By on April 17, 2011

Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

You never know what you’re going to see. I’ve been trying to get in the habit of taking the camera bag for my 3D rigs with me when I go out and about so that I don’t miss capturing the neat old vehicles that I happen across. Just last week there was an impossible-not-to-notice canary yellow 1972 Lincoln Continental that shoulda woulda coulda been posted here but the cameras were at home. So when I walked out of Durst Lumber after picking up a tripod nut for my video rig and saw a very clean, very black Buick Grand National, I was glad that I had the cameras in hand. That’s when I realized that as unique as the Grand National was in its malaise era day and as cool as it is today, there was something far more worthy of note just a few parking spaces away.

This originally equipped 1948 Packard Eight survivor is on only its third owner and has just 40,000 miles on the clock. Other than the tires, fluids, filters, belts and hoses, everything is original – nothing’s been rebuilt. All it takes is a walk around the stately exterior and a peak into the elegantly appointed interior and it’s easy to understand that while Cadillac may have been the standard of the world, Packard was America’s ultimate aspirational car. Packards were what truly wealthy people drove.

The original purchaser bought the car for his wife. She put 38,000 miles on the car, using it to go shopping or to the club. Her estate sold it to a collector who turned it into a trailer queen. The current owner, though, drives it regularly enough to keep it in good running condition.  He’d just taken it out of storage and had used it to pick up some hardware. The exterior isn’t perfect, there are some touched up scratches in the original maroon paint, but the body is in remarkable shape for a car that has spent almost 60 years in Michigan. For a non show car, the body panels are very straight – a tribute to the quality of work that Packard demanded from Briggs, who supplied their bodies. Every piece of chrome glistened in the early spring sunlight. The interior is flawless, except for some frayed upholstery on the driver’s side near the bottom of the seat. My guess is that the wear is from the fine coat of the matron who originally drove this luxury automobile. The finish and quality of the wood trim inside the car would not look out of place in a modern British luxury car like Bentley or Aston Martin.

One of the ironies about Packard is their carriage trade customer base, then and now. Packard went broke selling cars to wealthy people. Rich folks drove Packards and after the marque’s demise in the late 1950s, rich folks continued to collect Packards. In particular, the prewar Packards today are among the most valuable classic American cars there are, with restored models easily fetching six and seven figure prices. The marque’s mystique continues. When respected Packard restorer Fran Roxas tried making his first custom with the Strother Macminn penned “Myth“, right out of the box it was a Ridler Award Great Eight finalist at the 2010 Detroit Autorama and last August it sold for $407,000 at auction.

So though the marque is defunct, Packard collectors have the means to keep their cars running and in good condition. They also have the means to preserve the marque’s history.

Albert Kahn’s 1907 facade of the factory that built this car. The Packard Museum now owns this architectural artifact.

The entrance executives used is now in the possession of the Packard Motor Car Foundation

 

Though the old Packard plant on East Grand Blvd is a clichéd symbol of Detroit’s ruin, the factory’s two famous limestone facades have been saved by Dayton’s Packard Museum and by the Packard Motor Car Foundation. The Museum paid $161,000 at auction for their remnant in 2008, and crews subsequently removed it for eventual reassembly in Ohio.  The foundation plans on eventually displaying the other edifice at the Packard Proving Grounds, in suburban Detroit, which the foundation owns and is restoring.

The car’s current owner, Art, is an active member of the Packard owners club and the car is regularly driven to Packard meets. As a matter of fact, when I asked him if he’s planning on going to the spring open house at the Packard Proving Grounds on May 1, he offered me a ride there in this car.

It’s not the easiest car to drive. Today we measure luxury by the number and kinds of toys a car has. In 1948, luxury was more about quality construction. Though Packard had introduced air conditioning by the time this car was made, the only luxury equipment on this model was a heater, radio and vacuum operated windshield wipers. No power steering, no power brakes, not even an automatic transmission. Packard would not introduce the Ultramatic transmission for another year. This straight eight powered car has a “three on the tree”, a 3 speed shifter on the steering column, along with overdrive that is engaged by pressing on the clutch pedal at highway speeds.

Note: That’s not a loudspeaker on the kick panel, it’s an air vent. Familiar to drivers of pre 1970s cars.

It’s also a large car. It towered over all the other sedans in the parking lot and must stand at least 5 feet tall. No Ford GT40 for sure. It was about as tall as the Volvo XC90 SUV and even taller than the Dodge Dakota pickup parked near it.

