Tag Archives: Studebaker

The Packard Story: The Car and the Company

The Packard Story: The Car and the Company by Robert E. Turnquist
Published 1965 by A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc. (Third Printing 1969)
286pp., hardcover

Library of Congress No.: 65-14240

Purchased with other books from a collection posted on Kijiji.ca

It was this post on Disaffected Musings that had me selecting The Packard Story: The Car and the Company as my next read. I had recently purchased this book, along with some others. I hadn’t researched this book before I bought it (I rarely do), but the title had me excited. I somewhat naturally thought a book called The Packard Story: The Car and the Company would be a decent history, and explain the story of why Packard, healthy at the end of World War II, would exit the scene in the mid 1950s. That was the hope. I found Robert Turnquist’s book to be at times informative about Packards, at other times it wandered off onto related though maybe less relevant subjects.

So, let’s start with some obvious things. Chapter 1 is titled ‘The Second Series Eight and the Third Series Six’, and begins ‘The year is 1925…’ Considering the Packard brothers’ company was founded and produced a car in 1899, it seems an odd place to start ‘the story’ of Packard a quarter-century late. Turnquist does touch on the company’s beginnings — including the famous story of how dissatisfaction with a Winton drove the brothers to build their own car — but in truth, it’s only about 2 and a half pages of text to cover 25 years of history, and also touches on some of the company’s racing history.

The chapter continues with 5 paragraphs describing the Packard Six and Eight, followed by a couple paragraphs about the automotive landscape of 1925, and finally a description about Packard’s hallmark of releasing cars in ‘Series’ rather than by model year (at least until 1935).

Most chapters are generally like this. Chapter 2 (the Third Series Eight and Fourth Series Six) begins with a listing of the executive suite at Packard mid-1920s, and a half page about the advertising agency and in-house newsletters. There’s almost a page describing the National Auto Show, and finally 4 pages of text about the cars of the 2 series. The point is that chapters do not always limit themselves the car or the company, which means chapters get filled quickly.

The chapters are all around 10 pages, and in each, space is devoted to an overview of the National Auto Show and what competitor automakers were offering. Interspersed within chapter are topics including correct restoration tips for Packards, the details of correct paint on classic cars, the process for how fine leathers are selected and processed, and many pages about the custom coach and body builders of the era. Many coachbuilders including Dietrich, Derham, Rollston and Darrin (who was featured in this edition of Automobile Quarterly) are profiled. (For more information about the custom body builders, Coachbuilt.com is a good resource, though not a secure website.)

Chapters focus on specific series up to chapter 17 on the Twentieth Series of 1942, which was truncated by the change to wartime production. Chapter 18 is titled ‘The Postwar Packards’ and summarizes the 1946-1957 period in only 12 pages. The remaining 88 pages of the book are an appendix of charts detailing year-by-year (or rather series-by-series) production of Packards from 1899 up to the Twentieth Series before World War II production began. This includes production dates, engine bore and stroke, and a listing of body styles available with shipping weight and base price.

It turns out, Robert Turnquist was a respected automotive historian, and a Packard expert. He was a founding member of the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA), and a noted restorer. He championed car collecting and restoration. In that light, The Packard Story, as it’s written, makes a little more sense. Turnquist was certainly quite focused on ‘the Classics’, that is, Approved Classics as defiined by the CCCA. That explains why the post-WWII cars seem an afterthought, though it’s a little confusing why the pre-1925 cars were not included. It also helps explain why restoration information is included, and why so much attention is given to the custom body builders as well as Packard’s place among automakers.

Colour plate pages.

In terms of ‘the Packard story’, I found Turnquist did, to some extent, offer ideas on how the end came to be. He argues the mid-priced Packards were not a major factor in the demise of the company. To the contrary, Turnquist asserts that the high-end luxury market, and especially the custom-bodied luxury market, was always a small piece of the market as a whole, and declined as a result of the nation’s economic circumstances in the 1930s. Rather than tarnishing the Packard image, the introduction of the mid-priced Packard One Twenty provided a needed income source as fewer expensive senior Packards were built.

