By on July 3, 2014
1956 Packard Caribbean Convertible. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard Caribbean Convertible. Full gallery here.

Last week* was the 58th anniversary of the date that the last true Packard that was built in Detroit by the storied automaker. If you follow the conventional wisdom about Packard, one of the great American luxury car makers, two things are taken as truisms. One is that offering the so-called “junior” Packards in the 1930s, something like Buicks were to Cadillac and Mercurys were to Lincoln, what we might today call entry level luxury, fatally tainted the prestige of the brand, ultimately leading to its demise. The other is that Jim Nance, who ran Packard in its last years as an independent automaker, mismanaged the company into oblivion. Contrarian that yours truly is, I’m not sure either of those things are quite accurate.

1956 Packard Caribbean hardtop. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard Caribbean hardtop. Full gallery here.

The entry level Packards kept the company afloat until military contracts during World War II put it on good enough financial footing to have produced one of the first true postwar cars, Packard’s 1948 “bathtub” models, which sold very well that year. As for Nance, historians say that his ego prevented the merger of four independent automakers, Packard, Hudson, Nash and Studebaker that George Mason at Nash proposed, a conglomerate that could have competed with the Big 3. Also, he later agreed to a futile merger with Studebaker in 1954, a company whose financial situation by then turned out to be more dire than Packard’s. Packard wasn’t profitable but its balance sheet was still sound. Studebaker also wasn’t making money but it was in much worse financial shape.

1956 Packard 400. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard Four Hundred. Full gallery here.

After the merger, in fact an acquisition of Packard by Studebaker, while the 1955 and 1956 models were genuine Packards, made by the company in Detroit, by 1957, Packards were just rebadged and restyled (hideously so, in my opinion) Studebakers. Piscine looking contraptions that are actually collectible as “Packardbakers”. Hence the 1955 and 1956 Packards were the last true Packards and it was Nance who was responsible for them. They’re remarkable cars in a number of ways, worthy of the brand’s name, with advanced engineering features. Considering the company’s limited financial resources by then, Nance and his team did a great job. Frankly, considering their historical significance, their technical features and what I believe was a masterful styling job by Dick Teague, later to head AMC’s styling department, I’m shocked that with the exception of the Caribbean models, particularly the convertibles, 1955 and 1956 Packards sell for relatively low prices.

For the price of an unrestorable tri-five Chevy you can own real history.

For the price of an unrestorable tri-five Chevy you can own real history.

I know of a 100% complete barn find 1956 Packard Patrician, the top of the line for them that year, with just about all the available options including air conditioning and Packard’s Twin Ultramatic automatic gearbox. It’s a solid car with 100% of the parts that I could buy tomorrow if I had a spare $5,000. Five grand won’t even get you a restorable 1957 Chevy these days.

1955 Packard Caribbean convertible. Full gallery here.

1955 Packard Caribbean convertible. Full gallery here.

It’s true that following the introduction of the 1935 One Twenty models, which sold well, Packard’s managers neglected their true luxury line, allowing Cadillac to dominate the luxury market in the 1940s and early 1950s. Nance’s plan was to restore Packard’s prestige by splitting the company’s products into two lines, Packards and Clippers, reviving the latter brand name which had originally been used for a 1941 model. Though the cars were basically the same, Packards sat on longer wheelbases, had some unique features as standard equipment as well as unique options, and they had more elaborate exterior treatments with two and three tone paint jobs and lots of chrome and stainless steel trim.

1955 Packard 400, Full gallery here.

1955 Packard 400, Full gallery here.

Starting in 1949, when Cadillac introduced the first mass-produced high compression overhead valve V8 engine, every automaker tried to come up with a modern V8 to stay in the game. In 1953, Nance convinced the Packard board of directors to invest $20 million in a new motor. It wasn’t an easy task. For all their engineering prowess, Packard was a conservative company and it’s straight eight engines were outstanding designs. As good as the Packard straight eights were, they couldn’t compete in terms of power or prestige with Cadillac’s OHV V8. Bill Graves, Packards head engineer, was in charge of the V8 team, made of J.R. Ferguson, Bill Schwieder, and E.A. Weiss. The design of the V8 was conventional, following the practices at Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Studebaker, but it had industry leading power, with the 352 cubic inch version in the senior Packards producing 260 hp and 275 in the dual-carb Caribbeans.

