Cars We Remember: More on the beautiful Packard motor cars and its 1959 demise
Q: Hello Greg. I want to ask about your feelings on the Packard automobile that was built up through 1958. I’ve owned many Packards in my day and wish they would have never merged with Studebaker.
— Bob, retired and happy in Pennsylvania.
A: Bob, I loved the Packard automobiles, too, and still enjoy seeing any and all of them that attend area car shows. You are correct about the Studebaker merger, which offered Packard many dealers but a “not so correct” set of financial books. Please read on.
As for the car and company, Packard was founded in 1899 by James and William Packard and a partner, George Weiss. By 1939, Packard had earned a reputation for building one of the finest luxury cars in the word, and there were four engines available in ’39 to power the luxury coaches, coupes and sedans. Available were an Inline-six-cylinder that measured 242 inches, two inline-eights of 282 and 320 inches, and a 473 cubic inch V-12 engine that was discontinued in 1940.
Packard was one of three luxury cars of the day that started with the letter “P,” specifically Packard, Pierce-Arrow and Peerless. These three models carried better luxury reputations than Lincoln and Cadillac did at the time.
Although Packard survived the Great Depression of 1929 and the tough 1930s, Pierce-Arrow fell in 1938 and Peerless folded via receivership before New Year’s Day of 1930. Thus, of the three “P” luxury independents, only Packard had enough cash reserves to survive. During the war years starting in 1942, Packard built airplane engines, and especially those used in the Mustang P-51’s in a license deal with Merlin and Rolls Royce. They also built V-12 PT boat engines with great success.
When World War II ended, Packard found the luxury car market a bit more difficult, as the Big Three of GM, Ford and Chrysler were flexing their muscle. Clearly, the independent manufacturers had less money to spend resulting in many of the independents either merging or going out of business.
However, Packard got together with Studebaker in 1954 hoping for financial and dealer strength when they combined the companies. However, although Studebaker offered hundreds of more dealers, their books were “cooked” and immediate financial problems occurred. Sadly, the Packard brand was the one that got the bust, and the brand lasted only until 1958 as you note.
Although the 1958 Packards had a strong resemblance to the Silver and Golden Hawk Studebakers, which they really were, they sold in limited numbers and by 1959 the Packard name was dropped, ending a rich history of great motor coach building.
What many car buffs don’t know when it comes to the Packard and Studebaker merger was that George Mason, who merged Hudson and Nash to form American Motors in 1954 had a master plan. He wanted to also incorporate Packard and Studebaker into American Motors, but his death, also in 1954, ended any chance of that happening.
Had Mason lived and was able to merge all of the nameplates, he would have had a major company in the car business, and we would have called the business of American cars back then “the big four” instead of “the big three.”
Notable is that Mason already had several of his ducks in line concerning the four brand American Motors thanks to numerous behind closed door meetings. These secret covenants found Mason and then Packard president James Nance working a deal where a powerful four-brand American Motors Corporation would be formed, with AMC absorbing the new Studebaker-Packard Company and Mason touting a strong four brand company to include Nash-Hudson-Studebaker and Packard.
Too bad Mason passed, as Packard cars under the American Motors umbrella could have been alive today and a major player in American car sales.
Thanks for your letter.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now, BestRide.com and other Gatehouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions on old cars, auto nostalgia and old-time motorsports at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pennsylvania 18840 or at email@example.com.