This post was inspired by the ad for this 1958 Packard Starlight coupe in Hemmings.
Over the course of this blog’s “Gear Head Tuesday” posts and on its predecessor blog, we’ve covered the sad story of Packard’s demise – and what we missed when Packard was unable to produce the Predictor-inspired 1957 models.
Packard’s last gasp was in 1958 – a sad end to this once-great marque. The house fell on Packard when the company’s president, James Nance, was unable to finance the all-new ’57s. Packard’s merger with Studebaker had been disastrous for Packard. The merger was not structured to Packard’s favor. Studebaker shareholders were favored in the deal. Studebaker even got it’s name ahead of Packard’s in the merged company. Because Studebaker was favored in the merger, much overhead that should have been dispensed with continued to drain the company’s coffers. For only one example, both Packard and Studebaker kept their respective proving grounds open.
Sales collapsed across the market in 1956 compared to banner year 1955, but sales especially fell at Studebaker-Packard. The quality issues that blighted the ’55 Packards further hurt the sales of the ’56s. The early 1956 problems with Packard’s “Twin Traction” limited slip differential – an industry first – further harmed Packard’s 1956 sales. To balance inventories, Packard closed the factory for the entire month of February, 1956. When the financial institutions refused Nance’s pleas for funding, Packard closed its Detroit facilities on 26 June, 1956. Over time, Packard’s once-grand factory – on East Grand Boulevard – became a world-wide symbol for the decline of Detroit.
Defense contractor Curtiss-Wright gave Studebaker-Packard a rescue of sorts, a rescue that primarily benefitted Curtiss-Wright. Curtiss-Wright wanted Packard’s new facility at Utica, MI and Studebaker’s Chippewa plant for its own defense work. Nance had built Utica not only to assemble Packard’s new V8 engine and Twin Ultramatic transmissions – but also to build Packard’s Defense contract jet engines and other Packard Defense work. The cash flow from the jet engine contract would have done much to fund the all-new ’57 line.
In what most certainly had to be a deliberate ploy to destroy Packard, Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, former GM chairman Charles Wilson yanked most of Packard and Studebaker’s Defense work. This precipitated the crisis that led to Nance being unable to finance the new ’57s.
Packard power! The B-47 bomber was powered by Packard-built jet engines.
Unable to introduce the Predictor show car inspired ’57 Packards, a quickly cobbled-together ’57 “Packard Clipper” was offered in two body styles – a 4 door sedan and a 4 door station wagon – based on the Studebaker President body. The “Clipper” used various pieces left in Packard’s parts bins, most notably the “boomerang” taillights used on the ’56 Clipper.
The 1956 Packard Predictor show car (above) inspired the unbuilt 1957 Packards (below).
For 1958, stylist Duncan McRae had the very unenviable task of trying to create a Packard silk purse still based on the sow’s ear Studebaker President body – and had no money to spend in doing so. The ’57 and ’58 “Packards” were intended to be stop-gap cars in the hopes that a Packard worthy of the name would soon be offered. It was not to be – even the Facel-based Packard idea went nowhere.
Instead of the Predictor-inspired Packards, for 1957, we got these “Packardbakers.”
For 1958, the so-called Packard’s body styles were expanded from the four door sedan and four door wagon to include a new two door hardtop and the Studebaker Golden Hawk-based Packard Hawk. (If the roofline of the hardtop reminds you of the Chrysler hardtops of the same era, it is because it was reportedly designed by Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner’s son. The hardtop body was also offered as a Studebaker President and Commander.)
Both 1957 and 1958 were recession years and the only car Studebaker-Packard built that sold in any volume was the bare-bones Studebaker Scotsman. Packard only sold a total of 2,622 1958 model year cars: 1,200 sedans, 675 two-door hardtops, 588 Hawks and a mere 159 station wagons. The two very last Packards built were not cars at all, but were two specially-ordered Studebaker trucks badged as Packards that were sent to Argentina. Packard had closed its truck operations in 1923.
“This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper.”
T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
The 2 very last Packards produced were not cars but specially-ordered trucks that went to Argentina.
Against this backdrop is our featured car, a 1958 Packard Starlight coupe offered at Hemmings:
The car recently has had a frame-on restoration and is now in mint condition. The car was repainted in the original two-tone factory colors of Bluff Grey and Cliff Grey. The chrome was all replated and the engine compartment was completely restored to a new condition.
The factory options on the car are per the original documentation. These options include a 289 cu. in. V-8, four-barrel carburetor, Flightomatic automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes. Additional factory options include “Twin Traction” differential, whitewall tires, AM radio, antenna, rear seat speakers, heater, windshield wiper and dealer undercoating.
The documented history of this car is very solid and interesting. The car was originally purchased from Conde Motors in Hempstead, New York on April 15, 1958 and was sold to a Mrs. A.S.Hirschthal. Mrs Hirschthal drove the car from 1958 until 1969. She put approximately 20,800 miles on the car and then stored it from 1969 until 2009. The car was then bought by a collector who restored this car to near showroom condition.
This car is an extremely rare and restored example with only a few remaining in the world. This example is thought to be one of the best restored examples that exist today. The car runs and drives as new. The odometer now reads approximately 22,000 miles.
Exner mimics Exner: The hardtop’s roofline was reportedly designed by Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner’s son.
When you have no money to spend for restyling, you resort to fiberglass.
The ’58 Packard fins were fiberglass as was the headlight pods, hood and the grille frame.
The interior is nicely appointed. The seats were trimmed in an attractive tweed fabric.
• • • •
Here’s a little “fact*” for automotive buffs, or just to dazzle your friends.
The four Goldberg brothers, Lowell, Norman, Hiram, and Max, invented and developed the first automobile air-conditioner.
On July 17, 1946 , the temperature in Detroit was 97 degrees.
The four brothers walked into old man Henry Ford’s office and sweet-talked his secretary into telling him that four gentlemen were there with the most exciting innovation in the auto industry since the electric starter.
Henry was curious and invited them into his office.
They refused and instead asked that he come out to the parking lot to their car.
They persuaded him to get into the car, which was about 130 degrees inside, turned on the air conditioner, and cooled the car off immediately. The old man got very excited and invited them back to the office, where he offered them $3 million for the patent.
The brothers refused, saying they would settle for $2 million, but they wanted the recognition by having a label, ‘The Goldberg Air-Conditioner,’ on the dashboard of each car in which it was installed.
Now old man Ford was more than just a little anti-Jewish, and there was no way he was going to put the Goldberg’s name on two million Fords.
They haggled back and forth for about two hours and finally agreed on $4 million and that just their first names would be shown.
And so to this day, all Ford air conditioners show —
Lo, Norm, Hi, and Max — on the controls.
* The true story is that Packard was the first to offer air conditioning as an option in cars: 1940. It cost $1,000 – almost as much as the car!
Nostalgia photo: Texaco tanker truck