(a.k.a. Red Car Day at Chez la Vache!)
In the years between World War I and World War II, Packard was recognized as the car of presidents and kings. Packard chassis were a favorite of custom coachbuilders and prominent families worldwide. Packard was the preeminent luxury automaker in the United States, rivaling the best European manufacturers. Packards were sold in 61 countries by 1929. “Packard luxury, once enjoyed, is seldom relinquished,” stated a Packard ad from the 1920s.
During this heady period, Edward Macauley was the director of styling for the Packard. Macauley, often viewed as having his job only because his father, Alvan Macauley, was the legendary general manager, president and ultimately chairman of Packard from 1910 to 1948, nonetheless was a “gifted automotive designer, and, like his father, a skilled manager.” Ed Macauley remained Packard’s director of styling until 1955.
The Depression convinced Packard that it could not survive producing a few thousand very expensive cars a year. The company felt it had to have a volume line to survive. To that end, the midpriced 8-cylinder Packard One Twenty was introduced in 1935 at a price starting at $980. The One Twenty was sold as a Packard rather than badged as a less-expensive companion car, as with Cadillac and the LaSalle. Promotional materials created for the introduction of the One Twenty stressed the quality of engineering, materials and construction over price, proclaiming the new car was “Every Inch a Packard.”
The Packard Six, introduced in 1937, took Packard into the low-price field at an initial cost of $795. Beginning in 1937, the two new models were advertised and sold together as the Packard Six and Eight, or One Ten and One Twenty.
Historians have argued whether Packard’s lower-priced cars – they have been called “Episcopalian cars for Methodists” – were directly responsible for the company’s demise in the years following World War II. Packard likely would not have survived the Great Depression without the introduction of lower-priced cars that brought new buyers into the Packard fold. That said, the lower priced cars diluted Packard's luxury image.
Between 1938 and 1940, the Junior Packards outsold the Senior cars by a ratio of 7-1. The ramifications, however, were felt to the end of Packard’s days. The man Packard brought in to produce the Junior Packards, George Christopher, handed Packard's luxury car business to Cadillac on a silver platter.
World War II transformed the world, and Packard was not spared, in spite of coming out of wartime with healthy cash reserves. The company did not resume production of either the traditional Senior cars or the One Ten and One Twenty following WWII. Packard’s future would ride solely on the more modern Packard Clipper, introduced immediately before the war.
The Clipper resulted from the ongoing sales woes of the 1930s. Sales contributed by the One Ten and One Twenty likely saved Packard as an automaker, but not enough for the company to prosper. Packard undertook a crash program beginning in the summer of 1939 to develop a streamlined automobile. That automobile became the Packard Clipper, introduced in April 1941.
Packard’s initiative might have paid off, but by the time U.S. automakers resumed postwar production in 1946-47, Packard’s Clipper, which led the industry in design in 1941, already looked dated compared to the first of the all-new postwar designs. Furthermore, the introduction of a restyled Clipper as the Packard Twenty-Second Series in 1948 was greeted by widespread rejection. The styling of the 1948-50 Packards led to the sobriquet “bathtub Packards,” and worse.
The restyled 1951 Packard attributed to John Reinhart, who became chief stylist in 1947, was an attractive car that overcame the criticism of the previous model series, but much of Packard’s prewar reputation was already lost.
As «Louis» has related in previous posts about Packard and Studebaker, Nash president George Mason conceived of a plan to form the fourth full-line automaker by merging Nash, Hudson, Studebaker and Packard. Mason, playing on the Packard board's increasing anger at George Christopher, angled to install James Nance at Packard. Christopher, first was a hero for the success of the 110-120 series cars, but became a goat because of his refusal after WWII to produce a V8 engine and for his insistence on producing the "bathtub" Packards of 1948-1950 instead of Rinehart's sleek design that became the 1951 models. A palace coup resulted and Christopher was forced out.
Nance, the dynamo who was running Whirlpool appliances, began studying Packard. He commissioned an independent study of Packard in early 1951. The study indicated that an important connection had been lost between the Packard name and ‘prestige. The bad news didn’t stop there. Another study commissioned by Packard in 1951 from the Maxon research organization showed 51 percent of new-car buyers bought styling, while only 17 percent bought Packard’s reputation. In addition, Maxon reported that only 55 percent of Packard buyers were previous Packard owners.
Not even Packard’s long-established reputation for engineering was any longer an asset. A subsequent 1952 Maxon study reported, “Buyers ‘overwhelmingly’ favored V8s over straight 8s.” And, “By early 1951 automatic transmissions, power brakes, V8s and hardtops were the necessary tools of the trade. Yet Packard offered only its proprietary Ultramatic Drive automatic transmission and its vacuum-assisted Easamatic power brake. Its V8 was still several years away.” With the new Rinehart-designed Packards of 1951, a hardtop was offered - but General Motors had introduced hardtops 2-3 years earlier, not to mention modern, overhead valve V8s.
A Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm concluded a mid-1952 internal Packard study with the observation that, “Gliding along on the company’s outdated sense of prestige was not enough. Packard’s name is good, but not up with Cadillac’s.” According to Booz Allen, “[Packard] had to portray itself as vital and aggressive. It had to devise a hard-hitting public relations campaign to ‘get across to the industry and to the public that Packard has come to life.’”
Urgent measures were needed. One of those who heeded the message was Ed Macauley. Although by 1951 no longer a confidant of Packard’s upper management, Macauley is credited with taking action that led to the development of a series of dramatic Packard concept cars, working closely with contemporary Packard chief engineer Bill Graves. These Packard concepts served their purpose by capturing the public’s attention while Packard management worked out a plan to restore the company to its previous glory.
The first of these show cars was the Special Speedster, built on a heavily modified 1951 Packard. This became Macauley's personal car. Next up was the Panamerican, designed by Richard Arbib. Arbib, who earlier worked with Harley Earl at GM, spent most of his career as an independent design consultant.
The order for the Pan American show car had already been given to coachbuilder Henney when James Nance left appliance-maker Hotpoint to become chairman of Packard in 1952. Henney built the Pan American in just six weeks, modifying a 1951 Packard 250 convertible for the 1952 International Motor Sports Show in New York.
The Pan American was deeply sectioned, dramatically lowering the height of the car. Most production chrome trim was removed, and a “continental style” spare tire was mounted on the rear bumper. The Pan American was the hit of the show and significantly influenced the development of the Packard Caribbean convertible. Nance approved production of the Caribbean at the Ionia Manufacturing Company, later Mitchell-Bentley, in Ionia, Mich., beginning in 1953. Henney constructed an additional five Pan Americans for Packard.
Richard Teague, who succeeded John Reinhart as chief stylist at Packard, designed the 1953 Packard Balboa, which was briefly known as the Balboa-X, the X for “experimental.” The Balboa was based on the production Packard Caribbean, with a hardtop-style “canopy” roof featuring unique reverse-slanted rear glass that later appeared in production on the 1957-58 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and the Continental Mark III and as the "breezeway" window on the 1963-1965 Mercurys. (When Nance left Packard, he became the General Manager of the Lincoln-Mercury division at Ford and took this idea with him.) The Balboa was finished in Packard Ivory with a special maroon top and a Caribbean interior finished in maroon-and-white leather with embroidered Packard-crest medallions on the seat backs. Other Packard show cars followed: the Panther, the Request and the fabulous Predictor of 1956.
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