The 1948 was the first true postwar Packard, though it was not a clean sheet design and it was based on the prewar Clipper. Designers tried to blend the Clipper’s 1930s style separate fenders into the hood and trunk for a more modern look, and while the results are not entirely unattractive, the “bathtub” Packards have a bloated look. They still had the Clipper’s 1930s vintage C pillar and they were significantly heavier than the Clipper. Trying to save money, Packard ended up spending as much developing the Twenty-Second Series Packard  as they would have had they started from scratch. Still, the ’48 Packard had a new enough look to be a success, selling almost 100,000 units, about double Cadillac’s sales that year. It was to be a high water mark, never again to be reached. The ’48 Cadillac, introduced in the spring of 1948, was a landmark car, the car that started the tail fin era. Despite the restyling, the Packard’s prewar heritage was obvious and soon looked dated compared to the P-38 inspired Caddy. Cadillac would go on to go from strength to strength, introducing its OHV V8 in 1949, a move that the increasingly financially strapped Packard could not match until 1955. Soon Packard’s circumstances would be so reduced that they were forced to merge with Studebaker. Not much later the oldest luxury marque in America disappeared.

For more information on the postwar Packards, you can check out TTAC’s Curbside Classics on the 1946 and 1951 Packards, as well as Aaron Severson’s usual fine job at Ate Up With Motor covering the history of Packard’s declining years.

You can see a full gallery of photos in your choice of 3D formats or 2D at Cars In Depth, along with video I shot of the old Packard gliding smoothly down the street.

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35 Comments on “Look At What I Found!: 1948 Packard Eight – Ask The Man Who Owns One...”


  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    The quality of that maroon paint is amazing. When GM tried maroon paint in the ’60s, the color faded badly after a short time in the sun. GM told the owners ‘tough luck’. That’s another difference between Packard and GM.

  • avatar
    GrandCharles

    Seeing the lack of respect of those damn graffiti punks makes me really angry…So sad to see the degradation they bring as they claim to be artists…That car is a fine looking old lady!

    • 0 avatar

      You have to understand that they are putting graffiti on a ruined, abandoned building. The old Packard plant is a magnificent scabrous derelict. It’s hard to get upset over the vandalism that goes on over there.
       
      I’m much more upset, actually, about the stupid person that decided that an ad for his party rental business was more valuable than a historic artifact.
       
      When a building was torn down it revealed a “ghost sign” that had been painted on the adjacent building before the torn down structure was built. That Champion Spark Plug ad lasted for the better part of a century. Then an owner of a now defunct party rental business painted over half the sign. What an idiot. Fortunately, the old paint is probably oil based leaded paint that leeches into the brick, while the new paint is probably latex or some other water based paint. It might be possible to remove the new paint.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    I left home in 1951.  About that time, Packard was so desperate to sell cars that the prices were right down there with Fords and Chevys.  My Dad wanted a Packard in the worst way and had my mother ask my grandparents to loan him the money.  The old folks flatly refused and replied that Packards were just for rich people and he surely was not rich.
    Dad ended up buying a used Buick which I bought from him a couple of years later.

    • 0 avatar
      John Fritz

      That’s a bittersweet story. It makes me think of all the things my dad did without when I was growing up in the 60′s and 70′s. Especially with cars. We always had a second hand Dodge station wagon or a Fury I, something like that and he never complained about anything. In the late 70′s he achieved some moderate financial success, had just bought a new Ford LTD, and he died shortly afterward. I get really sad when I look back on all that.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    My parents bought a new 1950 Packard like that, only black and with Ultramatic. It’s not woodgrain on the door panels and dash but painted steel. That’s not a rank-down though – that paint was of high quality and would take a shine like varnished wood. No more of that when the totally redesigned ’51 models came out. No power brakes or steering for sure, and I found out as a new driver that I could completely fade the brakes with two or three really hard stops. The Ultramatic was an interesting transmission, only a two-speed and thus bog-slow off the line, but with a lockup torque converter. Another thing I remember about the car was that the front suspension was arranged such that you’d have to get the front end realigned after replacing the front shock absorbers. Pop used that as the reason for not changing the shocks. Bounce, bounce. Another quirk it had was a whistle that blew while the gas tank was being filled. When the whistle stopped, that told the attendant that the tank was nearly full. That Packard was perhaps slow, but solid as could be. The odometer died at 139k miles, and they had the car for several years after that before trading it on a 1961 VW bug. It was a pretty ratty old car by then, and it’s nice to see a well-cared-for one like that maroon 1948.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    My father-in-law had a Black Packard similar to this one as late as 1966, and drove it, and his other classics like the Henry J and Willy’s, to work every day.  It was a grand car even by 1966 standards. But as times changed and parts became harder to come by, even this grand old limousine was traded off for a brand new AMC Ambassador station wagon, which proved a great family hauler but more troublesome than the grand old Packard. Great article Ronnie.  Really brings back the fond memories of when cars were still real cars, instead of that crap we have today, devoid of any styling.

