electrical system.

    Packard just didn’t have a marketable image. I think the proposed 57’sd would have jolted the industry. Chrysler put out a sloppy product in 57. terrible paint jobs lots of aluminum trim. they had great engines and trannys but not much else. I still love Packards and have one-a driver.

  5. It is my understanding that that low-ball $50M estimate was made to bankers for the 1957 S-P interchangeability proposal that included not only Packard and Studebaker but Clipper as a separate brand. The actual tooling for a brand new 1955 Packard-only body would have been around $21M as it had been for the 1951 24th Series and as had been quoted to Nance around 1953 for a unique Clipper line. Compare this to the $8M (or more) Nance spent on the actual 1955 bodies. Yes it is more but not by five orders of magnitude, and think of the impact a new body would have had on the market. The Pan Am that I suggested would not have been a low volume $5000+ car as the Caribbean had been, it would have been a fairly high volume $3200 (8-cyl) to $4500 (V12) coupe and convertible with full 6-pass seating. The tremendous sales of the low-slung 1953 Studebaker coupes should have been clear evidence for Packard in late 1952 that the market wanted hot coupes. As I mentioned, the only nagging issue would have been what to do with the sedans.

    Nobody much talks about this but I’ll say it… and with all due respect to Packard’s design team at the time: they were far from the “best design team in the business” and I wonder if the Pan American’s biggest flaw was that it wasn’t invented by them. Richard Arbib demonstrated a deft, mature rework of the 1951 convertible in making the Pan Am. Nance should have hired him on his first day as president. As it was, the existing team’s 1955 design was, at best, average and the Predictor and related proposals for 1957/8 had the potential to be complete flops. Look at the vertical-grilled Edsel, squared-off 58-60 Lincolns and Mercury breezeway feature of the 60s. None of them made a strong positive impact in the market. What Packard’s designers were trying to do with these styling ideas, if it could have been done at all, would have taken many years to refine to a level befitting a true Packard – just as it took Alvin Macauley over a decade to finesse the plain 1924 Eight into the beautiful 1936 line-up of Seniors. In the mid-1950s Packard didn’t have that kind of time. The literature says Nance put on a full dress rehearsal to the bankers for the 1957 line-up. I have to wonder if they bulked in part because of what they saw, not to mention what they had already seen Nance do for 1955/6. His credibility then, as now, was arguably questionable.

    Packard’s V8 tooling bill also ended up being around $21M. I can’t find tooling costs for Studebaker’s or AMC’s V8s to compare but I do know that AMC used common production methods and design to keep costs down and that they brought the new V8 to market in 18 months because it was based on an existing Kaiser-Frazer design compliments of former K-F man David Potter who was now at AMC. I can’t believe Romney would have ever dropped anywhere close to $21M on such a program. The company redefined the art of penny pinching in those years and Nance should have taken note. I agree that an inline eight would not have played well in 1955 even if the showroom star was a new V12 with European overtones. What I can’t understand is why Nance couldn’t work out a deal with Mason to jointly develop a 1955 V8 in order to lessen the cost hit to his company. He didn’t need anything fancy, just a workhorse base engine, and transportation costs for engines aren’t high because many can be packed in a box car.

    A cost-efficient V8 and a dazzling V12, packaged in new bodies with low-slung design and endearing styling that screamed “expensive” could have driven volumes in the 40,000 – 50,000 range even with high margins and pricing never again below $3000. With this healthy revenue all those other goofs such as Conner and even Studebaker might have been washed away. In that respect, I see the product plan an being the main culprit. I also disagree that the V12 need have cost an exorbitant amount if carry over tooling and facilities had been maximized. As for valve train configuration, Nance himself asked engineering why they couldn’t do overhead cams like Mercedes (and one could add Jaguar). He knew the value such technology could have in the eyes of the customer. In hindsight, this was the time Packard needed to start separating themselves from the rest of Detroit. No more big dumb gimmicky cars as the 1957/58 proposals threatened. But no puny Teutonic euro cars either. Packard needed to carve a new luxury niche that spoke to the future of luxury. That Nance approved the torsion suspension showed that he was not incapable of such an alternative vision.

    1. Keep in mind that aside from the work previously done at Kaiser, AMC had the benefit of Packard’s experience. They underwrote about $3 million of the development costs, which presumably bought them access to Packard’s notes and materials. So, AMC may have done it cheaper, but they also weren’t starting from a clean sheet of paper.

      I’ll stand by my previous statement: even if Packard could have tooled an all-new body AND a clean-sheet V-12 engine for less than they spent on the V8 — of which I’m skeptical — it would not have been a great improvement on what actually happened. If they had still tried to consolidate production at Conner Avenue, they probably would have had similar problems with delays and assembly quality, with a similar effect. Furthermore, if it had meant saddling the bread-and-butter cars with the old straight-eight for another year, I think it would have been a commercial disaster. An attractive Pan American-derived hardtop might have been a traffic draw, but the point of traffic-builders is to encourage clientele who ultimately settle for the cheaper models. People with mid-line Cadillac money to spend might have come in to see the V-12 car, decided it was a little pricey (especially since who knew how long Packard was going to survive, etc.), learned the eight didn’t even have a V8, and walked out. If I were a Packard dealer at that time, I would have been really unhappy about that choice, and if Nance had done that, historians today would be writing that Packard would have survived if only they had built a V8, rather than wasting money on high-end prestige cars that couldn’t sell in high volume.

      I don’t argue that it would have been great if Packard could have somehow had all these things — the Torsion-Level suspension, a new V8, a high-tech V-12 for the senior cars, flashy styling — but they didn’t have and couldn’t raise that kind of money.

      I think it’s very likely that the insurance companies’ refusal to underwrite the 1957 body program had a lot to do with Packard’s losses in 1955 and the first half of MY1956. If Packard had made at least a modest profit in that period, it would have helped a lot. My point is that they could have done that with the bodies and engines they had — if they hadn’t tried to move all production to Conner Avenue in 1955, they would have broken even on their actual, historical MY1955 sales.

      1. Well, a V-12 would certainly have been advantageous in one respect. One of many major problems with the Stude-Packard merger is the complete lack of compatibility. Improvements to the large cars could seldom be applied to the small cars, and vice versa. They covered the market from top to bottom, but saved practically nothing in development costs.

        Studebaker had a V-8, but its six was small and hopelessly outdated. It was fast becoming a liability to the driver in modern traffic, and was certainly a liability to sales. If Packard had developed a modern, overhead valve V-12 in lieu of the V-8, it not only would have been something more than than a long-overdue ‘Me Too!’ move on the fine car field (a step up from Cadillac, rather than a mere attempt at achieving parity), but one heads and the pistons could have been used in a new six for the Studebaker Champion. Sizing would have worked out reasonably well–about 200 cubes for the cheap car and about 400 for the expensive ones. Clipper, meanwhile, could have used the Stude V-8.

        The thing that bothers me about the S-P merger is how little good it did either company. Studebaker got no technology to improve their products at all except the Golden Hawk V-8, which made it fast, but nose-heavy. It also got enough cash to sort of survive, but that was it. Packard got nothing but an albatross about its neck.

        1. The irony is that the pitch that got the Studebaker and Packard boards to buy into the merger idea involved a great deal of interdivisional commonality: shared body shells and minor components, etc. As I’ve said before, the dilemma was that there was no map for getting there. Studebakers and Packards were built in different cities, after all, so merging production without simply slapping one badge on the other product was going to be a major undertaking involving a good deal of capital investment. When Nance went looking for that money post-merger, potential investors were none too eager to underwrite that cost.

          To be clear, the V-12 Packard contemplated was not in lieu of the V-8, but a derivative of it: a 90° OHV engine that was more or less one and a half V-8s with a new crank. I think that would have been a more reasonable approach than creating only a clean-sheet Twin Six engine. It’s hard to see a Packard line offering only a V-12 being a good commercial bet; having one to step up to was an interesting idea, but in the mid-fifties, a V-8 was expected, and not offering one at all (even to propose something better) would have been unduly risky.

          I remain of a mind that Packard would ultimately have been the more salvageable of the two (or three) brands: Their break-even point was more achievable, they had some novel technology to push, and they had a name that people still knew even if it had fallen behind. What they really needed was a new rather than warmed-over body shell and a new marketing campaign, which seems like a much less improbable feat of capital than trying to build a multi-division conglomerate aiming for half a million sales a year.

