Packard was a United States based brand of automobile originally known as the Ohio Automobile Co. when its founders built their first car in 1899. It became the Packard Motor Car Company in 1903. Originally based in the Packards' hometown of Warren, Ohio, the factory was moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1903, after a majority of stock was purchased by a Detroit-based group of investors led by Henry Bourne Joy and his brother-in-law, Truman Handy Newberry. When it merged with Studebaker in 1954, Packard was one of the last remaining independent U.S. automakers. The brand went off the market in 1958 but its cars are still highly sought after by collectors today.
Packards were advertised with the slogan "Ask the Man who Owns One".
Founded by James Ward Packard and William Dowd Packard, legend has it that the Packard brothers were unhappy with the automobiles they had purchased from other makers, and James Packard, a mechanical engineer, had some ideas how to improve the design. There are several versions of the story, but by 1899, the two brothers were building automobiles. The company quickly introduced a number of innovations in its designs, including the modern steering wheel and the first production 12-cylinder engine. While Henry Ford was producing cars that sold for $440, Packard concentrated on upscale cars that started at $2,600. Packard automobiles developed a following not only in the United States, but also abroad, with many heads of state owning them.
The Packard Motor Car Company factory complex, designed by Albert Kahn, included the first use of reinforced concrete for industrial construction in the city of Detroit. At its opening, it was considered the most modern automobile manufacturing facility in the world. Its skilled craftsmen practiced over eighty trades. The last Packards rolled off the assembly line on June 25, 1956. The 3.5 million ft2 (325,000 m) plant covered over 35 acres (142,000 m) of land and straddled East Grand Blvd. on Detroit's east side. It was later subdivided by eighty-seven different companies. Kahn also designed The Packard Proving Grounds at Utica, Michigan, which is being developed into a historical site.
By World War I, Packard was also producing engines for aircraft and boats.
In the 1930s, devastated by the Great Depression, Packard started mass-producing cars. In 1935, Packard introduced its first sub-$1,000 car. Car production tripled that year and doubled again in 1936. Packard produced its final hand-built car in 1939.
During World War II, Packard again built airplane engines, licensing the Merlin engine from Rolls-Royce and simplifying and improving it. The Packard engine powered the famous P-51 Mustang fighter, known as the "Cadillac of the Skies" by G.I.s in WWII. It was the fastest non-jet fighter plane ever built, and could fly higher than any of its contemporaries--allowing its pilots a greater degree of survivability in combat situations. They also built 1350, 1400, and 1500 horsepower V-12 marine engines that powered American PT boats (each boat had three) and some of Britain's patrol boats.
By the end of World War II, Packard was in excellent financial condition but suffered from a shortage of raw materials needed to manufacture automobiles again. The firm introduced its first post-war body in 1948, prior to its competition in the major firms (Cadillac, Lincoln, and Chrysler). However, the design chosen was of the "bathtub" style predicted during the war as the destined future of automobiles. Although startling at first, the influence of what were nicknamed "whales" soon vanished. And the post-war seller's market ended in 1951, the industry slumping as a whole in 1952.
Nash Motors president George Mason began approaching Packard about a merger in the early 1950s, believing that the days for independent car manufacturers were numbered. Packard was reluctant. The year 1953 brought about a reversal of fortune, but 1954 was again a down year. On May 1, 1954, Nash Motors merged with Hudson Motor Car, forming American Motors and temporarily ending Packard's opportunity for merger with the former company.
On October 1, 1954, Packard merged with Studebaker creating the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. Initially, Packard's executive team had hoped Studebaker's larger network of dealers would help increase sales. The newly combined company had plans to merge into American Motors after AMC and Studebaker-Packard had achieved financial stability.
The latter merger never happened. Studebaker-Packard was devastated by the loss of millions of dollars in Studebaker's Pentagon contracts after the Korean war ended, which contracts were awarded to GM after that war. George Mason died in 1954, and George Romney (later governor of Michigan and a former Presidential candidate) killed any hope that may have existed for a merger with AMC. Packard's up-again and down-again sales continued, with a profitable year in 1955 thanks to the introduction of Packard's first V-8 engines that model year - although a complete retooling for the 1955 models resulted in products so poorly made that hundreds of cars had to be repaired by dealers before they could be sold to the public. This set the stage for a disastrous 1956, which saw production drop to its lowest levels since World War I. Packard had been selling engines and transmissions to American Motors, but a parts dispute with Romney ended this arrangement in April of 1956. The company severely in debt, its creditors ordered the old Packard plants to close on August 15, 1956.
In 1957 and 1958, a Studebaker-designed car bearing the Packard nameplate appeared on the market, but sales were slow. These badge engineered Studebakers were derisively referred to as Packardbakers by the press and consumers and failed to sell in sufficient numbers to keep the marque afloat. The brand left the marketplace in 1958.
In the Early 1960s, Studebaker-Packard was approached by French car maker Facel-Vega about the possibility re-badging the company's Facel-Vega Excellence sedan as a "Packard" for sale in North America. Daimler-Benz, which was under a distribution agreement with Studebaker-Packard, threatened to pull out of the 1958 marketing agreement, which would have cost Studebaker-Packard more in revenue than they could have made from the badge-engineered Packard.
Packard had a good engineering staff that always designed good engines which were made well. Their early success was with a six-cylinder engine, which was copied by a certain British firm. This was doubled into their twelve-cylinder engine that they called the "Twin Six." They also built a low-compression straight eight, but never a sixteen-cylinder engine. After WWII, they were one of the last US firms to produce a high-compression V-8 engines, the "352", named for its 352 cubic inch (5.8 L) displacement, but it had no problems. However, they built their own automatic transmission (unlike Ford) which, although it had some advantages over Buick's, had its own deficiencies. Their last major development was the "Torsion-Level" suspension, a four-wheel torsion-bar suspension that balanced the car's height like an air-bag suspension, which its American competitors of the time could not get to work and ceased offering.
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