1955 Clipper. When the Clipper was introduced it was not branded a Packard, to distinguish the more expensive cars. Full gallery here.

1955 Clipper. When the Clipper was introduced it was not branded a Packard, to distinguish the more expensive cars. Full gallery here.

To back up the new engine, Forest MacFarland and Herb Misch were in charge of the latest development of Packard’s own automatic transmission. Automatics were about as important for prestige cars as V8 engines were and it’s a tribute to Packard that they, among all of the independent automakers, were the only ones to develop their own automatic gearbox. Originally called the Ultramatic, the ’55 Packards were to get a new “Twin Ultramatic”. MacFarland was respected enough in his field that the SAE gives out an award named in his honor and Misch later had a distinguished career at Ford where before becoming head of engineering, he had a major role in the development of the first Mustang. Oh, and a guy named John Delorean also had a hand in the Ultramatic.

Clippers had "slipper" taillights. Full gallery here.

Clippers had substantially different taillights than Packards in 1955. Full gallery here.

The ’55 Packards were to have a modern powertrain, so that put them in the game. To make them stand proud of the competition, so to speak, Nance embraced a radical idea for the suspension, something branded as Torsion Level Suspension. It was originally invented by William Allison when at Hudson, but that company didn’t have the resources to fully develop it. Allison moved on to Packard and Nance gave the go-ahead to put the novel torsion bar based suspension on the 1955 senior Packards. I’ve been reading about the Torsion Level Suspension for years now, and I’m still not completely sure how it works, though both contemporary reports and today’s collectors say it indeed works, providing both a smooth ride over things like potholes and railroad tracks and better handling than the other cars of the day. In addition to all of the torsion bars, the system also was self-leveling, actuated by a solenoid activated electric motor. People would sit on the back bumper and be amazed as the car leveled itself. Though it had a seven second delay, one could call it an early example of active suspension.

For 1956, the Clipper got taillights similar to the Packards' "cathedral" style lamps. Full gallery here.

For 1956, the Clipper got taillights similar to the Packards’ “cathedral” style lamps. Full gallery here.

Rather than confuse you by trying to explain something I don’t understand, I’ll let Aaron Severson, the best online automotive historian there is, tell you how Torsion Level Suspension works. You can read his full history of the last Packards over at Ate Up With Motor.

Its main springs were a pair of long torsion bars, anchored at one end to the front suspension’s lower control arms, at the other to the rear suspension’s trailing arms. A second, shorter set of bars ran parallel to the main springs, anchored at one end to the rear suspension arms (sharing the same pivot axis as the main springs) and at the other to an electric compensator motor mounted on the frame’s central X member. There was also a front anti-roll bar, while the rear suspension used two stabilizing links for lateral location.

The interconnection of the front and rear suspension meant that bumps affecting the front wheels were transmitted to the rear axle and vice versa. Since the springs were not anchored directly to the frame, the ride had an odd, floaty quality, but unlike softly sprung conventional suspensions, it sacrificed little body control. Even with Torsion-Level, no Packard could really be called nimble, but cars with Allison’s suspension handled with admirable composure, not nearly as nautically as the ride motions implied.

The electric motor had two functions. First, it kept the body on an even keel; since the springs were not anchored to the frame, the body would come to rest in any position that balanced the preloading of the springs, rather than returning naturally to a level attitude. Second, the compensator provided automatic load leveling. If a heavy load were added to the trunk, for instance, the motor would crank the torsion bars until the car was again level. There was a seven-second delay to keep the system from overreacting to bumpy pavement and a cut-off switch was provided under the dash so that the compensator would not drain the battery with the engine off.