        2. One minor point regarding the Golden Hawk is that I subsequently read an interesting article by Frank Ambrogio in Turning Wheels (June 2005) about the weight distribution issue. He argues, fairly convincingly, that the complaints about the Packard powertrain making the Golden Hawk nose-heavy are greatly exaggerated based on off-the-cuff remarks by contemporary testers. The Packard V-8 was indeed somewhat heavier than the Studebaker engine — not surprising insofar as it was a physically larger engine with considerably greater growth potential — but not nearly so much as you’d think.

          Since writers and readers of later eras are accustomed to the much lighter thinwall engines of the sixties and seventies, it’s easy to assume that the big Packard engine was 150 lb or 200 lb heavier than the Studebaker 259/289. In fact, the difference was around 75 lb, and adding the McCulloch supercharger kit to the Studebaker engine makes it more like 30 lb. The Studebaker engine was not a thinwall casting, so the 289 weighs something in the realm of 680 lb, nearly 200 lb heavier than the later Ford Windsor V-8 of the same displacement.

  6. As for valve train configuration, Nance himself asked engineering why they couldn’t do overhead cams like Mercedes (and one could add Jaguar). He knew the value such technology could have in the eyes of the customer. In hindsight, this was the time that Packard should have started separating itself from the rest of Detroit. No more big dumb gimmicky cars, which the 1957/58 proposals threatened. But no puny Teutonic euro cars either. Packard needed to carve a new niche that spoke to the future of luxury. That Nance approved the torsion suspension showed that he was not incapable of such an alternative vision.

    I think all this ties into a broader deficiency he had with product planning. He didn’t know what he wanted the day he arrived. As a result, he spent too long and ordered too much busywork figuring out a plan, then hustled everyone to enact it too quickly. And he got rid of too many old hands and replaced them with people green to the industry. There was never anything wrong with the old workers, only the directives they were given.

    1. I don’t disagree that an OHC V-12 would have been desirable, but again, I don’t see how an OHV, overhead-cam twelve would have been less expensive to develop than a pushrod V8; it certainly would have cost more to build.

      In Nance’s defense, he arrived at a point when Packard’s product planning and direction had been adrift for quite a few years. He recognized that very quickly, and he was critical of it, but he went from some quite ambitious ideas about restoring Packard’s luster to trying to make the best of what they had to work with in the short term, so that they might one day afford his grander ambitions. I also think he (and perhaps some of his senior people, whom he brought from Hotpoint) suffered from a lack of familiarity with the auto industry, not unlike Sherwood Egbert at Studebaker a decade later — ambition with a certain shortage of technical grounding.

  7. Keeping the V12 cost in check would have been like any other endeavor in the auto industry. When you create a product you are really creating two things: the product itself and the means to produce it. It’s that second element where there is opportunity to either keep costs in check or let costs run wild. Nance spent big on facilities, I would argue bigger than he could afford for Packard’s size. Some of the old timers in the company thought he was spending the company into an early grave. He should have listened to their wisdom.

    The reason why he spent big speaks to a broader issue and I think strikes at a prime reason why he ultimately drove the company down: he wanted to create a Big 4th (and run it) under the false assumption that bigness was the only way to survive. I say false assumption because history proved it not to be true. At the very moment Packard was failing miserably at trying to become a full-line producer, AMC was gaining strength by retreating to a one-product niche. VW, Mercedes and many others followed the same focused path to success. Packard forgot that a premium product and the high margins it delivered was the very formula the company had used to create itself, not to mention the way it became a powerhouse prior to the Depression. By the early 50s the Depression was an increasingly faint memory, Cadillac had dropped its lowest price car while still growing volume and share, and expensive imports were slowly beginning to gain momentum.

    I am not saying a Packard line-up based on big V8 power alone could never have worked, only that Nance couldn’t do his big V8 program AND make a Clipper brand AND buy Studebaker or some other volume brand AND do defense work AND fund all the other modernization programs he wanted. Chrysler, a company much larger than Packard in 1953, was barely – by the skin of its teeth – able to revamp its full line of brands in 1955. And to make the temporary success stick they had to spend big and do it again in 1957. Nance’s company was not in the same league yet he tried to create the same outcome. I could see him and Mason entertaining such an idea in 1951 when the Independents were still healthy enough to be a combined power, but probably by 1954 and definately by 1956 when Nance asked the bankers to fund the creation of such an empire, such a grand vision was hopeless and the bankers rightfully rejected him. The shame is, in 1952 he had the money and the time to get one good product out by 1954 or 55, a Packard through and through that would have reestablished the brand at both the pinnacle of the American luxury market and at a higher volume point just below. To me that smaller goal would have been the grander vision.

    1. The flip side is that the Packard old guard hadn’t come up with any better ideas. Most of the board circa 1950-1951 were in their seventies, and while they’d been dissatisfied with George Christopher, there was not an alternative vision. (I suspect that even if Nance had ultimately been wildly successful, a lot of the old guard would have had a similar reaction at the outset. It was a conservative company.)

      It appears that Nance was enticed by the idea of building an automotive giant; that was certainly the idea George Mason presented to him around 1950-1951. However, the merger with Studebaker was not Nance’s idea, and his enthusiasm for it appears to have been low. It was the Packard board — the same old-timers who looked dismayed at spending money on new engine plants — who pushed for it, because they concluded that greater volume was the only way they could survive. It was also the board that insisted on Studebaker, rather than Nash, which would have been Nance’s preference (at least prior to George Mason’s death). Could Nance have done more to oppose that deal? Maybe, maybe not.

      I agree that the Studebaker merger ended up being a mistake for both parties, and I’ve said before that I think that Packard would have been the easier of the two marques to salvage. The margin by which Packard failed in 1955-1956 was not irretrievable, but compounded with Studebaker’s losses, it might well have been a lost cost, either way.

      I also wholly agree with your final statement. We see that again in the example of MG. It was constantly being shoved to the background because it was a small-volume niche maker, and first the Nuffield Organisation, then BMC, then British Leyland tended to marginalize and/or ignore it in favor of higher-volume brands — but it ended up outliving most of the volume brands, and it’s far better known than almost any of them.

  8. Good points about the old guard. Packard’s ever-changing leadership was unfortunately quite consistent between the late 1930s and mid-50s in one particular area… product planning. They all stunk at it.

    I find your comments about Nance’s reticence over Studebaker to be fascinating and am curious where you learned of this. Ward’s and many other books on the subject suggest that Nance wanted Studebaker because he was preoccupied with obtaining a low-priced car to make Packard “recession proof” and he had a verbal agreement with Mason to bring all four brands under one roof, with him being responsible for acquiring Studebaker because Mason didn’t get along with the brass at South Bend. One of the big carrots for Nance personally was that he would eventually become top dog at AMC. Some Packard aficionados in other forums have even suggested that this was to happen in early 1955 but didn’t due to Mason’s untimely passing. Ward wrote that prior to acquiring Studebaker, Nance looked at Hudson in mid/late 1953 as well as Willys, Kaiser-Frazer and even Austin. All this said, there is always exciting new info on Packard that seems to surface just when the history has been laid to rest.

    1. Yes, Nance and Mason both had hopes of bringing Nash, Hudson, Packard, and Studebaker together, and it’s quite apparent that Nance was hoping to be in charge before long. Mason was 60 years old by 1951, so the likely organization would have made Mason chairman and Nance president, with Nance inheriting the whole show when Mason retired (or, as happened, died). The fly in that particular ointment was George Romney, who had quite similar ambitions.

      However, my read of Ward is somewhat different on the subject of the Studebaker merger. Nance did make the first such overtures to Studebaker in early 1954 (after, as you note, looking at Hudson, Kaiser-Willys, et al); however, Ward says about a month George Mason asked to address the Packard board with his proposal (which also would have involved Borg-Warner, Autolite, and Murray), and the board refused to even hear him. In March, Ward says Lehman Brothers started cheerleading the Studebaker merger quite aggressively. Nance still pushed for them to merge with AMC, but the board, which hadn’t been that interested in that idea to begin with, thought Studebaker was a much better bet, based on their lower debt load and an optimistic assessment of their costs and break-even levels.

      The impression I got from Ward’s narrative is that Nance was interested in Studebaker as part of a larger AMC deal, but once that prospect started to unravel in mid-1954, he began to have reservations — and for good reason. As I recall, when Nance sent Walter Grant to South Bend to recalculate the break-even level in October, it was essentially the culmination of his growing unease about Studebaker’s condition.

