Sold for $700,000 at 2009 RM Auctions
The story of the very first Packards is a classic tale of American ambition. James Ward Packard purchased a Winton automobile in the late 1890's. Unsatisfied with his new car, the man was convinced he could do better. A producer of electrical equipment, Packard had a good grasp of how things ticked. He quickly set to work in an effort to one-up Winton.
Packard began producing cars as early as November of 1899, following a remarkably quick start-up time. Success was ensured when his company was bought out and moved to Detroit. Within 15 years of the company's inception, Packard had earned a reputation for building high quality luxury cars. And given that the company survived for almost 35 years longer than Winton, it's clear that James Ward Packard succeed in his mission to overtake that automotive pioneer.
The early years of Packard were full of success, with the company's sales rising all the time. It wasn't until World War II that the story got choppy. Like all large American auto manufactures, the war affected Packard in a big way.
While most companies built equipment to aid fighting on the battlefront, Packard played a much less combatant role in the war effort. Selling its body dies to the Soviet Union, Packard was used to encourage good relations between the United States and its ally. The Soviets used these dies to create the ZIS-110 in 1945. Unfortunately, this kind act left Packard without a source of well-styled bodies for the postwar market. The subsequent Packards of 1948 were dubbed 'Pregnant Elephants' by a not-so-adoring public. Despite the looks, 1948 Packards were still very good cars and healthy sales reflected this fact.
The company had done a good job reestablishing itself by 1951 when an all-new line of cars was introduced for the first time after the war. Powered by a hearty straight-eight, this new series provided the basis for the mid-1950's Packards which could be found in showrooms at the same time that the Panther could be found in shows.
A concept car introduced for 1954, the Packard Panther was a fully functional automobile capable of high performance and sheathed in an incredible fiberglass skin. The body's fiberglass construction was a major innovation given its length of nearly 17 feet. Parts of the shell had to be a whole inch thick just to offer sufficient structural integrity. Designed by Dick Teague, the bodies were created by Mitchell-Bentley.
With a 359c.i. eight pushing 212hp and feeding a 2-speed Ultramatic auto transmission, the Panther was incredibly drivable for a concept. Four were produced, and one was used as a real driver by William Mitchell, Sr. of Bentley-Mitchell. This very car, the only Panther ever created with a removable hardtop, will be offered at RM Auction's prestigious Automobiles of Amelia Island event this Saturday.
According to RM Auction's website, Mitchell drove this Panther himself for a few years. He then sold it to Homer Fitterling, a collector of Duesenbergs. The Studebaker National Museum displayed the car, which Fitterling still owned, for 30 years.
In 1988, Mitchell's Panther was sold to the Bortz collection, which houses concepts and prototypes of American origin. It was well kept in this excellent collection, never restored and retaining its impeccable originality.
The Panther's current owner refurbished the vehicle with fresh paint, a new interior and wiring harness, and an extensive mechanical overhaul. The car is now fully capable of being driven, though with an auction estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000, it's unlikely that it will see much highway use in its next life.
Even with the introduction of the four 'fabulous fiberglass Panthers,' 1954 was a turning point for Packard that steered the company towards its pending fate. It was the year when Packard bought Studebaker. This new acquisition proved to be more than the manufacturer could handle, and Studebaker dragged Packard to its end in 1958. Over 50 years after the company's collapse, Packard's luxury cars are still regarded with high respect and admiration. Sources:
RM Auction http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=AM09&CarID=r116.
Wise, David Burgess. 'Packard, USA 1899-1958.'The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Automobiles. 2000. 'Mitchell Panther.' Shiawassee History 11 Mar 2009 http://www.shiawasseehistory.com/panther.html.By Evan Acuña