At a recent classic car show, the lone Packard on display was a beautifully restored 1949 Packard Super Eight Victoria convertible. It was truly a sight to behold, in absolute Concours condition. However, isn’t it always more delightful to spot a true classic in the wild, even if it’s a little rough around the edges? I was far more impressed by this Packard I spotted in Colonia Roma Norte in Mexico City, which I believe is a 1950 Eight Touring Sedan.
Forgive me if I’ve gotten the year wrong. I must confess, my knowledge of 1950s cars is limited. After all, this Packard was manufactured before either of my parents were born.
The hood ornament appears to be the giveaway in identifying this Packard – the Eight had this jet plane-style “Goddess of Speed” ornament, while the more prestigious Super and Custom models had elaborate cormorant ornaments.
The previous year was noteworthy for Packard in that it was the first year their new, in-house Ultramatic auto transmission was introduced, the first in-house automatic of any of the independents. Initially available only on high-end Packards, by 1950 it was an option across the entire line.
By 1950, the post-war sellers’ market was beginning to slow, particularly for mid-priced and luxury vehicles, and Packard’s cars were looking very out-of-date. It didn’t help that a raft of domestic lines had received extensive redesigns the year before while Packard was stuck with a 1941-vintage “bathtub” body. Packard dealers had bristled that a new design was taking so long and that their lots were being choked with unsold stock, buyers responding to the dated Packard line with apathy.
In a market that was becoming increasingly hungry for annual styling changes, the ’50 Packard was an anachronism. Sales skidded down by around 20k units in 1950. Even in the face of sagging sales, the president of Packard, George Christopher, announced the ’51 Packard would be yet another subtle refresh of the ageing bathtub body. There was a palace coup. As the decade drew to a close, Skinflint Christopher was out and Hugh Ferry was in. The anti-Christopher contingent within Packard saw the investment in a new body as being a much more prudent use of capital – of which Packard still had a bit to play with – than Christopher’s emergency price cuts and loans to struggling dealers.
An entirely new, more modern, and rather fetching body was introduced for 1951. Sadly, Packard’s financial situation was becoming increasingly precarious and the ’51 ended up being the last new vehicle designed by Packard.
Cohort Outtake: 1948 Packard Station Sedan: How Not To Do A Woody Wagon
Curbside Classic: 1951 Packard 200 (And Packard History) – Falling Down(Market)
While not optimum Packard, seeing any Packard on the street is a delight. Especially when it’s black; many Packards look much more authoritative in black.
The styling of these is definitely an acquired taste and, try as I might, I have not acquired it yet. These aren’t terrible, but they just don’t speak as loudly. Still wouldn’t boot one out of the garage though.
There is a local guy with a ’53 Packard and he drives it frequently. He’s been slowing refurbishing it so earlier this winter I’d see that Packard with no grille or bumpers driving around town. It was a great site to see!
CC effect: I’ve seen what appears to be a 1951 Packard sedan a couple of times on the street. However, it’s much more of a ‘rat-rod’ effort with a primered body, grille, bumpers, and other hot-rod touches (the requisite loud exhaust and all).
Looking at it with 20/20 hindsight, the 1951 Packard looked imitative of GM’s midpriced lines, or even the Chevrolet. It looks down-market compared to what Packards were supposed to be, even if it didn’t look stodgy as the bathtub style may have.
Everyone else was catching up to the Packard. The 1941 Packard Clipper was the style leader of its day. This Packard is built on its bones.
The Packard cormorant hood ornament has to be one of the greatest of all time. Right up there with Rolls flying lady and the Jags Jaguar. This is an ornamentation that seems to come and go throughout the years, as if stylists can’t decide to include them or not. We might currently be in an ebb period, as Mercedes has deleted the iconic three pointed star on the C class. I always liked them, from my days as a toddler when I admired the light up Indian on the hood of dad’s 1953 Pontiac.
This looks almost exactly the same as the last Packard I saw in the wild, which was almost a decade ago. It just showed up in a driveway a half mile from home. It was there for about two months, then disappeared.
This generation of Packard looks right only as a convertible with the top down, which somehow makes the bulbous “bathtub” contours look right. This car’s styling of course was the unhappy result of filling in the space between the original pontoon fenders it had in 1941. Packard had the bad luck of introducing what was then an attractive and up-to-the-minute new look just before the war shut down production for four years.
The limousine also doesn’t look too bad in my opinion – the extra length helps.
