(first posted 7/14/2017. Updated 7/14/2023)
(Edit: The original version of this post misidentified the feature vehicle as a 1951 Packard.)
My wife Kristen and I recently spent a weekend in the Youngstown region of Ohio with our SLK Roadster to celebrate 17 fabulous years of marriage. While the details of my trip will likely not be of interest to this crew, the fact that Mahoning County is a goldmine of derelict cars surely will be. I’ve already previously posted one of my finds from this trip: The Brain Melting cars of CARS, LLC in Beloit, Ohio. Next up, this 1952 Packard 200 Deluxe I spotted on the same trip.
1951 marked a watershed year for Packard. These were the first postwar Packards, replacing the much-derided “bathtub” models, whose platform dated to 1941. Financial constraints forced Packard to stretch their prewar tooling longer than just about any other manufacturer: Other makers had launched their new postwar cars several years earlier, in 1949. However, this “late mover” advantage gave Packard fresh product in the showroom when most other makers were on the tail end of their previous product lifecycles.
This generation of Packard marked the end of any significant visual differentiation between the “Junior” 200 line and the “Senior” 300 and 400 Patrician lines. This lack of differentiation is illustrated by my challenge in pinpointing the exact model of this car: The low hood ornament, non-wrap around rear window and single spear of chrome trim on the side identify this as a 200 series car. The toothy grille, three “jet louvers” on the side and chrome wheel covers further indicate that this is a 200 Deluxe model, whose upgrades from the base 200 model seem to be limited to the aforementioned trim bits.
About those three “jet louvers:” In 1951, they were exclusive to the 400 Patrician model. However, Packard dealers sometimes applied higher-end trim bits to lower-end cars to spice them up, which is what I first thought I was looking at here. But no, in my research, Packard made the louvers standard on the 200 Deluxe in 1952, further cheapening the currency of the Senior models in the process.
1951 would also be the last time Packard sold over 100,000 units in a single model year. While this sounds impressive, the break-even point was likely 50% higher than that. Sales dropped to less than 70,000 for the 1952 model year, beginning Packard’s long sales decline from which it would never recover. Due in part to the lack of distinction between the Junior and Senior lines, nearly three-fourths of 1952 models were the Junior 200 series models, making this 1952 200 one of the most common Packards made that year. Packard’s quest for volume unfortunately meant that its resulting descent from prestige automaker to mid-market was well underway by this point, probably past the point of no return.
This particular example appears to be a reasonably well-equipped model, sporting such options as Ultramatic Drive automatic transmission ($189), Two-tone paint ($20), and backup lights ($14).
Prior to about 1950, Detroit did not put much effort into styling the rear end of their cars. Most of their styling effort was applied to front, while the rear usually got generic tail lamps and uninspired bumpers. Next time you are at a car show and you see a lineup of pre-war cars, look at them from the rear and you will see what I mean. They all look pretty much the same.
Harley Earl changed all that in 1949 with the first post-war Cadillacs and their (emerging) tail fins. Unfortunately, Packard did not have the resources of GM, and in 1951 their cars were still leaving the factory with frumpy, unstyled rear ends like the one pictured above. Packard didn’t really pick up their rear styling game until the 1955 models with their now-iconic “Cathedral” tail lights.
This car was somewhat challenging to photograph. The rear end is, to be polite, bulbous. Close-up shots (combined with the 28mm focal length of my iPhone 7 camera) tend to exaggerate the curves and make the rear end look bloated. Longer shots like the one above using the 56mm lens seem to flatter the shape of this car better.
For some reason, cars from the 1950s always appear to be smaller than they actually are in photographs – maybe it is all the curves, or maybe we are not used to the different proportions of cars of this era. Make no mistake: This is a massive car. For starters, it towers over modern cars. As you approach it, the roof is easily at eye level, like a modern CUV. Its 122 in. wheelbase eclipses a late-model Town Car (117.7 in), and puts it on par with the long-wheelbase Lexus LS460 (121.7 in).
The other thing this part of Ohio seems to have in abundance (besides derelict cars) is seedy roadside motels, of the kind preferred by Sam and Dean Winchester in Supernatural. So it is only fitting that this particular find combines both.
This part of Ohio, being only about an hour from Pittsburgh, used to be a steel manufacturing behemoth. Unfortunately, it has suffered greatly over the past several decades of recessions, plant closings, and population loss. The Packard, like the motel it is parked in front of, have both seen better days, and alas their best days are probably behind them.
According to Google Street View, the Packard (which was parked in the same spot since at least 2013) is now gone as of October 2022.