      At the same time, when George Romney was named EVP of AMC in May, he became a major deterrent to Nance’s interest in an AMC merger. Romney had previously been Mason’s special assistant, and by Romney’s own account, Nance had thought he was basically just a lackey, not an executive being groomed for higher positions. Romney being EVP meant that Nance’s eventual ascension, which previously seemed a pretty sure thing, was no longer guaranteed. The interactions between Romney and Nance were frequently testy, particularly after Mason’s death.

      So, did Nance want to merge with Studebaker? As part of a larger AMC organization, yes. On its own, as an [i]alternative[/i] to AMC, it appeared that he had his doubts. The problem was that the board had become convinced that a merger was their only hope of survival, an idea that Nance, in proselytizing an AMC deal, had probably encouraged. (The fact that they didn’t request an independent audit of Studebaker’s books makes the board’s enthusiasm pretty clear.) Even if Nance had done a complete 180 — and whatever his reservations, he still appears to have had hopes of salvaging the AMC deal — he couldn’t advocate [i]against[/i] it without cutting his own throat with the board.

      I know Romney subsequently said a lot in interviews about plans for a four-way merger. I don’t doubt that Mason and Nance had such discussions, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest that they were formal agreements; a lot seems to have been handshakes and general understanding ("if this, then that"). More to the point, I don’t know to what extent the Packard board was aware of or approved those plans. The fact that they didn’t even want to talk to Mason in February 1954 implies that the answer was “not so much.”

  9. Thanks, great recap and I now understand what you are saying about the timeline of events. Will circle back to Ward’s book with renewed interest.

  10. Had one other thought about Packard engine strategy for 1954/55. Nash converted its L-head 6 to OHV in 1956 which upped its power output from 100/110 to 120/130. Studebaker did the same in 1961 taking its 6 from 90 HP to 112 HP. In Nash’s case it was an important element to the company’s successful strategy. With Studebaker it was too little, too late.

    With this in mind, there was another alternative for Packard to those we have already discussed. It was not necessarily to convert the 288/327/359 to OHV, although that was an option. Such as strategy might be acceptable in the low priced field but not the luxury class. No, the real option was to do a new straight eight with OHC’s, using most of the existing engine line’s tooling. I mention this for 3 reasons:

    1) Nance had inquired about OHC technology and in fact mentioned Mercedes. He knew the power it might have in the marketplace.

    2) Mercedes came out with a winning OHC straight 8 about the same time and nobody ever questioned its greatness.

    3) The air of Duesenberg was probably still palpable.

    Let’s say Packard did this. I have no doubt they could have handled the technical challenges of vibration and noise. At that point it would have come down to marketing. Packard would have needed to tell its story on its own terms and play up the positives. Just because no other competitor would have had one doesn’t mean it would have been unacceptable. I think we need to remember that AMC also proved conventional wisdom wrong when it turned itself around despite having neither a large car nor “bigness”.

    1. An OHC conversion of the straight-eight, à la the Kaiser Jeep Tornado six of the early sixties, probably would have been within Packard’s means. I don’t know how well that would have gone over, though. Even customers who couldn’t tell you what a camshaft was could see the difference between a V8 and eight in line. There were undoubtedly people who remembered the Duesenberg, but even the memory of Packard’s own great cars of the thirties wasn’t doing them a lot of good by then. Whether it went over well or not, I don’t think it would have made much difference; it wouldn’t have changed any of the factors that brought Packard down.

      I don’t see a lot of relevance for AMC in this context. AMC’s turnaround had a lot to do with the demise of the other domestic compacts — other than a handful of Willys and a few leftover Henry Js, AMC had the field to itself by 1955. The compact market was not vast, but with no real rivals, it was big enough to sustain AMC, particularly since the Big Three showed no signs of moving into that range. It wasn’t until the recession that the compact field was big enough to sustain a lot of competition; if there had been more choices in that category in 1955, AMC might not have made it that far.

      AMC, therefore, survived by staying in an area the competition had fled, and dropping models that vied directly with its richer rivals. That wasn’t really an option for Packard at that point. The upper-middle-class bracket put them against Chrysler, Buick, and Olds, while the luxury market pitted them against Cadillac, Lincoln, and (from 1955) Imperial. Even if Packard had tried to retrench in the upper-crust luxury market, trying to reclaim its position as the American answer to Rolls-Royce or the senior Benzs, I don’t know that they could have sold enough cars to keep themselves afloat, any more than they could in the thirties, before the One Twenty. (The losses sustained by the Continental Mark II and Cadillac Eldorado Brougham aren’t encouraging on that point.) It was not the same situation as AMC.

  11. I agree that AMC was in a different situation in terms of the market they were competing in, so any comparisons along those lines are not instructive.

    Viewed from the broader perspective that both companies had extremely limited resources and time, both were seriously considering or were in the throes of merger, and both were faced with a make-break product decision, the similarities are quite striking.

    Both companies tried to merge with another company. The net result was that Mason bested Nance at the business game. He locked down better terms for his company and made the Hudson ownership pay dearly for their past mistakes, much more so than Studebaker was made to pay. Only with the dealership strategy did both men “tie” as both picked up newfound market coverage.

    Both companies developed a new V8. The net result was that Romney bested Nance. He cranked out a great motor in 18 short months and apparently for less, perhaps much less, investment than Packard shelled out. Neither the customers at the time, nor history, cared how it happened; only that it happened.

    Both companies needed a go-to new product that would pay the bills without the need for constant and expensive redesign. The net result was that Romney bested Nance. He pulled ahead timing for the Rambler from 1957 to 1956, updated the car’s base engine to OHV for next to nothing, and told his designers to go to town on a ground-up new body and suspension. Nance spent most of his wad on the V8 and forced his designers into a compromised design around the 1951 body shell. He did order a nice suspension and should be applauded for it. But as the market has oft demonstrated, customers value style first, followed by power and other things like ride comfort. Buick sales exploded in the late 40s and early 50s despite the fact that their own brethren sold V8s while they continued to rely on their old pre-war straight eight. Worse for Packard, it created a styling crisis that would have been expensive to correct in that the 55/56 were non-starters as the design team was already looking ahead to a complete about –face for 1957. Think about that. No continuity from 47 to 48. None from 54 to 55. None from 56 to 57. Sounds like Lincoln of that era and look what it did to that brand. One could argue that Cadillac was forcing annual design changes but I would counter that that only applied to the hapless who couldn’t dial in something more timeless. Packard design was hapless and Nance was the de factor design lead.

  12. I’ve been reading the back and forth between you and Paul with great interest!

    My overall impression (based upon reading the Ward book)is that Jim Nance did the best he could do with what he had available to him.

    I agree that Packard HAD to have a V-8 for 1955 to even hope to compete. Therefore, that’s where Nance put scarce dollars.

    Packard’s styling department did a fantastic job with the 1951 body shell, in my opinion.

  13. Had another thought based on the discussion we’ve been having at this link:

    The idea is based on a supposition that Packard needed both new styling and a V8 to really compete with Cadillac. They had the V8 for 1955 but could only afford a partial redesign for that year. My assessment on how it all went down is that 1954 ended up being a wasted year that racked up big losses and lost momentum. In retrospect, what was needed was for 1954 to generate good profits to help achieve a longer range goal. My thought was that Nance, who arrived in May 1952, had a small window of opportunity to order a full redesign of the bodies for 1954 using most of his cash reserves, but still leaving enough to keep all the engineering development on track. Then, with the money earned during the 1954 model year, he could have funded the final development of the V8, Torsion-Level Ride and Twin Ultramatic for 1955.

    As I opined in both this and the other link, Packard had a chance to sweeten the Contour Styling theme for 1954 by getting rid of the chrome and lowering the height, rather than doing yet another about face on styling (and a compromised one at that). The Pan American image that I showed could have made a great 2-door coupe and convertible while a somewhat higher sedan and extended wheelbase formal sedan/limousine along the same lines could have rounded out the range. The Pan Am was an award winner so the hard work of figuring out a good design was all but complete.

    Regarding pricing, if you look at the tremendous volumes Cadillac generated in those years (and 1954 was no downturn for the division), Packard could have competitively played in the $3,300 to $4,300 market exclusively and still generated good sales volumes – with high margins. All predicated on class-leading styling, which I believe the Pan Am theme represented. The basic plan would have been to score big in ’54 with styling to pay for ’55s technology. A nice side benefit would have been that the new bodies would not have been launched the same model year as the new engines. OEMs usually try to avoid this combo if possible because it inflicts too much chaos on engineering and the plant.

