SOUTH BEND, DOWN, AND OUT
Nance and Hoffman resigned as soon as the agreement with Curtiss-Wright was signed and former Studebaker chief engineer Harold Churchill became president of Studebaker-Packard. Nance remained in Detroit for about a month as an unofficial consultant, focused mostly on helping other ousted executives find new jobs. In October, he accepted a new position as vice president of marketing for Ford. In 1958, he would briefly serve as general manager of the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln Division, but he was forced to resign that September following a political struggle with Robert McNamara. Nance later left the auto industry and became very successful in banking.
After the closure of the Conner Avenue assembly line, Studebaker-Packard consolidated its remaining production in South Bend. The 1956 Clipper and Packard were dead; the only Studebaker plant that could have accommodated their tooling was Chippewa Avenue, which was now leased by Utica Bend Corp. for military work. At first, there were no plans to continue the Packard marque, but Harold Churchill decided to keep the nameplate alive for a while longer, if only to allow S-P to placate its remaining Packard franchise holders while Hurley and Churchill cleaned house.
In January 1957, Studebaker-Packard unveiled a new Packard Clipper. Created on a shoestring tooling budget of only $1.1 million, the revived Clipper looked like what it was: a Studebaker President festooned with hastily added Packard cues. With awkward looks, high prices, and a near-total lack of credibility, sales amounted to only about 4,800 units.
The “Packardbaker” returned for 1958, now sporting a new roofline and trendy quad headlamps. The line was expanded to include a two-door hardtop and the new Packard Hawk coupe (described in our article on the Studebaker Hawk) as well as the four-door sedan and station wagon. Despite the expanded lineup, a sudden downturn in the economy further eroded what little market there may have been and sales for 1958 fell to fewer than 2,600 cars. The wagon sold only 159 copies.
The Studebaker-Packard board initially planned to stay the course for at least a little while longer; even for cash-strapped Studebaker, the tooling costs were minimal and the board still held out hope that sales would improve. In February 1958, however, Churchill asked the board to cancel the 1959 Packards and reallocate the tooling budget to the new compact Lark, the car he still hoped would save Studebaker. The final Packards rolled off the line in South Bend on July 13, 1958.
There were periodic rumors of a Packard revival well into the sixties, but none came to fruition. After a brief resurgence with the Lark, Studebaker-Packard’s fortunes resumed their decline. The company dropped the “Packard” portion of its name on April 26, 1962, and left the auto business for good in 1966.
In the more than 50 years since Packard’s demise, there have been many analyses of the reasons for its fall, including not a little rancor toward both George Christopher and Jim Nance. Nance, in particular, has received considerable criticism for decisions like the transfer of assembly to Conner Avenue. Our feeling is that he did about as well as anyone could have in his position and if some of his choices didn’t work out as intended, few of them were ill considered. There were times when he gambled and lost, but it appears he generally understood the odds.
Even without the burden of the Studebaker merger and the chaos of the Conner Avenue consolidation, it would have been difficult for Packard to reclaim its past prestige. Lincoln and Imperial struggled gamely for more than a decade without making much impression on Cadillac buyers and we suspect Packard would have ended up in the same boat. Still, an all-new 1957 Packard Patrician with Torsion-Level and Col. Vincent’s mooted V-12 engine would have been an interesting proposition, especially if it were priced in the realm of Cadillac’s Sixty Special.
Unlike many historians, we don’t think separating Clipper from Packard was a particularly good idea. The reason Cadillac abandoned its LaSalle “companion make” in 1940 was that the same basic car sold better as a Cadillac, commanded higher prices, and earned greater profits. The big Series 75 cars (and even the postwar Sixty Special) were not major factors in Cadillac’s postwar sales success. Similarly, Buick sold a lot more low-end Specials than it did Roadmasters, doing no great harm to either its sales or image; it was No. 3 in U.S. sales through much of the fifties. If Packard had managed to reestablish the senior cars’ image (or hadn’t squandered it in the first place), the similarities between the senior cars and the Clippers would have been an asset, not a weakness.
The tragedy of Packard is that in the last decade of its existence, it did a lot of things right. Whatever his missteps, Jim Nance had a decent sense of where the company needed to be and he worked hard to get there. The 1955 and 1956 models were thoroughly credible efforts, particularly given what Packard had to work with, and the public reaction to them was heartening. Unfortunately, by then, Packard’s reserves were depleted and circumstances seemed to conspire against it.
Today, the ruins of the old Packard complex still stand on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit. When it was built in the early 1900s, East Grand was the finest factory of its kind in the world; now, it’s a stark reminder of how far even the mightiest can fall.