  • avatar
    william442

    A variety of these were the family’s cars for many years. One I remember had a city, and a country horn, matching luggage, and for some reason (thrift) a cork for a radiator cap. No one thought of keeping one.
    My father traded his last one for an Oldsmobile, and was never the same.

  • avatar
    zeus01

    I remember being in grade 11 auto mechanics in 1979. Strolling through a farmers’ field I stumbled onto the rusted-out chassis of a 1939 Packard. Being flat broke I couldn’t have afforded to buy and then extract the hulk from the owner even if it were for sale, but I did try to get our instructor to start a pool to scare up the resources from my classmates to get that engine into our shop and rebuild it.

    No such luck. “Probably not rebuildable and besides, where would we get the parts?” Too bad, because that would have been a fun project even if it ultimately ended up as an incomplete example mounted on an engine stand for show…

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    That era for Packard was part of the last waltz for the company but they went out in style-this 1950 fastback was a standout even in 2010 at a show.
    http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/2-features/stories/522-went-to-buy-a-metropolitan-and-ended-up-with-a-1950-packard.html
     

    • 0 avatar
      Diesel Fuel Only

      Beautiful car.  Was 50 or 51 the last year with the infamous razor-sharp hood ornament?
       
      I think that the 1940-41 models are my favorite in terms of styling.  I was going through an old estate at our county courthouse once and noticed that the old man had died owning a 1941 Packard “four door sedan”.  Wow!  That car was only made from October 1940 to March ’41 and has to be one of the rarest.  Wonder what ever happened to it.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Nice looking car, but must have huge blind spots judging by tiny rear window and massive C-pillars.

    • 0 avatar
      dancote

      ? Are you serious with this comment?
      How on earth is your comment relevant to this discussion?
      The car doesn’t have disc brakes, a modern sound system, a back-up camera, air conditioning, tubeless tires, seat belts, airbags, ESP, ABS, NAV, etc.,
      If you’ re trying to get your post count up, bless you. If not, …
       

      • 0 avatar
        Bimmer

        I wont go to your level and make a personal attack, just because you have a different opinion regarding styling.
         
        I’m not asking for this car to have all of the options that are still options on modern vehicles. But everybody complains that it’s hard to see out of modern cars due to diminished greenhouse and thicker pillars. so, I was just making an observation.
         
         

      • 0 avatar

        Dancote, I’m not sure what your objection is. I mentioned the 30s style C-pillars in the post so I don’t see anything off topic in Bimmer’s comment that those pillars must have created a problem with blind spots.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Lust lust lust… For Packards and true Hudsons I have never lost my lust. 

  • avatar
    tonyola

    This car is like a well-dressed, elegant, but hopelessly obese aged aunt. Compare its looks to a 1948 Cadillac and it becomes obvious why the GM car ended up taking away the luxury market away from Packard despite being more expensive. Ever since Packard introduced a cheap Six in the late ’30s in the hope of increasing volume, the name had been watered down to the point where it wasn’t even thought of as a real luxury name by the late ’40s. It was sad that Packard died, but it was a self-inflicted death.

    • 0 avatar

      Packard had only a couple of in house stylists, while GM had an embarrassment of riches in terms of the teams that worked under Harley Earl. Though when the ’48 Caddy was designed by Frank Hershey, some of GM’s staff like Bill Mitchell had not been discharged from military duty yet. Since Pearl Harbor, GM’s designers and stylists had been serving the war effort, either in or out of uniform, like the rest of the domestic auto industry (Nash or Hudson, one of the AMC companies, built helicopters on Plymouth road in Livonia). The ’48s and ’49s were the first chance for the engineers and designers to make modern cars, since the ’46s and ’47s were just refreshed ’41s. The independents actually were a little more nimble so the Hudson Hornet and this Packard and the ’47 Studebaker did find some initial success, but the Big 3 had the resources to make all new cars, including new engines.
      The independents were dependent on their body suppliers, old platforms and old drivetrains and as the Big 3 embraced significant restlyings every year in the 1950s and developed high compression OHV V8s, the independents just didn’t have the money to keep up.
      So we saw the ’48 Cadillac, which got a modern V8 a year later. Ford made the ’49 Ford sedan, generally considered the first mass market postwar sedan.
      Packard inflicted wounds by cheapening the brand but also they were hamstrung by shaky finances.
      I’m trying to imagine what would have happened had American Motors been founded in 1946 and included Packard, Studebaker and Willys along with Nash and Hudson, That might have been a viable critical mass. Willys with Jeeps and trucks, Nash making compact Ramblers, Studebaker mass market sedans, with some stylish coupes and performance cars, Hudson roughly comparable to Olds, Buick or Mercury, a near luxury brand, and Packard at the top of a Sloan like organization.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think they were trying so much to increase volume as to continue selling enough cars to remain in business. The Depression killed sales of true luxury cars. All of the luxury brands went down market, including Cadillac. And Cadillac had the advantage of being able to fall back on GM’s cash resources.