    The net result would have been that it 1955, Packard would have had a class-leading line-up competing in both the $3,500 segment (1955 market: 120,000 units) and the $4,000+ segment (1955 market: 187,000 units). That Packard only captured 15,000 units of the latter and none of the former speaks, I think, to issues greater than strictly poor quality or late introduction. Hot styling sold cars then as now and Packard, in that respect, was lost mid-pack in the field in 1955.

  14. Very interesting ideas, however, other factors were at work as well.

    As you say, hot styling sells cars, but is one among several factors. The 1955 cars were styled well enough to sell well initially. It was not until the quality issues resulting from the fact that the cars were a.) rushed to market with untested new technologies (i.e. the V-8 and new ultramatic), and the continuing bad press about independents in general and Packard in particular heated up after sales faltered that undermined the confidence of Packard’s market, which was always a conservative group within the overall automobile market.

    If the Briggs business had been handled more quickly in 1953, and the new body, engines, and transmission better prepared for market, much of this would have been avoided, and perhaps both 1955 and 1956 could have been good years along with the rest of the industry. Then perhaps the body styles could have been updated, as GM’s were, and capital preserved for a new generation of bodies for 1958. (Though it seems that the market was a bit saturated at that point, and that would not have been a good year in any event.)

    1. [quote]The 1955 cars were styled well enough to sell well initially.[/quote]

      That was the point I made. The ’55s may not have been the prettiest cars in the world, but they did have a lot of interest to buyers, and had Packard not stumbled with the transfer of production (both in quality control and the actual availability of cars), the 1955 model year would probably have been a pretty good one. Whether that would have been enough to convince the company’s backers to invest in new bodies is an open question, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt…

  15. Great points and Studebaker was a boat anchor too. That said, Chrysler had quality issues in ’57 that were right up there with Packard yet its cars continued to sell. The public is prone to forgiveness when they really want a car and equally prone to nitpickiness if the car does little for them emotionally.

    Let’s say Packard nailed the quality perfectly in 1955. Where would that have left them? Maybe 80,000 – 90,000 units that year rather than 68,000, less in 1956 because the industry pulled back. And still mixed too heavily in the middle priced field with low profit margins, barely able to pay for the ’55 reskin that cost almost as much as a new body program, and facing a huge bill to retool for 1957, not 1958, to remain competitive with an onslaught of sexy new, lower cars from the Big 3. In a nutshell, right back in the hole again, and with a crop of questionably styled square birds waiting in the wings.

    In 1955 Packard was one of four players in the $4,000+ luxury car market. There is no reason why they couldn’t have captured 1/4th of the luxury car market that year. As it was, the ’55 Patrician was incapable of doing so no matter how perfect its quality. For Packard to steal share from Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial it had to look better than them. Style it the same and market share stays the same. What happened to Packard’s traditional styling taste, the one that combined fine tailoring with swank that served them so well in the Twenties and into the Thirties?

    1. I agree with you on the financial side. Even without Studebaker, the best-case scenario for Packard would probably have left them in the same situation as Kaiser: perennially undercapitalized, making enough to get by, but lacking the resources for a competitive retooling schedule — not really a tenable long-term position.

      I have to disagree on the impact of styling in the luxury car market. By that logic, Lincoln and Imperial should have done a lot better than they actually did. A ’57-’58 Imperial was arguably better looking than a contemporary Cadillac, and certainly better looking than the contemporary big Lincolns, but its sales were tepid. The ’61 Continental has received countless critical plaudits (although honestly it’s always left me cold), but Cadillac outsold Lincoln by nearly seven to one; even if Lincoln had offered a greater range of body styles, etc., it’s hard to see that margin improving to more than about five to one. Would a more stylish Packard have done better at that point? I kind of doubt it.

      To some extent, Lincoln and Imperial suffered the same dilemma Packard had acquired, namely, a hazy luxury image and a lack of snob appeal. The Lincolns of the late forties and early fifties looked more like big Mercurys than luxury cars, and their design and engineering was aimed more at Oldsmobile and Buick than Cadillac. As for the Imperial, even hardcore Mopar fans have a hard time not reflexively saying "Chrysler Imperial," and the fact that Chrysler had previously marketed the line that way certainly didn’t help.

      Snob appeal is a complicated equation. Fine detailing, like the Packards of the early thirties, is a part of it, although I think it has more to do with [i]meeting[/i] buyer expectations than creating them. If style and price alone created prestige, heads of state would be riding around in Maserati Quattroportes, rather than Rolls-Royces or big Mercedes.

  16. One couldn’t really stretch out in the back seat of a Maserati. The Rolls, Ghia Imperial and Cadillac 75 were the top rides back then for old world Head of Stating, later joined by the extended Lincoln and M-B 600.

    My argument for creating buyer expec
    tations as a means of achieving competitive victory goes back the 1938 60 Special and follow-up 1940 Series 62 torpedo sedans. It was those two cars that enabled Cadillac to finally, definitively topple Packard after decades of simply meeting expectations (Sixteen excluded). That’s the magnitude of firepower Packard needed to unleash in the mid-50s to get back in the game. To be more specific, in the 30’s the Holy Grail in the luxury market was a 3-box sedan, lower height, a manageable wheelbase and a reasonable (for a fine car) price. In the mid 50s it was, apart from a V8, ultra lowness and a high level of sophisticated, intricate and sassy styling. It is here where Packard had a small window of opportunity because Cadillac didn’t get its height down until 1957, Imperial until 57 and Lincoln until 58. Hudson of course had lowness but also potato styling. So yes, I think Packard had a chance. If it worked for Cadillac, why couldn’t it work for Packard? They had a 2-3 year buffer period to get out in front of everyone.

    The height discussion aside, styling is always subjective. That is, until enough people weigh in. Then it becomes objective data. I can’t prove why Cadillac sold so many cars back then but I will submit that only Cadillac maintained true styling continuity throughout the time period in question. The others smattered themselves all over the map to a point where the public couldn’t lock down a solid vision of each brand. Cadillac styling from 1941 on was very much like Packard from 1906 to 1939: it looked consistently like it was supposed to look.

    Beyond consistency, there was the question of styling merit. To my eye, Earl had a knack for imparting subtle shape and drama in a way that none of his competitors could do. Lincoln was nothing more than a big Ford until 1958 when it went solo with a poorly detailed design. I agree that the 61 Lincoln was a bit cold. One could argue that Lincoln didn’t lock down “the Lincoln look” until 1966 and didn’t hit its full styling stride until the early 70s. Nobody can argue that it was this period when Lincoln sales finally took off. So back in the 50s when Lincoln was still a styling babe in the woods, it should have been no threat to a would-be Packard comeback.

    Neither should Imperial have been. Up until 57 it looked too much like a Chrysler but cost more than a Chrysler and was sold alongside Chrysler. How is a brand supposed to build a mystique with a strategy like that? The 57 was IMHO a head-on collision between genius and ungainliness. Cadillac of that era was perhaps more conservative but also more carefully blended and proportioned. Also true, Imperial styling probably hurt more than helped the brand through the 60s and into the 70s. Too wacky, then too straight-lined, then too bloated, then too Lincoln copycat.

    The two successful Cadillac eras that I don’t really understand are the 50-53 and 67-68. From the A-pillar forward they were and continue to look awful. Just an opinion, others obviously felt and feel differently.

    On the image question, neither Lincoln nor Imperial had Packard’s pedigree. Packard was a sleeping giant waiting for one stellar product to awaken it and was probably the only brand of that era that had the chops, deep down in the public’s imagination, to run with Cadillac. So yes, I think Packard could have turned things around with the right car and put itself onto a sustainable path. Breakthrough design, top quality, no pricing south of $3500. Volumes around 60,000 – 80,000K per annum. And probably no Studebaker until that company could be had for pennies in bankruptcy court.

  17. Nice article and some interesting info on the Board rather than Nance wanting Studebaker.

    Regarding the comment about Reinhart wanting the lower beltlines, am not sure it would have helped. Designers have lone embraced the chopped greenhouse look. I photo-altered a 51 Packard sedan image to lower the beltline while mainaining overall vehicle height. Resulting proportions didn’t seem to help the car. I think what Packard really needed was a lower car, certainly for its 2-door cars and eventually for its 4-dr models. Nance inherited the wonderful Pan American show car. He should have jumped on that design on Day 1, ordering a ’54 replacement for the 2-dr hardtop and convertible models.

