George Hamlin’s very rare 1956 Packard Esquire. Aside from the fact that these customized-into-quasi-Caribbean Packards are rare to begin with, George’s is fitted with a manual transmission.
Esquire – Still An Honorable Title
This story about the Packard Esquire was authored by noted Packard and Studebaker historian George Hamlin. The article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of The Packard Cormorant and is used with permission. George also owns a Studebaker Zip Van, which we covered HERE.
Esquire (uh-skwire , now occasionally, es kwire), noun: (1) Formerly, a candidate for knighthood, acting as attendant and shieldbearerforaknight.(2)InEngland,amemberofthegentry, ranking just below a knight. (3) Capitalized, a title of courtesy, usually abbreviated Esq., placed after a man s name and correspon- ding, more ceremonially, to Mr. (4) A landed country gentleman. (5) A man escorting a woman in public, a gentleman.
We found the definition interesting for several reasons; first, the pronunciation has pretty much changed since that 1957 dictionary was written. Second, the term has little real meaning, though some elected officials insist that it comes with the office. Third, a new definition has joined the listings in the new dictionaries. Call it (3) updated: A title of courtesy, now written after a surname with no title, such as Mr. or Dr., prefixed. Translation: everybody without a real title wants to use this one these days.
But to Harry DuBois, a Packard dealer in Arlington, Virginia in 1956, it sounded about right for a car he was marketing to the upper crust. DuBois had previously been with another local dealership, O’Brien & Rohall, but he struck out on his own with Packard in 1954 when that dealership changed affiliation. He opened up with high hopes on Wilson Boulevard and was going great guns until Curtiss-Wright shut down Packard’s Detroit-area operations in late 1956 … doing really well, in fact, for a dealer in luxury cars.
“I had about 350-360 units out in 1956,” DuBois recalled for this magazine in 1972. “We had a high percentage in the upper brackets, too; other dealerships were selling about two-thirds Clippers, but we sold a big percentage of Packards.” And with this powerhouse customer base, you’d figure that DuBois Inc. could sell quite a few Caribbeans.
Except, of course, the Caribbeans were on allocation. Packard built 500 of them in 1955 and not a piece more, because the company was losing money on each and every one. The only reason to have such a loaded car in the line was for what the industry calls a halo effect making customers think a little more highly of the whole line, even if they couldn t afford the flagship car. Many makes offered such a thing at the time the Studebaker Speedster, the Buick Skylark, the Oldsmobile Fiesta, the Kaiser Dragon, the Hudson Italia, the Chrysler 300, among others. And, of course, Packard’s main competitor, which had an Eldorado (which the Caribbean did quite well against, thank you very much). Anyway, not every dealer could get a Caribbean and certainly not all the Caribbeans DuBois wanted. There s an old story in the automobile business about the first Studebaker dealer agreement, wherein one brother agreed to make all the wagons his brother could sell, while at the same time, the brother of the second part agreed to sell all the wagons his brother could make. With a car like the Caribbean, that wouldn t work.
The situation frustrated Harry DuBois; here he was in a very affluent sales area but, being a new dealer, he had nowhere near the clout with the factory that someone like an Earle C. Anthony*1 had. The factory felt the pressure as well; President James J. Nance responded to pleas from dealers like DuBois in late 1955 by suggesting that they Caribbeanize some Four Hundreds to hold onto some sales they might otherwise lose.*2
The idea must have inspired Harry DuBois.
He did get three 1956 Caribbeans out of Packard, but no more; and he had a lot more potential sales than that. Picking up on Nance’s idea from the previous year, DuBois went him one better; not only would he Caribbeanize some Four Hundreds, he would invent a special model name exclusive to DuBois Inc. Enter the Esquire.
Conversion of a Four Hundred was pretty straightforward. Off came the “Reynolds Wrap,” *3 on went a pair of rear antennas with Caribbean speedline bases. On went a Caribbean hood if the customer wanted it. Paint the center stripe (usually to match the roof; we have never seen a three-toned Esquire). Special ESQUIRE scripts, done in the style of the Caribbean nameplates, replaced the front fender nameplates; a smaller version was put on the trunk lid.
The whole package was not terribly expensive – it cost only $200 above the price of the base car so the customer ended up getting the Caribbean look at $4,390 instead of the $5,495 his neighbor just laid out for a Caribbean hardtop.
