In the months before the 1928 U. S. presidential election, Herbert Hoover’s campaign slogan was “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Even at the peak of the decade known as the roaring twenties, it is not likely that the cars that Hoover was referring to were Packards. But as the great depression settled into the 1930s, Packard management must have remembered the slogan, and asked “why not a Packard in every garage?” This car was the result.
In 1937, it seemed to all be about price. The bottom had fallen out of the economy in 1930 and remained in a free fall though 1933. With the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, a wave of optimism swept the country as everyone expected a swift return to prosperity. But much like in recent years (on a smaller scale), the first six years of the Roosevelt administration were more successful in theory than in actuality.
The depression lingered for a long while, and by 1937, many venerable auto manufacturers were dead or dying, particularly those who sold to the upper crust. Pierce was gone, as were Stutz and Marmon. E. L. Cord’s empire of Auburn, Cord and Dusenberg was still dribbling a few cars out the doors, but was about to lose consciousness for good. Luxury car makers that remained were part of a bigger company, like Cadillac and Lincoln. Except for Packard.
In the 1910s, Packard (along with Pierce and Peerless) was one of the famous “Three Ps” of luxury cars. The 1916 Packard Twin Six started the cylinder race that eventually resulted in V-16s from Cadillac and Marmon. But the 1930s, with its depressed economy and new sky-high income tax rates on the wealthy, saw fewer and fewer people engaging in such conspicuous consumption as the purchase of a Packard.
Few readers younger than, maybe ninety, have a firsthand idea of how prestigious the Packard name was in the 1930s. Packards were built with the best of engineering, virtually handcrafted, and were sold to old money. But this market all but disappeared during the ’30s and for Packard, it was adapt or die. So, in 1935 (after a couple of half-steps), Packard expanded its reach to the upper end of the medium priced market with the very successful Packard 120. Two years later, Packard went still further downmarket with this car: the Packard Six.
The development of these cars received extensive treatment by Aaron Severson in his piece at Ate Up With Motor (here), so there is no need to cover that ground again. Let’s just say that the old-school Packard of 1927 under the patrician Alvin MacCauley was a very different company from the Packard of 1937 where a former Buick man experienced in volume production named George Christopher was poised to take over.
The received wisdom whenever discussing Packard is that the introduction of junior models in the 1930s set in motion the company’s eventual downfall two decades hence. Sometimes conventional wisdom is conventional because it is true. But not always.
The new 1937 Packard Six started at $795. Although this price class was unheard of for Packard, this was not a cheap car. Instead, this was a six cylinder car on a fairly compact 115 inch wheelbase that sold for about the same price of an entry level Buick Special ($765). Only the Buick gave you eight cylinders and a 122 inch wheelbase. The $100-150 premium over most mid-price sixes like Oldsmobile or Studebaker was not an insignificant amount in 1937, when one of the low-priced three could still be had for under $500.
In short, you were getting a car comparable to a higher-level Pontiac or Dodge and were paying Buick prices for it. But you were not buying a car. You were buying a Packard, and everyone understood that a Packard was going to cost you more. Because it was a Packard.
This car is best understood as the 1930s analog to the modern Lexus 350 series. The small Lexus is not an inexpensive car. Instead, it compares with a lot of very good but less expensive cars in all but one attribute: the quality (real or perceived) of the Lexus name, along with the benefit of sales and service from the Lexus dealer.
We talk a lot today about branding. Some of us (myself included) sometimes wax poetic about the genius of Alfred Sloan’s carefully constructed divisional structure at GM that provided “a car for every purse and purpose.” But in this instance, Packard’s reach downward with this car (and the eight cylinder 120) probably killed GM’s LaSalle (starting at $995 in 1937), despite the brand being jointly advertised with Cadillacs. In truth, the Packard Six probably also stole a significant number of sales from Buick and Chrysler.
And it all worked because there were still the senior models in the same catalogs selling for big bucks to Packard’s traditional customers. Packard’s 1937 Super Eight (CC here) cost $2,450, and the Twelve was higher yet. The Six was not a strippo senior car, either. Instead, it shared almost nothing with the larger series beyond its looks and its famous name. Packard’s 1930s approach still works today for Lexus, where the 460 series makes deposits to the bank of brand equity that the less costly (and very different) smaller models cash in on.
