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Packard - Producing Quality and Elegance for 53 Years

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Packard - Producing Quality and Elegance for 53 Years

1939 Packard Super Eight

Michele Hamer

In 1898, Winton was the first American company to sell a standard, American made, gasoline powered automobile; its price was $1,000. James Ward Packard bought one of the twenty one Winton cars produced that year. Legend has it that Packard was so disappointed with his purchase that he returned it, and set out to design and build a much better car of his own.

James and his brother William had already put their college training and business experience to practical use running the Packard Electric Company in Warren, Ohio. With the release of their first car in 1899, a small one cylinder, buggy type model with automatic spark advance, they started the Ohio Automobile Company, a subsidiary of Packard Electric.

The Packard brother’s automobiles were engineered with quality and dependability in mind, which attracted the attention of Henry Joy, a member of one of Detroit’s oldest and wealthiest families. Joy not only invested in Packard’s automotive company, but interested many other of Detroit’s elite to buy in.

Henry Joy’s enthusiasm and involvement in the company grew rapidly, and by 1903, he and his investors had controlling interest. J. W. Packard remained as President, but the company’s name was changed to the Packard Motor Car Company, and its board voted for a move to Detroit.

While Henry Ford was producing cars that sold for $440, Packard concentrated on upscale cars that started at $2,600. These luxury automobiles developed a following in the United States and abroad, using the simple marketing statement, "Ask The Man Who Owns One."

The model that moved Packard firmly into the automotive industry's front rank was its Forty Eight horsepower Six of 1912. Packard then leap-frogged Cadillac's new 1915 V-8 with a V-12 the following year - their fabled "Twin Six".

On February 12, 1919 at Daytona Beach, Florida, a Packard took the world land speed record of 149.875 mph over a measured mile; but speed wasn’t what the company planned to delivery. Packard concentrated almost exclusively on expensive passenger machines, and by the 1930's was producing some of the finest luxury cars. Warren G. Harding was the first American president to ride to his inauguration in an automobile - a Packard Twin Six touring car.

A new straight-eight arrived for the 1924 season and Packard maintained its reputation mainly with this engine right on through its closing day in 1958. Packard fell on hard times after World War II and couldn't compete with the Big Three - Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

In a move to survive, Packard acquired Studebaker to benefit from its larger dealer network and Studebaker needed Packard’s strong balance sheet. Once the two companies were stabilized, the plan was to join Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car Company in an all new four marque American Motors Corporation.

Unfortunately, the plan never came to be, and Packard executives discovered that Studebaker had been less than forthcoming in all of its financial and sales records. Low production numbers in 1955, and Studebaker’s financial situation being much worse than expected, eventually took the company down. The last true Packard rolled off its Detroit assembly line in 1956.

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