PACKARD ERA OVERVIEW
World War II is over, and both companies would return to standard product production schedules by 1946. Packard Electric had fared very well throughout the war years. Despite the disruption, the electric division had not strayed from course and was growing as rapidly as ever with new innovation and company expansion. Packard Motor Company faced a very different set of challenges. They had not changed direction from their low budget, high volume production. Not only were the lesser vehicles diluting the brand, but the lack of raw materials post-war did not allow for high production to cover the lower margins. The company began a downward spiral from which they could not recover. Stifled by sub-par leadership, Packard Motor Company made a last ditch effort with James J. Nance; a man more in line with the leaders of old. James would try to revive the luxury marquee, but it would prove too little too late. After an attempted merger with additional manufactures failed to come to fruition, the last Packard was produced in 1959; a mere ghost of the vehicle it once was.
The history of both Packard Electric and Packard Automotive had been closely intertwined for the previous 47 years. Even through the division of the companies in 1902, the sale of both, and the acquisition of Packard Electric by GM in 1932, both companies found themselves producing parts for the same whole through the end of World War II. It wasn't until after the war that Packard Motor Cars became a clear competitor to GM, focusing on high-volume production. This further divided the course of both companies, and would be another factor in the final chapter for Packard Automotive.
LOSSES SUFFERED - POST WAR RECOVERY AND THE DEMISE OF A MARQUE
PART I - THE DEMISE OF A MARQUE
In 1946, Packard resumed standard vehicle production; though now targeted directly at higher volume, lower profit vehicles. With George T. Christopher at the stern, Packard is heavy set on production of vehicles to compete with GM, Buick, and Oldsmobile. All of the high level and price point vehicles once referred to as ‘Senior Models’ we abolished. The decision was met with a fair amount of controversy, as many felt that the strong economic push driven by the war had afforded people the luxury of attaining higher end marques again, something not seen since the pre Depression years.
The controversy around that decision eventually led to a changing of the guard. The unrest created by George T. Christopher left turmoil among the board of directors within the Packard motor company. During a heated meeting late in the 1949 production year; Christopher quit the company. The position of president was handed over to long time financial confidant Hugh J Ferry; who had spent 40 years with the company prior. Shortly after his taking of seat with Packard at the helm; the board of directors began to look for a replacement who could best direct the company out of the hole they had found themselves in. November 17th, 1949 marked the 50th anniversary of the first Packard automobile, but more trouble was on the horizon.
Only 42,000 cars were produced for the 1950 model year. Ferry determines, with help from his accountant, that Packard should continue to produce only low cost high volume cars; a move that had already crippled the company when extended too far past the Depression years. All remaining high end models were officially terminated from the consumer marketplace.
In 1951, Packard released its first new automobile designs since before WWII. While the new designs were an improvement over the ‘bathtub’ style that pre-dated the war, they failed to meet production targets and still lacked the traditional Packard flair. In an effort to regain a market foothold, in 1942 Packard replaced President Hugh Ferry with James Nance, who had previously excelled in marketing. Nance makes the declaration that Packard would only build cars to compete with other high brand marques as Cadillac, and would be ceasing production of mid-priced vehicles. Nance was an Ohio native from Portsmouth, in Lawrence County. Nance graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with graduate courses at Ohio State University following a brief military career during WWI. Working at multiple companies including Frigidaire and Zenith; Nance found himself the CEO of General Electric’s Hotpoint brand. Always at the leading edge of current trends and marketing; Nance was ushered into Packard in 1952 in an attempt to restructure and save the dying brand. The response of Nance to only build higher class vehicles was a breath of fresh air; but it came too little too late. Packard had lost too much footing in the luxury car market. Despite attempts at exclusive vehicles and even an offspring brand known as the Clipper; he could not save Packard.