Packard’s demise is a story for another day. But I think it is safe to say that without the Packard 120 and the Packard Six, the company would have been out of business well before the onset of the Second World War.
In the area around my neighborhood, there is a supermarket, a mexican restaraunt and a McDonalds. Those three parking lots have provided a disproportionate number of my Curbside Classic finds. This little gem was sitting in the McDonalds parking lot as I passed it one Sunday last fall. It seems appropriate that I should find the mass market Packard in the place for mass market food.
I believe that I used to know the owner of this car, although I have lost touch with him and he may have sold it by now. I did not have a chance to find out, because Mrs. JPC and I were on our way somewhere at the time. If the car had been less special than this one, I would not have taken the time that day to stop. But how could I NOT have stopped for a Packard. With more time to spare, I might have gone inside and asked the man who owns one: “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?” I suspect that the answer would be “Of course not. Who would choose a Buick when you can have a Packard.”
I must say that the styling on this baby Packard uses all of the traditional styling cues from its big brothers to maximum effect. This car looks every inch a Packard, and most people my age or younger would have no idea that this was the value leader of the line. I do not know if the paint is original, but the silver color gives a car of this era a very expensive look. Top to bottom, I find this to be a very tasteful and dignified car, which is no doubt where the stylists were headed.
So, back to the question. Did the Packard Six begin the company’s long, slow death that concluded two decades later? Ever the contrarian, I must vote “no.” My verdict is that with the Six, Packard provided a well-engineered, well-built car that was very expensive for what it was, and kept the company in business through the 1940s, so that it could make fatal mistakes with its high-end cars. But that is a story for another Curbside Classic.
“So, back to the question. Did the Packard Six begin the company’s long, slow death that concluded two decades later? ”
I have to vote yes. Though this does not mean Packard management made a mistake. Staying alive is always better than going out of business.
Taking a prestige brand down-market often works to boost sales – for a while. Despite being a smaller car, it was still a move up in prestige. But after the war, Packard was in a new niche. It’s old niche was something akin the the American Rolls Royce. In it’s new market position, it wasn’t even the equivalent of Cadillac. It was now competing with entry level luxury brands, but it didn’t have the resources of GM, Ford, or even Chrysler. It couldn’t stay competitive. It lost it’s former prestige, and for good reason – it was now competing with Buick, but couldn’t make as good a car as Buick. The Six is as good a car as any to mark the beginning of the long slow death.
The comparison with Lexus is apt – paying for a name. A Toyota is as well built as a Lexus, and the upper end Toyotas have (almost) all the luxury of a Lexus. Granted, the dealership experience is different (despite many Toyo/Lexus dealers being, in reality, one big dealership with two buildings) but who really wants to spend time at the dealer?
Well, aside from Lexus, there’s also Mercedes, which might be a similarly apt analogy here. In Europe, even Mercedes has been going after the C-segment (Focus/Civic/Astra) market with the A- and B-class. (BMW and Audi had already done so.)
I would say that engineering standards for the first LS400 were higher than for a normal Toyota, I am not sure how much that has has stayed around in the 20 years since, or is applicable with the models on shared platforms.
I say ‘no’ – having the 120 and then the six/110 was a wise move to add volume and capital to Packard. What started Packard’s decline was after the war and the ill fated attempt by George Christopher to try to bank on volume (which was hard to do with shortages of sheet metal, and so on); Christopher scheduled production of less protifiable junior Clippers when he should’ve scheduled for more profitable senior Packards – cars that had a greater profit margin.
The slide went from second to third gear when Christopher insisted (and got) a mild rehash ot the “pregnant elephant” for MY 1950. The plan was to limp through 1951 with more of the same, but the board knew John Reinhardt’s design was in the wings and chose to develop that style – and shit-can Christopher (who was a profane, cantankerous man who didn’t blend in well with the patrician, reserved, conversative executives and department heads at Packard).
The Packard slide went into overdrive after James Nance took over with the ill-fated acquisition of Studebaker, who either deliberately or through ignorance, cooked their books at the merger (and the Packard board’s grave error in not ordering an audit). From there it was shitsville.
