The slogan 'Ask The Man Who Owns One' is one of the most famous in American History. It was the response given to most individuals when asked about a Packard. They were reliable, elegant, powerful, and quality automobiles. Their attention to detail and ingenuity were some of the key factors in making the company successful.
The Packard legend begins in 1898 when James Ward Packard, a mechanical engineer, purchased a Winton. The Winton automobiles were good automobiles but the one that Packard had purchased had many flaws and broke down on its first road trip. Packard returned the vehicle to Winton and voiced his displeasure. Winton challenged Packard to build a better product. James and his brother William Dowd Packard began immediately on building a vehicle. A year later their first car, a one-cylinder, was introduced.
When the Packard Company began automobile production in 1899, it was known as Ohio Automobile Company. In 1903 the name was changed to the Packard Motor Car Company when it moved from Warren, Ohio to Detroit, Michigan. The move was the result of a majority stock purchase made by investors in the Detroit area.
The brothers continued their strive for perfection and quality. They proved their vehicles in endurance races, where they won many of the cross-country reliability runs. The challenge made by Winton had been proven many times over, but the brothers continued to produce bigger and better automobiles. They positioned their vehicles to challenge the largest and most exciting luxury cars. The cars came at a price, usually higher than most other manufacturers.
In 1919, a Packard captured the Land Speed Record. A 12-cylinder Packard driven by Ralph De Palma traversed the sands of Daytona Beach at a speed of 149 mph. This astonishing accomplishment amplified the excellence of the Packard automobile.
With the onset of World War I, Packard shifted its priorities to the production of engines for boats and aircraft. This kept the company busy during the War while generating a profit.
Packard had sustained a Great Depression and World War but was still at the fore-front of vehicle production. Advances in automotive technology and design were making vehicles more and more exciting each day. During the early forties Packard decided to compete in a broader market by introducing the Clipper, a vehicle aimed at higher production but lower cost.
The Briggs Manufacturing Company was tasked with building the Clipper bodies. This conclusion was made after the Briggs Manufacturing Company had stated and proven to the Packard Company that they could produce the bodies cheaper than Packard. Production of the bodies began and the price Briggs Manufacturing Company had quoted Packard proved to be too low, so the price was raised leaving Packard with the extra cost. It would have been cheaper for Packard to produce the bodies themselves.
The sales of the Clipper series were very successful, outselling Cadillac and LaSalle. The vehicles were stylish, durable, and elegant. The body of the vehicle had been designed by Howard 'Dutch' Darrin and sat atop the 120 chassis. The Packard 120 was the company's first sub-$1000 car. It was aimed at stimulating sales and increasing production.
The sixteen valve eight-cylinder engine powering the Clipper was capable of producing 125 horsepower, a rather high figure at the time. The modern body, stylish interior, excellent performance, and Packard quality made the Clipper Series very desirable.
In February of 1942 the United States Government ordered all manufacturers to cease production of automobiles and shift their priorities to war related efforts. Packard began the production of aircrafts and marine engines, ambulance and military vehicles. More than 60,000 combined engines were produced by the Packard factory during the war.
In 1945 the war had ended and Packard went back to automobile production. They had made $33 million through their engine and military vehicle sales, $2 million was used to renovate and update their facilities. Packard was in excellent financial condition. Most of the automobile parts that had been created prior to the war were in bad shape. They had been put in storage in order to make space for equipment that was needed to design and build military vehicles. The storage was often subject to the weather and the elements. As a result much of the equipment and supplies needed to be replaced.
When automobile production began, Packard decided to only produce the Clipper Series and abandon the other model lines. For 1946 Packard produced the Clipper Six 2100 and 2103, Super Clipper 2103, and the Custom Super Clipper 2106. The Super Eight and Custom convertibles were added in 1947. In 1949 Packard introduced the 23rd Series Eight and Deluxe Eight.
The Clippers were very unique and innovative for their time. They featured an alarm on the gas tank that would whistled as the fuel was pumped, stopping only when the tank was full. The running boards and door hinges were concealed adding to the smooth appearance of the body. The Clipper Series were also very wide. This not only gave passengers extra interior room but it gave the vehicle stability at speed around the corners. The width was a foot wider than it was tall making it the widest vehicle in production at the time.
The sales of luxury vehicles began to decline near the end of the 1940's and continued into the 1950's. This hurt Packard production and sales for their high-end luxury vehicles declined considerably. Packard's were built so well that they lasted for a very long time. So Packard did not have very many repeat customers because their customers did not need to purchase another vehicle. The president of Nash Motors, Mr. George Mason, had approached Packard about a merger during the early 1950s. He believed that the days of independent car manufacturers were soon to be gone. Packard was reluctant and thought otherwise. 1954 was another bad industry for the luxury car market and Nash Motors merged with the Hudson Motor Car, forming American Motors. In 1952 James Nance was elected president and general manager of Packard. In 1954, Nance merged Packard with Studebaker in an effort to diverse their product line and stimulate sales for both struggling companies. Studebaker had a larger network of dealers, a potential benefit for Packard. Unfortunately, Studebaker sales dipped dramatically and this ultimately hurt Packard more than it helped.
World War II and the Korean War had come and gone. This meant their entire defense contracts had ceased, ending nearly half a billion dollars in income.
In 1953 Chrysler bought Briggs Manufacturing, the producer of Packard bodies. Packard was forced to find another company to produce their bodies. None was found and Packard formed a temporary deal in 1955 with Chrysler to have them produce their bodies.
By June of 1956, production of Packard automobiles ceased. Production of the Packard model names continued for a few years but was adorned with Studebaker nameplates. By 1959 this style had ended and only the Studebaker name prevailed. In the early 1960's the Avanti and Lark were able to make a small profit for the Studebaker-Packard Company. In 1962 the decision was name to drop the Packard name from the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. In 1966 Studebaker was out of business.