The independents were always one mistake or misfortune away from going belly-up, and Packard was no exception. With them, it was one of each.
The first was coming out with their new 1941 models just a few months before the US’ entry into WW2, shutting down production so that, after the war ended, when production resumed, those previous new cars were old news and never had a chance. The second was, after the war, instead of putting funds towards improving their bread-and-butter senior cars, coming out with the down-market Clipper.
It was all downhill after that, and only a matter of time before they would succumb. Merging with the financial black-hole that Studebaker had become sealed their fate.
A shame as Packard was the last of the three ‘P’s of the truly classic era of the zenith of world-class American cars: Pierce-Arrow, Peerless, and Packard.
A Peerless would be quite a curbside find. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one even at a show.
Apparently they (Peerless) went downmarket with bought-in engines not long after WWI, so their reign at or near the top was pretty short. I expect they wold be no better remembered than Stevens-Duryea or Locomobile if it weren’t for the “Three P’s” meme.
Packard really did blow a huge opportunity after World War II, when there was an extremely strong sellers market. They should have stuck with the top-end cars, load them up with everything they had, and sell them at Cadillac prices. Packard could have sold every car they made regardless of the price and they could have used the profits to develop all-new cars for 1949-1950. Plus they would have gone a long way in undoing the prewar damage to the marque’s reputation caused by the cheap Eights and Sixes to re-establish themselves as a true prestige make.
Packard’s postwar decision is a puzzler, that’s for sure. What’s worse is you would have thought there would have been precedent for a pent-up demand for new cars (even top-tier luxury models) after WW1, what with the Roaring Twenties and all.
And, yet, instead of concentrating on producing the models where there was the most profit, Packard, instead, immediately went with a lower-profit, new model. It might not be up to the level of Chrysler’s 1962 downsizing but it’s close. Even worse is the merger with Studebaker.
Like I said, a small mistake by an independent is exponentially worse than one done by the Big 3. But a big mistake like not capitalizing on the booming WW2 postwar economy? That’s a killer.
To me the biggest mistake was deciding to go with the “pregnant elephant” or bathtub design (which seemed to be popular for a brief period between 1946-1948 – sort of) rather than doing the sensible thing which was to gently update the 42 design. That was still fresh in 1946 and really did not need much to bring up to date. These cars were, to put it mildly, ungainly (particularly when compared with the 42s – see below), and the public noticed.
On top of everything else, there’s the Briggs Manufacturing fiasco when Packard decided it would be cheaper to contract the building of their car bodies to Briggs in 1941. As it turned out, it actually cost ‘more’ to have Briggs build the bodies and it would really hurt when Chrysler bought Briggs in 1953 and left Packard without a way to get car bodies.
There’s a Packard museum in Ft Lauderdale which I visited in April of last year. My favorite was the woody wagon.
While the Reinhart designed ’51 “high pockets” body was the last total re-design, the Teague re-do in ’55 almost qualifies as one, and given what he had to work with, he pulled off a near miracle in producing the new look. Have owned several Packards, the ’55/6s, as impressive as they looked, were not up to snuff in the quality dependability realm, unlike the “bathtubs’ and the uber-classy ’41-47 Clippers, which, although very conservative, were beautifully built and bulletproof in the long-standing Packard tradition. The 51 – 54 “high pockets” cars were too, and although not exciting, they maintained the tradition, even the early UltraMatic was good, unlike the “improved” version of 55-56, well known among we Packardiistas as UltraTraumatic. Furthermore, the trouble prone 4 wheel electric leveling suspension and major V8 oil starvation problems didn’t help much either as the company was swirling the drain,and the money for proper fixes came too late. I finally found a dependable ’56, a stripper Clipper with 3 spd column shift and no electric suspension But those last few years are a story for another time! Meanwhile the “bathtubs” were still every bit a Packard!
A beautiful morning, just nicely refreshing after a hot night. Just been out to water the plants before the sun burns them – another mid-high thirties Celsius day coming up. Ah, the Australian summer! Come inside, sit down with a cup of coffee, find a CA about Packards – and this ’50 was made made before either of the author’s parents were born!
Suddenly I feel old.
Seriously, a good find and a great read. At first I thought it was from my neck of the woods, as the background cars are familiar and the eight digit phone numbers on the shop behind beginning 52- are local to my area. But back to the car.