A simplified diagram of the Packard Torsion-Level suspension. The main springs (red) are long torsion bars connecting the front A-arms to the rear trailing arms; a set of compensator springs (green) share the same pivot axis (purple), connecting the rear trailing arms to the compensator motor (yellow). The rear does not have an anti-roll bar, but there are two lateral links to locate the rear axle. (diagram, Aaron Severson, referencing 1955 Packard press illustrations)

Packard even offered a limited slip differential. The company was so proud of the engineering features they even manufactured a number of fully assembled chassis without bodies for use as dealer showroom displays. All of that technology, though, wasn’t going to overcome a somewhat stodgy image. While the ’48s were innovative, that novelty wore off quickly and the new bodies designed for 1951 weren’t terribly well received by consumers, one reason for Packard’s financial situation. For the “all new” 1955 models, with so much money devoted to the new engine, transmission and suspension, Bill Schmidt’s design team was going to have to make do with the old body shell. What lead stylist Dick Teague came up with was so good that it’s hard to tell that they recycled. Not only that, but the design was contemporary and modern looking, not at all out of place with 1955-1957 cars from GM, Ford and Chrysler.

1953 Packard Balboa. Full gallery here

They had wraparound windshields, eggcrate grilles, hooded headlamps, “cathedral taillights” (Clippers had smaller “slipper” lights in back), and a continuous fender line running from front to back, elevating as it reaches the rather tall tail lamps, achieving the look of tail fins. By 1955 cars were getting lower so to make the tall 1951 body appear less so, ribbed chrome side moldings along the flanks visually lowered them. Also, by 1955 two door hardtop sedans were gaining popularity and for the first time the Patrician got a  true hardtop companion, the Four Hundred.

"Cathedral" taillights on a 1955 Packard Caribbean. Full gallery here.

“Cathedral” taillights on a 1955 Packard Caribbean. Full gallery here.

Sales nearly doubled from 1954, so the board approved a modest redesign for 1956. Most noticeable are longer “eyelids” over the headlights. There were also some mechanical improvements, and the board also approved the introduction of a Packard Executive model, above the Clippers but below the Patrician, Four Hundred and Caribbean. Engine displacements increased, as did power. The Patrician got a 374 CI engine that put out 290 hp. Again Packard led the industry with 310 horsepower in the Caribbean. The Twin Ultramatic got a optional push button control, a popular feature in the 1950s, now returning at some brands.

1956 Packard Executive. It combined a Packard front end with a Clipper rear end. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard Executive. It combined a Packard front end with a Clipper rear end. Full gallery here.

On paper the new Packards should have been great. Unfortunately they were compromised by quality control, mostly a result of moving production out of the old plant on East Grand Blvd, the one that’s featured in most ruin porn you see from Detroit, to a factory on Conner Ave where the company had started building their own bodies after their body supplier, Briggs, was bought out by Chrysler. Packard’s shrinking dealer network contributed to the quality issue. The Twin Ultramatic isn’t a great transmission, by TurboHydramatic standards, but it works well enough if it is maintained properly. The same is true about all the switches and solenoids used in the Torsion Level Suspension. Cars back then needed a lot of regular maintenance, with some tasks performed every 1,000 or 2,000 miles. Independent repair shops simply didn’t see enough Packards to learn how to maintain and repair them properly. The brand’s reputation suffered. By 1956, the word got out about quality and sales dropped to only 7,568 Packards and about 21,000 Clippers. It should be noted that ’55-’56 Packard enthusiasts point out that when properly maintained, their cars’ transmissions and suspensions work just fine.

1956 Packard dealer showroom display chassis. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard dealer showroom display chassis. Full gallery here.

In the summer of 1956 the Studebaker board stepped in and ended Packard production in Detroit. The death of Packard has been covered numerous times, from numerous angles, since 1958, but I didn’t want to dwell on the death of a great car company in this piece. Rather I wanted to show that while Packard went out of existence as a Detroit automaker, they went out on a high note. James Nance may have made some mistakes, but it was no mistake to make the last Packards automobiles worthy of the marque.

A nameplate after our Editor in Chief pro tem's own heart. "The Patrician".

A nameplate after our Editor in Chief pro tem’s own heart. “The Patrician”.

The cars pictured here were photographed at various Detroit area shows, including the Concours of America, the Orphan Car Show, Eyes On Design and shows at the Packard Proving Grounds.

*The History Channel says that the last Packard built in Detroit was assembled on June 25, 1956. Old Cars Weekly says that it was a few weeks later, August 15th.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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38 Comments on “The Last True Packards...”