    Packard’s styling might also have benefitted from a kick-up in the beltline where the rear quarters begin, similar to what GM did as the 50s progressed. I have tinkered with this look on images of early 50s Packard. It gives the body better proportions by raising the droopy decklid and shortening the tallish backlight. Compare with ’64-’68 Imerials, for example, which I think suffer with both.

    Personally, I think Nance, his product planning dept and the studio got the 55’s wrong. Too much investment was funneled into new V8 facilities, too little into the vehicle’s body. Did AMC spend as much on their ’56 V8? My understanding is no. (if anyone knows the numbers, please advise) Chysler saved itself in ’55 and again in ’57 because of good styling enabled by lower height. Perhaps Packard could have done the same in ’54-’55.

    1. Well, Reinhart was, by his own admission, the harshest critic of his own work, and it’s pretty typical for designers to bemoan the changes to their work dictated by engineering or marketing. If you compare the Twenty-Fourth Series Packard to a ’51 Buick, Reinhart’s comments about “high pockets” styling seem a little overstated. The ’51 Packards sold well, so it doesn’t seem the public was overly offended. The main consequence of the ’51 styling was that economics meant Packard was stuck with it through 1956, which they had no way of knowing at the time.

      I’m not sure that the ’55s could have been significantly lower without either a substantial sacrifice in headroom (which would have been difficult for Packard management to accept at that time) or a redesign of the frame. Keep in mind that the Pan American was a show car, and a two-seater convertible, at that, so Henney was able to chop the top a lot more than would have been palatable with a production sedan or hardtop.

      Even if they could have lowered the ’55s substantially, they had no particular reason to assume it would work commercially. The ’57 Chryslers were a [i]very[/i] bold move at the time; when GM stylists got their first look at them in August 1956, they were shocked. Packard buyers had traditionally been a very conservative lot, and doing something that extreme for ’55 (even assuming Packard could have afforded it, about which I’m dubious) would have been a major gamble. If I were Jim Nance, I’m not sure I would have taken that chance.

      (It’s worth noting that the ’55 Patrician was, by a small margin, the lowest car in its class; it was 0.8 inches lower than the ’55 Imperial, although the Clipper was higher than a ’55 Buick, Oldsmobile, or Chrysler.)

      As for the engine, I’m not confident that Packard could have done it for substantially cheaper. The total cost of the new engine (which came from James Arthur Ward’s study of Packard’s records, and include not only development and tooling, but testing and setup of the Utica plant) aren’t outrageous, given that Packard had never built a 90-degree V8 before. While the new engine wasn’t particularly novel by industry standards, Packard was starting with a clean sheet of paper. As it was, they got some flak for early teething problems, so cutting more corners on development and testing probably would have done as much harm as good. And certainly, [i]not[/i] having a V8 by 1955 would have been crippling.

      I don’t have figures for the cost of AMC’s in-house V8. If you find any, let me know — although it’s important to note whether those figures include plant conversion and other expenses, as the Packard numbers do. I should also point out that AMC had the benefit of Packard’s experience. They underwrote part of Packard’s V8 development costs, and presumably had access to detailed information about its engineering and design. That does help…

      1. Administrator – sorry for the delayed response. Wanted to comment because I absolutely think Packard had a chance at survival. Strong arguments have been made in other forums about poor quality being the main reason for the downfall. I don’t dispute its importance for a moment but do think the 1955 design was also to blame. Packard earmarked too much of its limited capital on the V8 and too little on the body.

        ENGINE: Packard could have done a new V8 in the old facility. Or – and I like this approach better from a marketing perspective – they could have made a new OHC V12 in the old facility while continuing o offer the inline-8s for few more years until AMC’s 327 OHV V8 was available.

        BODY: Packard was already in knee-deep for new door and fender outers in 1955 yet it bought them nothing in terms of height or proportions. They should have taken the money saved on the engine strategy above and retooled the entire body. The Pan American was a big hit with the public to I would argue that Nance had ample reason to assume it would be a big hit with the public. Besides, having a good sense of design and anticipating public demand was what he and his team were paid for. Regarding the comment about decreased head room due to lower body height, I think it would have been seat height that would have suffered the most in any would-be Pan American coupe or sedan. But if you look at how GM and Chrysler’s vehicle and seat heights evolved between 1954 and 1958, that is exactly what happened… yet buyers seemed to accept the trade-off.

        MARKET: Packard needed to abandon its conservative clientele in 1955 because the luxury car market had shifted to sporty and flashy. The Pan American was quite restrained yet worked marvelously so Packard need not have embarrassed itself with gobs of chrome in the process. I am convinced The Pan Am would have made a stunning 122” wheelbase 6-pass coupe and convertible that would have sold extremely well, and with an optional V12 would have bested Cadillac’s Eldorado. But… I have still have nagging doubts about a 127” wheelbase sedan of same style. Would it have been too much a compromise in comfort in 1955? For some, probably. Which would have translated into lower sedan volumes. Perhaps Packard could have restyled the Patrician with traditional (1930s-early 40s) Packard style in the same way that Rolls-Royce/Bentley of that era did. The Request show car was a grafted mismatch of opposing design themes so Packard would have needed to do the car very carefully.

        1. [quote]I am convinced The Pan Am would have made a stunning 122” wheelbase 6-pass coupe and convertible that would have sold extremely well, and with an optional V12 would have bested Cadillac’s Eldorado. [/quote]

          Maybe, but Packard’s experience with the Caribbean made it pretty clear that limited editions, even interesting or attractive ones, were not helping the bottom line. Packard needed a new body, which Nance spent a lot of time trying strenuously to finance. The amount Nance kept quoting to Packard’s financiers for an all-new body was $50 million, which he privately admitted was really a bare-bones estimate. Even if they had completely sacrificed the V8 program and the Utica plant, I don’t think they would have had the money for it. And if they’d had a new body, even an attractive one, with the old straight-eight, they still would have been dead in the water by 1955 anyway, for the lack of a V8. It would have been like Kaiser, which was stylish, but had only the old Continental six against rivals’ V8s.

          As I said before, I also have my doubts that even if Packard had had the money for a completely new body, they would have embraced something really radically low slung. Even Harley Earl would have thought twice about it, which is why GM was caught out by the ’57 cars. This is one of those things that’s easy to advocate with the benefit of hindsight, but would have seemed a very risky idea at the time.

          I really disagree about the engine. The sales organization was screaming for a V8 by 1953, because by then, all of their principal competitors (Cadillac on top, Buick and Olds for the volume cars) had them. It didn’t matter that the final straight eights were about as powerful as the OHV V8s (although they were pretty much at the limit of their development); it was an issue of perception.

          The mooted V-12 (which would have been a pushrod engine, not OHC) would only have been practical because it would have been a derivative of the V8. It would have had good publicity value, which would have been nice, but it wouldn’t have sold in large numbers. I suspect the money the V-12 would have cost (something like $7 million) went into the body revisions for the ’55 cars, which was probably a better use for it.

          From the standpoint of the sales organization, a new V-12 and the old straight-eight would have been the worst of both worlds. It would have consumed a bunch of money (I don’t see how developing a clean-sheet OHC V-12 would have been cheaper than the V8!), while leaving the Clipper — which represented the lion’s share of Packard sales — with an engine that Packard dealers already saw as a sales impediment. Having potential customers come in to see the new V-12 car and then turn away because the twelve is too expensive and the cheaper cars still have the old flathead straight eight would not have been a happy situation for anyone involved, and that’s probably what would have happened.

          Even if Packard had been willing to wait for a V8 until the AMC engine was available, that assumes that AMC would have made it available at an acceptable price. Given the mutual animosity between Romney and Nance, and the way the intended reciprocal agreement (and Romney’s efforts to buy Studebaker engines) had fallen apart, I’m not so sure about that. Also, aside from the cost of the engines themselves, there would have been the transportation costs of having them shipped from Kenosha to Detroit, which is what torpedoed the earlier plan to have Nash make body stampings for Packard.

