Historic Car Brands
Packard was founded in 1899 by James Ward Packard, his brother William and their partner, George Lewis Weiss, after mechanical engineer, Packard believed they could build a better horseless carriage than the Winton cars owned by Weiss.
The first Packard was built in Warren, Ohio, on November 6, 1899 and around 400 were produced before the end of 1903.
Henry Bourne Joy, a member of one of Detroit’s oldest and wealthiest families, bought a Packard. Impressed by its reliability, he visited the Packards and soon enlisted a group of investors.
On October 2, 1902, this group formed the Packard Motor Car Company, with James Packard as president. Packard moved operations to Detroit soon after, and Joy became general manager and later chairman of the board.
1903 Packard Model F one-cylinder 12hp
The first four-cylinder Packard was the 1904 Model L that featured the trademark ‘shouldered’ radiator shell. A six-cylinder model arrived in 1912.
While most early car makers focussed on more affordable vehicles, Packard concentrated on luxury car and the marque developed a following among wealthy purchasers both in the United States and abroad, competing with European marques, Rolls-Royce, Renault and Mercedes-Benz.
1906 Packard Model S
The Packard Six was first introduced as a senior level luxury platform for three years starting in 1913, then upgraded to the Packard seven-litre,Twin Six in 1916.
Inspiration for the V12 engine is said to have come from a Sunbeam V12 aero engine that had found its way to the USA in a speed record car.
1920 Packard Twin Six Roadster – Blackhawk Collection
In 1921, Packard launched the Single Six, 4.4-litre model in 1921 and in 1923 the Twin Six was replaced by the 5.7-litre Single Eight model. This car featured four-wheel brakes and a four-speed transmission.
1919 Packard Opera Coupe – Packard Motor Museum NZ
In the 1920s, Packard exported more cars than any other in its price class, and in 1930, sold almost twice as many abroad as any other US luxury marque. Between 1924 and 1930, Packard was the US-market’s top-selling luxury brand. James Ward Packard died in 1928.
1924 Packard Straight Eight Tourer – Packard Motor Museum NZ
The first appearance of the Packard ‘Goddess of Speed’ bonnet ornament appeared in 1925 on the Single Eight and soon featured on all their products. The Cormorant or Swan appeared in the 1930s.
During the 1930s, Packard seemingly ignored the Great Depression by manufacturing more opulent and expensive cars, across different platforms and price points.
1930 Packard 740 Custom Eight Sport Phaeton – Academy of Art University Collection
The V12 returned in 1931, enlarged to 7.3 litres and powered some 5700 cars until 1939, in parallel with the more affordable eight-cylinder models. It’s said that a young Enzo Ferrari saw V12 Packards in Europe pre-War and fell in love with the engine concept.
1932 Packard 745
In 1931, Packard pioneered a system it called Ride Control, which made the hydraulic shock absorbers adjustable from within the car.
For one year only, 1932, Packard fielded an upper-medium-priced car, the Light Eight, at around two-thirds the price of the Standard Eight.
The Eight five-seater sedan had been the company’s top-seller for years and was joined by the Twin Six in 1932. In 1933, this V12 model was renamed the Packard Twelve.
Although Packard couldn’t match the resources of its rivals, Cadillac and Lincoln, the company had made great profits in the 1920s and had assets of approximately US$20 million in 1932, while many luxury car manufacturers were almost broke.
1932 Packard 900 – Packard Motor Museum NZ
Packard was able to keep its costs down by not changing models as often as other manufacturers did at the time. Rather than introducing new models annually, Packard began using a ‘Series’ formula. In 1930, Packard automobiles were Seventh Series and by 1942, Packard was in its Twentieth Series.
However, the Depression rolled on and by 1935, the company introduced its first car under $1000, the 120. The 1935 Packard 120 featured independent front suspension and hydraulic brakes that didn’t appear on Senior Packards until 1937.