  • avatar

    That Caribbean hardtop is stunning

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    What a great article Ronnie. I learn so much from reading your articles and all the articles on TTAC. It is good to have a website that is for the car enthusiast and not just for the manufacturers and dealers.

  • avatar

    These are cool cars.

    I can see why they aren’t super $$ collectibles now though.

    They don’t exactly fit in with the cars the Baby-boomers lusted after when they were young, and they were only around a short amount of time in these more appealing body styles.

    I would take a nice 2 door ht Packard over a similar vintage Ford or Chevy any day of the week. But I’m odd like that.

    • 0 avatar

      My dad bought a new “pregnant elephant” Packard sedan in 1950. I’m pretty sure that you had to be a bit odd to buy a new Packard even then. He knew several other guys who had Packards and afaik that was the only thing they had in common.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree with your market analysis, Poncho. I guess I’m happy my tastes are out of step with the market’s, as it makes something like a Chrysler 300K a relative bargain. Not a pretty car, but I’d rather have a nice banker’s express than a late-’60s muscle car.

      Sticking with the herd does get you better support vis-a-vis replacement parts, though. If your pockets are deep enough, I think you can build a virtually complete first-gen Mustang or Tri-Five Chevy from new parts.

      • 0 avatar

        I thought that Packards had strong club support, so parts availability isn’t as much of a problem as you’d think. But you have to know where to look, whereas you can’t go to a swap meet without tripping over a vendor dealing in Chevy or Mustang parts.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m with you. I’m selfishly hoping that when the guys who do own these cars move to the big farm in the sky people in my generation won’t take any interest in them and I can get some really cool rides for rock bottom prices. I can’t see anyone in my age group lusting after a 49 Cadillac 62 Sedanette or one of these Packards in the next 20 years. By then it will all be vintage Civics and Corollas that are the hot collector items…an of course I think the Muscle cars will still have some good value then, maybe not as much as with the Baby boomers buying them now.

        I think a full size 50’s or 60’s ride is a bargain now, and will continue to be in the future. A 300k is a sweet car if you know what it is, and lets face it, 99% of the public, car guys or not will have no idea of the heritage and image behind a car like that.

  • avatar

    Very informative and some very nice cars.

    It sure seemed that by the mid-1950s, all cars except for the big 3 appeared hopelessly dated, and they didn’t have adequate resources to fully modernize. New tech in an old style didn’t sell. Nowadays it might.

    Unfortunately, if I was to buy an old car, a Packard wouldn’t be one of them. Strictly Chevy for me.

  • avatar

    Packard must have come out of WW2 with a lot of cash, having built RR Merlins during the war. Too bad they didn’t replace their old flat head eight with a new double overhead cam straight eight, as did Jaguar with its superb straight six. The early ’50’s are still great looking cars. But, maybe the era of the small auto company was over, given what happened to Hudson, Nash, and Studebaker, not to mention similar companies in the U.K. like Rootes and Standard.

    • 0 avatar

      Packard came out of WWII decent on cash, pretty good on product, and severely wanting when it came to management. And all the killer mistakes were made in the last five years of the Forties.

      1. In 1946, when anything would sell, Packard put their money on the Clipper, a medium priced car, rather than going directly after Cadillac.

      2. The 48 redesign was just the 41-47 car with tons of clay slathered on. Packard, like most of the independents zigged in styling when GM zagged. We know who won that one.

      3. Nance did the best he could with what he had to follow. However, his ego was a factor, and his unwillingness to work with George Romney was a major factor in why American Motors was only formed out of two companies. Plus, for some reason, without doing accounting due diligence, the Packard board was determined to hook up with Studebaker, and was completely disinterested in a jointure with Nash and Hudson. Of all four manufacturers, only Nash was healthy in a GM sense.

      4. For years Packard had farmed out their body building to Briggs – another fatal mistake as the Forties wound down. Chrysler buys Briggs, and suddenly there’s nobody to build Packards, so they quickly had to learn how to do their own. Thus the quality control problems with the 55’s.

      5. The 1953 car war between Ford and Chevrolet was fatal to a lot of American manufacturers. All the independents were working on profit margins that were smaller than the big three, and when Ford and Chevy start stuffing the distribution channel, serious problems started. Plymouth was hurt in sales at this time almost as badly as the independents, although part of it was Chrysler’s leaving Plymouth as a low-end penalty box compared to the competition.