NOTES ON SOURCES
Our sources included Robert Ackerson, “1950 Packard DeLuxe Eight: The Last of Packard’s Postwar Pachyderms,” Special Interest Autos #64 (July-August 1981), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards: driveReports from Hemmings Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor New, 2001), pp. 58-65; David Traver Adolphus, “1958: Altered to Fit: The 1958 Hawk, a Packard that Packard fans love to hate,” Hemmings Classic Car #16 (January 2006), pp. 28–35; “Autos: New Team,” TIME 28 August 1950, www.time. com, accesse 13 March 2010; “Autos: Gas for Packard,” TIME 4 May 1953, www.time. com, accessed 13 March 2010; “Autos: New Team,” TIME 28 August 1950, www.time. com, accessed 13 March 2010; “Autos: Packard Shifts Gears,” TIME 19 May 1952, www.time. com, accessed 13 March 2010; “Body by Briggs: Part II,” Special Interest Autos #19 (November-December 1973), reprinted in Hemmings Classic Car #45 (June 2008), pp. 56-62; Arch Brown, “Another Visit with George Romney,” Special Interest Autos #77 (September-October 1983), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Hudsons: driveReports from Hemmings Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), p. 96; and “Why Studebaker-Packard Never Merged With AMC and other revelations by Governor George Romney,” Special Interest Autos #66 (December 1981), pp. 50-55; Arch Brown, Richard Langworth, and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1955-56 Packard Caribbean,” Great Cars of the 20th Century (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 1998), pp. 254-257; “Business: Rescue Accomplished,” TIME 30 July 1956, www.time. com, accessed 2 May 2010; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Rev. 4th ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Tim Howley, “1951 Packard: John Reinhart’s Master Stroke,” Special Interest Autos #102 (November-December 1987), and “1958 Packard: Fin-Ale for a Proud Name,” Special Interest Autos #142 (July-August 1994), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 76-83 and 96-105; Bob Johnstone, “Packard History – 1945-1984” (n.d., Bob’s Studebaker Resource and Information Portal, www.studebaker-info. org/ text3/pack-hist-1945.html, accessed 13 March 2010); George L. Hamlin, “The Day Pan Am Sued Packard,” Special Interest Autos #51 (May-June 1979), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Postwar American Independents: driveReports from Special Interest Autos Magazine, ed. Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), p. 79; George Hamlin and Dwight Heinmuller, “All-New Contour Styling: The Twenty-Fourth and the Twenty-Fifth Series, 1951-1952,” “America’s New Choice in Fine Cars: The Twenty-Sixth and the Fifty-Fourth Series, 1953-1954,” “Let the Ride Decide: The Fifth-Fifth Series, 1955,” “The House Falls: The Fifty-Sixth Series, 1956,” and “The Last of the Marque: The Fifty-Seventh and the Fifty-Eighth Series, 1957-1958,” in Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company (Automobile Quarterly Magnificent Marque Books), Beverly Rae Kimes (Princeton, NJ: Automobile Quarterly Publications (CBS Inc.), 1978; Third Edition); Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997), pp. 217-228; and Richard M. Langworth, “1954 Packard Pacific: Last of the Great Straight Eights,” Special Interest Autos #51 (May-June 1979), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Postwar American Independents, pp. 74-81; Michael Lamm, “1956 Packard Patrician,” Special Interest Autos #36 (September-October 1976), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 88-94; James Arthur Ward, The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995); and Josiah Work, “Packard’s Handsome Hybrid: 1951 Packard Series 250,” Special Interest Autos #84 (November-December 1984), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 66-73.
We also consulted the following period road tests: Bill Callahan, “Packard Packs Pep,” Motorsport June 1951; Walt Woron, “Packard 300: An MT Research Report,” Motor Trend October 1952; Tom McCahill, “MI Tests the ’53 Packard,” Mechanix Illustrated May 1953; Walt Woron, “’54 Packard Clipper,” Motor Trend June 1954; “Testing the 212 HP Packard Patrician,” Science and Mechanics June 1954; Frank Rowsome, Jr., “’55 Packard Glides on Torsion-Bar Suspension,” Popular Science February 1955; “Packard Has V-8 Engine and New Suspension,” Wheels May 1955; John Bolster, “John Bolster Tests the Packrd Clipper with ‘Torsion-Level Ride,'” Autosport 24 June 1955; Tom McCahill, “McCahill Tests the Packard Clipper,” Mechanix Illustrated July 1955; G.M. Lightowler, “Distinguished Company: The Packard Patrician for 1955 is a combination of luxury and high performance,” Car Life August 1955; “The 1956 Packard and 1956 Clipper,” Motor Life December 1955; “Packard Clipper Custom Saloon (The Autocar Road Tests No. 1598),” The Autocar 8 June 1956; Jim Lodge, “Drivescription: ’56 Clipper,” Motor Trend July 1956; Joe H. Wherry, “Packard Clipper Drivescription,” Motor Trend March 1957; and “Packard Road Test…” Motor Life June 1957, all of which are reprinted in Packard Gold Portfolio 1946-1958, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1988).
This article’s title was suggested by the 1854 poem by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson, based on an event during the Crimean War.
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