1937 Packard Super Eight Limousine – We Sell Limos
To produce the 120, Packard built a separate factory and by 1936, Packard’s labor force was divided nearly evenly between the high-priced ‘Senior’ lines (Twelve, Super Eight and Eight) and the medium-priced ‘Junior’ models. The mass-produced Juniors were made in around 10 times the numbers of hand-built Seniors.
Sales more than tripled in 1935 and doubled again in 1936. However, the 120 did diminish the Senior models’ exclusive image among those few who could still afford an expensive luxury car. That situation was made worse by the launch of the Packard Six, 115C in 1937.
1941 Packard 110 Touring Sedan – D Sorrells
In 1939, Packard introduced its Econo-Drive overdrive transmission gear that could be engaged at any speed over 48 km/h. Packard’s Handishift column shift was made available on the 120 and Six.
A new body shape was introduced for the 1941 the Packard Clipper that was available only as a four-door model, powered by a 125hp version of the straight-eight engine used in the 120.
In 1942, the Packard Motor Car Company converted to war production and during World War II, Packard licensed the Merlin engine from Rolls-Royce as the V-1650, which powered the famous P-51 Mustang fighter.
1943 aircraft engine production at Packard
Packard also built V-12 marine engines for American PT boats and some of Britain’s patrol boats. By the end of the War, Packard Motor Car Company had produced more than 55,000 combat engines.
By the end of World War II, Packard was in excellent financial condition with assets of around US$33 million. Like other US automobile companies, Packard resumed civilian car production in late 1945, by modestly updating its 1942 models.
However, the Senior-series cars were not rescheduled, because Packard had sold the dies to Russia as a gesture of goodwill and those panels graced the 1945 Russian ZIS 110 model. So, while most automakers were able to release new vehicles for 1948–49, Packard could not launch until 1951.
1950 Packard Eight Club Sedan – Ryan Hildebrand
When they did arrive, the new Packards featured controversial ‘inverted bathtub’ styling. Competitor vehicles looked more conventional and, worse, Cadillac had released an overhead-valve V8 two years prior. The lack of a modern powerplant proved to be an increasing liability for Packard as the 1950s unfolded.
Cadillac was among the earliest US makers to offer an automatic transmission, but Packard caught up by releasing its own, in-house Ultramatic Drive that was offered on top models in 1949 and all models from 1950 onward. However, Ultramatic did not compare to GM’s Hydramatic for smoothness of shifting, acceleration, or reliability.
Also, the resources spent on Ultramatic deprived Packard of the chance to develop a much-needed V8 engine.
1951 Packard 300 – Greg Gjerdingen
The 1951 Packards were completely redesigned and comprised upmarket 250, 300 and Patrician 400 models and 200-Series low-end models that included a business coupe. The new appearance showed many similarities to Oldsmobiles, which were more moderately priced and sold in greater numbers.
The Patrician was now the top-shelf Packard, replacing the Custom Eight line. The previous ‘middle’ straight-eight 5.4-litre engine was chosen as the powerplant and that was seen as further denigrating Packard’s image as a luxury car.
When combined with the upgraded Ultramatic transmission, the in-line eight gave quiet and smooth performance, but couldn’t help Packard join the horsepower race.
Then a changing of the guard in the boardroom took effect. Alvin Macauley, who had steered Packard since 1916, stepped down as chairman and in came James Nance, from appliance manufacturer Hotpoint.
One of James Nance’s first actions as president was creating a pension plan to induce Packard executives to retire. He also worked to snag Korean War military contracts and turn around Packard’s badly diluted image.
1953 Packard Caribbean Convertible – Water Mill
Nance declared that Packard would cease producing mid-priced cars and build only luxury models to compete with Cadillac. As part of this strategy, came the 1953 Caribbean convertible, Patrician 400 Sedan and the Derham custom formal sedan.