      6. Finally, there was supposed to be a 1957 Packard just as glorious as the preceding two years. Google “Packard Predictor” to see the show car that was supposed to be the basis of the Packard, with a separate design for the Clipper. The ‘Packardbakers’ were stopgaps to keep the dealers supplied until the new Packard could be developed, once the money was raised. Otherwise, lawsuits would have abounded as dealers suddenly found they had no cars to sell. Unfortunately, between 1956 and 1958, nobody wanted a Studebaker except for the incredibly cheap bastards who bought the Scotsman.

      What it finally came down to is that Packard gave up prestige almost completely in order to go after volume. And when they woke up that they needed to get the prestige back to compete, it was too late to try. Cadillac had that market sewed up.

      • 0 avatar

        All good points. I more or less avoided the postmortem angle in favor of concentrating on the ’55-’56 Packard cars.

        Thanks for mentioning the Predictor. I almost included it in this article. It’s even more impressive in person. The Predictor is on display at the Studebaker museum in South Bend.

        • 0 avatar
          Southern Perspective

          This is a great article about Packards from the ’50s. When I was a lad it was not unusual to see these at summer family reunions and other large gatherings.

          But that Packard Predictor, whew! Packard Predictor = Uber Edsel. That would not have worked!

          It is interesting to see who was looking over whose shoulder back in those days.

  • avatar

    Great article.

    I’d love to go for a ride in one and experience that suspension.

    “Cars back then needed a lot of regular maintenance, with some tasks performed every 1,000 or 2,000 miles.”

    They sure don’t make them like they used to.

    • 0 avatar
      Ralph ShpoilShport

      I owned a 56 Clipper Super for a short while and actually drove it to CA from Michigan, not without incident. I was pretty young to be discerning of luxury car ride and handling. It worked as advertised, though it did seem almost disconnected at times. There were a couple of good videos out there (with actors) detailing, then demonstrating the torsion level suspension. I used to have a link, but…

      Good comments from Syke, above. Also, my sources say that Clipper was an independent brand from Packard only in the 56 model year (YMMV).

  • avatar

    A ’48 Packard sedan is one of my favourite cars. Not exactly common over here unfortunately. They must have been sold here, my grandfather had one for a short time in the late 60s.

  • avatar

    The 1948-50 “vacuum cleaner” Packards were built to true Packard standards. I saw a fair number of them, always in black it seemed, running around well into the Sixties. The 1951-54 models were not so numerous, and the 1955-56 models were seldom seen.

  • avatar

    Wonderful piece, four stars.

  • avatar

    This is a great article, Ronnie.

    I would disagree somewhat with your assessment of James Nance. No doubt he was presented with a very difficult set of circumstances in the early 1950s, but he made some crucial mistakes. His decision to merge with Studebaker – which was really a buyout of Studebaker – without performing a real audit of Studebaker’s books was inexcusable. Packard was still reasonably healthy in 1954, but Studebaker’s inefficient factory, bloated workforce and unappealing product line simply dragged down the entire company. Studebaker was essentially bankrupt by early 1954.

    He also failed to effectively consolidate the merged companies. Studebaker-Packard simply didn’t have the volume to support two sets of administrative staffs, two factories or even two entirely different lines of cars.

    When Nash merged with Hudson, the former essentially shut down the latter. Under George Mason, and then George Romney after Mason’s sudden death in late 1954, Hudson’s factories were closed or sold, and the Stepdown Hudson and Jet were discontinued. Workers at the Detroit Hudson plants were laid off, although they were given the option of transferring to Kenosha (without any guarantee of seniority, so only a handful made the move).

    The 1955 Hudsons were rebodied Nashes and built in Kenosha at the Nash plant. AMC only used Hudson’s dealer network and a few key executives (Roy D. Chapin, Jr., for example).

    Brutal? Yes, but the lower cost structure enabled AMC to survive until Rambler sales took off in late 1957. Even more importantly, the actions by Mason and Romney showed potential lenders that AMC had a viable plan, and was willing to make the tough decisions necessary to implement it. They were thus willing to extend the credit necessary for AMC to survive.