At the 1952 New York International Motor Sports Show, the Packard Pan American was unveiled. In a late effort to drive interest with the Packard brand; Packard introduced the Pan American; a low slung open air roadster. The model ultimately gave way to high production costs, however aspects of the car trickled down to other variants; one being the 1953 Caribbean and the other being the low slung Panther vehicles.
While the cost to produce the Pan American sealed its fate, 1953 Caribbean Convertible was generally considered Packard’s last great success, however, profits, sales, and production on the remainder of the vehicle lines continued to slump. Some say if Packard had continued to build the Caribbean Convertible and nothing else, Packard would have remained a premiere vehicle manufacturer. The Caribbean featured a host of chrome trim and lavish appointments. A unique feature of the car was its four fully arched full radius fenders over both front and rear wheels versus the typical skirted rear fender found on both later models.
In 1954, Packard merges with Studebaker cars in an effort to prolong the life of both companies and compete with such high volume mid class manufacturers as GM, Oldsmobile, and Buick. In 1955, an attempted merger to become part of American Motors fails. AMC had been formed only a year prior by the combination of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Cars, almost mirroring the Packard/Studebaker merger. The proposed merger of AMC and Packard-Studebaker would have positioned the new company alongside Detroit’s Big 3 of Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge, when a partner in Nash died suddenly and was replaced. Although some agreements were upheld for a short period of time; the replacement head of Nash declined any merger with the newly formed AMC. All companies would eventually dissolve, leaving Detroit with the classic Big 3, rather than what could have been the Big 4.
In 1955, despite financial decline, Packard quality and engineering remained at the forefront. A Packard Patrician is driven 25,000, averaging 104.737 mph including all breaks for fuel, oil, tires, and driver changes. The Patrician was driven ‘flat out’ and non-stop around a closed course circuit at the Packard Proving Grounds. The test drove home the production quality and durability of the new V8s while, setting multiple national and world records for distance. Troy Ruttman, a former 1952 Indianapolis 500 winner; drove the car during the final session of testing.
In 1956, the Clipper model branched off as a separate brand from Packard-Studebaker as a last ditch effort to promote a luxury brand. However, lack of Packard design bodies meant the platform had to be re-tooled with the awkwardly styled Studebaker chassis for 1957; ending the Clipper rebound. The Clipper was an upscale marque that had spawned off of the Patrician and later Caribbean design cues. For 1956 it was sold devoid of Packard or Studebaker branding entirely.
At the 1956 Chicago show car, one of the last designs, the Predictor, was unveiled. The Predictor was produced purely as a styling exercise by Packard and to promote the current technologies that could be found inside existing Packard automobiles. The vehicle was meant to showcase what Packard had done and could do. It was the proverbial ‘last hurrah’ and called to what Packard had stood for; absolute presence. The car was a foot and a half longer than a comparable Cadillac, and weighed in at 6,000lbs. Each aspect of the Predictor was a testament to Packard’s craftsmanship, capabilities, and potential design. Although it was never meant to make production; it was the embodiment of the brand.
In 1957, a vehicle that would be known as the “Black Bess”, a production version of the Predictor, would be pitched to the bankers as a final grasp for continued funding to produce die models. The car was crudely constructed and eventually slated for destruction by Packard after failing to meet its goals. The story goes that a call came down from Herb Misch, one of the original engineers on the Black Bess project, to destroy the car. The recipient of the call would be Mr. Richard Teague, a staff designer who had helped to pen the car from its beginnings. Teague did not have the heart to destroy his old work, so he called upon a third man; Red Lux who was a long time welder for the company. In the studio with the Black Bess, was parked a black Packard Clipper. Teague instructed the car be cut up and that he would return later in the day. Upon his return; he found that Lux had cut up the Black Bess completely with only scraps left. As a cruel joke; he exclaimed
“My God, Red, What have you done? Not this one, man, the one over in the corner!”
...insinuating he was to have cut up the Clipper.
“His face drained, and when I told him I was just kidding, he chased me around the room. You’ve got to have a sense of humor in this business”.
