Greg Zyla fields a question on the final production run for Packard, from a reader whose family was Packard to the core.
Q: Greg, I enjoy your columns on the old days of automobiles and am wondering when the final Packard was built. My family had several Packards back in the 1950s, and stopped buying them when Studebaker took over. After that, they bought Lincolns or Cadillacs. Thanks much, Harry, L., Easton, Pa.
A: Harry, there is no doubt that the Packard automobiles were competitors for Lincoln and Cadillac consumers, up until they merged with Studebaker. During the 1950s, Packard started to lose market share, forcing a merge as you note with Studebaker in 1954. Notable is the fact that it was Packard that actually purchased Studebaker, and not visa-versa as some historians think. To make a long story short, the result was that Packard lost its brand identity while Studebaker survived.
In 1957, the Packards were pretty much Studebakers with Packard badges, and by 1958, Studebaker emerged as the brand that would take the company into the future. The Packard officials felt that the larger Studebaker dealership network and the aforementioned “Packard badge on Studebaker built cars” would sell.
They were wrong.
Specifically, only two Packards were available in 1957, a four-door sedan and a Country Sedan Wagon. The consumer knew immediately it was a Studebaker more so than a Packard, and sales dropped to just 4,857 units sold. In 1958, even fewer Packards were sold, followed by a Packard-Studebaker board announcement it would end all Packard production midway that year.
Also hurting the company was a Pan Am airline lawsuit against Packard in 1955, which accused Packard illegally used the names Clipper, Caribbean, Constellation, Pan American, Panama and Pacific on its cars, all names Pan Am used in its marketing programs. The lawsuit lasted into 1958 until Packard agreed to drop the names. Pan Am agreed to dismiss the lawsuit, although millions were already spent in defense. Packard also found out too late that the strength of the Studebaker balance sheet they thought they were acquiring was pretty much fraudulent, further crippling the new company.
As for me, the last official “real” Packard came in 1956, when the floundering company released some beautiful models still built at its Packard assembly line. Packard’s design for 1956 included a facelift from the 1955 new generation, which replaced the famous “bathtub” Packards we came to love beginning with the post war 1948 design. Today, a 1956 Caribbean Convertible tri-tone is worth big money on the collector auction stage and features Packard’s first ever overhead valve V8 which debuted in 1955.
Meanwhile, Studebaker found some profits thanks to the “all-new” Lark, which debuted in 1959 as a new body on a same old 1958 chassis. But by then, the Packard we knew was gone forever. The final Studebaker was built in 1966, called the Cruiser, and featured Chevrolet engines and transmissions as Studebaker had stopped driveline production in late 1965.
Thanks for your letter.
(Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media, More Content Now and BestRide.com. He welcomes reader input on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at email@example.com.)