“Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” A tagline used by an Amish cabinetmaker, it rings true, for both good and bad, for many companies and corporations.
Packard, like many of the independent automakers of the 20th Century, had great beginnings and a multitude of successes. It began as a product of the Ohio Automobile Company of Warren, Ohio, in 1900. Founded by the Packard Brothers, it was a response to their dissatisfaction of a Winton auto one of the brothers purchased.
In addition to luxury cars, Packard also built trucks for a while. As a luxury car manufacturer, Packard was in the top tier in quality and image, being part of the “Three P’s” throughout the 1920’s. The “P’s” were Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow.
Upon the United States falling into the Great Depression, Packard was in a much better position than many other independent automakers. Having one assembly line and abundant cash reserves, they initially focused on higher end luxury cars. This market segment had once been 10% of the overall market; the depression saw it quickly fall to around 2%. The fierce competition for the luxury segment is what prompted such cars as the Cadillac V16 in 1930 and the Packard Twin Six in 1932.
However, Packard soon realized the need to be pragmatic if they wanted to survive. In 1935, Packard introduced their first car with a sticker price of less than $1000. Sold as the Packard 120, this new model tripled sales of the Packard name for 1935 and doubled them again for 1936. Being built on a separate production line, the “Junior” Packard outsold the “Senior” by about 10 to 1.
The 1935 Packard 120 was joined by the even less expensive Packard Six in 1937 (1938 model above). These cars sold very well, but they began to tarnish the prestigious image of Packard. The sometimes more advanced features of the 120, such as hydraulic brakes coming to the Junior series two years before the Senior series, compounded the image problem.
The Senior cars, of course, remained available, but the lion’s share of production were now 120s and Sixes, which were rechristened the Packard 110 for 1940.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, Packard’s image had further eroded. After World War II, there was no real Senior Series Packard reintroduced. All 1946-47 Packards were based off of the 1942 Clipper.
Packard management made the conscious decision to enter the taxi and fleet vehicle market, which further eroded their reputation as a luxury car manufacturer. Additionally, the 1948 models had been poorly received due to what was dubbed “bathtub” styling.
However, 1951 brought the introduction of a whole new body to Packard. By 1953, Packard was re-entering the luxury car market with the Patrician Series and exclusive Caribbean convertible.
1955 was a high-water mark for the American automobile industry. Sales were at an all-time high and many makers were introducing new models, bodies, and engines.
The featured 1955 Packard 400 was found across the street from the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. A sort of Americana mingling with Americana.
You may notice the magnets on the doors saying “Blue Bunny”. For those outside the Midwest, Blue Bunny is a brand of ice cream. The owner is the man who owns the Becky Thatcher Gift Shop and Ice Cream Emporium.
When Packard was planning the 1955 models, they could not afford to alter the basic body of their upscale sedan. Richard Teague, later of American Motors fame, restyled the existing 1951 body to appear more contemporary.
For years, Packard had used a straight-eight engine. This 1955 Patrician was the recipient of Packard’s new 352 cubic inch (5.8 liter) V8.
Also new for 1955 Packard’s was a revised suspension, power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, and power windows. These creature comforts were quite upscale for 1955.
One of four body styles for the luxury Packard’s, the Patrician 400 name was reserved for the two-door. Packard sold 7206 of their 400’s in 1955.
All of this goodness was not enough to overcome the terminal challenges faced by Packard and Studebaker-Packard by this time. Sadly, the Packard name faded away after 1958.
Please, oh please, will someone tell the owner to get rid of those dreadful mirrored headlights?
Oops, maybe I just did.
Who would have thought that we would be finding all of these great Packards out on the street! I love this big bold red and white hardtop. And who among us is not surprised that even after all this time, there is at least one guy still writing off his Packard as a business expense. Isn’t that the only purpose of those car signs?
If you are going to sell ice cream with a Packard, what about a Neapolitan 3 tone with pink, white and brown? It would probably not be original, though.
On this car, I wonder what is up with the Torsion Level. Could the car be on a little incline, fooling the car into jacking up the rear just a bit? This car has the stance of a 60s GM car with the front spring sag. Or, I suppose the guy could have parked it with a loaded trunk and then unloaded it. Doesn’t matter. A really cool find.
You would use one of the tri-tone 1955-57 Hashes for the job of selling ice cream in the colors of Neapolitan!
Heavenly Hash? Or howabout a neapolitan Metropolitan?
I had a 56 Clipper with the torsion level suspension. For the short time I had it, the electric leveling portion did not work. However, someone showed me that you could take a jumper cable from the battery to two contact points on the other fender and raise and lower the back end “manually”. I did it on more than one occasion.
I wonder what the owner’s experience has been with the torsion-level suspension. It had some embarrassing teething problems. Was the basic concept fatally flawed or did it just need more development? I’m assuming the former given that no one else has ever tried it again.
I had done some reading on these and understand that they worked fairly well. The biggest problem I read about was that the battery would run down if kids jumped on the bumpers a lot, and that the levelling motors would gum up and fail due to road debris/salt getting into them. My guess would be the biggest problem with the system was cost. The period road tests praised these cars as having both ride and handling that was superior to most anything else. I just think that more conventional suspensions could be engineered to give you almost all of the benefits at a lot less expense.