          Beyond that, the AMC engine wasn’t available until midway through 1956. I suppose you could argue that without the prospects of buying an engine from Packard, Mason and Romney might have sped up the program, although AMC would not have had the benefits of Packard’s development work. (Again, AMC underwrote part of the Packard engine’s development costs.) Not having a V8 at all until 1956 would have been crippling for Packard, whatever else they did.

        2. [quote]Strong arguments have been made in other forums about poor quality being the main reason for the downfall.[/quote]

          I don’t think poor quality was the sole issue. The chain of events went something like this: Nance gambled on the conversion of the Conner Avenue plant, which took longer and cost more than anticipated. The public seemed to respond well to the 1955 cars at the beginning of the model year, but the production delays meant that there weren’t enough cars available to dealers, and many of those that were available were not in good shape. By the time those problems were coming under control, the demand was cooling fast. At the same time, Nance was trying to sort out the financial predicament of Studebaker, which was pretty dire. Finally, he went to his backers and asked for money for all-new shared bodies for Studebaker and Packard, and got nothing. That was pretty much the death knell.

          I think the issues of styling and engines, and even quality, were secondary. The critical decisions were the Studebaker merger and the consolidation of production at Conner Avenue. I think Jim Nance knew the latter was a gamble, but he thought the reward was worth the risk. (This is an area, incidentally, where the much-maligned George Christopher might have done better. Christopher was a production man, and I think he might have turned a more jaundiced eye toward the consolidation idea.) If they hadn’t tried to do that, Packard would have broken even in ’55, even on the volume it actually sold; without the production problems, it probably would have sold at least a few more cars than it did. It would probably also have had fewer quality problems (although some, like the axle issue, were beyond Packard’s control), and lower warranty costs. If Packard had made at least a modest profit in 1955, its backers might have been more amenable to financing the new body program.

          Still, the problem would have been Studebaker, which was in really bad shape. Packard was much closer to turning itself around, and in some respects, they would have been better off going it alone. The Packard board didn’t see it that way at the time, though, which is why they let themselves be talked into the Studebaker merger in the first place. Even if Packard had done everything right, returning Studebaker to profitability would have been an uphill battle.

  18. “Packard’s last real chance was right after the war; if they had dumped pinchpenny George Christopher and reestablished Packard as a true luxury marque, they might have had enough momentum to get through the 50’s”.
    —The above remark is largely true. Christopher was a serious problem for postwar Packard. Another was the continuation of the Clipper styling, not in a good way, and the dilution of the name. All of these and other barriers could have been survived IF Packard had not been an independent. In the United States, Packard needed deep pockets to survive. In Europe it would not have mattered so much, Rolls Royce/Bentley, and even Jaguar survived building very few cars after the war, and up into the 50’s and 60’s. It is very clear, Cadillac, Lincoln, and even Imperial, such as it was as just another Chrysler, would not have survived the depression without the deep pockets of their owners. Packard made a fatal mistake in not merging with Nash in the 40’s. Hudson was a lost cause with time, same with Studebaker, though Studebaker too could have survived under a big umbrella. Ford made a serious mistake in not taking Studebaker-Packard under the company banner in the 50’s, and instead decided to focus on the Edsel, and Continental. Both efforts quickly failed. But, with SP they would have had credible, long lasting brands to battle GM with. It is very enlightening to realize that the car that saved Ford in 1949 was a discarded Studebaker disign. Today, Ford very much needs a car like Packard, a super luxury make with a long and lustrous history. Lincoln just doesn’t, and never will have that. Again, Ford made a mistake in discarding Jaguar. Jaguar alone in all the world comes closest to the Packard mystique.

    1. There’s no question that Cadillac and Lincoln both came very close to going under in the early ’30s, although Nick Dreystadt’s reorganization of the former and Lincoln’s introduction of the Zephyr meant both were making money again before the end of the decade and were doing pretty well through the start of the war. So was Packard, but where Cadillac really took off after the war, Packard stumbled.

      It’s important to note that Rolls-Royce was not subsisting solely on sales of Rolls and Bentley automobiles; Rolls-Royce was also a leading producer of military vehicles and aircraft engines. (Studebaker-Packard had a few military contracts in the ’50s, but not enough to make a major difference in the bottom line.) Similarly, Daimler-Benz built large trucks as well as cars, and even in the passenger car arena, Mercedes sold an awful lot of middle-class four-cylinder sedans and diesel taxi for every expensive sports car or luxury sedan it sold.

      Jaguar, on the other hand, was independent until 1966 and doing quite well despite selling fewer than 30,000 cars a year. I’m guessing that Jaguar had lower overhead than Packard did after the war, but Jaguar also had a very different appeal. For people really concerned with maintaining an old-money image (i.e., the sort of people who’d bought Packards in the ’20s), Jaguars were considered sort of vulgar, but for buyers who weren’t as concerned with the old school tie, Jaguars were very desirable: They were fast, they were technically sophisticated, they were attractive, and they were aggressively priced, especially in the home market. The pricing involved a level of ruthless cost engineering that I don’t think Alvan Macauley would have tolerated, but it meant that most of Jaguar’s rivals were either a lot duller, a lot more expensive, or both. It wasn’t a strategy I could see Packard adopting, but it worked quite well for almost 20 years. The reason Jaguar gave up its independence was not that it was short of cash or struggling, but that BMC had just bought Pressed Steel, which made Jaguar’s body shells, and Sir William Lyon was afraid he was going to lose his most important supplier if he didn’t make a deal.

      I don’t think Ford would have been wise to buy Studebaker-Packard. Packard alone would probably have been salvageable, but Studebaker was a mess — more so than I think even they necessarily realized at the time of the Packard merger. In Packard’s case, the problem was that the brand had lost a lot of its luster by the ’50s; buyers thought Packards were old-fashioned, and that was reflected in poor resale values, which was a huge disadvantage against Cadillac. (Part of the reason people with money bought Cadillacs is that they retained their value very well, and trading a Cadillac in for a new model every year was actually surprisingly cheap.)

      The failing of the Edsel and to some extent the Continental was that they were not positioned where Ford most needed to bolster its lineup. Ford had done a whole pile of studies that concluded they needed something to fill the gap between Mercury and Lincoln, but the Edsel straddled Mercury and the Continental was above Lincoln — not the questions Ford needed answered.

  19. The photo of the 1956 Caribbean hardtop with the thingie hanging under the instrument panel is cute… and the caption describing “factory air conditioning” is interesting talk… but what we are looking at is absolutely, positively NOT factory air conditioning. It is some aftermarket thingie made by heaven knows who, for heaven knows what, in heaven knows when. For the record, real Packard factory air for 1955 and 1956 came out of the TOP of the instrument panel, not the bottom… and it was not hung on, it was built in.

    1. You’re right — I’ve amended the misleading caption.

  20. I was only 11 yrs. at the time but I recall My Grandfather, (a Packard Dealer in Det.) exclaiming Packard’s quality and assembly woes. mis-matched interior panels, transmission probs. etc. I thought Teague’s face lift on the ’51 body was very good, even though the proportions were wrong. I recall a full page ad in the Sat Ev. Post, wherein the featured car, a Patrician appeared as an artist’s rendition,the proportions were “correct”;and the car looked fantastic! I always preferred the ’55, as the’56 grille is too busy and the extended H,lite hoods too exaggerated, as is the stainless side mldg. The squared off deck lid (’56) is an improvement however.

  21. What activities were assigned to the East Grand Blvd plant once manufacturing/assembly moved to the Conner Ave plant? Seems like maintaining that facility with limited use would have been a significant financial drain.

    1. Mike,

      I don’t have a breakdown in my notes — I’d have to review the James Arthur Ward book again and perhaps do further research to specifically answer your question. However, since the suggestion of moving the assembly line came from Walter Grant, Packard’s finance VP, I assume he did the cost projections for the various scenarios and determined that it would be cheaper to take whatever hit they would incur by not running East Grand at its previous capacity. (That sort of calculation is exactly what finance people do.)

      If nothing else, it does suggest how inefficient East Grand actually was as an assembly plant. That’s an issue that is often overlooked in discussions of the decline of the independents in the U.S. or for that matter the British industry: Those companies often lacked efficient modern factories and couldn’t muster the capital to revamp or replace those plants, which led to a severe disadvantage against companies that could. GM and Ford were sometimes reluctant to pull the trigger on new plants because the expense was not trivial even by General Motors standards, but they *could* do it, whereas companies like Studebaker could not.