Turnquist then summarizes his beliefs about the company’s failure, mostly in the post-war chapter. Firstly, Turnquist says that following the Twentieth Series, the dies for the 160 and 180 cars were sold cheaply to Russia at the urging of the US Government. This left Packard with only the Clipper series to sell as the Twenty-First Series when the war ended. Secondly, despite winning accolades for design, the automotive press reacted very negatively to the Twenty-Second Series Packard, the ‘upside down bathtubs/pregnant elephants’, which did not help public opinion. Thirdly, while sales of Packards were very good in 1949, Turnquist suggests many of those sales were to people of lower income levels who used post-war bonus money to buy better cars. This meant few of them would become repeat buyers as their income simply wouldn’t allow for another new car in the same range. Finally, Turnquist lays much of the blame on James Nance, who became president of Packard in 1952. It’s Turnquist’s belief that Nance embarked on a far-too ambitious diversification and expansion program. Nance revamped management, forcing many long-term employees into retirement. He apparently also introduced a program to break with the past, destroying many historic corporate files as well as the store of obsolete parts Packard had on hand to sell to owners of older models. At the same time, Nance committed the company to debuting a completely new car by 1954 (which was ultimately pushed to 1955), as well as building a new engine plant in Michigan. Not only was capital stretched very thin at this point, but a plan to supply AMC with engines backfired. Packard was to purchase parts made by AMC, but when Packard didn’t actually purchase much, AMC stopped buying Packard-made engines, leaving the brand new engine plant operating at a much reduced capacity. The final blow was the merger with Studebaker. In that alliance, Packard was actually more sound financially, and Studebaker was in much worse shape. When the 1955 Packards came out, they soon developed quality issues in large part because the all-new chassis had not been thoroughly tested. While sales of the 55s were good, the quality issues seriously hurt sales the next year. Due to crippling financial issues, and that Studebaker management had more control, much of Packard’s production was moved to Studebaker’s facilities. A deal with Curtiss-Wright also hurt badly, as Curtiss used Packard-Studebaker as a tax loss vehicle, selling off assets or converting them to Curtiss-Wright production. In the end, the Packard name was grafted onto Studebaker shells as the company focused on the small car market, and eventually faded from the landscape.

So, ultimately The Packard Story: The Car and The Company is an interesting if somewhat wide-ranging book that tells at least a decent portion of the Packard history. Turnquist does provide a good amount of information about the Packard series he does cover. The extra info, about competitors and coachbuilding and restoration work, is useful in helping one understand where Packard fit in the automotive landscape. While I would have preferred more ‘inside baseball’ info, such as how and why corporate decisions were made, this book provides a sense of Packard and what the brand stood for. That is important when one considers that the last Packards were built over 65 years ago, and many have little to no firsthand memory of the marque. And while chapter covering the final years is greatly abbreviated, there is some very good information and pictures of Packard prototype cars and what might have been future production.

Notable in this book is the inclusion of 8 colour plates. Long time readers will know that every ‘older’ book I’ve reviewed has contained only black and white images. There are numerous black and whites throughout, but these 8 pages provide a great look at some classic Packards in their period correct colour schemes. In face one of the plates is the Eight Color Combination offer ring from what seems to be the Sixth (or possibly Eighth) Series.

Packard predictions, the Request and the Predictor.

Pros: A good deal of information about the classic Packards, written by an acknowledged expert on the marque, and written relatively soon after the company collapsed
Cons: wide-ranging information means less space devoted to full, detailed exploration of the cars and the company
Where to find it: Amazon, used bookstores, private collections

You might also enjoy…
1955 Packard Caribbean
Fifties Flashback: The American Car
American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker

Roadsters and Runabouts: Collecting and Restoring Antique Classic and Special Interest Sports Cars

Roadsters and Runabouts: Collecting and Restoring Antique Classic and Special Interest Sports Cars by Bob Stubenrauch
Published in 1973 by Dodd, Mead and Co.
274 pp., hardcover

ISBN: 0-369-06799-9

Acquired from the estate of a friend and fellow ‘car guy’. Currently out of print.

You could be an auto enthusiast your whole life, owning many different vehicles. You can go to cruises, meets, car shows and auctions, and travel to automotive museums. There will still be cars you won’t have much chance of ever seeing in person. Some of the great classics of automotive history are rarely seen and often in only the most special circumstances.

The collector car hobby goes back many years. The Antique Automobile Club of America has existed since 1935. The Classic Car Club of America, formed in 1952, keeps a list of what are considered ‘Approved Classics’. As these cars are limited to those built between 1915 and 1948, it’s easy to see why it can be rare to encounter these cars in person. Often, one must rely on books such as Roadsters and Runabouts: Collecting and Restoring Antique Classic and Special Interest Sports Cars to become at least acquainted with some of these great classics automobiles.

Author Bob Stubenrauch was a collector car hobbyist who wrote a couple books about old cars. Written in 1973, this book is a real trip back to a different time, and not simply because the cars are old.

Stubenrauch opens with almost 45 pages of information on identifying worthy classic cars, searching them out, negotiating a sale, finding parts through meets and flea markets. Though written almost 50 years ago, some of the information is still relevant. Certainly, the internet has helped make the process easier. There are still cars to be found in back garages and old barns, and there are still treasures to be found in flea markets and swap meets. The author writes of inquiring at the local garage about cars that may be hidden in town, or befriending local tradesmen who may have spied such cars at their customers’ homes. Believe it or not, some of these methods still work! I know of one such tradesman who has acquired a few nice cars himself simply by noticing and asking if the car is available. Now, these methods are more difficult today, as the world has changed. But it’s true that word of mouth still works well.

