Auction Classic: 1958 Packard Station Wagon – The OG Escalade?

If the 1958 Studebaker Scotsman wagon from last week was all about honest basic transportation, then its platform mate 1958 Packard Station Wagon is all about faking it until you make it. As luck would have it, they were both conveniently parked next to each other at the auction of Studebaker collector/hoarder Ron Hackenberger last summer for easy comparison.

As readers of this site should know, after Packard and Studebaker merged in 1956, all of Packard’s pre-merger production was shut down to quickly contain costs. All models from Packard’s final two years (1957 and 58) were just tarted up Studebakers. I’ve heard it said that the ’57 and ’58 Packards were produced only fulfill franchise obligations with Packard dealerships, and that producing these warmed over Studes was cheaper than litigation. Whether or not that is true, these final Packards certainly must have made the remaining dealers question their decision to stay with the brand.

While the Scotsman wagon started out at $1,995 ($17,600 in 2018), the 1958 Packard wagon started out at $3,384 (about $30,000 in 2018), a price difference of 70%. This got you a decent amount of standard equipment, including the “Flightomatic” automatic transmission, a 225 HP (gross) 289 cu. in. V8, and power brakes (but not power steering). Throw in a few options that we would now consider essential, like power steering ($68.86), power windows ($102.60), third-row seat ($101.68), a radio ($79.90) and air conditioning ($325) and you are easily looking at over four grand ($35,200 in 2018) for what is essentially a nicely trimmed and well-equipped Studebaker.

 

The 1958 Studebakers and Packards were rightly criticized for the feeble efforts to dress up their aging platform. For starters, was anyone really fooled by these stick on tail fins? Packard’s famed “Cathedral” taillights never looked so sad as they do in this application.

 

Equally heinous were the clumsy “pods” used to convert the single headlight fenders to dual headlights. I’m hard pressed to think of a more half-assed restyling job. As several commenters pointed out on the Scotsman CC, the 1958 Studebaker Scotsman was actually the only model not to receive the quad headlight pods and fake fins, which may have actually helped boost their sales (but definitely boosted their appearance).

Although it is hard to tell here, the interior accommodations of the Packard were a considerable upgrade from the Studebaker. This model is equipped with the dealer/factory installed air conditioning system. It was the same hang-on system either way, as Studebaker lacked the resources to make a proper integrated A/C system. In any case, A/C would have marked this as being a true luxury wagon in 1958.

 

Studebaker’s stalwart OHV 289 cu. in. V8 does duty here as the only available engine. Note the enormous period A/C compressor.


So what we have here is a basic family vehicle, dressed up and presented as a luxury vehicle. Sound familiar? It should.

That is the basic recipe of the 1998 Cadillac Escalade.

Luxury wagons weren’t really a thing in 1958. Other than some coach-build customs and factory one-offs, Lincoln, Cadillac, and Imperial did not make wagons, even though they all had access to the tooling and bodies of lesser branded wagons and could easily have made one. The most expensive GM wagon in 1958 was the Buick Century, priced at $3,831, 0r about 13% more expensive than the Packard ($3,384). The Mercury Colony Park listed at $3,775. And a Chrysler New Yorker Town & Country went for a lofty $4,871, which was well into the luxury price bracket in 1958.

Packard did sell wagons up until 1950, but those were wood-trimmed models with astronomical prices that were aimed more for resort and country club duty than at mom and dad. These early bespoke Packard wagons also don’t quite fit the Escalade model of dressing up a model from a lesser make.

Unfortunately for Packard, the market of the late 50’s was quite different from that of the late 90’s, and the world was not quite ready to embrace a luxury family hauler. While there are a variety of socio-economic reasons for this (everything from 91% top marginal tax rate and its associated income compression to the fact that conspicuous consumption was not as celebrated then like it is now), I’m going to focus on kids. Yes, children.

Lets make one thing abundantly clear: Children are destructive and messy, as any parent will attest. They spill things, they break things, and they get car sick. I still recall as a little boy opening an umbrella (the old school kind with a metal point) inside my Dad’s 1971 Galaxie 500 and ripping the headliner. On another occasion, I can remember getting into a “tug of war” with the power windows of the same car, raising the window while simultaneously pushing down on the glass to see who would win. It was a battle for the ages, and that window always worked a little slower thereafter.

Back in the ’50s, before being imprisoned into car seats and booster seats, children were free to roam around the cabin. And without video screens or iPods to sedate them, bored kids will get into anything they can find. Indeed, I would argue that these two innovations (safety seats and electronic entertainment) are what make the modern luxury SUV possible.

But anyone who considered a luxury family hauler in the 1950’s likely had more money than sense. The sales numbers back this up: While the Studebaker Scotsman wagon sold in the thousands, only 119 Packard Station Wagons found a home in 1958. Of course Packard was moribund in 1958, and everyone knew it.

Despite being in somewhat rougher shape than the Scotsman wagon, this Packard wagon ended up fetching $5,500.  But with only 119 Packard wagons made in 1958, you are unlikely to find another one.

Related Reading

Curbside Classic: 1958 Packard Hardtop – The Last Gasp

CC Follow-Up: 1958 Packard Hardtop – I’m Still Here