Naturally that wasn t the whole picture, because his neighbor had the Hypalon top*4 and reversible seats. Beyond that, pushbuttons were extra ($52), heater ($131), radio with twin electric antennas ($168), power brakes ($39.80), power seat ($70), whitewalls ($39), brake signal ($6) and Torsion-Level ($150). All were options on the Four Hundred, hence also on the Esquire. (What? They charged extra for Torsion-Level even though you couldn t get the Four Hundred and Patrician without it? Sure did, Bub. That’s called dynamic pricing, or something like that.)
DuBois was on a roll with his new model, and his best recollection for us some 30 years back was that around 20 Esquires were done, and at least one of them was a Patrician. The Esquire was a popular product, so why not a sedan version? That conversion involved more work than doing a Four Hundred because the side trim has different characteristics; the top rear strip had to be shortened to accommodate the speedline and the B-pillar trim had to be cut up to lose that short piece of Reynolds Wrap. We say at least one because we know of one remaining, but only one.*5 We should also probably temper our enthusiasm over the rate DuBois was selling them, because we know for certain that he still had three of the things left over in December of 1956. That fact also establishes that at least those three Esquires were done up on speculation rather than on order.
This being a custom car, there were differences among them. Some trunk lids kept the original nameplates while others said Packard Esquire (with a smaller Esquire script). Some cars had the Caribbean hood, some not. At least one customer elected to have the Caribbean hood plus the big bird. We presume that the parts removed during the conversion went into bin stock, but if you have wondered what happened to all the 1956 Caribbean hoods, this operation might explain it.
We also have long theorized that the original program for the 1956 Caribbean was the same 500 as in 1955: 250 each hardtop and convertible. And when it was obvious that The End was at hand, someone relented and made a few extras, resulting in 263 hardtops and 276 convertibles, but this is pure speculation. If true, it would have accounted for 39 more Caribbean hoods going out onto the street than the original program had planned for; add in DuBois s order of 20 or so, and you can see why a shortage of that piece would develop rather quickly.
Our car has traveled a long and winding road.
Production records show that it was originally delivered to McNey Motors in Bethesda, Maryland, and has always been Dover White over Persian Aqua. DuBois probably acquired it in a dealer trade, and in a nice twist of fate, years later it was traded in on a new Mercedes right back at McNey. It then ended up in the hands of Richard Jorgenson, a Packard fan who lived not two blocks from the used-car lot, and he began some modifications.
Jorgenson had always wanted a sleeper rod, so he converted the car to 3-speed with overdrive. This transmission was actually available, very quietly, for the 1956 Packard line though when one turns up, it is nearly always on a Clipper. So just about everything he needed to make the swap was available over the counter transmission and clutch, of course, but also the Packard-length driveshaft. To simplify the conversion, Jorgenson left the pushbuttons in place, forgot about trying to install column shift linkage (some pieces of which, he said, were no longer available anyway), and put a Pep Boys shifter on the floor with an unfinished hole around it.
Above: A Packard with a floor shift! Note that the pod for the Pushbutton Twin Ultramatic remains. Below: to say that the clutch pedal next to the Easamatic Power Brake pedal looks odd is a contender for the Understatement of the Year Award! (The graininess of these two images is due to them being screen shots from a PDF file.)
But the car lost its Esquire identity somewhere in the conversion process.
Jorgenson removed all that, assuming that some previous owner had put it on, and reinstalled the Reynolds Wrap though he left the antennas where they were. The car had apparently never had the louvered hood. So here it was, a Four Hundred once again. Our suspicion is that he needed the Caribbean parts to finish up another car; at one point, this fellow owned one each 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1956 Caribbeans. As for his Four Hundred-turned-Esquire-turned-Four-Hundred, it lasted just one trip into rural Maryland on New Hampshire Avenue; when he got it north of 100 miles an hour, he threw a rod. Dejected, he sold the car and within the year, died unexpectedly in his apartment.
The new owner was PAC member Lloyd Storm, a man of some considerable mechanical ability. Storm finished up lots of the details involved in the transmission swap, then repaired the engine. At this point, he decided that he enjoyed this line of work more than what he had been doing, so he sold the car to raise tuition money and enrolled in a trade school, becoming an automatic transmis- sion specialist a career from which he retired a few years ago.
Now under new management but still wearing Four Hundred clothes, this car attended the first PAC National Meet in Colorado Springs in 1966. Out of an abundance of lassitude, the car retains the Pep Boys shifter to this day, though a fiberglass floor hump was fabricated for the trip to Colorado to finish up the job neatly (and keep road fumes out), and custom switches replaced the transmission pushbuttons at the same time. These switches provide overdrive downshift, Torsion-Level control, rear flashers, and interior light control. All totally unauthentic, of course.
