Can You Go Home Again?

Of course, You Can’t Go Home Again is the title of a famous novel by Thomas Wolfe. The title has become part of the lexicon of American English.

In my opinion, inherent in the title is the notion that the past cannot be relived or revived. However, the past has a strong hold on many. In addition, the past is and should be instructive in terms of guiding current and future behavior although many fail to heed its lessons.

Those of us with an interest in defunct automobile manufacturers often dream of reviving those names. Some, like Doug Pray–who is CEO, I guess, of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Company in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma–have actually put previously extinct makes back on the road with new builds.

Others have tried, but seemingly failed. What would you think if I said this was the link to the Packard Motor Car Company (sorry, but it is not a secure site) and this is the link to the Studebaker Motor Company (also not secure)?

Roy Gullickson is the President and Chairman of the “new” Packard Motor Car Company. Apparently, he has been exploring the feasibility of an American-built “ultra-luxury performance automobile” since 1994. I am hesitant to show a photo from a website that is not secure, but here is a picture of the Packard Twelve prototype:

 

 

From the company website:

Packard automobiles were for many years the Pride of the American automobile industry. They supplied premium priced, high quality automobiles in a class that at present is not available in any American automobile. The considerable market in America and the world in this class is all supplied by European/British manufacturers. This is the place for Packard – a distinctive American automobile – the name still means quality and luxury to automobile enthusiasts worldwide.

Do you think anyone under the age of 60 has any image of Packard, let alone the image of “quality and luxury to automobile enthusiasts worldwide?” Anyone under the age of 60 was not even alive when the last Packards, either the last real ones or the Packardbakers, were built.

I wish the Packard name were still alive in the automobile industry, but I don’t really think it can be revived. The “new” Studebaker company is not even as far along as the “new” Packard.

“Studebaker” is run by Ric Reed who bought out company “founder” Tom Raines in 2008. Reed has been unable to acquire funding that would even allow him to build a prototype and has not updated the company website in over a year. His interest is in building hybrid vehicles.

As every regular reader knows, I agree with Roy Gullickson about the feasibility of an American-made super-luxury car. I just don’t think trying to revive the Packard name is the way to do it.

Being able to bring a new model into production in such a way that makes the endeavor profitable almost always requires enormous resources that are usually only available to large, existing companies. While Tesla did declare a profit for the year ending June 30, 2020, remember that it had never done so previously and had lost almost $4 billion in the previous three years. Also remember that Tesla was not trying to revive a brand or a concept from the past.

What do you think? Can a company succeed in bringing back the past, in trying to go home again?

 

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8 thoughts on “Can You Go Home Again?

  1. I suspect that the attempts to revive “old” brands is a fools errand. As you pointed out, the costs would be staggering, and it’s a niche market. While the government did loosen up some of the standards low volume makers must meet, mainly crash testing, emission standards MUST be met. So the low volume manufacturer will have to use existing powertrains that have been certified. So now do you have a Packardillac? Or a Fordabaker?

    As you also pointed out, the name means nothing to all but a few these days. One of the questions I’m often asked about my Lark is, Studebaker? Who made them? Or a comment that “My grandfather had a Rambler, too.” When you point out that was a different company, some want to argue that it wasn’t, that Rambler made Studebakers. At that point I give up and ignore that person.

    I suspect in the next few years the same fate will befall Plymouth, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Mercury.

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  2. I think there’s numerous examples and we’ve seen that revivals often have mixed results.
    The retro styling thing that happened (can it be?) 15 or 20 years ago ended up fairly successful I think. The Mustang redesign, revivals of the Beetle, Chrysler 300, Charger, Challenger and Camaro, they sold well. I think even the PT cruiser, reborn Thunderbird and Chevy HHR can be considered successful to varying degrees. But I think what’s common to these is it’s the big players doing it. They can afford (to an extent) to take the risk. They have economies of scale and vast research. And if they flop on something they can likely survive the misstep.
    Now to resurrect a brand… that I’m not sure. I think of the Stutz of the 1970s-1990s, they made under 1000 cars and that was with a well-connected car guy in Virgil Exner reviving it, and Elvis buying the first one.
    It’s not impossible, but I think it really takes a certain person to make it succeed. Someone who is already a name, like a Shelby or Saleen, Lutz or Gale or Holls (but obviously alive and younger lol) to shepherd it through.

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    1. Excellent comment and points well-made, sir.

      Nothing is the same as having large amounts of resources. The US auto market was consolidating long before World War II. Maybe it’s a testament to Packard and Studebaker that they lasted as long as they did.

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  3. I can’t add anything to the excellent comments by those who have already “spoken.” I doubt the names of these old classics would mean much of anything to the current and future generations of new car buyers.

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