  23. This article (and the one preceding it) are very interesting reads.

    Both my grandparents and my father were Chrysler employees, as I am currently. I read this article through Mopar-centric eyes, but the family history begins with my maternal grandfather building both Plymouth and Packard bodies for Briggs after he returned from WWII. (He became a Chrysler employee through acquisition.) He told me a lot of stories about Packard; including bringing home seat material that my grandmother turned into clothing. Even the rank and file it seems considered Nance’s decision to build cars at Conner “crazy”. There were areas in the plant were the cars simply couldn’t be driven because the distance between support columns was too small. Sometimes they were driven. And damaged.

    Thus allow me to propose alternate histories, beginning in late 1950.

    Joint Venture: Packard needs a V8 and Chrysler needs an automatic transmission. Even at the time, Chrysler promotes the Hemispherical cylinder head as the key feature separating their 180 HP 331 V8 from Cadillac’s 160 HP 331 V8. Thus they agree to sell Packard short-block assemblies with Packard adding their own conventional wedge heads. Nothing mechanical would prevent this. Chrysler retains the marketing advantage and Packard “saves face” with a twist on the basic architecture; perhaps a bore change, cam differences or multiple carbs. Chrysler continues its Fluid-Drive branding by labeling Packard’s transmission “Fluid-Matic”.

    Merger and/or purchase by Chrysler: Begins as described above, but continues with a shared metal forming operations purchased from Briggs. After a transition period, Conner does nothing but stamp and ship metal to a new Packard body shop within their Grand Boulevard factory, and to Chrysler’s new Lynch Road Plymouth body shop. All of which (except a new Packard body shop) occurs anyway. Chrysler no longer has to try moving Imperial upmarket in 1955 because it has a prestige make. Packard gains a much larger dealer network and achieves economies of scale on commodities items. The inefficiencies of the Grand Boulevard plant aren’t a pressing concern because the Packard (brand) no longer needs volume.

    Pros: K.T. Keller and George T. Christopher are both “manufacturing men” from GM with a conservative bent. Pre-1955 Chrysler and Pre-1953 Packard are considered producers of technically superior (if unexciting) automobiles; there probably wouldn’t be a culture clash. It’s easy to imagine many garages in the US where the husband drives a Packard, the wife has a Chrysler and the maid uses a Plymouth wagon. Both companies eventually move to torsion bar suspensions. Both companies are defense contractors. Both companies need all-new lines by 1958… Perhaps this prevents the ’57 Mopars from being “rushed” out the door?

    Cons: Do Keller and Christopher convince each other not to invest in styling departments and ultimately wither by producing cars for a dwindling demographic of librarians and old-money snobs? That’s about the only downside I can imagine. I can’t see the government getting in the way with GM at near 50% of the market.

    Post Script: Chrysler [I]Corporation[/I] achieves a measure of status that reflects positively on the entire company and never gets distracted by trying to create a separate Imperial division that goes nowhere. Packard hums along for another decade at Grand Boulevard almost semi-autonomously with their Predictor re-touched by Virgil Exner. Chrysler Defense reaps the rewards of Packard’s defense contracts throughout the 50s and 60s. Much like the actual Imperial, the Packard continues with separate B-0-F while the rest of the company moves to unitized construction in 1960. In the mid-60s, Packard division moves to a modern one-story plant in the Detroit suburbs and the quality difference (due to the tooling and workforce) becomes even more apparent vs. Cadillac’s built at the ancient Clark Street plant. By 1966, Chrysler realizes the profit potential of near-luxury cars like the T-bird and Rivera and introduces a high-style Chrysler coupe known as the Cordoba on the B-body platform (never having felt the pressure of not producing “junior edition” Chrysler models.) The success of the Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Mark III spur the Packard division to produce its first unitized body car in 1969… A coupe built on the new C-body platform, known as the Packard d’oro. It’s hard to see the 80s being much different as traditional luxury/prestige cars all take a beating. The generation gap means that any American car (luxury or not) has been perceived as a symbol of the “establishment” since the boomer generation was in college overheating their Fiats or pop-riveting the structural rust on their Hondas. Thus Chrysler is feeling the same hurt in would have felt circa 1980, even if their full-framed Senior Packard 400s are still selling in modest numbers in retirement communities and to funeral parlors. Lee Iacocca still must come to the rescue, but this time he has a legitimate Town Car/Brougham competitor being built at Packard’s Utica plant (Packard proving ground work having moved up to Chelsea, MI in the late 50s; the land became the site of the new plant.) In 1991, Lee Iacocca decides to retire from the auto business and takes on a more active role in the diabetes research charity he founded. (A cure is found by 2007.) However, this time he feels confident handing the role of CEO to Jerry York, who processes both financial and engineering degrees. He’s just the right personality to both encourage and rein-in the team of Robert Lutz, Tom Gale and Francois Castang. In 2002, a mid-level GM executive named Bob Eaton is unceremoniously fired from their Opel division for funneling corporate money into the construction of an ugly stucco McMansion in Naples, FL.

    Writing alternate-history fiction is fun!

    1. With regard to the move to Conner Avenue, I don’t think it was either crazy or a blunder. It was certainly a miscalculation — obviously, both Nance and the finance people who proposed it in the first place underestimated how much trouble it was going to be — but the potential reward was dramatically cutting overhead and reducing the break-even level to a sustainable figure. That’s not a trivial thing, so I can see why Nance was willing to do it.

      As for merging with Chrysler, I think what’s easy to forget with regard to alternate-history merger speculation is that another or different merger wouldn’t have avoided a basic philosophical question with regard to Packard’s future: what sort of brand Packard should be and what it should offer. The general presumption of a lot of these things is that Packard would have been the ultra-luxury brand for whatever company or conglomerate ended up with it. However, Packard had realized almost 20 years earlier that trying to be solely an ultra-luxury brand was not sustainable anymore. One may certainly criticize (as I do) Christopher’s apparent determination to make Packard into Buick, but the point remains that Packard could not have survived as solely an upper-crust brand. Even if they had sustained more of their former old-money pedigree into the ’50s (which they really didn’t), the market just wasn’t there; the commercial failure of the Continental Mark II and Cadillac Eldorado Brougham makes that clear enough.

      If you threw Chrysler into the mix, the question would have gotten even messier. One of Chrysler’s bigger problems during the period in question was that its Chrysler, DeSoto, and Dodge brands were like cats who all want to sit on the one choice spot in the sunbeam, which ultimately killed DeSoto. If Packard were a separate division, its leadership would likely have gotten frustrated (and tired of getting yelled at by dealers) at not having a cheaper, higher-volume model to sell, so you would probably have ended up with a Packard Clipper competing directly with the Chrysler Windsor, Dodge Custom Royal, and DeSoto Firesweep. If Packard were in the place of the historical Imperial, you might still have had the same thing (with Chrysler hoping the Packard name would lure away some DeSoto and Dodge buyers) or else have Packard fall into the same third-rank niche Imperial ended up in, for most of the same reasons.

      So, in the scenario you’re envisioning, I mostly see the unanswered questions vis-à-vis Packard’s brand identity leading the merged entity to make a lot of the same historical mistakes, albeit under different names…

  24. *Nance and the finance people who proposed it in the first place underestimated how much trouble it was going to be — but the potential reward was dramatically cutting overhead and reducing the break-even level to a sustainable figure.*

    How well things work on paper vs. practice is the eternal argument, isn’t it? Of course there was a great potential for reward; people at that level (usually) don’t make crazy decisions in the truest sense of the word. But with 20/20 hindsight, Nance bet on the wrong horse. I think if I’d been there to argue, much of it would have been based on the costs/delays of moving fixtures/equipment for a vehicle that was largely unchanged since ’51. The time to move would have been when they built an all-new car, building pilots (and making mistakes) on vehicles that never see the customer while the last year of production winds down on Grand Boulevard.