I think it would’ve been conceiveable to have phased out the six for postwar production and concentrated on high-medium priced cars and above.
Cadillac was able to avoid a similar fate at the time by “walking” back their “cheaper” cars to concentrate on higher lines. Most are familiar with the LaSalle story, but Cadillac had the Series 61 eliminated by the time the 51 Packards ready. Of course GM didn’t need low priced Caddies as much as Caddy dealers, as Buick and Olds held the middle well. Packard had no separate “Buick” division and the attempt at making “Clipper” kinda sorta just that failed as the name was applied to real Packard before, diminishing Packard further.
I do not think it is much of a stretch to say that this car helped win World War II.
Here’s why: I kept Packard afloat until the war started. Then, Packard became a vital manufacturer of quality engines for PT boats, P-51 Mustangs, and many other applications. They perfected mass production of the Merlin engine which made the P-51 Mustang the dominant fighter of WWII. The contribution of PT boats to numerous Naval engagements is legendary. Without Packard engines both of these would have been very different and likely less effective.
So, I do not think anyone can argue that WWII and America would be very different if the Packard 6 had not been in the lineup in 1937.
Here is a little data on Packard aircraft engines: http://www.warbirdsandairshows.com/Aircraft%20manufacturing/enginemanufacturewwii.htm
You make a fascinating point. I’m sure having a Packard engine on-board increased crew confidence and performance as well.
Could be that Packard had to commit terminal brand devaluation to survive into the war.
Methinks those Packard-engined planes were called `Cadillacs of the Sky’. If so, what prestige they accorded the Packard brand is open to question. *Cadillac* increased crew confidence. And to think that Packard is lauded for building well-put-together RR knockoffs (Merlin). Packard engineering was already either dead, or at least not at the world-beating level they were before WW2. All they had left was brand equity. I have no doubt GM could have made those engines at similar or better quality than Packard.
Very interesting view on the role this car played in Packard’s history.
Having read Aaron Severson’s history (and follow-up essays on Packard’s decline and fall), I’m familiar with the view that this was the turning point in the marque’s history…
Curious however about your opinion on the role the Clipper models played in Packard’s fall.
Also appreciate the perspective about Packard’s role in WWII.
I like the fact that this car still had a floor shifter when GM had gone to “3 on the tree” pretty much across the model lineup. Column mounted manual gearchanges seem like one of the ultimate (and fortunately temporary) triumphs of style over functionality.
I am not a GM expert, but I believe that the floor shifter was still the industry standard in 1937. I thought that it was around 1939-40 that the switch was made to column shifters.
The ’37 Buick I once had had the shift on the floor, and I remember another collector’s ’38 being identical. I’m fairly certain for Buick (at least) 1939 was the first instance of the column shifter. And I believe the rest of GM transferred at the same time.
I owned a 3 on a tree car, and I have to say I really liked it. I kind of miss it now and would like to drive a 3 on the tree just for the memory.
To me, the floor shifter only really works in true sports cars, not sedans and the like.
Column mounted gearshifts are definitely for functionality – having a bench seat – not style. I’m not a huge fan of the column manual however, they are never as good a mechanism as a floor shift due to the extra linkages.
An interesting contrast is the outboard floor shift as used by Bentley and Riley
Too much lost motion with column shifts I just fitted a florshift to my Minx Huge improvement
There are all sorts of linkages in modern `cable-operated’ floor shifters. No reason an equally efficient column shifter couldn’t be designed. On automatics, a humongous floor shifter doesn’t make much aesthetic sense, even without a bench seat. A luxury two passenger split seat with armrest can easily occupy the entire the entire width of today’s narrower cars. Plus points if the two seats are the poofy pillow type. Column shifter or push button is the way to go. The latter are available in some German luxury cars, but the huge centre console and floor shifter are still there. Max knee room is what I’m after, given the decreasing width of cars.
The auto industry must have been very different in the 30’s. Each car looks almost identical yet the prices vary so much. Did consumers have a greater appreciation for engine power and interior appointments back then? A Cadillac owner must have if he chose a Fleetwood over a LaSalle. The price difference is staggering!
The looked similar from the front, but the Fleetwood was a much longer and bigger car. And folks were attuned to the subtleties of the different models, and what they meant.
