From The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company by James A. Ward:
“The news of Packard’s demise was announced on July 13 [1958, emphasis mine], but nobody at S-P [Studebaker-Packard] took responsibility for it. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal ran retrospective pieces, emphasizing Packard’s past, and explained its death by saying that S-P’s ‘destiny is tied to smaller cars.’ The Times pointed out that with Packard’s demise, only 16 remained of the 2,700 nameplates that had appeared since 1893. Business Week headlined its story ‘Ask The Man Who Owned One’ and compared the fall of Nash, Hudson, Packard, Willys, Crosley, and Frazer to the disappearance of automobile companies in the depression.”
For many Packard purists the 1957 and 1958 models were not Packards, but merely badge-engineered Studebakers. However, the fact that they were made at all was really an attempt to keep the name alive in the hopes the make/marque could be given a new identity, if not one wholly separate from Studebaker. No offense intended to those Packard aficionados who disdain the last two model years, but from favcars.com a picture of a 1958 Packard hardtop coupe, of which only 675 were made.
Believe it or not I am not a big fan of quoting myself, but here is something I sent in an email to Bill James:
In the overwhelming return of my passion for automobiles I have noticed something similar [to the difficulty of dislodging successful entities from their perch]. While people like me lament the demise of makes like Studebaker and Packard, the writing was on the wall long before those companies folded. Even before World War II the top selling cars in America were almost always from The Big Three automakers. Maybe the lesson is that Studebaker must have actually made some good cars to last until 1966.
As 56packardman believes, maybe the slogan that the 1956 Packards were “the greatest Packards of all” was true. Even so, that wasn’t enough to save the name from extinction. Life outcomes are a function of endogenous AND exogenous forces. I believe that people who only credit one or the other are missing the point.
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5 thoughts on “The End Of The Marque”
James Ward’s “The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company” is a well-written, well-researched and very readable book on the sad end of Packard. • The ’58 “Packardbakers” were certainly a sad end to that once-proud marque. • The similarity of the roof line on the ’58 Packard (and Studebaker) Starlight hardtops to the roof on the then-contemporary Chrysler hardtops is likely due to the fact that Virgil Exner, Jr. was working at Studebaker-Packard when those cars were designed. The fin on top of a fin on the ’58 Packardbakers has often been criticized as being over-the-top unnecessary. Compare the rear of a ’58 Packard with the rear of a ’57 or ’58 Dodge and ask yourself if that isn’t some Exner influence as well. • The very last 2 vehicles from Studebaker-Packard wearing Packard badges were two Studebaker trucks re-badged as Packards and shipped as a special order to Argentina.
Many thanks for the thoughtful comment. I realize this is all useless speculation as one can’t change the past, but do you think a scenario in which Nance would have picked off the best parts of Studebaker, that he could have used as a medium-priced companion for Packard, and then liquidated the rest could have saved Packard?
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Yes! I have long thought that. As much as I like Studebakers, I have long felt that they made a monumental mistake in closing Packard and continuing with Studebaker and trying to salvage their contracts with Packard dealers by marketing the “Packardbakers”. As you’ve seen me write previously, I am not aware of any executive that was hit with so many things going wrong all at once as Nance: the loss of the J-47 jet engine contract, the loss of their body supplier, the hemorrhaging at Studebaker because of Studebaker’s out-of-control labor costs, the refusal of the banks and insurance companies to fund the all-new ’57s, etc. Out of all of that, I believe that the decision that triggered Packard’s collapse was the decision to turn the former Briggs body plant on Conner Avenue into a full production facility. The resulting delay in the introduction of the ’55s and the quality problems that accompanied building cars at Conner set in motion the events that brought about Packard’s closure.
Nance wanted a more modern plant than East Grand and he bought into Ray Powers’ (who came from Ford) line that Conner would be more efficient than East Grand. It just didn’t work and it killed Packard. They should have trucked the “bodies in white” (primed) from Conner to East Grand for final assembly and they would have gotten the ’55s to market on time (instead of in January) and without the build-quality issues that plagued them for months at Conner. They couldn’t even run 2 shifts at Conner because there wasn’t enough room for parts to build cars over 2 shifts.
The idea of building the Clipper line as the volume line was correct but with everything else going on it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been. The capacity at East Grand was adequate for the realities of the market that both Packard and Studebaker faced.
My Monday Morning Quarterbacking of the situation 65 years later is that they should have: (1) continued building bodies at Conner and trucking them to East Grand (2) Stayed the course with the Clipper line as the mid-price car but drop the low end Clipper Deluxe and (3) closed Studebaker’s South Bend and Los Angeles (which was always under utilized and they were shipping bodies to Los Angeles from South Bend, for Pete’s sake …) plants and built a Studebaker Commander and Champion (no President) on the Clipper body shell and wheelbase (which was 5″ shorter than the Packard body). This would have solved their V-8 problem, too. The Studebaker President customers could step up to a Clipper Super or Custom. The alternative would have been to drop the Clipper but “Studebaker-ize” the Clipper body and market the 3 traditional Studebaker series: Champion-Commander-President while continuing the Senior Packard line (in either scenario).
That Studebaker V-8 was one of the best engines of the era – but because it was designed to handle compression ratios of up to 14-1, the bore centers had to be designed in such a way that the engine was at its realistic size limit at 289 cubic inches which wasn’t competitive going into the ’60s. OTOH, Packard’s new V-8 had plenty of capacity and was being built in a brand new plant in Utica. The ’57 Senior Packards, had they been built, would have had a 440 cubic inch V-8. The Packard 320 cubic inch V-8 (as used in the ’55 Clipper Deluxe and Super and in the ’55 Nash Ambassador and Hudson Hornet) would have been just right for the Packard-built Studebakers.
The capacity of East Grand would have accommodated the realistic combined volume of Packard and Studebaker at a lower fixed cost than the inefficient and high cost Studebaker plant in South Bend. This would have kept the new engine and transmission plant in Utica open and given Studebaker a competitive engine. I believe there was one more stop-gap restyle of the Packard body they could have marketed for ’57. Had they consolidated into Detroit instead of South Bend, I believe they could have secured the funding to build the planned all-new ’57s and introduced them as ’58s as those cars would still have been competitive for 1958.
Many thanks, sir. This speculation after the fact doesn’t really accomplish anything, but I think it’s human nature to try to re-write history to a more pleasant outcome.
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