Unlike General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, independent Packard lacked the financial might of its competitors. In order to provide some added cachet to its lineup and invigorate stagnating sales, Packard ordered seven concept cars, including this one-off convertible Victoria by Vignale. Alfredo Vignale opened his own coach-building shop following World War II, having learned his craft in the studio of Pinin Farina's brother. The Turin firm quickly gained prominence among Italian coachbuilders for both its workmanship and tasteful styling.
This car, the only Packard built with a body by the Italian coachbuilder Vignale, is not in the strictest sense a Packard show car. Nonetheless, it is the first purpose-built Packard that was purchased by the current owner. In 2006, he told the New York Times, 'Nobody knows much about it except the car was shipped to the Vignale studio in Turin, Italy in 1938 and hidden during WWII and then completed in 1948.' The current owner negotiated for several years before purchased the car in 1989.
The chassis is that of Packard's junior eight-cylinder line, introduced in 1935 as the '120' which indicated the wheelbase. For 1938, it was lengthened to 127 inches and was powered by a 282 cubic-inch straight-eight engine. A pre-war chassis mated to a post war body makes for an unusual driving experience, especially when one is looking over a 1938 Packard steering wheel at a 1948 Italian instrument panel. Other European touches abound, including Fiat tail light units and over-wrought trunk handles. Still, when one views a one-of-a-kind vehicle such as this, one tends to overlook such details.
Throughout the Second World War mysteries would abound; pieces of art and precious metals would be hidden or disappeared. Then there would be the mysterious case of a Vignale-bodied Packard. In the years following the Second World War, American automakers wanted Europe as much as European builders needed America. This mutual need for each other would produce a one-off Packard that would cause many to wonder what could have been.
In 1948, Alfredo Vignale's firm in Turin would produce a purpose-built Packard. The combination would be intriguing in its own right. However, the story surrounding it would make it all the more captivating.
According to Ralph and Adeline Marano, the current owners of the 1948 Packard Vignale Victoria, 'Nobody knows much about it'. The legend the Marano's believe true would include the 1938 One Twenty chassis being shipped to Vignale's studio before the war and then being hidden away until it was completed in 1948. While plausible, there would be the simple fact Vignale had not established his own carrozzeria until after the end of the war. It is entirely possible he took on the project fully intending to establish his own place, then came the outbreak of the war and everything would be put on hold.
However, there is another theory about the order of events. Following the war the United States was stronger economically than Europe. However, Packard would actually be on the decline and would need that 'something' to help bolster its sales and widen its market. Amongst American audiences, Packard was synonymous with quality. Unfortunately, the company's sales base appeared to be reaching its limit. Therefore, the company would not only seek a new look to foster sales at home, but, they would also look to those more affluent customers in Europe who could still afford to pay for the quality of one of their cars.
In addition to longing to widen its possible market, Packard would realize that there was a market for the smaller European sportscars in the United States. Throughout the war, American servicemen had had the opportunity to see, and perhaps drive, some of the smaller coupes from European automakers. Returning to the States, this would be a potential market Packard believed it could address.
Packard was keen to test the waters. Therefore, they would take one of their One Twenty chassis, originally registered in 1939, and would send it across the Atlantic to Italy. The chassis' destination would be a coachbuilder in Turin, Italy by the name of Carrozzeria Vignale.
Alfredo Vignale had started out working for none other Pinin Farina. After the Second World War Vignale would decide to start his own effort and would soon earn praise for his designs. This recognition and praise would lead to Vignale creating bodies for the great Italian automakers Ferrari and Maserati. Vignale's reputation was well deserved and was the perfect place for Packard to send their chassis in hopes of receiving a fresh and inspiring design.
Vignale would set to work. Abiding by the purpose and the inspiration Vignale would end up designing and building a convertible coupe to rest atop the One Twenty chassis. The result would be striking. Though the chassis underneath would be nearly a decade old, the body resting on top would be ahead of its time and of great quality.
Some of the features of the car include a hood capable of being opened from either end and beautifully-blended sheetmetal that wraps completely around the undersides of the car to form belly pans. Right down to the Fiat model taillights, the overall design of the car would a European flair to it. Lighter than a standard One Twenty and powered by a straight-eight engine producing around 120hp, it is more than likely the Vignale Packard would be faster. But, even if the car wouldn't win a drag race with its more standard brethren, the Vignale Packard would go on to win a number of awards in major concours events
Unfortunately, while much of the story surrounding the car's birth would be something of a mystery, so too would its early years. It would seem clear the car would be owned for a period of time by Mark Smith and Norman Wolgin. What is much more obvious is the fact the Maranos would negotiate to purchase the car in 1989 and has remained with them ever since.
In 1954, Packard would purchase Studebaker in hopes of benefiting from the company's larger dealer network. Unfortunately, the merger would be fraught with conflict, which would hurt both companies terribly. Looking at the merger of Packard with Vignale's design, while it would be a surprising, if not strange, marriage, there are a whole lot of questions based around the notion of what could have been. Perhaps Packard and Vignale could have been one of the first to bring two continents together in car design. In the end, both companies would eventually fade from existence altogether. Packard would be lost forever while Vignale would be absorbed by an American company in Ford, but, would well and truly cease to exist by the mid-1970s. Perhaps Packard needed Vignale and Vignale needed Packard, and, the 1948 Packard Vignale Victoria is a mere taste of what the future might have held.
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Wikipedia contributors, 'Packard', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 March 2014, 08:25 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Packard&oldid=600849242 accessed 25 March 2014By Jeremy McMullen