1953 Packard Patrician
In a most unlikely place, «Louis» found this almost factory new 1953 Packard Patrician. This elegant car is in a most un-elegant location: a used car lot surrounded by a chain link fence in gritty, drug and crime-ridden Richmond, California. «Louis» apologizes that he cannot show better photos of this amazing car.
This fine Packard has 7,201 original miles on it. It has never been restored - it is completely original except for the new Coker whitewall tires. It even still has the instruction tag hanging from the cigarette lighter in the front ash tray!
«Louis» was able to speak briefly with the owner of the used car lot where the car sits, but has not been able to find the owner at the lot for a follow-up conversation in three attempts to do so. «Louis» was also in hopes of moving the car to a more picturesque location for photos.
If «Louis'» recollection is correct, the owner of the used car lot found this car in Florida. It still had the factory original B.F. Goodrich tires on it. While driving the car, one of the 60 year-old tires blew out. Because the tires were still under the mileage limit on the original warranty, B.F. Goodrich replaced all four tires with the new Coker whitewalls - four of them!
This car is rare for another reason - it has factory air conditioning. In 1953, very few cars were equipped with air conditioning. Packard was the first to offer factory air in 1940. It was quite expensive for the time - a $1,000 option. In the immediate post-war years, Packard did not re-introduce air conditioning as an option. That changed with the arrival of James Nance as president of Packard in 1952. Nance went "pedal to the metal" in trying to restore Packard as the country's premier luxury car make and air conditioning was made available again on the 1953 models. An irony here is that the unit Packard installed on the 1953 and 1954 models ordered with air conditioning came from General Motors and was the unit used in Packard arch rival Cadillac. The air conditioning was mounted in the trunk of the car. The air intakes for the unit were mounted on top of the rear fenders just behind the "C" pillar of the roof.
Packard was in its third season for this body style, with one more year - 1954 - to go. This body was styled by John Rinehart and introduced for the 1951 model year. Rinehart actually had the car ready for the 1949 mid-year introduction of the Packard Golden Anniversary model, but the president of Packard at the time, George Christopher, refused to put it into production. Instead, the mid-year car (and also the specially painted Golden Anniversary cars) were face lifted "bath tubs", first introduced in 1948. The mid-year '49s also saw the introduction of Packard's Ultramatic Drive automatic transmission.
There are several remarkable twists to the Packard story here. As you've read in «Louis'» previous posts about Packard, from its early days and well into the years of the Depression, Packard was the most successful and most prestigious producer of luxury cars, despite determined competition from Cadillac in particular but others as well. But Packard was a stand-alone company and did not have other, lower-priced lines of cars to sell in the Depression years as did General Motors, parent of Cadillac. To weather the Depression, Packard needed a lower price, volume line to sell. They cast about, unsuccessfully, for another name to use for the lower price line. The lower price car, the 120, was introduced in 1935. It came with the cachet of the name "Packard", but over time, the luxury cars Packard built suffered a loss of prestige - to the advantage of Cadillac. One of the ironies here is that Mercedes-Benz has for years offered lower price lines, for example the "A" Class in Europe, with no loss of prestige to the "S" Class cars. (The "A" Class would remind Americans of a Honda Fit.) Packard couldn't pull it off.
To launch the 120, Packard hired production genius George Christopher away from Buick. Christopher's self-appointed agenda, never officially sanctioned by Packard upper management, was to take the entire company down market, into the Buick price class and go for volume over prestige. In doing so, he handed Cadillac the Luxury Car Crown on a silver platter in the immediate post World War II years.
The 120s were extremely good cars. There is no doubt that they pulled Packard through the Depression, but with them was planted the seeds of Packard's destruction. In thinking about Packard's fate last week, something dawned on «Louis» about George Christopher that «Louis» has never seen in any of the writings about Packard's history. It seems to «Louis» that Christopher was obsessed with turning Packard into another Buick to a degree more than realized at the time or even now.
For example, Packard was successful with its V-12 cars and even thwarted the effort by Cadillac's effort with its V-16 to unseat Packard from its luxury car throne and none of the other V-12 cars by Cadillac or any other maker equalled the prestige of the Packard V-12. But Christopher killed the V-12 at the end of the 1939 model year.
Packard engineers itched to replace the excellent but aging straight eight engine with a V-8, but Christopher refused to allow the development of a V-8. It dawned on «Louis» last week was the reason for this was that Buick stayed with its straight eight.
If Christopher refused to develop a Packard V-8, then why would he allow Packard engineers to develop the Ultramatic Drive automatic transmission? The light that went on in «Louis'» head about this is that Christopher knew that Buick was developing their Dynaflow automatic transmission. Cadillac was developing Hydramatic Drive, a gear box automatic, but Dynaflow was a torque converter automatic. Guess what: Ultramatic was a torque converter automatic. Although, like most early automatic transmissions, the performance of Ultramatic was, shall we say, leisurely, it had the unique feature of being a lock-up torque converter in final drive, thus transmitting the power directly from the crankshaft to the drive shaft. This feature, lacking in Buick's Dynaflow, was adopted by all modern automatic transmissions, an adoption brought about by CAFE mileage standards. Although Christopher was forced out at Packard in 1949, Packard didn't get its V-8 until 1955, following Buick which stuck to its straight eight until 1954. With Christopher out, John Rinehart's intended Golden Anniversary Packard design made its debut in 1951.
The 1953 Patricians were built on a 127" wheelbase. They were powered by Packard's 327 cubic inch, silky-smooth nine main bearing straight eight. For 1953, the engine got a horsepower boost via the addition of a four barrel carburetor. The Patricians were appointed with fine wool upholstered seats and Wilton carpeting. Hassock-style rear passenger foot rests were also included with the car.
Packard built 7,456 Patricians for the 1953 model year.
It is remarkable to find this extraordinary Packard in this most unlikely of places. «Louis» wishes the owner of that used car lot truly realized what a gem he has in hand and would move the car inside to the showroom and not leave it outside exposed to the elements, including the previous weekend's very heavy rains... (sigh)
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