«Louis'» fascination with the Packard Motor Car Company goes back to age two. This fascination has an unusual origin. In 1949, «Louis'» father, who was a 23 year old college student and by no means earning a comfortable living, managed to buy a 23rd series Packard Deluxe Eight Touring Sedan, finished in Sylvan Green metallic. Packards, even the relatively downmarket Deluxe Eight models, were cars driven by doctors and bankers, not college students with young families. (The title "banker" meant something then...)
One day, «Louis'» parents packed him and his infant sister in their new Packard and drove from their home in Lubbock, Texas the seventy some miles north to his maternal grandparents home in Tulia. On the return trip, just north of Lubbock, they were hit head-on by a drunk driving a large truck with a drilling rig mounted on it. Packards were heavy and substantial cars, but no match for a truck fitted with a drilling rig. In those days, only a few cars were fitted with seat belts. Seat belts were optional on Packards but were not mandatory for the industry. Young «Louis» was standing in the front seat between his parents when the truck hit the Packard.
The hood of the car was sheared off in the impact. Young «Louis» was thrown through the windshield and landed on the engine. Aside from the burns he suffered from hitting the hot engine block, the windshield cut his abdomen severely. Safety glass had not been introduced to the auto industry in 1949. It took more than 300 stitches to close «Louis'» abdominal wounds.
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, was «Louis'» introduction to Packards...
The wrecked Packard was replaced by a navy blue 1948 Plymouth.
Somehow, young «Louis» knew the wounds he received flying through the windshield of that Packard was not the fault of the car, and never disliked Packards as a result. «Louis», even as a little boy, has always been a "car nut". By age four, he could tell you the make and often the year of any car pointed out to him. He remembers very clearly father taking him into the service department of Kiker's, the Packard dealer in Plainview, Texas, where the family was living in 1951. «Louis» remembers noticing the contrast between the dumpy styling of the 48-50 Packards in contrast with the handsome pre-war and immediate post war Packard Clippers.
In other Packard posts, «Louis» has recounted that:
• The "pregnant elephant" Packards of 1948-1950 were replaced in 1951 by John Rinehart's fine design
• James Nance became president of Packard in 1952
• Richard Teague's arrival as head of Styling about the same time Nance came to Packard
• Packard's purchase of Studebaker in 1954 as part of becoming American Motors, the completion of which was nixed by George Romney, Mitt's father
• Nance's struggle to save Packard
• Teague's masterful restyle of the Rinehart design for the 1955-1956 Packards
• The Packard Predictor show car was a marker both for the Nance-Teague plans for 1957 and for the industry as a whole because of its innovative features
• «Louis» saw the Predictor at the Texas State Fair in 1956 - and he has never forgotten it
• The sad end of Packard when Nance couldn't get the financing to launch the new 1957s
Although nine year-old «Louis» saw the Predictor in 1956 and knew that the planned - but never built - '57 Packards were to share many of the design features of the Predictor, «Louis» never saw any images of the planned '57s until the early 1990s. This is a segue into relating to his readers «Louis'» first design for Packard when he was 13 years old in 1960.
«Louis» remembers the day in 1956 he learned that Packard would close its Detroit facilities. He was visiting his maternal grandparents in Tulia, Texas and heard the news on the radio. His grandfather had acquired a 1937 Packard three window coupe. «Louis» doesn't recall if this Packard was an eight cylinder 120 or a six cylinder 110, but he remembers that it was metallic green. Upon hearing the news that Packard was closing, he found a can of car wax in the house, gathered some rags and went out and waxed his grandfather's Packard, sobbing about Packard's closure.
In 1960, «Louis'» family was living in Denver, Colorado. «Louis'» father had lost his job. His mother, a nurse, wasn't working and «Louis» was trying to support the family with the earnings from his Denver Post paper route. He had heard of the Art Center School of Design in Pasadena, California and knew he wanted to become a car stylist. He also knew he wanted to do something more to help his family and he also wanted to see Studebaker revive Packard.
All of these elements combined to inspire «Louis» to design a Packard and try to sell the design to Studebaker. What «Louis» didn't know at the time was how much his design would have resembled a likely facelift of the unbuilt, Predictor-inspired 1957 Packards.
«Louis» painstakingly wrote out his proposal in a letter to Harold Churchill, president of Studebaker, and mailed it to the Studebaker headquarters at 635 South Main Street, South Bend, 27, Indiana. To his amazement and delight, he got a response from Mr. Churchill and a letter from the legal department for him to sign regarding the sale of his design to Studebaker. He excitedly filled out the form and returned his proposal to Studebaker. He was crestfallen when he got the rejection letter...
«Louis'» design would have made the grille more resemble the classic Packard grille, particularly the early (1941-1942) Packard Clipper and he would have treated the front fenders differently, housing the turn signals in the end of the fenders in a design mimicking the shape of the grille. He would have re-introduced Packard's famous Cormorant hood ornament as well as the sweep spear on the side. But the overall shape of the car, the roofline and his interpretation of the "cathedral" taillights was amazingly like the would-have-been '57s he never saw until he was an adult living in California...