Fitting last words from a dying marque. - Excerpt from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide – 1957 and 1958 Packard Concept Car
By 1957 Packard production had officially ended at the Detroit plant. The 1957 models were simply sold as a 'Packard' by brand over the Studebaker body and chassis, and in 1958 the very last Packards were sold as the 'Packard Hawk' by Studebaker, and featured various up-model trim and options. The Hawk variant of the Studebaker was the lower slung, long hood with a bubble canopy. By 1958 it had grown fins on the rear flanks and was featured with a single or dual headlamp configuration. A stark contrast from the rebranded President variants of the car from 1957, the Hawk was more flamboyant in the all the wrong places for the brand. The sales of the Packhawks marked an unfitting end to the great legacy of Packard Motor Vehicles.
In 1959 Studebaker-Packard removed the Packard nameplate and all production from the marketplace. The Packard name continued in use with Studebaker until 1962. The continuation of the Packard name sake with Studebaker was of company branding alone. No further vehicles ever bore the name Packard. The Cinderella story had come to an end and 1959 had marked midnight.
PART II - THE EXPANSION OF PACKARD ELECTRIC
After World War II, Packard Electric was poised to become a household name. Despite being a division of General Motors, the increased operating capabilities and contracts afforded during the war allowed it entry into a host of other markets. In 1948 for example, a plant on Thomas Road in Warren Ohio was built for fractional horsepower motors; smaller electric motors that had a power output of fewer than 746 watts. These electric motors were used in a variety of household appliances such as washing machines, vacuums, and refrigerators.
Innovations used for combat vehicles during the war also found homes in civilian life. In 1949, injection molding for plastic products such as clips and connecters began servicing automotive electrical systems. This allowed for a faster production process and stronger, more intricate designs. 1949 was also the year that IUE Local 717 was organized and recognized as the bargaining agent for the hourly employees at Packard's Ohio locations. IUE 717 was the first employee labor union for Packard Electric.
In 1950 Plant 8 was purchased, and was located at the corner of Griswold Street and Paige Avenue in Warren, Ohio. The building served as one of the largest production facilities in the company, and not long after, in 1952, the Administration Building was completed.
In 1953 Vinyl tape coverings replaced braiding as the preferred method for protecting wire harness routing and branches. This method of construction allowed for disassembly and rewrapping if needed via cutting the tape, whereas the braided protective covering did not lend itself to easy repair. It was also a lower-cost alternative. To accommodate for the increased demand in wiring created by this process, Plant 10 was built in 1955 to house the copper rod mill and additional cable-making facilities.
In 1956, the ‘56 Series’ for multiple quick connections was developed, allowing multiple wires to be connected by a single connector. The ’56 Series’ was the first production terminal by Packard Electric that offered this unique aspect of a hub style connection. The ‘56’ would pave the way for modern automotive harnesses design and production.
Between 1958 and 1966 Carl Risby assumed leadership of Packard Electric. Rigsby joined Packard Electric in 1935 after nine years at the Delco-Remy Division in Anderson, Indiana, where he was first employed as a student engineer in 1926. Rigsby gained experience in time-study, plant layout, and tool engineering during his initial three years at Delco Remy, and was assigned production responsibilities as a general foreman in 1929. Supervising the production of generators, relays, starting motors, distributors, and other ignition parts; he was transferred to Delco-Remy’s harness plant in 1931. In 1935, three years after Packard Electric was acquired by General Motors, Rigsby moved to Warren, Ohio to join the Division as factory superintendent before eventually assuming other leadership positions.
In 1959, as one automotive Marquee was coming to an end, Packard Electric was continuing its path of innovation with the creation of Spring Ring Terminals, replacing bolt clamp terminals. The spring ring terminal was developed to counter deformation in the battery terminal when installing and removing the battery leads. A steel spring insert was cast into the lead terminal end to create the product, and its durability.