April 19, 2014
Automobile Quarterly
the connoiseur's publication of motoring - today, yesterday and tomorrow

FEATURED ARTICLE | Packard Conceptualized | Leigh Dorrington

Packard Conceptualized
By Leigh Dorrington
Photography by Jay Texter
 
GM’s Motorama and Chrysler’s Ghia dream cars stole the show for 1950s auto buyers’ attention. But independent Packard, on the ropes after half a century of industry leadership, also produced a series of influential concept cars that sadly proved to be too little, too late. Collector Ralph Marano has reunited and preserved examples of all but one of these unique Packards.

In the years between World War I and World War II, Packard was recognized as the car of presidents and kings. Packard chassis were a favorite of custom coachbuilders and prominent families worldwide, and the marque was the most eminent luxury automaker in the United States, rivaling the best European manufacturers. Packards were sold in 61 countries by 1929. “Packard luxury, once enjoyed, is seldom relinquished,” stated a Packard ad from the 1920s. “Records indicate that 96 percent of all Packard owners remain in the family.”

During this heady period, Edward Macauley must have considered himself a very fortunate man. By 1932, he was the director of styling for the Packard Motor Car Company, just a few years after Harley Earl started the first styling department in the industry – General Motors’ Art and Colour Section in 1928. Macauley had an advantage: his father, Alvan Macauley, was the legendary general manager, president and ultimately chairman of Packard from 1910 to 1948.

While historian James A. Ward wrote in his thoroughly researched book The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company that Edward Macauley was “a man with a good eye for style, decent administrative ability, and a conservative bent, but … no qualifications for the post,” notable others have been kinder in their assessment describing Ed Macauley as a “gifted automotive designer, and, like his father, a skilled manager.” Ed Macauley remained Packard’s director of styling until 1955.

The decades of the 1920s and 1930s also saw dramatic changes in the automobile industry. Alvan Macauley and Jesse Vincent, Packard’s brilliant chief engineer, had proposed in the past a light, 6-cylinder. As early as 1920, “Macauley … was convinced that Packard’s future in the fine car market could no longer rest upon the production of a few thousand very expensive cars a year,” wrote L. Morgan Yost in Packard – A History of the Motor Car and the Company.

 
 

To supplement the Senior Packards. the midpriced 8-cylinder Packard One Twenty was introduced in 1935 at a price starting at $980. The One Twenty was sold as a Packard rather than badged as a less-expensive companion car, as with Cadillac and the LaSalle. Promotional materials created for the introduction of the One Twenty stressed the quality of engineering, materials and construction over price, proclaiming the new car was “Every Inch a Packard.”

The Packard Six, introduced in 1937, took Packard into the low-price field at an initial cost of $795. Beginning in 1937, the two new models were advertised and sold together as the Packard Six and Eight, or One Ten and One Twenty.

Historians have argued whether Packard’s lower-priced cars – they have been called “Episcopalian cars for Methodists” – were directly responsible for the company’s demise in the years following World War II. But Packard likely would not have survived the Great Depression without the introduction of lower-priced cars that brought new buyers into the Packard fold.

Between 1938 and 1940, the Junior Packards outsold the Senior cars by a ratio of 7-1. The ramifications, however, were felt to the end of Packard’s days.

Postwar Challenges

World War II transformed the world, and Packard was not spared, in spite of coming out of wartime with healthy cash reserves. The company did not resume production of either the traditional Senior cars or the One Ten and One Twenty following WWII. Packard’s future would ride solely on the more modern Packard Clipper, introduced immediately before the war.

The Clipper resulted from the ongoing sales woes of the 1930s. Sales contributed by the One Ten and One Twenty likely saved Packard as an automaker, but not enough for the company to prosper. Packard undertook a crash program beginning in the summer of 1939 to develop a streamlined automobile. That automobile became the Packard Clipper, introduced in April 1941.

Packard’s initiative might have paid off, but by the time U.S. automakers resumed postwar production in 1946-47, Packard’s Clipper, which led the industry in design in 1941, already looked dated compared to the first of the all-new postwar designs. Furthermore, the introduction of a restyled Clipper as the Packard Twenty-Second Series in 1948 was greeted by widespread rejection. The styling of the 1948-50 Packards led to the sobriquet “bathtub Packards,” and worse.

The restyled 1951 Packard attributed to John Reinhart, who became chief stylist in 1947, was an attractive car still based on the aging Clipper. It overcame most of the criticism of the previous model series, but much of Packard’s prewar reputation was already lost.

Historian Ward wrote, “An independent study undertaken on behalf of James Nance, who was angling for the presidency of Packard in early 1951, indicated that an important connection had been lost between the Packard name and ‘prestige.’” The bad news didn’t stop there. Another study commissioned by Packard in 1951 from the Maxon research organization showed 51 percent of new-car buyers bought styling, while only 17 percent bought Packard’s reputation. In addition, Maxon reported that only 55 percent of Packard buyers were previous Packard owners.