      If I recall correctly, the entire Clipper line was a down market move similar to Cadillac’s LaSalle and Lincoln’s Zephyr. None of the postwar cars from these brands was in the same league as the circa-1930 cars were. It’s incredible what those older cars sold for (or failed to sell for) in real dollars.

      • 0 avatar

        Comparing the Clipper to the Cadillac and Lincoln lines is a little tricky. Conceptually, it was inspired by the Cadillac Sixty Special, not the LaSalle (which in any case was gone by the time the Clipper went on sale) — it was a style leader, rather than a price leader. In price, the Clipper was roughly equivalent to the base Cadillac Series 61 or Zephyr sedan, but that’s a bit misleading, because it was definitely not Packard’s cheapest model; it was a good deal more expensive than the One Ten or One Twenty.
         
        The Lincoln Zephyr was born for more or less the same reasons as the Packard One Twenty, but Packard went a lot farther downmarket than either Lincoln or Cadillac did. The One Twenty undercut the Zephyr by more than $200, and even when Cadillac slashed prices on the LaSalle in 1936, it still cost at least 10% more than the Packard. The Packard Six was even cheaper, really down into Buick/Chrysler territory. (In that sense, the Clipper was comparable to the Buick Roadmaster, which was similarly priced.)
         
        The LaSalle is sort of a different story, because it was born well before the Depression, and went through several phases of its evolution. When it was first introduced in 1927, it was a Cadillac “companion,” but it was definitely not cheap — the least-expensive LaSalle started at around $2,500, which was enough to buy you a whole collection of low-priced cars at that time. It was nearly canceled in the early thirties (just as Cadillac itself came close to being shut down), but the 1934-1936 models were reengineered with a lot of Oldsmobile components to save money, and Nick Dreystadt made a strenuous effort to reduce unit costs. The LaSalle actually sold fairly well in the late thirties (certainly more than the Zephyr), but Cadillac finally decided that they’d be better off financially by positioning the bottom Series 61 to replace the LaSalle and axing the separate brand. When LaSalle disappeared for 1941, Cadillac basically picked up all of its volume and then some.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        According to the late Beverly Rae Kimes, George Christopher, who headed Packard in the late ’30s and ’40s, was deliberately trying to push Packard as a high-volume maker. He believed in selling a huge number of cars at a moderate profit over selling a smaller number at a large profit, and he made no secret of his disdain for the senior cars. Because of his policies, the true luxury cars were allowed to wither away and by 1940, the Packard Six was priced down on the verge of Oldsmobile and DeSoto territory.

        Packard had a chance to regain the luxury title right after World War II. In those years, anything with wheels would sell, and Packard could have dropped all the junior cars and lower-priced Eights and sold every high-priced car they could make, thereby gaining ground on Cadillac. They missed out on that window of opportunity, and Cadillac became the undisputed luxury leader.

  • avatar
    K5ING

    Super nice Packard!  I prefer the older ones myself, but I can still appreciate these bathtub versions.  Thanks!
     
    A good friend and contributor to my blog recently had the chance to drive a really nice 1951 Packard Caribbean convertible.  I can’t post pictures on here, but he did a writeup with pictures over here:
    http://caughtatthecurb.blogspot.com/2011/04/1951-packard-caribbean-convertible.html

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Looking at that chrome spear molding at how it dips down in the rear reminds me of the 1983 Cadillac Seville bustle back models! Nothing new under the sun, eh?

    That’s one nice-looking Packard, for sure, and a credit to its owner for keeping it running. Look at those seats! I’d like to know how this car was equipped, option-wise.

    Good job, Ronnie! It’s nice to have you contribute at TTAC!

  • avatar
    Diesel Fuel Only

    Some fellow in a city I lived in until a year or two ago had three “bathtub” vintage cars under covers in a specially made carport behind his house.  I bet they’re still there in vintage, dusty, condition.  One of them was a teal color.
     
    They’d look nicer on the road. They seem to glide down the street as though powered by grace alone and yes, they do tower over everything – and I mean everything – on the street.
     