One thing that certainly has changed since 1973 is what it takes to purchase such cars. It’s a trip to read things like…

… a 1930 Model A roadster being sold for $350.
… three years ago this writer (could) acquire an excellent 1931 Chrysler Imperial sedan for $1000 and a 1926 Minerva opera coupe for $1250.

… and so forth. For reference, in a Facebook group I saw an ad with a new 1970 Ford Galaxie sedan for $2469. Imagine acquiring a that ’31 Imperial, a top line classic in excellent condition for 40% the cost of the average new car! Today, a search on Hemmings shows a 1935 Imperial sedan at $68,000. The days of acquiring an ‘Approved Classic’ for a grand are surely long gone.

Strangely, the remainder of the book veers away from finding and restoring cars to features of 24 classic cars. The names are legendary – Hupmobile, Packard, Mercer, Stutz, Lincoln, Mercedes, Jordan, Bentley, Ruxton, Marmon, Duesenberg, Cord, Bugatti and more. Stubenrauch even considers what would be ‘modern classics’ by adding cars such as the 1953 Buick Skylark, 1960 Corvette and 1963 Studebaker Avanti.

The text of the features is somewhat odd though. It’s a mix of corporate histories, notes on other cars by the manufacturer and some info on the particular car featured. There isn’t a discernible pattern – the 1957 Thunderbird feature is mostly about the 1955-57 Thunderbird, while the Avanti feature devotes much space to the history of Studebaker and the cars it built before the Avanti debuted. However the information found is interesting and still tells a story about collector cars.

What is wonderful about this book is the photographs. Yes, they are in black and white (for reasons I’ve mentioned in other reviews). However, there are many of them. Each car gets 9-12 clear, mostly large photos, many detail shots including interiors and special features. Some features include advertising. The photos are a great way to learn about these cars, which as stated above, you’d be lucky to encounter in person.

All in all, I enjoyed Runabouts and Roadsters very much. Coupled with Famous Old Cars, these books give wonderful insight into some of the truly classic cars of early motordom. Don’t look for any technical information to help you restore your pre-war car, it’s not here. This book is strictly for relaxing and travelling back to the early days of roadster motoring.

Pros: some of the most revered cars in early motoring are featured; lots of great photography of cars that are often hard to find.
Cons: there could have been more detailed information on the feature cars.
Where to find it: Amazon, eBay, private collections, used book dealers.

Fifties Flashback: The American Car

Fifties Flashback: The American Car by Dennis Adler
published 1996, 2012 by Crestline Publishing
160 pages, hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0-7858-2831-0

Purchased new from a book retailer.

Each decade of motorcar manufacture seems to have a personality to it. And when it comes to personality, the cars of 1950s have plenty, full of glitz, glamour and go-go-go! Dennis Adler’s Fifties Flashback: The American Car does a very good job exposing those big glitzy cars with great photos and a wealth of information. He describes not only the vehicles but gives a decent background to describe how these sometimes outlandish behemoths came to exist.

Adler’s first 2 chapters set the stage. The first chapter describes what was happening in the country. The post-war prosperity, the creation of the interstate system, the birth of rock’n’roll, the rise of the motor hotel and the notion of travel throughout the country for pleasure. But Adler also describes an idea that drove automotive design to new heights – planned obsolescence, the idea that the next model should look so great that this year’s model seems old and worn out. The next chapter, Adler fills in the automotive design background. He describes how the immediate post-war years saw warmed over pre-war designs until such time as manufacturers finally introduce the new sleeker, lower cars of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

From there, Adler does a nice job of covering some of the star cars from the ’50s. While the main focus is on the shiny chrome and sheer size of these cars, Adler includes a good amount of information covering performance and engineering, as well as some of the corporate intrigue, how personalities worked together (or didn’t) to steer design in one direction or another. Topics covered in some depth include the development of the GM ‘Dream Cars’ – the 1953 Corvette, Eldorado, Skylark and Fiesta; the engineering of the Ford Skyliner’s retractable metal roof; the development of the Corvette and Thunderbird as competing sports cars; and George Mason’s plan to merge 4 floundering companies to create American Motors.

1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta ‘Dream Car’.
Ford’s Skyliner convertible and Edsel.

Also of note, the book includes a number of quotes and insights from people such as Chuck Jordan, Dave Holls and Jack Telnack. These men were in the thick of automotive design during the 1950s, being directly involved with the development of a numbe rof these vehicles.

As enjoyable as this book is, I did find some things to quibble with.