    It was the opposite situation at Studebaker-Packard. The final blow to Packard was the decision of several insurance companies in early 1956 to not extend any additional credit to the company. This credit was needed by the company to stay afloat and roll out Nance’s planned 1957 line. Unfortunately, without these funds, the company faced bankruptcy by the middle of 1956.

    It didn’t help that Packard sales essentially collapsed in early 1956. Granted, it was down market that year, after record-setting 1955, but Packard simply didn’t have the volume to withstand a drop in sales of that magnitude.

    • 0 avatar

      The merge wasn’t Nance’s fault, it was the board of directors. They got it into their heads that they had to merge with Studebaker, and nothing was going to change that. Nance had to live and work with the results.

      • 0 avatar

        Nance was in favor of the merger with Studebaker. He thought it would be step one of a complete consolidation of the independents.

        Studebaker, however, was so sick by early 1954 that it may very well have dragged down even a Hudson-Nash-Packard-Studebaker combination.

  • avatar

    Awesome, always love to read an article about my favorite make. Where’s that barn holding that Patrician? I’m there! Part of the appeal to me is the affordability of the post war Packards and the fact they’re not something most people have seen.

  • avatar

    Sorry – the last true Packard was 1941.
    Amazing that Packard which had major finances as a result of Packard engines and Merlin license built engines collapsed so rapidly after WWII.
    Our family car was a well used 39 Packard 120. Post war, 46 – 50 Packards were not interesting cars compared to Oldsmobile and Cadillac.

  • avatar

    Love these to death. Amazingly there are still 3 or 4 of these on the road here in Vegas, I keep seeing them and momentarily wondering if I’ve suddenly been transported to Havana.

  • avatar

    Packard basically started the badge engineering process with the 1935 introduction of the 120 model. The 115 six cylinder introduced in 1937 was the same car with two cylinders and a small bit of wheelbase chopped off, while the senior Packards increasingly were sharing engineering and styling with the junior models as the years went by. Trying to sell prestige models at prestige prices when they only differ from the mass market models through some extra chrome and nicer interior materials becomes difficult – it is obvious that the 1955 Clipper and Patrician are the same basic car with just a glance, yet the price difference was very substantial. In more recent decades Cadillac and Lincoln have suffered the same fate by sharing platforms, engines, gearboxes, and in many cases styling with mass market Chevy and Fords, and as a consequence the brands have no prestige to anyone less than 70 years old.

    • 0 avatar

      Ronnie, has brought up a point that has come up often recently here at TTAC, the off brands are where the bargains are, even for classics. A little sad to think of Packard as a off brand, but really do you really want to check out another ’57 Chevy?

  • avatar

    There were a couple of Packard’s in my youth, the earliest a 37′ ‘Twelve’ Coupe roadster, but in line with the article, my second Packard experience was a 56′ Packard ‘Caribbean’ with the Corsican Black and Shannon
    Green or as I called it Caribbean Sea Green paint, still one of my favorite colors and the colors I have used for years for trim on my sailboats. It also had the Dual-Four Barrel engine.
    I was introduced to this magnificent rolling piece of automotive Americana when I went to spend my sixteenth Summer with my Uncle in Sonora, California. My uncle picked me up in Puyallup, Washington, but before we could head South we had to rebuild and install the differential in the Tri-Powered 348″ 60′ Impala. Those old Chevy rear ends were not designed for the abuse mete out by the torque the 348′ sent downstream by a 4-gear.
    On the road South, old ’99’, as I-5 mostly didn’t exist yet, there were many Impala on the road adventures, but onto the Packard. My uncles wife owned the beautiful Caribbean, her dad had bought it new and it was still, as new in 1963. We would use it to go into town and cruise ’49’ through town. As you mention in your article, the Packard had the Torsion Level Suspension. On cruise nights we would drive through town with the TLS off and nearly sitting on the ground, its ‘pre-load’ nearly completely backed off. At the end of town a couple of us would climb on the back or front bumper, my aunt would switch the system on and the unloaded end of the car would rise up, as the loaded end started to rise, my aunt would switch the system off.

    If we had loaded the rear, the rear would be down low and the front high for and ‘Altered’ look. If we loaded the front, the front would stay low and the rear high for a ‘Raked’ or Dago look. At each end of town we would change the attitude of the car. Most people couldn’t figure how the attitude of the Packard changed so dramatically.

