The History of Packard


Packard entered the 1940s with new styles and lower prices. Innovations included the electromatic clutch Econo-Drive and over drive. A new less expensive line of cars was introduced. This car was called the Clipper. A company called Briggs Manufacturing stated they could build Clipper bodies cheaper than Packard could. Briggs gave Packard President Macauley a low figure, but soon after production began, the price was raised. Packard wound up paying more for the bodies than if they had built them themselves.

The Clipper line, introduced in 1941, was a direct competitor to the Cadillac 61 Series. The Clipper moved Packard's sales ahead of Cadillac and LaSalle sales combined.

On February 7, 1942, the U.S. Government ordered all passenger car production stopped. Packard switched over to war production and made more than 55,000 Packard Merlin aircraft engines and more than 12,000 marine engines. Packard also developed a jet engine. Packard-Henney ambulances were used extensively during the war and Packard staff cars were used by Generals Patton, Eisenhower, and MacArthur.

With the end of the war in 1945, Packard dealers were hungry for cars. Most of Packard's car building machinery had been placed outdoors to make way for engine building. Although protected, the machinery was in terrible condition and most motors had to be replaced.

The Clipper design was now four years old, but Packard had managed to make $33 million through their jet and aircraft engine sales. The Packard facility was completely renovated at a cost of approximately $2 million dollars. A decision was made to build only the Clipper design and eliminated all other lines. 1946 saw the Clipper Six 2100 and 2103, Supper Clipper 2103, and the Custom Super Clipper 2106. 1947 brought out the new Super Eight and Custom convertibles. Total sales for 1949 had reached 117,000 cars.

Clippers were a foot wider than tall which made it the widest car in production at the time. One of the most appealing features was an integrated fender line as well and concealed running boards and concealed door hinges. A one-piece hood could be raised from either side or lifted off by two people. The gas tank was equipped with an alarm that whistled as fuel was pumped into the tank. When the whistle stopped the tank was full.

In 1949 Packard introduced the 23rd Series Eight and Deluxe Eight. Total sales for the year had reached almost 117,000 cars, but the sale of the luxury cars was very low.

James J. Nance became Packard president and general manager in 1952. He was also elected to the board. Nance moved to Packard as part of a plan to form the fourth largest automotive manufacturer. Nance would merge Packard with Studebaker, while George Mason at Nash would merge Nash with Hudson which was for sale. Nance would then become president of the four car company.

Packard assisted with the Korean War effort in 1952 as a manufacturer of jet airplane engines. This resulted in $70 million for the company. Clipper production continued with the 26th Series Clipper, the 26th Series Clipper Deluxe and the 26th Series Cavalier. The Packard convertible Mayfair and Caribbean were also introduced. The 26th Series was the top-of-the-line Packard. The Balboa was a luxury hardtop model with a distinctive roof that slanted forward with an overhang. The production cost for this car was approximately $12,000. Only one model was ever built.

In 1953 Chrysler bought out Briggs Manufacturing, a maker of Packard bodies. Chrysler decided it would not continue the arrangement that Briggs had with Packard and Packard was forced to find another body maker in a hurry. A deal was eventually worked out in 1955 with Chrysler to temporarily produce Packard bodies.

The summer of 1953 was a major set back for all luxury automobile makers. The general public stopped buying new cars. Because Packards were of such high quality, everyone who wanted one, had one. With 1930 and '40 models still running strong, there was little reason to purchase a newer model. Dealer orders became fewer and fewer and production figures sunk to 31,291.

The Studebaker merger that had been discussed in 1952 surfaced again and was set in motion. Unfortunately, Studebaker sales were also sliding and the merger hurt Packard more than it helped. The Studebaker-Packard named was registered in 1954. The Korean War ending also meant an end to all defense contracts. As a result, Studebaker-Packard lost almost half a billion dollars in income.

In November 1955, Packard introduced the 56th Series Packard Patrician and 400 and the Caribbean. These were the last Packard cars ever made. June 25, 1956 marked the death of Packard. Only Eighteen Packards and twenty-four Clippers were built. The company let its 1,443 Packard employees go.

On July 26, 1956 the Studebaker-Packard board approved a joint program with Curtiss-Wright. The plan was to continue the Packard name on all Studebaker cars built in 1957. The 57th Series Clipper 57L was introduced but few people were interested. In 1959, cars carried only the Studebaker name. Only 2,622 were built. The Studebaker Lark made a slight profit for the company as did the 1960 Avanti. In 1962, Studebaker-Packard Corporation dropped the Packard name for good. The last Studebaker was produced on March 17, 1966.

Packard's adherence to quality and excellence eventually lead to their demise. Because Packards were built so well, people held on to them longer than any other car. If you ever have the chance to see a fine old Packard from the 30s or 40s, take a good look because you will never see another car like it again. Packards were the ultimate cars in luxury and comfort. Just ask the person who owns one.