Brian: What makes you think the auto industry is all that different now?
I think it’s just that cars that are “outside” of our “wheelhouse” tend to “look alike” I remember older people in the ’70s complaining that “all new cars look alike” Heard it in the 80s and 90s too. I even hear younger folks say that 50s 60s cars look alike! I personally think there’s a 2 decade “window” in which a given group thinks “their” cars had unique looks.
JPC: You are absolutely right in comparing Packard’s strategy to Lexus, even ignoring the Toyzilla sitting behind the latter. Also, you’re absolutely right in comparing the success of Packard Six to the brand strategy of Toyota. But you’re absolutely wrong to even mention Lexus as a premium marque. Lexus is, and has always been, a shinier Toyota for (somewhat) richer people. Packard was not in the volume car business at all (like Mercedes-Benz), and was a true one-percenter brand (unlike MB). Any move downwards diluted the brand, but most damningly, diverted resources from the senior models that had to be technological Kings of the Hill to maintain its reputation. I nominate this as a Packard Deadly Sin. Not that this car itself was bad, but it pawned Packard’s brand to earn a few more breaths. Considering the quality of GM cars of the time, any direct comparison with GM was sure to kill a company. If Packard wanted to compete with GM on an equal footing, well… buying Studebaker was not the right way to do it.
Well, Mercedes has almost always had a significantly larger volume than Packard ever did. We think of it as smaller than it necessarily is because they’ve always sold a lot of small-engined (and eventually just smaller) cars that aren’t necessarily seen here. For example, we’ve never gotten the A-class and it’s been a long time since we’ve seen stripped-down four-cylinder C-series sedans, which are pretty common in a lot of European markets.
Packard also had more prestige than Mercedes ever did. That is related to, but not caused by Mercedes selling small-engined premium shitboxes (earlier), and small-engined family cars disguised with `premium sports` BS on the side. That’s why the Maharajas still cling to their old RRs, Daimlers, Delahayes and yes, Packards, while travelling in Toyota/Lexus, MB, BMW, and even Honda cars. Also, the fact that US customers don’t see A-class, stripper C-class and trucks with the three pointed star is largely responsible for the unusually shiny brand image of MB in the country. While MB is considered an upscale luxury brand worldwide, its just not *that* upscale, which is the reason behind periodic attempts to either create/buy a full-luxury brand (Maybach for MB, RR for BMW, Bugentley for VW) or move the MB brand higher up (the new S-Klasse, or the historical 770 and 600).
I agree with Aaron. Even without the shrinking sales volume in the depression, the business model of the top-of-the-tree item worsens as the advantage and hence price premium over lower-level alternatives declines due to advances in technology and manufacturing, which was happening rapidly during the 1920’s & 30’s. Building 5000 cars a year in 1920 was much different business case proposition to 1930 or 1950.
True enough. Another reason why the independents wouldn’t have survived.
An independent with a valuable-enough brand could have sold it to a profitable maker of economy cars desirous of moving up the food chain. Packard+AMC could have been nice, but Packard+GM would’ve been killer, considering GM did not (and still doesn’t) have a extreme-end luxury brand, but had much resources to develop one.
Great article. I would say that this car contributed to Packard’s demise, combined with the increasing neglect of the “senior” cars after about 1937. The 120 was the right car at the right time, but the 110 always struck me as the car that took the downmarket theme too far. Packard was chasing volume for the sake of volume, and it’s no surprise that former GM managers were pushing the company in that direction.
It didn’t help that Packard discontinued the Twelve after 1939, and made what seemed to be a half-hearted effort in the luxury market after that point, while Cadillac heavily pushed the Series Sixty – particularly the stylish Sixty Special.
Interestingly, during the 1920s, the six-cylinder models constituted the majority of Packard’s sales. They were so successful that GM introduced the LaSalle in response. The Packard straight eights upheld the marque’s prestige, but it was the six-cylinder Packards that really paid the bills during the 1920s.
Given the very high incremental tax rates in the forties, fifties and early sixties (90%), there really wasn’t much of a market for the old-school super-expensive luxury cars after the Depression, and especially after WW2. The pre-Depression stratification of income and cars was essentially over, and it really was a new ball game. Those that argue Packard should have stayed an ultra-premium brand may not fully appreciate that fact. Folks would never again pay such huge premiums for the top-line cars, as they did in the twenties, at least not in any substantial quantities. Witness the demise of Maybach, and the fact that Rolls Royce is surviving thanks to China.