    Since the Packard had its attractive paint scheme(modified by her dad to all Black below(with no white belt) above, to the sill line, the Shannon Green, with a Black roof and bright chrome Kelsey Hayes wires, it was a looker, but my aunt who looked just like Kim Novak was the real looker, She and the car never failed to get a hoots & hollers whenever we were in town on Friday or Saturday night. Other times, following her around town into the various shops was like witnessing a force of nature, men and women alike were affected by her beauty and physicality. My uncle and her, met on a movie set where both played extras or doubles. He was nearly her equal in the looks department.

    It was a fun Summer for a Sixteen year old, filled with Hot Rods, dances at Twain Harte, hidden swimming holes, gold dredging on the Tuolumne River, the pristine environment of the Sierra Nevada’s, with adventures in Yosemite, Calaveras, Stanislaus, mountain road adventures with a Land Rover and a Scout, learning to weld, and my uncle’s shop where he built some of the fastest cars in Cali, and where his friends with their fast cars and motors(bikes) hung out. Fun, indeed.

    Ronnie, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    PS! There are quite a few fifties Packard’s in the Southern Oregon area.

  • avatar

    Initial article increased my appreciation of Packards. This response brings them to life. Thanks to both authors.

  • avatar

    Great article and pictures, thanks!

    The Packard Museum is in Dayton, OH. It is well worth a visit, with a very friendly and knowledgeable tour guide, and cheap admission, less than $10. Highly recommended. They have examples from the early years up through 57, as well as some of the WWII engines.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Reading the article and the comments gives me a greater appreciation for Packards which I knew something of but I was more familiar with the large ones of the 30s. My father had a 1958 Studebaker Champion which was one of the cheapest and poorly make cars I can remember. My favorite Studebakers were the Golden Hawks and Avantes. Growing up my parents had several Chrysler products and GM products but none of them compared to the Packards that are shown in this article which are beautiful and works of art. I hope that these cars are not lost to future generations.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the great article!
    I always wondered what happened to Packard and you helped fill out a few holes in my knowledge. Well Done!
    The comments were really great,too, the way everyone added in a little of their own Packard knowledge and experiences.
    A good read, and that’s high praise from an old curmudgeon like me!

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Happy 4th Americans. In the early 1970’s as a poor Apprentice I was given a 1953 Packard. A non runner with rotten sills I managed to get it running well and I would like to point out that it was an automatic. i am sure Packard was selling auto trans cars as far back as 1952.Packard’s trans was amazing ,because the big flathead eight was so quiet when running you only had a slight sensation of it changing into second .
    Mine had belonged originally to a wealthy brewer in New Zealand,Sir Henry Kelliher. The registration papers had been filled out in his own hand,a rather lovely copperplate cursive style.
    The glove box was massive drawer which would not have looked out of place on an antique dresser .
    After I spent some time welding in new panels I had to move house,so I passed it on to another owner. never to be seen again….

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @justdave–Is that the building near downtown Dayton that has the Packard sign and has a showroom full of old Packards? I am in Dayton a few times a year and pass by that building. I will have to visit it.

    • 0 avatar

      That is the one. When I was there, the tour guide was a retired Packard guy, really nice and knew a lot about the cars. It was a fun & interesting tour.

  • avatar

    Didn’t somebody try to revive the company awhile back?

  • avatar

    I’ve got a ’56 Caribbean convertible for sale. :)

  • avatar

    Excellent summary, and one of the first entirely fair assessment to the cars themselves I have read that is completely free of big 3 bias. One small correction: all Detroit operations of the Studebaker-Packard Corporation (=Packard) were ordered shut by the officials at The Curtis-Wright Corporation, who were the new owners of S-P after the company went broke in mid-1956. They were active on the Studebaker board, but they were running everything. Curtis-Wright was a huge defense contractor making impressive profits in missile and aircraft contracting to the military, and they needed a tax write-off, at least for the time being. To be sure, and as other respondents have clarified, Packard bought Studebaker. Mason’s death was the end of the 4-independent brand AMC idea, Romney did not share Mason’s inclusion of Studebaker and Packard, personalities aside.

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