Packard History (Post WW2)
Before World War Two, the Packard Motor Car Company produced some of America's finest luxury cars, featuring hand assembly and traditional craftsmanship. After the war was over, a series of events contributed to their descent, putting the famed automaker in a position they were never able to rebound back from.
First Air Conditioned Car
The first factory-installed air conditioner was seen at the 1939 Chicago auto show, on a 1940 model Packard. The system was a bit bulky; the main evaporator and blower system took up half the trunk space, along with the yards of plumbing running to and from the engine compartment. After being fitted to approximately 2,000 cars, the A/C option was discontinued after the 1941 model year, re-emerging in the 1950's.
Other Industry Firsts
Another Packard innovation was the Econo-Drive, a type of overdrive, which reduced engine speed by about 25 percent. The company also introduced the first column shifter, which replaced the traditional floor-mounted shifter.
Packard During World War II
During the war years, Packard ranked fourth, right behind GM, Ford, and Chrysler in terms of military production output by an automaker. Between 1942-1945, they produced over 55,000 combat engines for Allied ships and planes.
Read: American Automotive Industry During World War Two
Post World War II
After the war ended, most American Automakers were offering new body styles by 1948 and 1949. Instead, Packard updated existing bodies with additional sheet metal, sometimes adding as much as 200 pounds of weight to the vehicle. The 1948 through 1950 Packard styling was not favorably received by critics or consumers.
A redesign for 1951 saw a high-waisted, squared-off body featuring a one-piece windshield and wrap-around rear window. The classic Packard vertical grille was replaced with a horizontal one. Packard production for 1951 totaled nearly 101,000 cars.
Referring to the car's beltline, the Packard "high pockets" design ran through 1954.
Flathead vs OHV V8
While top competitors (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) were introducing lighter and more powerful OHV V8 engines, Packard continued production of their flathead straight six and eight cylinder engines. The six-cylinder engine was dropped from the American market, leaving the straight-eight as the sole powerplant.
Although Packard didn't invent the straight-eight, it was their bread and butter engine. Introduced in 1930 and produced until 1955, it was Packard's most popular engine throughout the company's history. It would be the last American produced straight-eight engine.
While the Packard Eight's were just as fast as competitor's V8's, they were perceived by many consumers as obsolete. It was not until 1955 that Packard produced an OHV V8 engine.
Packard Caribbean (1953-1956)
Designed by Richard (Dick) Teague, the Caribbean was built to go head-to-head with the Cadillac Eldorado. The 1953-1954 models featured extended rear quarters, hood scoops, leather seats, chrome wheel opening moldings, and a Continental spare tire kit. Produced as convertible only from 1953 to 1955, a hardtop model was added in 1956.
The Caribbean was initially powered by the 327ci straight-eight engine, upgraded to the 359ci straight-eight in 1954. The 1955-1956 models were fitted with the new V8 and featured two four-barrel carburetors helping produce 275 horsepower.
Hoping to benefit from Studebaker's larger dealer network, the Studebaker-Packard Corporation was formed in 1954. It will always be debated whether Studebaker misled Packard, or calculated incorrectly when reporting actual profits. Regardless, the simple fact was, Studebaker was in worse financial shape than Packard executives were led to believe.
A 1955 restyle by Dick Teague gave sleek new styling, along with a suspension upgrade to torsion bars front and rear.
Pictured above: 1955 Packard Four Hundred two-door hardtop.
Briggs Manufacturing Company
Packard had been outsourcing their car bodies to a Detroit-based company called Briggs Manufacturing since the early 1940s. Briggs owned twelve plants and one of them was leased to Packard. In 1952, Chrysler bought out Briggs, with an agreement it would continue supplying bodies to Packard through 1954, when their contract expired. This resulted in Packard transferring production of their own bodies to their Conner Avenue plant in Detriot.
The move to the Conner facility was a burden on the Packard company, now in the midst of plummeting sales and expiring defense contracts. Getting back into the body-stamping business cost valuable time and money, and more problems for the company. There were numerous body-fit problems with early 1955 models, which tarnished their reputation.
Packard V8 (1955-1956)
Although a newly designed V-8 was nearly ready in 1954, depleted funds and delays saw the much anticipated motor arriving in 1955. The Packard V8 was offered 320, 352, and 374 cubic-inch displacements. All three versions shared the same block and components, the displacement differences were made by different bore sizes.
Also new for 1955 was an electric suspension system which helped keep cars level regardless of load. Offered for two years only (1955-1956), the Torsion-Level Ride was an innovative system which allowed Packard to use softer spring rates without the poor body control that usually goes along with it. It was standard equipment on all senior Packards and some Clipper models, and optional on the rest of the line.
Last Of The Packards
For the 1957 model year, Studebaker-Packard offered a single model range, the Clipper. The final "real" Packard rolled off the assembly line in July 1958.
In 1959, Studebaker-Packard fielded four Stude-based models, shortly thereafter the Packard nameplate was removed from the marketplace. In 1962, as Studebaker was introducing the all-new Avanti, the Packard name was officially removed from the corporation's name.
Before gaining prominence as a top GM engineer in the 1960's, John DeLorean was employed at the Packard Motor Company. He worked for a time under Forest McFarland, whose Advanced Engineering department oversaw the Torsion-Level Ride development. After several years at Packard, Delorean succeeded McFarland as head of research and development before moving on to Pontiac.
One of the several Studebaker-Packard models that was V8-equipped was the Studebaker Golden Hawk. In a comparison test between the fastest production cars of the day, Speed Age Magazine reported that the Packard-powered 1956 Hawk was faster than the Chevy Corvette, Ford Thunderbird, and the Chrysler 300.