There seems a bias towards cars made in the latter half of the decade. It’s somewhat understandable as there is a distinct change in styling from that was seen with the 1955 models. As many of the new post-war designs came in 1948-49, it makes sense that the aesthetic would carry on to mid-decade. Adler doesn’t completely ignore the pre-1955 cars – as said, the GM Dream Cars do get quite a bit of ink. But there’s little to see of cars like the 1950-51 Ford, the first Chev Bel Air, or the early 50s Chryslers.

Hudson, Nash, Studebaker and Packard get their due.

Secondly, the Chrysler Corporation seems under-represented. The are not completely ignored, as the 1957 300C, 1957 DeSoto Adventurer and 3 of Exner’s Idea Cars show up. By comparison to the GM and Ford representation though, coverage is lacking. Yes, Chrysler styling prior to 1955 was very stodgy, but there is a real lack of Dodge, Plymouth and Imperial cars. In fact, while the 1957 300C gets a number of paragraphs, there’s nothing about how the famed C-300 came to be in 1955 when an Imperial front end was married up to a New Yorker wearing Windsor rear flanks.

Thirdly, the final chapter focuses on hot rods and customs, and it seems something of an afterthought. It’s a difficult chapter to describe. This book is certainly all about the factory styling, but any discussion about cars in the 1950s would have to include hot rods and customs which had a huge presence. It’s just that hot rodding and custom cars are such a big subject that the chapter seems inadequate. There are some nice cars shown, and the big names like Winfield and Barris and Roth show up, but it just doesn’t seem enough.

Overall, Denis Adler’s Fifties Flashback is a very enjoyable book that provides information and visual appear to drive you to seek out more. It’s really a flashback to a time when chrome was king and the automobile took hold as a major influence on American society.

Pros: good historical context and insider information, lots of great photos
Cons: not much on cars from the early part of the decade, Chrysler seems under-represented
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, used bookstores, personal collections

You might also enjoy…
Cadillac: The Tailfin Years
1956 Continental Mark II
The Complete Book of Classic Ford F-Series Pickups: Every Model from 1948-1976

The development and competition between the early Corvette and Thunderbird is featured, as well as notes on other sportscars of the era.
Back cover featuring the iconic 1959 Cadillac Eldorado

American Cars of the 1960s

IMG_1279American Cars of the 1960s by The Auto Editors at Consumer Guide
published 2010 by Publications International Limited
320 pages, hardcover

ISBN-10: 1-4508-0641-1
ISBN-13: 978-1-4508-0641-1

Purchased new (2013) at Chapters in store.

Remember when Mad Men debuted, and people got all caught up in the early 1960s again? The look, that slick Kennedy-era/Madison Avenue polish. While the television show was more about the characters than the industry they work in, there are glimpses of how the ad game worked then, and the automobile figured quite prominently in the series.

American Cars of the 1960s is a book is filled with the colour and energy of 1960s automobile advertising imagery at its best. It is comprised of images taken directly from the manufacturers’ brochures and magazine advertising. Each marque is grouped alphabetically, and then follows a year-after-year format, which is great for seeing how American automotive styling progressed through the 60s. It also shows how advertising was changing.

Brochures and ads heavy on illustrations in the early ’60s
evolved into more realistic photo-based pieces…

Some very recognizable auto ad artwork make appearances. The Pontiac section contains numerous pieces of Art Fitzpatrick’s iconic ‘Wide-Track’ work. Plymouth was out to ‘win you over’. You might catch a case of Dodge Fever. And you’ll be asked “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?”

It is important to note that this book includes images of three marques that ceased production during the decade. The last of Desoto, Edsel and Studebaker are found in these pages. Also interesting is to see how as the decade progressed, the Rambler name, once prominent in ads, is replaced by AMC.

It’s easy to see the allure of the images on these pages. Luxury cars in country club settings. Station wagons full of camping gear and picnic baskets. Personal coupes, sports cars and convertibles parked near golf courses and marinas. Images specifically created to lure you off your couch and into the showroom (hopefully a couple times in the decade) to trade your jalopy in on Detroit’s newest, shiniest, more powerful creation. Light on text and hard information, but heavy on colourful pictures, this book transports you back to when magazine ads and brochures did their best to sell you all the excitement and glamour of new cars in the 1960s.

This book is really just a lot of fun to flip through and soak up.

IMG_1282

1962 Chevrolet


IMG_1283

1964 Mercury


IMG_1280

1966 Chrysler


IMG_1281

1967-68 Lincoln

Pros: filled with colourful, original advertising artwork and photos
Cons: little in the way of substantial information
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, retail booksellers (traditional and online)

You might also like…
Fifties Flashback: The American Car
Cadillac: The Tailfin Years
1960 Cadillac Sixty Special