They sold well, but cost-reality was catching up with Packard, as it was with other independent, non-Big-Three makers. In 1953, Kaiser merged with Willys to become Kaiser-Willys. The strategy for these mergers included cutting costs and strengthening their sales organisations to meet the intense competition from the Big Three, who not only fought among themselves, but also ‘poached’ Packard dealerships.
Then the Korean War ended and the Big Three started a price war.
Nash president George Mason proposed that the four major independents – Nash, Hudson, Packard and Studebaker – merge into one large outfit to be named American Motors Corporation (AMC). Then Mason died suddenly.
With Mason’s AMC dream gone, Nance had the Packard Motor Car Company buy out the ailing Studebaker Corporation in late 1954 and that was fatal error. Although Packard was still in fair financial shape, Studebaker’s deteriorating financial situation put Packard’s survival at risk.
Packard’s 1954 face-lifted lineup that year comprised the bread-and-butter Clipper line, Mayfair hardtop coupes and convertibles, and a new entry level long-wheelbase sedan named Cavalier. The 250 series was dropped.
Among the Clippers was a novelty pillared coupe, the Sportster, styled to resemble a hardtop. A new hardtop named Pacific was added to the flagship Patrician series and all higher-end Packards sported a bored-out engine. Air conditioning became available for the first time since 1942.
1955 Packard Patrician Touring Sedan – Rex Gray
The revolutionary new Packard model came in 1955, featuring Packard’s brand new, ultra-modern overhead-valve V8. The car had ground-breaking Torsion-Level suspension: an electrically-controlled, four-wheel torsion-bar suspension that balanced the car’s height front to rear and side to side, employing electric motors.
Packard’s American competitors had serious difficulties with this suspension concept, trying to accomplish the same with air-bag springs before dropping the idea.
In addition, the body was completely updated and modernised and Packard offered a variety of power, comfort, and convenience features, such as power steering and brakes as well as electric window lifts.
1955 Packard V8
But air conditioning was an anomaly. Although available on all makes by the mid-1950s, it was installed on only a handful of cars in 1955 and 1956 despite Packard’s status as a luxury car.
Although the concept of the 1955 Packard range was market-leading, there were serious body-production problems, because Packard’s supplier, Briggs, had been sold to Chrysler. Forced to build bodies in a smaller plant, Packard suffered quality problems that harmed its reputation.
By 1956, the bodywork issues had been addressed, but Cadillac continued to lead the luxury market, followed by Lincoln, Packard and Imperial. Reliability problems with the automatic transmission and all electrical accessories further eroded the public’s opinion of Packard.
Model series remained the same, but the V8 was now enlarged to 6.1 litres for Senior series, the largest in the industry. In the top-of-the-line Caribbean, that engine produced 310hp (230kW). Clippers continued to use the 352 engine.
1956 Packard 400 Hardtop
Despite Nance’s forced departure to Ford’s Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division, there were plans for an all−new 1957 line of Senior Packards based on the show-car Predictor. Clippers and Studebakers would also share many inner and outer body panels.
However, with no funding to retool for the advanced new models envisioned, the Packard brand’s fate was sealed. The last fully-Packard-designed vehicle, a Patrician four-door sedan, rolled off the Conner Avenue assembly line on June 25, 1956.
In 1957, no more Packards were built and the Clipper disappeared as a separate brand name. Instead, a Studebaker President–based car bearing the Packard Clipper nameplate appeared on the market, but sales were slow.
Many Packards fans joined competitors and media critics in christening the new models ‘Packardbakers’.
1958 Packard – Morven
The 1958 models were launched with no series name, simply as ‘Packard’. New body styles were introduced and the Packard Hawk was based on the Studebaker Golden Hawk. The public reaction was predictable and sales were almost non-existent.
Several makes were discontinued around this time: Packard, Edsel, Hudson, Nash, DeSoto and Kaiser. Not since the 1930s had so many makes disappeared and it wasn’t until the automotive industry crisis of 2008–10 that so many makes disappeared at the same time again.
The final shame for Packard was when its dealers became Mercedes-Benz sales people.