Designed and built by Packard, the Ultramatic featured a lockup torque converter with two speeds. Early Ultramatics normally operated only in "high", with "low" having to be selected manually. Beginning in late , it could be set to operate only in "high" or to start in "low" and automatically shift into "high". The Ultramatic made Packard the only American automotive manufacturer other than GM to develop an automatic transmission completely in-house, as even Ford had chosen to outsource the design of theirs to Borg-Warner Ford had initially attempted to purchase Ultramatics from Packard to install in Lincolns, but ended up buying Hydramatics until Lincoln got its own automatic transmission a few years later.
However, Ultramatic did not compare to GM's Hydramatic for smoothness of shifting, acceleration, or reliability. The resources spent on Ultramatic deprived Packard of the chance to develop a badly needed modern V8 engine. Also, when a new body style was added in addition to standard sedans, coupes, and convertibles, Packard introduced a station wagon instead of a two-door hardtop in response to Cadillac's Coupe DeVille. The Station Sedan, a wagon-like body that was mostly steel, with good deal of decorative wood in the back; only were sold over its three years of production.
Although the Packards of the late s and early s were built in its old tradition with craftsmanship and the best materials, all was not well. The combination of the lower priced Packards leading sales and impacting the prestige of their higher end brethren and some questionable marketing decisions, Packard's crown as "king" of the luxury car market was at risk — and it would eventually be stolen by a rising Cadillac.
In , sales dropped to 42, cars for the model year. When Packard's president George T. Christopher set course for an evolutionary styling approach with a facelift for , others wanted a radical new design. In the end, Christopher resigned and Packard treasurer Hugh Ferry became president - he demanded a new direction.
History The Packard Automobile
Ferry, who had spent his career at Packard in the accounting department, did not want the job and quickly made it clear that he was serving on a temporary basis until a permanent company president could be found. The Packards were completely redesigned. Designer John Reinhart introduced a high-waisted, more squared-off profile fitting the contemporary styling trends — very different from the traditional flowing design of the immediate postwar era.
New styling features included a one-piece windshield, a wrap-around rear window, small tailfins on the long-wheelbase models, a full-width grill replacing the traditional Packard upright design , and blunt "guideline fenders" with the hood and front fenders at the same height. The series models were again low-end models and now included a business coupe.
The Patrician was now the top-shelf Packard, replacing the Custom Eight line. While the smaller powerplant offered nearly equal performance in the new Packards to that of the , the move was seen by some as further denigrating Packard's image as a luxury car.
Since was a quiet year with little new from the other auto manufacturers, Packard's redesigned lineup sold nearly , cars. The Packards were a quirky mixture of the modern the automatic transmissions and aging still using flathead inline eights when OHV V8 engines were rapidly becoming the norm.
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No domestic car lines had OHV V8s in , but by , every car line offered a version. The Packard inline eight, despite being an older design that lacked the power of Cadillac's engines, was very smooth. When combined with an Ultramatic transmission, the drivetrain made for a nearly quiet and smooth experience on the road. However, it struggled to keep pace with the horsepower race, which was increasingly moving to high compression, short stroke engines capable of sustained driving at speeds greater than 55 MPH. Packard's image was increasingly seen as dowdy and old-fashioned, unappealing to younger customers.
Compounding this problem was the company's geriatric leadership. The Packard board of directors by the early s had an average age of 67 and younger executives with a fresher approach to running the company were badly needed--in , Alvin Macauley , born during the Grant Administration , had stepped down as chairman. Hugh Ferry therefore decided that there was no choice but to hire an outsider to take over as president.
To that end, he recruited James Nance from appliance manufacturer Hotpoint. At 52, Nance was more than a decade younger than the youngest Packard executive. One of the main reasons for the aged leadership of Packard was the company's lack of a pension plan for executives the rank-and-file workers had a pension plan per their UAW contract. As a result, Packard executives were reluctant to retire and be left with no source of income other than a Social Security payment, thus blocking younger men from coming to power in the company.
One of James Nance's first actions as president was creating a pension plan to induce Packard executives to retire. Nance worked to snag Korean War military contracts and turn around Packard's badly diluted image. He declared that from now on, Packard would cease producing midpriced cars and build only luxury models to compete with Cadillac. As part of this strategy, Nance unveiled a low-production only made glamor model for , the Caribbean convertible.