    *a basic philosophical question with regard to Packard’s future: what sort of brand Packard should be and what it should offer. The general presumption of a lot of these things is that Packard would have been the ultra-luxury brand … Packard could not have survived as solely an upper-crust brand. Even if they had sustained more of their former old-money pedigree into the ’50s (which they really didn’t), the market just wasn’t there…*

    I don’t argue this point one bit. If you want to see where the ultra-luxury Duesenberg/Packard money went in the modern era, you need look no further than the cottage-industry of exotic and Euro cars that existed in the 50s-present. That isn’t a market that can be conquered by any mass-market brand, because by definition they are mass-market. We don’t see beige 4-cyl. Mercedes Taxis in the USA. The place for Packard would have been right there with Cadillac/Lincoln with an occasional foray into something like an Eldorado Brougham, Mark II or Ghia Limo. Those are image makers, even if money losers. The profits have to come from people who could be content with a Buick, but either want to show off a little OR simply purchase the car because THEY love the style (the latter is never given consideration by the “inconspicuous consumers”, but I digress). Volume can come from black cars and other professionals. That’s where I would have positioned Packard, pretty much doing what the Imperial did, but with an identity/history to draw upon as well as a dealer network more accustomed to Packard customer expectations. I probably should have stated that Packard franchises in metro areas would be exclusive, but available to pair with Chrysler dealers in rural areas (with separate showrooms/service counters).

    *If you threw Chrysler into the mix, the question would have gotten even messier. One of Chrysler’s bigger problems during the period in question was that its Chrysler, DeSoto, and Dodge brands were like cats who all want to sit on the one choice spot in the sunbeam, which ultimately killed DeSoto.*

    Again, no disagreement. In 1950, I would have slowly begun killing both Dodge cars and Desoto lines while my (metro) dealers transitioned to Packard (exclusive, top level), Chrysler (exclusive, upper-middle with multiple size models when the market fragmented in the 60s) Plymouth/Dodge Trucks (volume brand, muscle cars in the 60s. Remember that Dodge Trucks also extended well above 1-ton in this era). In rural areas, I would have paired C/P/D and allowed Packard showrooms on the same property. Of course I’m saying this through the lens of time. To know how the market would shake out 60 years later (and be able to convince others) would make you a genius.

    *If Packard were a separate division, its leadership would likely have gotten frustrated (and tired of getting yelled at by dealers) at not having a cheaper, higher-volume model to sell, so you would probably have ended up with a Packard Clipper competing directly with the Chrysler Windsor, Dodge Custom Royal, and DeSoto Firesweep.*

    One thing that I don’t think would require genius-level intelligence would have been recognizing, even in 1965, that Chrysler’s “no junior editions” philosophy was stupid. Perhaps that realization would have prevented some of the ridiculous model-overlap. You could try that argument with Imperial, since no US luxury make was doing less-than-full-size cars (I hesitate to call an Eldo/Mark “small”). But Chrysler? How is a manual brake/steering, blackwall Newport NOT a junior edition, but a ’65 T-bird/Riv is? Dumb, dumb, dumb. I suppose my hope is that bringing Packard into the tent forces the marketing department to realize Chrysler is a near-luxury/specialty brand. If Chrysler had invested in distinct, shorter-overhang sheet metal for the ’65 300, using the Hemi as planned in ’66, you’d have a perfect T-bird/Riv killer. Instead they took it downmarket for short term volume and squandered a great brand.

    But back to the original argument… Remember there would have been a transition period, lasting from about 1951 to 1960 (when a new car would be required) where Packard would have functioned much more autonomously. Their own factory, their own engineers, distinct bodies. I draw the parallel of Jeep/Truck engineering being entirely separate from Chrysler at CTC until 2008. My hope would be that during the period of 1951-1962 Chrysler (brand) stops trying to move up and downmarket at the same time (Imperial separation, Newport intro, end of letter series 300) because Packard’s presence forces them to focus on the upper-middle market. Of course I say hope… I’m sure you have to overcome a lot of short term thinking, but I believe a Packard acquisition makes this easier, much like buying Jeep kept Dodge focused on on-road trucks, rather than an off-road capable SUV. The purchase of AMC/Jeep is the only merger I can think of in the modern era that was well-done, and part of that was staying distinct for such a long period… basically until everything was redesigned a few times.

    *So, in the scenario you’re envisioning, I mostly see the unanswered questions vis-à-vis Packard’s brand identity leading the merged entity to make a lot of the same historical mistakes, albeit under different names…*

    Don’t forget that I solved Packard’s V8 and Chrysler’s automatic trans issue. I think that buys Packard some time and adds some sales to Chrysler. I didn’t suggest Packard turn itself into a niche company, but having some scale with Chrysler allows them to build a few niche models. I also the think the market place was more forgiving in that era… Pontiac and Oldsmobile both climbed out of their doldrums in that era, I believe Packard could have done the same with the right product mix and marketing.

    At any rate, the whole thing is speculation done with the benefit of hindsight. The automotive equivalent of Fantasy Football I suppose, but a much better mental exercise.

  25. The question of Packards engines always left me a little baffled. Packard, after the war, probably had more experience than anyone in making sophisticated engines. They had already made v type OHC engines for thirty years. What kept them? Didn’t the marine and aircraft engine departments associate with the car division? Studebaker had a OHV 8 by 1951.They were also involved with Borg Warner in developing an automatic. They couldn’t have been that bad.

    1. I don’t think it was a lack of technical knowledge so much as the financial challenges of developing and tooling for an all-new passenger car engine in general. After the war, Packard management was stuck on the idea of trying to raise their sales volume and reduce costs to let them compete lower on the price scale. Packard’s straight-eight engines were still competitive on power (and remained so almost to the end), so I think the argument kept coming back to, “Well, if we have to amortize the tooling on a new engine, that will cost us X dollars extra per car, and we can’t afford that yet. Can’t we wait until we hit 100,000 units a year? Then we can pay it off faster.”

      If anything, Studebaker’s example suggests the financial dangers of an independent undertaking that kind of additional capital expense. Even though their volume was much higher than Packard’s, the V-8 (and its early warranty problems) cost them a bundle and if Grant’s post-merger financial analysis was correct, Studebaker management miscalculated the net impact of that (and various other factors) on their per-car costs. In other words, the V-8 was probably a not-insignificant part of the financial hole Studebaker dug for itself during that period.

  26. The quad headlamps on the ’58 Studebakers and Packardbakers were extremely awkward, looking like the add-ons they were. A net esthetic negative.

  27. I’m curious as to how long a Packard that did everything “right”, and have had more work out for it, would have survived. I share Aaron’s suspicion of alternate history mergers-my feeling is that the “best” case for Packard is living as a clunky badge-engineered model that’s basically a higher trim level for its buyer (likely AMC/Rambler) in practice, and the worst case is it gets grabbed for its dealers and nothing else.

    My gut instinct is that an independent surviving Packard gets its mid-level stuff walloped by the 1958 recession and then either folds or gets bought out (see above for its fate in that case), or shares Studebaker’s fate if it “successfully” diversifies. Even the rosiest scenarios in my mind have it stagger into the 1960s with an aging loyalist customer base and then collapse in the face of increased regulations and imports.

  28. I’ve not read all these remarks, but I have couple of remarks. My father was a body engineer in the final days. As I was not quite a toddler, I’m not certain, but one obituary I’ve seen said he was head of body engineering. I do recall the test track when I was three years old including the badlands. That said, aside from bad management at the top of the company I believe that neither GMC or Ford wanted a viable Packard. Had Packard been able to maintain its position as the luxury car it had been Lincoln and Cadillac would have been the losers. I was too young to see the economy, but aside from obvious competition problems and bad decisions at the top, size was against Packard. All that said I have very fond memories of Packard.

    I note a comment about Romney. Though I’m not an engineer, where my Dad was, I did work as a CAD designer at Morrison Knudsen in the mid-1990s before it went down. A number of our process engineers and paint engineers had worked for AMC while George was running it. None of these men had positive remarks about him and each said he ran the company into the ground.

    1. In principle, GM and Ford actually wanted Studebaker-Packard to survive, although both stopped short of actually taking positive steps to make that happen. (Ford came closer, as it happened.) The reason was that they — and most particularly GM — were uneasy about how it would look if they and Chrysler were the only players in the U.S. industry rather than just the dominant players. (GM corporate management spent the fifties and sixties being mortally afraid that the Justice Department was going to split them up on antitrust grounds.) Now, how Cadillac and Lincoln-Mercury management felt about that was probably a different story, although by the mid-fifties, it had been years since Packard had been a serious threat.

      There were things that GM and Ford did that made it harder for the independents to survive — the price war and the rapid advance of styling changes, to name two — but there wasn’t some secret plot involved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments may be moderated. Commenting signifies your acceptance of our Comment Policy — please read it first! You must be at least 18 to comment. PLEASE DON'T POST COPYRIGHTED CONTENT YOU AREN'T AUTHORIZED TO USE!