Not even Packard’s long-established reputation for engineering was any longer an asset. A subsequent 1952 Maxon study reported, “Buyers ‘overwhelmingly’ favored V8s over straight 8s.” And, “By early 1951 automatic transmissions, power brakes, V8s and hardtops were the necessary tools of the trade. Yet Packard offered only Ultamatic and its vacuum-assisted Easamatic power brake. Its V8 was still several years away.”

The Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm concluded a mid-1952 internal Packard study, quoted by Ward, with the observation that, “Gliding along on the company’s outdated sense of prestige was not enough. Packard’s name is good, but not up with Cadillac’s.” According to Booz Allen, “[Packard] had to portray itself as vital and aggressive. It had to devise a hard-hitting public relations campaign to ‘get across to the industry and to the public that Packard has come to life.’”

Urgent Measures

Urgent measures were needed. One of those who heeded the message was Ed Macauley. Although by 1951 no longer a confidant of Packard’s upper management, Macauley is credited with taking action that led to the development of a series of dramatic Packard concept cars, working closely with contemporary Packard chief engineer Bill Graves. These Packard concepts served their purpose by capturing the public’s attention while Packard management worked out a “Hobson’s choice” of increasingly overwhelming problems.

 
 

The whereabouts of these concept cars were scattered during Packard’s last years. All of the Packard concept cars except the 1956 Predictor were sold to employees, suppliers or outside the corporation. Some disappeared for decades. Occasionally, incorrect and conflicting accounts have contributed to a lack of clarity in understanding the origins of the cars. Until, that is, Ralph Marano of Westfield, N.J., made it his personal quest to locate, document and preserve the Packard concept cars in his extensive collection.

1951 Packard Panther

The first of the postwar Macauley concepts was the Packard Panther, built for his own use and also known as the Phantom II or the Macauley Special Speedster. Reinhart designed the car based on a 1951 Packard 200 Deluxe Club Sedan on a 122-inch wheelbase and built it at Packard under Edward Macauley’s direction. The most dramatic modifications were to shorten the roof and lengthen the rear deck. A McCollough supercharger was added to the straight-eight engine.

The long rear deck has been compared with a similar design described by Macauley in Saga magazine in 1952 as being “the ideal sportsman’s vehicle.” The Saga Packard’s unusually long rear deck was described as accommodating outdoor gear, including rifles, and offering enough space to sleep in the wild. In fact, the long deck of the Panther was designed to accommodate a refrigerator, bar and air-conditioning unit between the cockpit and the trunk compartment. The trunk houses a full-size spare tire and is smaller than the trunk in a stock 1951 Packard.

1952 Packard Pan American

The order for the Pan American show car had already been given to coachbuilder Henney in Freeport, Ill., when James Nance left appliance-maker Hotpoint to become chairman of Packard in 1952. Richard Arbib is credited with the design of the Packard Pan American. Arbib, who earlier worked with Harley Earl at GM, spent most of his career as an independent design consultant. Henney designed and built the Pan American in just six weeks, modifying a 1951 Packard 250 convertible for the 1952 International Motor Sports Show in New York.

The Pan American was deeply sectioned, dramatically lowering the height of the car. Most production chrome trim was removed, and a “continental style” spare tire was mounted on the rear bumper. The Pan American was the hit of the show and significantly influenced the development of the Packard Caribbean convertible. Nance approved production of the Caribbean at the Ionia Manufacturing Company, later Mitchell-Bentley, in Ionia, Mich., beginning in 1953. Henney constructed an additional five Pan Americans for Packard.

1953 Packard Balboa

Richard Teague, who succeeded John Reinhart as chief stylist at Packard, designed the 1953 Packard Balboa, which was briefly known as the Balboa-X, the X for “experimental.” The Balboa was based on the production Packard Caribbean, with a hardtop-style “canopy” roof featuring unique reverse-slanted rear glass that later appeared in production on the 1957-58 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and the Continental Mark III. Packard press materials described only one Balboa, finished in Packard Ivory with a special maroon top and a Caribbean interior finished in maroon-and-white leather with embroidered Packard-crest medallions on the seat backs.

 
 

More recent documentation has confirmed a second Balboa was also constructed for the personal use of Don Mitchell of Mitchell-Bentley; it was held in a family museum for decades. This Balboa is finished in blue and white with a naugahide interior. Discovery of the second Balboa also brings to question the long-held belief that the Balboa was built at Packard Styling. It is more likely that both Balboas were modified at Mitchell-Bentley from cars built on its Caribbean production line.

1954 Packard Panther

As Packard president, James Nance approved the creation of the Packard Panther in mid-1953 to be ready as a fully functioning prototype that set speed records at the 1954 Daytona Speed Weeks, a predecessor of the Daytona 500. The 1954 Packard Panther was also designed by Richard Teague and built by Mitchell-Bentley, working with Creative Industries. Don Mitchell of Mitchell-Bentley was a silent partner in Creative Industries, a firm that specialized in working with nonproduction materials.

