Introductory Note: If ever there was a vehicle we are unlikely to encounter at curbside and just as unlikely to find at a car show, it would be the 1958 Packards. These got no respect when new and are still largely the butt of jokes and subject of eye-rolls. So if we are ever to give these cars their fifteen minutes of fame here on CC, some other kind of encounter will be necessary. Like this one, for instance. JPC
After years of effort my work has finally paid off. I have just put the finishing touches on a functional time machine. And what better way to try it out than to do something with CC. We have all looked at classics and wondered what it was like to look at new ones lined up on a dealer’s lot, so let us give it a run.
Some time back reader Robert Murray was kind enough to share the color selection folder for his 1958 Packard hardtop.
I had been looking over that bit of classic mid-century auto-dom and was struck that even with minimal color selections for the period, there was a lot more cheer than in modern dealers. So I have decided to test our time machine at the Packard dealer. Heaven knows he could use the business in 1958.
I turn the (analog, of course) dial to June 1, 1958. I wondered where we should go, but decided that it may as well be somewhere with nice weather. Noll Auto Company of Pasadena, California was a big Packard dealer so let’s give them a shot. It is late enough in the season that they ought to be dealing but early enough for a decent selection. I strapped in, pushed the red button, and – – – presto.
As I walked towards the neon and shiny metal I was greeted by an avuncular older man. “Good morning! Name’s Wendell. What can I show you today?”
“Well . . .” I reply haltingly “I would like to look at one of those new hardtops”. Fortunately, I had remembered to bring my brochure.
“An excellent choice, sir. You and everybody else! That has been the hottest model we have seen here in years. Are you familiar with the newest features? We have about everything that’s popular so I’m sure you will find something that you like.”
“Not to put any pressure on you” Wendell continued, “but if you have a trade you need appraised you might want to get it in line because the used car manager is as busy as a one-armed paper hanger. Just pull it behind those three ’56s parked out front and he will get to yours as soon as he is through with those.”
“No” I replied, “I am not trading anything.” I was momentarily confused, but then I looked out over the sea of 1958 Packards in the lot. Which left me even more confused.
“We have a pretty good selection, is there a particular color you had in mind?” he asked as he handed me the folder with all of the 1958 color choices. I think we have almost all of them, and what we don’t have we may still be able to find. We are a top dealer and have a lot of pull with the Company – we may be able to get a car or two diverted our way yet.
“Wow” I thought to myself. Here I was expecting to see a couple of stray cars and a salesman looking through the want ads in the paper for a new job. Then I thought back and realized that when I made an earlier test run back to 1952 I may have changed something small. Oops, I’d better be careful today.
Wendell continued by saying “I wish they wouldn’t mix Studebaker into these brochures. That just confuses my customers when they see those cheap cars and these Packards in the same sales material. That is supposed to change next year, they tell me, since we are now selling so many more cars than they are.
I decided to skip past that last statement and start at the top of the list. “How about the Bluff Gray?” I inquired.
That, my friend, makes for a very distinguished car. Here is one over around back of the building that just came in this morning and hasn’t been prepped yet. It has the Cliff Gray roof. ”
“There is a sedan out in the sun that will give you a better idea of how that metallic finish just dances in bright light. These Packard enamel finishes never need waxing, you know.” “This one has the Cliff Gray roof as well. I will tell you up front that I do not have a Cliff Gray hardtop in stock. I don’t know, it looked like the color of a battleship to me and I didn’t order any that way.”
“I take that back”, Wendell continued, “we got a Studebaker wagon for our Parts Department – that’s the front sticking out there. But nobody has asked for that color. It sure looks nice as an accent to that Bluff Gray body, though.”
“And just have a look inside – it’s hard to find this kind of old-world craftsmanship in this crazy modern world. Aren’t those gold accents the cat’s pajamas?”
“But If you like a really dignified car a lot of folks have been picking the Midnight Black. There’s nothing more elegant than a black Packard, you know, especially with that golden accent trim.”
“The Parchment White has been really popular too. We have several of those. Packard buyers are conservative folks and they love their basic colors.”
“OK now” I thought to myself. “I did not come back to 1958 to look at black white and gray.”
“I dunno” I mused to Wendell, “I am starting to like this Mountain Blue.”
“Oh, yes. That has been a popular one, just dark enough to be dignified but with some life in it to let folks know that you have some spunk!” Here’s one – what do you think of this sedan?”
“I also have a wagon that is a two tone with a Waterfall Blue roof – but I don’t guess you would be interested in a wagon.”
“No thanks, I don’t want a 4 door. I wonder what that Waterfall Blue looks like on the whole car.”
“See that car back on the edge of the lot? I can’t sell it to you but that’s the color. I let some advertising people take it onto the Santa Monica Pier for some publicity shots and the dumbbells managed to let it roll off the end and into the Pacific. We got it pulled out a few days later and are working with the insurance company. Isn’t that a kick in the head? I had a buyer lined up for it, too.” he said with some disgust in his voice.
“Yessir” he went on, “that is a popular color with the ladies. I would have to see if I could get a hardtop in that color. I ordered 22 of them for the year and have sold ’em all.”
“Twenty-two baby blue hardtops? Just you?”
“You bet!” said Wendell with a satisfied smile. “Ever since gas hit 75 cents a gallon right after the first of the year this new smaller Packard has been the hottest ticket in town. I was afraid something like that might happen when Adlai Stevenson got elected and let Mexico reclaim Texas. There are rumors that the government is going to start regulating gas mileage since most of our oil is coming from California now. I’ve read that Chrysler is going to cancel the Imperial and that Lincoln will be on a stretched Ford body in the next cycle. It’s been nothing but roses here though” he said with the kind of smile a guy wears after a lucky break.