It was during a subsequent body refurb and repaint that some odd things turned up like, evidence that there had once been nameplates other than The Four Hundred on the front fenders, and speedlines on the rear fenders.
Jorgenson had had a rare car, and he didn’t even know it.
So all the missing pieces were rounded up, new nameplates were fabricated (far easier these days than in 1956 for short runs), and today the car is an Esquire once again. Making the changeover was necessary, we felt, for preservation of the Esquire name; today there are very few of them still roaming the highways. So few that its PAC directory listing has frequently emerged as Executive when someone assumed that a mistake had been made on the form.
The Esquire remains as a sort of memorial to Harry DuBois: a short-term dealer but a very successful one. Unhappily, his partnership with Packard ended abruptly; from a position of several hundred a year, the dealership’s sales nearly stopped cold with the 1957 product. Harry DuBois remembered the figure with acute clarity: seven cars. At which point, DuBois Inc. closed its doors.
The dealership’s building stands today at 3237 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, VA now home to a drug store. The land that was home to DuBois s used-car lot at 1525 Wilson was for many years occupied by a Safeway*6, which now is a tenant in a high-rise building erected on the site some time back. Harry DuBois died several years ago.
An edgy (best-we-can-get-from-microfiche) advertisement placed by DuBois Inc. on December 15, 1956, showing three Esquires yet remaining unsold. For reasons we will never know, one of them is described not only as an Esquire but as a Caribbean (that one is also the most expensive car in the ad). Note that DuBois has given up on selling the leftover Clipper hardtop as a Clipper; he is advertising it as a Packard. You may gather an impression that Packard s 1956 sales year was very slow by noting that in the same paper, Bowman, over on Georgia Avenue was advertising 15 leftover ’56 Packards and 5 leftover Clippers. These clearance sales were probably motivated by tax laws; inventory on hand at the end of the year is subject to a levy in many states. Appreciation to Paul Delaney for digging up this ad.
George Hamlin’s Esquire, rear 3/4 view.
The graininess of the image is due to it being a screen shot from a PDF file.
* 1 Earle C. Anthony had Packard dealerships in the major cities of California. He was the West Coast Distributor for Packard and served on Packard’s board of directors.
* 2 This “Caribbeanization” of Four Hundreds happened to at least one ’55 Four Hundred. A member of the Packard Club’s NorCal region has a ’55 Four Hundred that has been “Carribeanized.”
* 3 “Reynolds Wrap” – the affectionate nickname given to the strip of aluminum trim used on the sides of the ’55 and ’56 Patricians and Four Hundreds as shown in the photo below:
The “Reynolds Wrap” side trim on a ’56 Four Hundred, above, was not used on the sides of the Caribbean convertibles or hardtops (below).
* 4 Hypalon top: ’56 Caribbean hardtops were fitted with a Hypalon top, an early (though not the first) use of a vinyl roof to make the hardtop look more like a convertible with its roof up. At least one of the DuBois Esquires was fitted with a Hypalon top, apparently from the factory, though it left Detroit as a Four Hundred – see the story of “Dave B.’s” Esquire further below.
* 5 It is possible that there was more than one Patrician conversion to the “Esquire” trim. Some 20 years ago, a member of the NorCal Region of the Packard Club (whom I no longer know how to contact) had a ’56 Patrician that had been converted to an Esquire. My recollection of the car is that it had been painted in the Dover White-Scottish Heather-Maltese Grey combination as shown on the ’56 Caribbean hardtop above. It is also possible that this car is the one mentioned by George Hamlin, which was NOT painted in the tri-tone combination.
* 6 Safeway – the west coast and mountain region supermarket chain now owned by Albertsons and Ceberus Investment Partners also operates some 200 stores in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Northern Virginia area.