Excellent points, Paul, and I was going to comment as to the same thing – times had changed post-WWII, with the gilded age long gone and middle-class America on a rapid rise. Given all that, I’m not sure that Packard could have done anything different to stay alive, and may have folded even sooner had they stayed true to their 1%er roots.
I would argue that Packard died of chronic brand devaluation, starting with this wonderful car. Ultra-luxury brands draw premium money because they represent exclusivity. Once the owners of senior Packards saw their doctors and lawyers driving around behind those stunning Packard grilles, there was far less value in the senior cars.
But your point makes all that moot. Postwar prosperity was broad, the super-rich were few, and ostentatious displays of wealth were not admired. The America of 1950 to 1980 matched the GM brand ladder perfectly. Packard could not have survived even without the brand devaluation.
You’re probably right about super-premium cars for the 1% today. The pre-Depression stratification of income is back, but our roads are too crowded, and they have helicopters and executive jets. In its time, the Packard was the most exclusive form of personal transportation. Now that’s a Gulfstream.
Which leads to a Packard trajectory that might have succeeded (in 20-20 hindsight): like Rolls-Royce, Packard focuses on their aircraft engines, piston and jet. By 1960 the cars are dropped (or spun off to Chrysler?) and Packard follows their super-rich clientele into executive jets. In fact, Wikipedia says “Packard also developed a jet propulsion engine for the US Air Force, one of the reasons for the Curtiss-Wright take-over in 1956, as they wanted to sell their own jet.”
Photo of the Packard XJ49 jet engine from http://www.enginehistory.org/Museums/packard1.shtml
However “The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company” p. 118 (on Google books) details how their defense contracts were sharply cut back and then terminated in 1954.
PS: In ’53 Pres. Eisenhower named GM chief Charlie Wilson his Secretary of Defense. Gosh, what a coincidence. Read all about it in that Fall of Packard book.
A couple of clarifications. First, Curtiss-Wright didn’t exactly take over — instead, they signed a two-year management deal that gave C-W president Roy Hurley nominal control over Studebaker-Packard operations. The main purpose of that management was to allow S-P to renegotiate with its creditors and tap a $15 million credit line it already had but couldn’t use for various contractual reasons. Curtiss-Wright also bought all of Studebaker-Packard’s military business for about $12 million and took out a prepaid $25 million lease on two S-P factories in Utica and South Bend.
C-W had an option to let them actually buy a controlling interest in Studebaker-Packard at a heavily discounted rate, but they never exercised it and I don’t think Hurley particularly wanted to. James Arthur Ward believes that Curtiss-Wright’s main incentive for going into the deal was that the Eisenhower administration offered to give C-W more military contracts if they would help to keep Studebaker-Packard afloat. (Eisenhower had already tried to get the major Detroit automakers to back a $50 million loan package for Studebaker-Packard, but it didn’t work out.) Curtiss-Wright got more than $130 million in new contracts, and the DoD reimbursed them for most of the cost of acquiring the two S-P plants. In all, I’d say it was a much better deal than actually buying or taking over S-P.
Fascinating, makes total sense. In the 1953 chapter of the Fall of Packard, Ward relates that the cozy DOD-GM relationship was in the news. Letting S-P die in 1956 would have been bad re-election politics for Ike.
One of these days I need to read that whole book. Regardless of the realities, it’s a damned shame Packard had to die.
“Each car looks almost identical yet the prices vary so much.”
I think we can explain this by comparing car design to the tailoring of a men’s suit. Isn’t a two-button Zegna “almost identical” to one you can get at Sears?
It’s all in the tailoring, from the crease in the front fenders, to the handling of the seams around the windows, to that subtle reverse-curve of the sloping tail. 🙂
Also, I think that the biggest difference would have been size and scale. Park the two next to each other, and there would be no doubt which one was which. We are not so used to these proportions today, so even the small Packard looks big to us. I remain impressed with how the stylists made even a relatively small car like the Six look “important”. This is a skill that the high-end German automakers have kept alive.