Although the basic ’41 body hiding under there was a great looker and possibly the sleekest of the ’41s, by ’50 it was noticeably taller than other new prestige cars. That would not necessarily be a bad thing for ease of entry and exit in a dignified manner, but the rest of the styling would have to ‘hide’ the height somehow. On this Packard it didn’t. Looking at some of the brochure illustrations, it seems Packard was painfully aware of this, as some of the cars there look like they’ve been sectioned to thin down the body lines – the Super Eight Touring and Club sedans especially. In fact, all of the cars there look sleeker than the real thing. What a shame.
Teehee, no question that those ’50 Packard ad drawings would be smartly withdrawn today before the appropriate regulator took action for misleading and deceptive conduct. They barely resemble the real thing at all!
Packard would do this again with the ’55-’56 models which were drawn with lower beltlines and taller glass in the advertising than they really had.
The complete ‘bathtub’ 22nd-23rd Series interlude is one of management turmoil. A synopsis of what happened: To set the record straight, President George Christopher didn’t insist on continuing this body into the 1951 model year. Work on the John Reinhart designed 1951 24th Series began in early 1948, Christopher fully aware of the progress as it took place.
Where the showdown between the BoD and Christopher was his rigid insistence that 150K units of each series be built to amortize the tooling before changing to the new 24th Series. This rigid schedule clashed with softening demand for the 22nd Series resulted in 13K unsold 22nd cars at the time of 23rd Series model change which was delayed until May 1949. All this time, a production rate was maintained in an effort to stay above the breakeven point. Leftover cars were re-numbered to the next model year to keep them current. Worst of all, three million was allotted to help dealers clear unsold inventory, affectively wiping out any profit and suppressing new model sales by displacing them with heavily discounted, largely unchanged cars.
As the unsold inventory of 1949 22nd plus 1949 23rd grew, a Consulting Committee of Executives was formed to advise the BoD, circumventing Christopher’s authority. It came to a head in September 1949 BoD meeting at which Christopher was given the opportunity to resign or be fired.
All this takes nothing away from the cars which were mechanically bullet-proof, solid, well-built if out-of-style machines. Because of these attributes and the high numbers built, cars such as this preserved original are not hard to find. Good examples abound at reasonable prices, a true hidden collector car value for those who can appreciate the styling. Apparently the owner likes the 1951-’52 200 Series hood ornament better as that is what is mounted.
A beautiful old car that has aged gracefully and still maintains, to this day, a presence that many other cars do not have. Though not restored to showroom condition, it still exemplifies the Packard slogan – “Ask the man who owns one.”
My father and I tried out a 1950 Packard Sedan for a possible hobby/restore car. It was in too rough shape for a restore and I found it kind of homely. But when it came to opening and closing the doors and the quiet dignified ride, I would put it up against a Rolls Royce in a heartbeat.
We did have an elderly person in my hometown with one this series with the angled B pillars. I actually liked how it looked. And it was sort of his daily driver. In black. I saw it fairly often in the Summer but was never around in the Winter. I have no idea what happened to that car.
Certainly a car for the more portly buyer who is uninterested in dieting, as he’ll instantly lose an apparent 50 pounds just by standing next to his new vehicle.
It’s true they lack the fine beauty of the ’41-47 Clippers, but then, those are about the best US lookers of that entire decade.
So I understand the less favourable opinions of these Packards, but they have huge appeal to me. The tubbiness, the horizontal chromed bars reaching around the front corners (and rear), the rather delicate glasshouse, the inset wheels, it could easily be a deco locomotive, with all of the power and might that implies. The solidity and permanence of something expensive. It seems unsurprising to see one like this in 2018, merely 68 years used rather than recently restored.
Well, you don’t just throw this sort of classy stuff out, do you?
What a lovely find. Its like seeing an old man in full suit, tie and hat sitting among the more casually dressed moderns.
I never managed to pin down just when, but this was always the Packard that I imagined my grandfather driving home, resulting in a dressing down from my grandmother once he got there. “Nobody drives Packards”, as my father related the story. Me? I like it. It was stodgy and stuffy and solid as a rock. And was there ever a more heroic job done by artwork in trying to make the blobby thing look appealing? My goodness, the cars in that poster look nothing like the real ones.
I can only imagine how uncomfortable a black un-air conditioned Packard would be in Mexico City.
Interesting article and comments. The California Auto Museum currently has a nice looking one for sale. https://www.camcarsales.com/1949_Packard_Deluxe_Sacramento_CA_25058816.veh