Competing directly with the other novelty ragtops of that year Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Fiesta, and Cadillac Eldorado , it was equally well received, and outsold its competition. However, overall sales declined in While the limited edition luxury models as the Caribbean convertible and the Patrician Sedan, and the Derham custom formal sedan brought back some of the lost prestige from better days, the "high pocket" styling that had looked new two years earlier was no longer bringing people into the showrooms for the bread and butter Packards.
Packard's build quality, which had once been second-to-none, also began slipping during this period as employee morale decreased. While American independent manufacturers like Packard did well during the early postwar period, supply had caught up with demand and by the early s they were increasingly challenged as the "Big Three"— General Motors , Ford , and Chrysler —battled intensely for sales in the economy, medium-priced, and luxury markets.
In , Kaiser merged with Willys to become Kaiser-Willys. The strategy for these mergers included cutting costs and strengthening their sales organizations to meet the intense competition from the Big Three. In —54, Ford and GM waged a brutal sales war, cutting prices and forcing cars on dealers. While this had little effect on either company, it gravely damaged the independent automakers. Nash president George W. Mason held informal discussions with Nance to outline his strategic vision , and an agreement was reached for AMC to buy Packard's Ultramatic transmissions and V8 engines.
They were used in Hudsons and Nashes. Although Korean War defense contracts brought in badly-needed revenue, the war ended in and new Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson began cutting off defense contracts from all automotive manufacturers other than GM, which he had formerly been president of. Chrysler and Ford during the early s also waged a campaign of "stealing" Packard dealerships, consequently Packard's dealer network became steadily smaller and more scattered.
Packard's last major development was the Bill Allison—invented Torsion-Level suspension , an electronically controlled four-wheel torsion-bar suspension that balanced the car's height front to rear and side to side, having electric motors to compensate each spring independently. Contemporary American competitors had serious difficulties with this suspension concept, trying to accomplish the same with air-bag springs before dropping the idea.
As of October 1, Packard Motor Car Company bought the failing Studebaker Corporation to form the US's fourth largest automobile company but without full knowledge of their circumstances or consideration of the financial implications.
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Romney , announced "there are no mergers under way either directly or indirectly". Moreover, Packard's engines and transmissions were comparatively expensive, so AMC began development of its own V8 engine , and replaced the outsourced unit by mid The S-P marriage really a Packard buyout proved to be a crippling mistake. Although Packard was still in fair financial shape, Studebaker was not, struggling with high overhead and production costs and needing the impossible figure of , cars a year to break even. Due diligence was placed behind "merger fever", and the deal was rushed.
It became clear after the merger that Studebaker's deteriorating financial situation put Packard's survival at risk. Nance had hoped for a total redesign in , but the necessary time and money were lacking. Packard that year total production 89, comprised the bread-and-butter Clipper line the series was dropped , Mayfair hardtop coupes and convertibles, and a new entry level long-wheelbase sedan named Cavalier. Among the Clippers was a novelty pillared coupe, the Sportster, styled to resemble a hardtop. With time and money again lacking, styling was unchanged except for modified headlights and taillights, essentially trim items.
A new hardtop named Pacific was added to the flagship Patrician series and all higher-end Packards sported a bored-out cid engine.
A trip to Times Square 1904: Packard Motor Cars
Air conditioning became available for the first time since Packard had introduced air conditioning in the s. The revolutionary new model Nance hoped for was delayed until , partially because of Packard's merger with Studebaker. Packard stylist Richard A. Teague was called upon by Nance to design the line, and to Teague's credit, the Packard was indeed a sensation when it appeared.
Not only was the body completely updated and modernized, but the suspension also was totally new, with torsion bars front and rear, along with an electric control that kept the car level regardless of load or road conditions. In addition, Packard offered a variety of power, comfort, and convenience features, such as power steering and brakes as well as electric window lifts.
But air conditioning was an anomaly. Although available on all makes by the mids, it was installed on only a handful of cars in and despite Packard's status as a luxury car.
Model year sales only climbed back to 55, units in , including Clipper, in what was a very strong year across the industry. As the models went into production, an old problem flared up. Back in , Packard had outsourced its bodies to Briggs Manufacturing Company. Briggs founder Walter Briggs had died in early and his family decided to sell the company off to pay for estate taxes.
Chrysler promptly purchased Briggs and notified Packard that they would cease supplying bodies after Packard's contract with Briggs expired at the end of Packard was forced to move body production to an undersized plant on Connor Avenue in Detroit. The facility proved too small and caused endless tie-ups and quality problems.
For , the Clipper became a separate make, with Clipper Custom and Deluxe models available.