“My guess would be the biggest problem with the system was cost….more conventional suspensions could be engineered to give you almost all of the benefits at a lot less expense.”
In 55 the Clipper series used conventional coil/leaf suspension, but the torsion bar set up was offered as an option on the top trim Clipper, iirc for about $120. In “The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company”, it is reported that Clipper buyers went ape for the torsion bar suspension, regardless of the extra cost. In 56. torsion bar suspension was an option on almost all of the Clipper line, and the book reports that some 70 or 80% of Clippers sold had it.
I think Chrysler products of the late sixties through the 70’s had front torsion bar suspension. I don’t know if it was exactly the same. Most Chrysler products where uni-body so when they got rusty the torsion bars would snap, unspring or break off, causing the body on that side to drop.
I think the torsion-bar setup was just too unconventional. On my old Packard 400 it worked fine – this was a fifteen-year-old car at the time, and I don’t have any specific memories about the way it handled and rode, positive or negative.
My experience was that it worked as advertised….stayed relatively flat during braking and acceleration, and rode well. I seem to recall that it felt a little disconnected though. What did I know? I was 18.
I don’t remember seeing many Packards when I was a boy in the 1950’s. There was a defunct Packard dealership within a mile of my boyhood home, (I think the only new car dealership in my little hometown. The dealership was on an industrial back street, not on a prominent avenue.) The Packard sign sat on the building, in which the showroom windows were boarded up, well into the 1980’s.
Since I now live in a neigboring town, next time I’m down that way, I’ll have to see if there still are any remnants of the building still standing.
Nice car, cool find. This I am liking.
I think I always had a Packard affinity because of the tragic nature of the companies death and how one upon a time it was an “American Rolls Royce”.
There was a Rolls Royce connection with the Merlin aircraft engine of WW2.It was produced under licence by Packard.
I got to visit a Packard focused scrapyard a few years back. I’d never seen so many in one spot. Mostly 50s ones but a few others as well. Some pictures if anyone is interested. The owner didn’t want the location disclosed.
Well, thanks, Dave, there went a half hour…but seriously, I enjoyed the wrecking yard tour, with never a sniffle from all that hay fever grass.
No discussion of the ’55 Packard would be complete without mention of the Soviet GAZ M-13 Chaika. When you look at the two cars side by side you can see that none of the details of the Chaika are exactly identical to the Packard, and in fact the Chaika seems to have a bit of ’55-’56 Ford in its side view, but there’s no question that a ’55 Packard, intended for those at the top of the capitalist heap, served as the primary inspiration for this Communist limousine.
And we can thank the Soviets for giving us an idea of what a Packard station wagon of this generation might have looked like.
Looks more like a 1957 Hash-wagon to me.
FWIW there’s a photo of a 1958 Packardbaker station wagon (apparently one of 159 made) in David Saunders’ album linked above.
I saw one of these a few years back at the LeMay Museum in Tacoma, Washington. The car was outside, so I was able to walk around it. I had seen photos of these cars and was surprised to find it plainer and much less imposing than I thought it would be. In that sense, one could compare it to the old long-wheelbase Dodges and DeSotos from the 40s rather than Cadillacs or Imperials. The Chaika had a push-button automatic, but the buttons were located on the dog-leg ahead of the driver’s door and flat against the panel instead of facing the driver. Awkward! Some U.S. cars put the power window switches there in the late 50s.
The concurrent ZIL was modeled on Packard, but was much larger and more imposing (and presumably more luxurious) than the Chaika.
Anyone who’s interested in these cars should Google “autosoviet”. The site will come up first.
Beautiful car, its not sleek but that’s ok for this type/class of car. Interesting to read comments on the torsion bar suspension too.
Wonder if a production version of the Packard Eequest could’ve restored some of the marque’s lost gloss.
Was the Edsel lifted from this?The front end is usually given as a source of the Edsel’s failure,perhaps they saw the future!
John DeLorean hired my father as a design enigineer at Packard in 1954. After looking over the fuel-injection unit on a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing Coupe he later developed his own F.I. system and put it on his very own 1956 Packard Patrician with pushbutton on the column.. Wonder where that car is today.
It wasn`t a Packard 400. It was a Packard “THE 400” as it says on the side of the front fenders.In case you don`t know what “The 400 ” is, its the top echelon of society, the very upper of the upper crust,so the Packard The 400 was aiming high
My father, who was hired by John Delorean in 1954, eventually designed a fuel injection system and put it in his red and white 1956 Patrician. Really boosted the power. Wonder if the car still exists in running order?
“These cars sold very well, but they began to tarnish the prestigious image of Packard. The sometimes more advanced features of the 120, such as hydraulic brakes coming to the Junior series two years before the Senior series, compounded the image problem.”
It is almost like the downhill slide for Packard started in the late 1930’s, rather than with the merger/amalgamation with Studebaker in the 1950’s.