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Home/Technical Info/Packard/ 11. Car Models Described/
1946-1958 Post War Packards: A Sad Tale


The 1956 Packard Caribbean was easily an equal to Cadillac and Lincoln in styling, engineering and features, but it arrived 3 years too late.
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By Society Staff – reprint with permission only

The post World war II story of Packard Motor Car Company is in many ways a sad tale. After the war, and as one of American's oldest car makers, Packard continued to create outstanding automobiles, but they failed to find popularity with a post-war breed of buyers who wanted a product that exuded modernity and saw solid conservatism as archaic.

For years, Packard's business philosophy had been constructed on the thought that buyers of luxury brands did not care for radical change on a model year basis. The directors of the company felt that their customers preferred a quality product that would retain its style and value over a multitude of years. Unfortunately, from the late 40s on, this was no longer the case. From 1949 and going forward style consciousness became an ever more important role in the marketing of cars - whether in a high-volume basis or not.

Another thing contributed to the eventual demise of Packard was the company's independent boutique status. Without being able to also sell lower-priced models, and lacking the resources of the Big Three (Chrysler, Ford and GM), Packard just did not have the financial means to adjust very quickly to the ever-changing buyers' demands for newer, longer, more powerful cars. Even when identified issues or trends, there was no way to react to them. Unlike the major manufacturers, Packard simply could not afford to restyle the car and add more features on an annual basis.

The first, postwar Packards arrived in October 1945. Like pre-war Packards, they were built to the same high standards held by the manufacturer since its inception in 1899. At war's end, America just wanted new wheels, so the fact that Packards were warmed-over 1942 models, had little effect on sales. Returning from wartime materials production to automobile manufacturing resulted in only about 31,000 of these 1946  cars being sold. Since all other car makers were in the same boat, Packard was able to keep-up with their competitors.
 
For 1947, the Packard line was changed little, but already they began to lose ground in reacting to new trends. The problem was not serious yet, but the foreshadowing of the problem had surfaced in more modern offerings from smaller companies like Studebaker and Kaiser-Frazer. Luckily, the company's major rivals, Cadillac, Lincoln and Chrysler, were also selling rehashed 1942 models.

But the next year, 1948 was the beginning a different ballgame. It was in that year that Cadillac delivered much more sweeping styling and introduced P-38 fighter plane type tailfins. Packard had anticipated new sheet metal would be required post war  and had countered with a new look, but it was much more conservative than GM's offerings. It was praised and honored by a number of internationally respected design organizations, and resulted in the 1948 models selling 99,000 cars and 105,000 the following year.

Toward the end of 1949 three things began to impact Packard. First, output by all manufacturers was at full-swing, capable of satisfying the demand for new cars. Second, the Big Three all had new and much more modern styling. General Motors' new hardtop coupes were way ahead of the curve and the fashion hit of the season. Last Packard's weakness began to show in engineering advances and stodgy styling. Though the slab-sided 1948-1950 cars were labeled with new, "Twenty-Third Series" nomenclature, by 1950 they were considered archaic in styling and more importantly in engineering, having no answer for the modern overhead valve V-8 engines coming on stream. Buyers began viewing Packard as an old-fashioned in the new automotive world.

Thinking quality was more significant, or just neglecting the need for a V-8 motor, in 1951 Packard came out with a completely new car, but still featuring the huge, heavy straight eight L-head engine from 1930. The '51 model had all new sheet metal and trim, a new frame, updated interior styling, and even the addition of the handsome "Mayfair" hardtop. Packard also wisely touted their "Ultramatic", automatic transmission which had been standard on the Custom Eights of 1949 and available on all 1950 Packards. The result significant increase in sales, up 115 percent over 1950, should have told Packard what they needed to do from then on. But tooling costs, and lower sales volumes just would not allow that. Despite a smart re-tweaking of the design in 1953 and 1954, Packards remained virtually unchanged in the eyes of the potential buyer.

But dropping sales figures did not send a clear signal until 1954. Though Packard went from the 16th largest producer in 1951 (76,000+ cars) it achieving the 14th rank and by selling 81,000+ cars for 1953. Sounds good, except they were passing already failed brands and falling behind in market percent as compared to other luxury brands. Thus when a general market downturn hit after the Korean War, Packard's 1954 sales were only 27,593 units, not enough to be profitable.

Facing buyer apathy, Packard rushed to offer a new a body shell and finally OHV V-8 power and very advanced torsion bar front suspension for 1955. Colors went from bland two tones to splashy three-tone colors, new crisp front fascias and fashionable hooded headlights, wrap-around windshields, a hint of tailfins. Finally a lower-priced Clipper line was offered to compete with DeSoto, Mercury, and Oldsmobile.

The cars were now current in styling and engineering - and the change brought immediate benefits, the new Packards drew rave reviews and 1955 Model sales climbed to 55,000 cars, but for Packard to recover the numbers need to be much, much more. These rapid revisions had added greatly to expenses for the new tooling. Packard was now over-extended because of that, and the purchase of Studebaker, a move which seemed logical on the surface, but exacerbated Packard's problems.

Studebaker was even more over-extended than Packard and actually pulled the barely solvent parent to its grave. Another recession impacted all luxury brands in 1956 and Packard's sales dropped to 28,835 cars effectively finishing the new Studebaker-Packard Company. In an agonizing and embarrassing finale, the Curtiss-Wright Corporation acquired Studebaker-Packard as a tax write-off. They quickly decided to consolidate the car lines and manufacturing at Studebaker's South Bend, Indiana facilities.
 
For the next two years, the Packard became a badge-engineered car, built on the Studebaker platform. Though  a fine automobile, this new Packard appealed to neither their former luxury buyers nor to traditional Studebaker purchasers. After 1958, the name Packard disappeared from the US automotive market.

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1946 Packard Touring Sedan

1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper Club Sedan

1948 Packard Super Eight Convertible

1949 Packard Eight Club Sedan

1950 Packard Custom Convertible

1951 Packard Patrician Sedan

1952 Packard 300 Sedan

1953 Packard Convertible

1954 Packard Caribbean Convertible

1955 Packard Four Hundred Hardtop

1956 Packard Executive Hardtop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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