> …a skill that the high-end German automakers have kept alive…
with the result that their new cars look more and more like products from Hyundai, and may not even be any technically superior for much longer. Once size is gone, and quality of materials and craftsmanship (crafts-robot-ship?) is near par, all that remains marketing hot air.
By the way, super good article JP, thanks.
Great article JP I see several Prewar Packards locally doing their part for the art deco tourist trade ferrying passengers about, they are all late 30s no doubt the cheaper versions but they are still Packards and still have the cache of that brand and those cars were very expensive even at WW2 exchange rates of $7US – 1 pound NZ yes once upon a time NZ had the strongest currency in the pacific and our wealthy wool growers ordered fancy new cars every year mostly these relics have been found and preserved and here some even sport commercial passenger licences check the cohort.
A Packard for $ 795. Not a cheap car in 1937. At that time, union steelworkers were making $ 5 a day, about $ 800 a year. Good money in those days. Most workers earned much less. I really don’t know what professional men earned, but $ 2,000 a year or less would probably encompass most wage earners, if they were fortunate to have a job. The guys buying $ 2,500 Packards would have been few and far between.
That steelworker could not spend a years salary on a car, any car. The Great Depression eliminated such foolish thought . The $ 2,000 wage earner might buy an $ 800 car, so Packard would have the prestige value, like the Lexus. But in that era, before WW2, most people were necessarily frugal. (Talk to a Depression era senior, and the mindset continues to this day.)
Under the circumstances, Packard probably did the right thing. After WW2, a small independent company like Packard could not survive in the long run.
My father instilled the Depression era ethic in me and at age 64 I have never paid more than $1,500 for a car in my life. The last one I paid $700 for and it is still running good four years later even though it has cost me $450 in repairs and tires. Less than $300 a year in car costs is less than most people spend in a month on car payments or lease.
Another fine piece about a great marque. Packard did the right thing with this car in order to survive. I agree that it did not help to kill the brand. The postwar styling did that, and as you stated, that’s a story for another day.
It’s striking that this car carries no names or logos front, back or anywhere, except the hubcaps. The hood ornament and grille represent the brand. Everyone can see it’s a Packard.
An interesting observation. Even the Super Eight had a badge on the trunklid. Packard had so many great identifiers. In addition to those you mentioned, there was always the red hex in the middle of the hubcaps, and the pointed spear at the leading edge of the side molding near the radiator. All this car is missing is the cormorant hood ornament with the tall wings instead of the donut-chaser, but either one was a well-known Packard thing.
Thats real Brand equity.
As many luxury car manufacturers have shown, it is possible to produce a line of less expensive cars to increase volume and bring in needed cash without diluting the brand (Audi, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes). For that strategy to work long term there also needs to be an upper line of cutting edge cars to go with it, if for nothing more than to reinforce the notion that the brand is desirable. In Packard’s case they let the upper range cars wither on the vine and hoped their reputation built in the teens, twenties and early thirties would be enough to get people to spend more for what buy the 1950’s were essentially medium priced cars that didn’t offer anything that they couldn’t get in a Buick or an Oldsmobile. The real killer in the fifties was that their competition (GM) could offer their customers high compression V8 engines, automatic transmissions and cutting edge styling at lower prices. Packard never reinvested in the cars that built their reputation. Where would Mercedes-Benz be now if they had dropped the S-Class sedans in 1991 instead of bringing out newer versions with increasing technology that over time has trickled down into the C & E-Class cars that are really their volume lines that bring in the majority of their revenue?
As an independent, Packard was at a disadvantage–look at how many car companies perished from 1902 & 1958. Fundamentally a luxury car has to give the buyer something to justify the premium and by the 1950’s Packard wasn’t doing it. Smaller companies like Porsche and BMW have been able to thrive and survive because they have nurtured their reputations for years by focusing on products that bring something unique to the marketplace and by constantly pushing automotive evolution forward. Even though you could buy a Sonata or Camry or Accord that may equal or exceed a BMW 3-Series in performance, comfort or whatever measurement you choose the reality is that none of those cars is a BMW in the eyes of the BMW buyer which is what justifies the price premium they command.