The most unique feature of the 1954 Panther is its one-piece body molded in fiberglass. A Packard ad declared that the body “was designed and engineered to determine the adaptability of plastic cars for family use.” The body construction was an even more remarkable accomplishment given the car’s length of over 200 inches. The molding was reportedly as much as one inch thick in sections in order to support the length and weight of the body. The Panther also employed a wraparound windshield, the first seen on a Packard and a feature that would be found on all 1955 production Packards.

The car was built on Packard’s 122-inch wheelbase, with Packard’s nine-main-bearing 359cid straight-eight engine driven through an Ultramatic transmission. The engine employed a McCullough supercharger to produce 275 hp compared with the stock engine’s 212 hp. The 1954 Panther was taken to Daytona fitted with a smaller racing windscreen and timed at 131.1 mph, an unofficial record for cars in its class. As a result, the car was subsequently referred to as the Panther-Daytona until the novelty wore off.

Four Packard Panthers have been documented; all were later returned to Creative Industries to be updated. Two cars received only cosmetic attention, while the other two were significantly modified with the addition of 1955 Patrician cathedral-style taillights and two-tone paint.

One of the modified cars is fitted with a removable hardtop, the only Panther so equipped, and was driven for a number of years by Don Mitchell, with gold script reading “Mitchell Panther” affixed to the hardtop. The other was finished for Rex A. Terry, president of Creative Industries, in iridescent pearl white over black, with gold script reading “Creative Panther” on the leading edge of the rear quarter panels.

1955 Packard Request

Packard also assigned development of the 1955 Request concept car to Creative Industries. The Request was another Richard Teague design adapting a classic era Packard-style grill onto a Packard Four Hundred hardtop. The design exercise was in response to requests from Packard dealers for a more formal-looking contemporary Packard and predated other such successful neoclassical designs by decades. The Request also featured Caribbean-style body side trim that swept up at the rear of the fenders.

 
 

Creative Industries faced special challenges in the construction of the Request, including molding the hood and fenders using a reinforced polyester resin called Plaskon, and creating the massive bumpers flanking the grill. The bumpers are said to weigh 200 pounds each, enough to overwhelm the Request’s front torsion bar suspension over the years.

1956 Packard Predictor

The 1956 Packard Predictor, now owned by the Studebaker National Museum, was the last of the Packard concept cars and the only one that has eluded Ralph Marano. “The Predictor was the only Packard concept car still owned by the corporation when they went out of business,” Marano said. “It was part of the assets that went to the Studebaker museum.”

The Predictor was created while the recently merged Studebaker-Packard Corporation was already struggling to borrow sufficient capital to retool for 1957 production. The Predictor presented the public with “an exciting promise of all the good things to come from Packard’s Creative Styling and Engineering.” And it was a tour de force.

According to Tom Beaubien, who created the original scale model of the Predictor with Charles Flory in the spring of 1955, the principal designer of the Predictor was Dick Macadam, who worked with Richard Teague and William Schmidt on the project. Ghia constructed the Predictor in Turin, Italy. When the car caught fire in the United States prior to the 1956 Detroit Auto Show, it was quickly dispatched to Creative Industries to repair the damage and sort out electrical problems that caused the fire.

 
 

The Predictor incorporated many functional and convenience elements, such as Packard’s new 300hp V8, a push-button Ultramatic transmission, “dog-leg” wraparound windshield for added visibility, and panels that slid into the roof. The Balboa-style rear window fully retracted for increased ventilation, and the Predictor featured four headlights “for country and city driving” and a hydraulically controlled rear deck lid.

For all its 1950s space-age appearance, the Predictor included a surprising number of features that found their way into production by other automakers, such as the reverse-slant rear window. Bucket seats that swiveled for easier access were found on some Chrysler products in the 1960s. The tall, narrow face of the Predictor is similar to the dramatic fascias created by Pontiac a decade late, and the retractable roof panels predate T-top panels popular in the 1970s.

Last Days

Success was not to be, however – not for Packard. It’s disastrous merger with Studebaker and the final days have been well documented. An elaborate plan for interchangeable body panels to support production of separate Packard and Studebaker models failed for lack of financing. For 1957-58, Packards became warmed-over Studebakers built in South Bend, Ind. These models derisively are known as “Spackards.” Packard production in Detroit ended in 1956.

Packard’s best and most loyal employees couldn’t put Packard together again. It has fallen to Ralph Marano to reunite and preserve the Packard concept cars that represented the proud automaker’s best opportunities for the future. Now they can once again be viewed as a part of Packard’s rich legacy.

 

Read more about Packard Conceptualized | Volume 50 No. 1