“Dave B.’s” Esquire
Reader “Dave B.” was kind enough to add to today’s feature on the Esquires by sharing the story of his Esquire. Certain parts of the story have been edited to protect the identity of a figure in the story whose permission we do not have to quote. This person was very familiar with the DuBois Packard dealership. This person, “J’s,” father serviced Packards for many years. “Dave B.” begins:
“… Beyond that, the fellow that I bought my Esquire from, “J”, had my car for forty five plus years and possibly knew it from delivery. “J” is in his mid seventies and still can slowly be coaxed into talking about his family and their long relationship with Packards. “J’s” grandfather worked as a machinist for years at Packard of Washington (DC), including the White House fleet. His son, “J’s” father, also worked at Capitol area Packard dealerships, including DuBois (principal home base of the Esquires) until the company turned out the lights. After 1957, he and another former DuBois mechanic set up an independent Packard service shop in Arlington to keep the cars running and their owners happy. I have heard some stories but I’m sure they have more. One of the older family men also did similar work on Cord automobiles and “J”still has two, the last time I spoke with him.
My Esquire was the final of many V-8 Packards “J” sold, kept to the end because of the colors (MES scheme) “J” painted it over forty years ago to please his wife. “J” worked as a dealer mechanic in Northern VA, including time as a regional Corvair specialist after Chevy stopped making them (I also have a one owner 66 Corvair coupe). Later “J” switched to Chrysler dealer work and moved his family to Georgia in the late Seventies. How many Packards the three men in “J’s” family have collected remains an open question, but they must number in the dozens. At one point, “J” had a half dozen V-8s.
“J” is a treasury of story telling, but reluctant to do so until he trusts you. He’s told me many, but I am sure there are more. He lives about sixty miles from me, still playing with and slowly restoring cars as a hobby. He also has old pictures, including one with his brother in a old L29 Cord as kids, and another when the family kept the only Heinz Phantom Corsair, before anyone realized its value. He tells some stories gathered when he and his brother fixed and painted cars for VA used car dealers for extra cash. DuBois Packard and Mrs DuBois figures in ….
I have both the build sheet (6/14/56) and the shipping order (lot held, then to DuBois in Arlington) on my Esquire, originally painted in Mojave tan and Dover white. This car became an orphan car at DuBois, after Packard stopped making big cars in Detroit. It is probably the one that shows up in two Clearance ads in Hamlin’s Cormorant Esquire article, showing deep discounts from unbelievable Before prices. “J” told me some stories about a Virginia dentist who bought it and kept it for its first ten years…a sad and often unprintable tale. “J” rescued it from the dentist’s barn and eventually sold it to me a few years ago, including lots of NOS parts in original packaging in the trunk. It has a loving garage now, parked next to the Executive hardtop newcomer.
I hesitate to be the re-teller of “J’s” Packard stories, when another interviewer might get more details. But there’s treasure there and it would be a shame if we wait until it’s too late.
“J” told me that Harry DuBois sold or traded Esquires to other DC Packard dealers who wanted to sell quasi-Caribbeans when they couldn’t get allotments of the real thing. He gave me a license plate frame for McNey Motors, Washington, Bethesda, Baltimore to keep on mine. My Executive is an Earle C. Anthony car, but lacks a similar Los Angeles frame. He said that McNey took some of the cars, along with a few other (but not all) area dealers. Most notably, a Dr. Hazel Dean drove her four door Esquire for years, having it serviced regularly by “J’s” father’s independent shop in Arlington.
“J” included ’55 and ’56 Factory Service manuals in the Esquire’s trunk of Packard treasure. I assume the handwritten short cuts and notes in them are from his father, along with some of the greasy mechanic’s finger prints. A clean and pristine copy would not be as much fun to have.”
“Dave B.” has both a Packard Executive and Esquire. The Executive is from the Earle C. Anthony agency in Los Angeles. The Esquire is one of the DuBois conversions in Arlington, Virginia.
George Hamlin’s article quoted above points out that not all of the Esquires were the same. “Dave B.’s” car is now the Dover White-Danube Blue-Roman Copper tri-tone paint combination. It was originally Mojave Tan and Dover White, but repainted more than 40 years ago into the Caribbean tri-tone combination. Note that “Dave B.’s” car has the Hypalon top. It is possible this is the only Esquire with the Hypalon top. Also note that this car does not have the badges “Packard” or “Esquire” on the trunk lid . This is because the original trunk lid had been removed by a previous owner and lost – part of a sad story about the neglect this car suffered before it was rescued by “J.”
Below: The shipping receipt from the factory of “Dave B.’s” Esquire when it was a still a Four Hundred hardtop painted in its original colors of Mojave Tan and Dover White. It is a late production car, built only 11 days before Packard closed.
Below: “J.M.C” made up this “DuBois dealership Supplement to the Owners Manual” as something DuBois might have given those who purchased Esquires. (DuBois did not, in fact, supply these. Image supplied by “Dave B.”):