In the late 1990’s I thought that Cadillac was in the same position that Packard was in the 1950’s–dated cars, a stogy image and few cars that appealed to luxury buyers who wanted to push the envelope. Cadillac has come back from the edge somewhat thanks to a huge investment from parent GM but right now I’m convinced that Lincoln is in the Packard seat. Their lineup consists of nothing but rehashed Fords with nothing unique to justify their higher prices. There’s a reason why BMW and Mercedes are both selling 20,000+ cars per month and Lincoln struggles to sell 9,000.
Packard didn’t have the luxury of a parent company to continue to reinvest in them during the lean times like Cadillac or Lincoln so in that respect I see them as being in a similar boat to BMW which is also an independent (although currently selling in volumes that American Independents could have only dreamed about). It would have been a long shot for Packard to have survived into the present but their fundamental problem wasn’t that they went down-market with the 110 but that they failed to produce cutting edge upper level luxury cars that added to their reputation that could help justify the higher prices of their lower priced volume lines.
Good analysis. I agree completely, except about the comparison of Packard to Audi, Lexus, MB and BMW. Of those nouveau-riche snob-mobiles, only MB has *some* provenance, and MB as a brand was never at the level of Packard in its prime. Packard, RR, Duesy, Pierce, Delahaye, Hispano-Suiza were in a different league altogether. That whole league is dead, not just Packard. MB survives somehow by selling to the highly aspirational middle class, while the others survive by faking MB. The closing of Packard, while tragic, was certainly better for posterity than a fake luxury zombie like Lincoln.
If not for Studebaker, Packard could have ended up with Chrysler. Imperial was always an also-ran, and they both had high-technology defense businesses. And Chrysler had just bought Packard’s body supplier, Briggs. Packard could have remained strong, at least for awhile.
How about a Packard Turbine car?
I hate to think of the Packard grille on a K-car. Though they were well on their way with those Clippers.
An interesting thought. Packard would have been a great fit for Chrysler. A plug and play luxury division for a company that had not had a real player in that market since the 1930s.
As an aside, I have long believed that part of the reason for Imperial’s breakout succes in 1957 was that most of the Packard buyers had to go somewhere, and Chrysler’s Imperial was the natural place. Packard buyers had always been impressed by good engineering and Chrysler seemed their next-best place for a natural home.
How different the 1957 Luxury car experience from Chrysler could have been with significant input from Packard’s great engineering operation. As it turned out, the 57 Imperial left a lot of dissatisfied buyers.
This story shows how important it is that Lincoln builds a rear-drive, V8, all Lincoln vehicle (perhaps even with suicide-door rear). Lincoln desperately needs a halo car for the brand. The new MKZ may compare favorably to Lexus ES on its own, but lacking the brand halo, it’ll have a tough time competing.
A V12 Lincoln Zephyr (not the !@#$% MKZ) should do it. No halo without at least 12 cyls. Or a straight 8 🙂
Hopefully this one would run for more than 30K miles, unlike the 1940s version. 🙂
I say no. The 120 and 110/Six saved Packard’s bacon pre-war. What caused Packard’s Denise were post-war focus on the lower line Clippers instead of higher margin Custom Eights, George Christopher’s arrogance and stubborness which was fine in pre-war days ramping up volume for cheaper cars – the junior cars, but bad for the post war era and the clumsy Clipper bulbous facelift that Christopher let linger through 1950. Final blow was Studebaker and Packard not auditing Studebaker’s books. Dumb move considering how smart an executive like James Nance was.
Ward’s book tells how 1953 started out with sunshine, but ended with the world falling down around their ears. GM-Ford sales war killing everyone else’s sales, Eisenhower’s ex-GM Sec. Defense killing Packard’s defense contracts, Chrysler taking away their body supplier. By the time they merged the House of Packard was “on fire”.
“So, in 1935 (after a couple of half-steps),…”
One of those half-steps was the 1932 Series 900 Packard Light Eight, smaller and lighter than the previous price-leader, the Standard Eight. The Light Eight, with prices starting at $1,750, undercut the big Packards by 30 percent but unfortunately didn’t cost much less to build. It was not inexpensive enough to attract new buyers but too expensive for Packard to sell at that price. After 6,750 cars were sold in the model year, it was cancelled.