    Optional equipment?  The hexagons in the center of the hubcaps were CLOISONNE for crying out loud!  We don’t need any stinkin’ optional equipment!
     
    The decision that really sealed the fate of the company was outsourcing the body-building to Briggs in 1940 because Briggs was eventually sold to an unfriendly rival (whose eventual fate was richly deserved), sticking with the bathtub look for too long and sticking with the Flathead-8 for too long.  They enlarged it as much as it could be, probably got 3 mpg by the end, before they came out with the V-8.  But they were really well-engineered cars.  Theirs was the only automatic transmission produced by an independent at that time.
     
    I’d like to take a long driving trip to the midwest this year, unfortunately I cannot do so until after the Packard meet-up in Warren in July.  Just my luck!

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    What a sweet piece. Can you imagine something like a Lexus lasting this long? And looking this good? Not likely.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    I wish cars were built with this amount of care and quality today.

  • avatar
    Mr Nosy

    Well, I do love it when an article makes me feel like a young whippersnapper in such a traditional way. Look, we can pine all we want for “The good old days” b/w,”They don’t don’t make ‘em like they used to”,et al,etc. But lets all keep in mind that this car was clearly exceptionally well cared for,and I’ll bet a sawbuck that owner #1 was probably a cheap ass, (Always skimping on her share of the lunch tab at the club + a strict “1 thin dime” tipping policy.) who made her friends drive on most occasions.Therefore keeping this nugget of Americana well preserved by staying garage bound.This site tends to get all misty eyed over Uhhmerica’s past industrial glory.To this, I quote Mr.Tom Petty (You also have a reliance on substandard classic rock,enjoy my free upgrade.), ‘God its such a drag when you’re livin’ in the past.” May also add in big ole fashion queen Mr/iss Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel turnaround guy and namesake of his own fashion empire,not to mention that private library of his.) I’m paraphrasing from a documentary I saw on LOGO “If you think that all the best art and design was done in the past,then why go on living?  I’m about approaching what I’m working on as being better than what I did before.” Go on then! Keep that chin up now,guv’nah!

    • 0 avatar

      While looking forward is how humans progress, our achievements rest on the shoulders of those who went before us. Nothing wrong with admiring classic style or using it for inspiration.
       
      As for getting misty about America’s past industrial glory, I know that in my pieces on automotive history I’ve portrayed the industry as being in a continual state of flux, with companies going out of business left and right since the early 1900s.
       
       

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Thanks for this posting!
    The car is awesome.
    Thanks also for explaining to me why this car without what I now consider to be requirements as a luxury car, was a luxury car.

    Do you think today’s luxury cars are all that better built than the rest, or are they luxurious because of the bells and whistles, the name, or the prices paid at time of delivery? I am asking this because I am not really all that impressed with the workmanship I see from many luxury makes.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    My Dad use to tell me that I’d miss him when he’s dead and I’d get pissed off that he would say something like that, like I’m not appreciating him now – I would later. Well, sometimes Dad, you did have a great knowledge of old cars and I loved to hear you talk about them. I wish you were still around so I could ask you about this car, I’m sure you would have an opinion. Moral of this, if you know some old timers, talk to them, get their insight, wisdom, etc, old people are smart. You don’t live long being a fool.

    That said, I remember he liked the advancements like automatic trans, power steering and brakes and better handling/brakes over the old cars he drove in the 30′s-40′s

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Do you have any photos of the engine which didn’t make the original posting?  I would have loved to have seen that gorgeous piece of engineering after you wrote of it….

    Lovely car, lovely job shooting it, lovely post.  Thanks, Ronnie….

  • avatar
    relton

    Neat car, neat story. I have friends who collect these kinds of Packards. The craftsmanship, and engineering, are exceptional.

    It’s even more impressive to note that this is one  of the lower priced Packards. The Custom Eight was longer, and had an elaborate grille at both ends, in addition to the classic Packard grill at the front.

    These cars are also big, real big. A Hudson was exceptionally low, at 60 inches tall. The Packard has to be at least 6 inches taller, 5 1/2 feet. It looks good because it is also very long.

    But, put it next to a 48 Cadillac, and you can see how Cadillac rapidly eclipsed Packard.

    Modern luxury cars may not give the impression of hand-crafted luxury, like this Packard does, but they are also cheaper. This Packard was about 5 times the price of a Ford V8. A Lexus 460LS is only about twice the price of an Avalon.

    I also think that a modern car, given the same kind of care that this Packard has had, will probably last as long. The difference, thiough, is that technology items on a modern car will be impossible to repair 60 years hence, whereas the Packard, and other cars of this vintage, have components that can be repaired or rebuilt many times.

    Bob


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