I stare with a combination of wonder and befuddlement across what looks like an acre of new Packards crammed into the car lot and the dozen shoppers wandering around looking at them. And not being a baby blue kind of guy, I decide to keep looking.
I see a few in Jewel Beige, but I am not a beige kind of guy either. “The ladies like this one too” says Wendell, as if he can read my mind. But then isn’t that what makes a crack salesman? “Personally, I like it better as an accent than as a main color, but that’s just me. I’ve only sold 8 or 10 of these – but Packard has something for everyone this year.” he adds.
As my eye continues down the color chips Wendell breaks my train of thought. “Have a gander at this – You said you are looking for a hardtop, but have you considered a Hawk? It is a hardtop too but a mighty special one. It sure looks good in the Park Green.”
I am starting to notice the huge selection of Packard Hawks.
“I’m selling the heck out of these – I have cash deposits on all but two or three in this row. There is nothing quite like it. Ford tried to copy it in the new four seat T-Bird, but they are slow sellers. Demand has fallen off a cliff since they dropped the two seater – if they sell 5,000 they’ll be lucky. They are trying to get too much for them – whoever thought Ford dealers could sell a prestige car is crazy.”
“And it is an overweight gas hog, too.” Wendell continued. “In this kind of market the Packard’s thrifty 289 V8 just sips gas, and the supercharger in the Hawk gives you a wallop of extra power when you need it. It’s really an idea ahead of its time.” “Have you ever seen an interior like this? Genuine leather, just as good as anything from before the war.”
“This same interior is in that Bluff Gray Hawk in the showroom window” Wendell added as he gestured towards the big windows.
I had to agree that it was a nice color on these, especially with that tan leather.
“Or a lot of people here in California like lighter colors, so the Surf Green like that one over there has been fairly popular. That one over by the building is being prepped for a customer but I can probably get one for you in another week or so.”
“And if you prefer the regular hardtop I’ve got one here”, Wendell added helpfully, caressing the fender with his hand.
“That wagon over there shows the Surf Green as an accent to the Park Green. It’s been popular this year too.”
“Meh” I think. Light green doesn’t do it for me. Looking back at the cars nearby I notice six station wagons lined up. “What about this color?” I ask when I see the Canyon Copper.
“Yes, this wagon is the last of this paint color I have left. I ordered a dozen coppers in each model and every one of them has been sold except for this one. I don’t like it as well as some of the other colors, but you know how some colors become popular for one reason or another. The coppers have been selling well for everyone this year. You know we Californians” he smiled, “Always have to be in style.”
“But if you want something that really sets off the lines on this car, have a look at this White Gold. While almost all of these colors are all new this year, this one really makes the fins stand out. I like it with the white top, but I have sold a few of them paired with black.”
“Of course a black roof makes a solid case for getting one with air conditioning”, Wendell continued. “Packard still offers the superior trunk-mounted air conditioning system. The bigger companies really made a mistake when they tried cramming the whole system under the hood. They just don’t work as well with all of that engine heat. Packard invented automotive air conditioning, you know.”
The gold car is Wendell’s demonstrator and he opened the door to show off the interior. “The padded dash is standard equipment!” he boasts.
“. . . And just look at those luxury fabrics. Is it any wonder people have been practically beating down my door this year?”
“If you like this interior shade, its also in that Shadowtone Red car over there. We may be too late, one of the other salesmen is just taking it out for a demonstration . . . and that almost always means a sale.”
Wendell offers to let me take his gold car for a test drive. But suddenly I feel a vibration from my cell phone app that is monitoring the time machine, telling me that the battery is starting to get a bit low. “Some other time” I tell him, knowing that my window for getting home will soon be closing. “I appreciate you taking the time to show me these cars, and with all of the color choices, I have some thinking to do.”
“Don’t take too long” Wendell replies, “the way these are selling I may not have anything left before the ’59s start coming in. From what we learned at the dealer introduction, Packard is raising prices by about 20% because of all of the new features being added. We are not quite going to catch Cadillac this year, but I’ll bet that changes with the ’59s when we get a 4 door hardtop and a convertible to fill out the line! And if you think the ’58 Cadillac is ugly, just wait until you see them next year.
“Before you go – I almost forgot – have you seen the red one? This Parade Red is featured in the brochure. I thought I had this one sold to Elizabeth Montgomery, you know – the actress? But she picked a gray sedan instead. Go figure. Just between us, I could let you have this one for $50 off before I roll it back into the showroom.”
“Thanks just the same” I say as I look at my watch, “I don’t really care for bright red. Like I said, I have to get back.”
“I understand my friend. Here, take one of my cards . . . wait, I’m all out . . . here, I’ll write down my name and number on your brochure. Like I said, stop back in when you have thought about it. If you would like me to bring one around so that your little lady can take a look, happy to do it. You’ll make your Mrs. really proud with one of these. Just don’t wait too long because these ’58s are moving fast and the ’59s will cost you more.”
With one sad glance back, I said goodbye and jogged back to my transport point. I felt a slight shiver as I found myself back in 2019. I made a quick check of CC online to see if Packard’s history had changed to line up with what Wendell was telling me, but I discovered that automotive history was just as it was when I left. Could my time machine have found another dimension as well? I hadn’t bargained on that, a puzzler that will take some work to get through. Along with figuring a way to make the thing big enough to accommodate a new car to bring back next time. Because that Midnight Black one was really calling my name.
Each car shown herein is undoubtedly rare enough that its current owner may be known to a few of our readers. With only 675 58L hardtops built in this final year of production the number remaining must be extremely small. So a big CC thanks to those who have cared for and maintained these unloved cars and also to those who have shared photographs of them online. We had attempted to find one in every color but were unable to do so given their extreme rarity.