Gear Head Tuesday – “Theater Organ Man’s” ’56 Packard Patrician

Gear Head

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“Theater Organ Man’s” ’56 Packard Patrician

“Theater Organ Man,” as the nick name implies, is an organist, specializing in playing theater organs. He is also an interior decorator. He has owned some 18 Packards. Here’s the story on this ’56 Patrician, as written by “Theater Organ Man” himself,:

In 2008, I was doing an interior design job in Dothan, Alabama. It was a renovation of a large jewelry store and as part of the new design, I specified a courtyard complete with fountain and outdoor cast aluminum dolphin-head seating. I designed this line for Moultrie Manufacturing Company and my partner, Mitch Parker, picked up the order of tables, settees, and chairs in his truck and brought them from Moultrie to the job site. I had to remain in Dothan as we were nearing completion and the store’s grand opening. Mitch returned to our home in Moultrie and to his job as a waste water technician. He is blessed with many talents, but having a good sense of direction is not one of them.

As he made his way back to Moultrie, he ended up in the small burg of Funston, Georgia. By this time in our lives I had fully brainwashed him on the glories that are Packard, especially the last Detroit-built examples. So, naturally when he passed a 1956 DeSoto hardtop and a 1956 Packard Patrician on the side of the road he–like any good Packard scout–stopped. He called me to report his findings and I tried to disprove his discovery of a ’56 Patrician by every means. When he defied me and reported that the car had a push-button transmission, I acquiesced and realized that he had truly found a Patrician sedan–literally less than 10 miles from our Moultrie home! I will never forget him excitedly exclaiming, “…and it has the “Reynolds Wrap” all the way to the tail lights!”

You can believe that the minute the store opening was concluded, I was on my way to Moultrie via Funston. The car was owned by a “back yard mechanic” of sorts and his property looked like a set for Ma and Pa Kettle. The Patrician had its push button transmission selector completely dissected and laying on the front seat. But, when we asked for a test run, we were able to engage the transmission and take a quick test drive. The test drive went surprisingly well and after some bartering, we were one less Lincoln Town Car and Imperial. We put the car on a roll back for Moultrie–to join three other 1956 Packards.

After relieving the interior of about ten empty Thunderbird wine bottles and a general clean up, we realized that the car was very original and intact. The seller claimed to have totally rebuilt the engine and time has proven this to be true. We eventually sold another Imperial–a 73–to a car museum in Birmingham. How convenient this turned out to be since our good friend and Ace Packard Mechanic Donald Taccone agreed to welcome the car to his Gable Square Service Center. Donald performed several needed tasks, including getting the push button selector re-installed and fully functioning. When I took the first test drive with Donald at the wheel after his work, I was amazed and again, for about the seventeenth time, marveled over the quality, solidity, and majesty that is “The Greatest Packard of Them All” as advertisements claimed for the 1956 editions.

We later discovered that the seller had–in one of his more sober moments–contracted with “Mr. Pushbutton”: John Lauter to rebuild the selector servo-motor. You can still view its operation on John’s workbench on You-Tube today.

Mitch agreed with me that something needed to be done to jazz up the rather somber Maltese Gray/Dover White scheme and he came up with a winner by having our paint man re-apply the Maltese Gray according to factory applications and to substitute the white accent lower body and roof with a color used primarily only on Clippers and Caribbeans: Naples Orange. This Patrician no longer looks like a funeral car…indeed it looks like a Caribbean Wanna-Be.

Years later, our car decided to take a long rest in front of Harvey’s Supermarket in Valdosta, Georgia. We could not tow the car nor could we get it out of gear. Many calls to John Lauter–who was only too happy to help–never removed her from that parking lot. We became good friends with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office who kept a vigilant watch on the car.

I am a theatre organist and John Lauter happens to be one of the very best! I craftily suggested that he come to Atlanta to do a concert on our newly installed Page Pipe organ. You can guess what happened next. John was speedily being transported to Valdosta. In one day, we have a photograph of him–replete with coat and tie–at the organ console and on the next day, a shot of him with his back to the ground, under the front end of a 56 Packard. From his luggage emerged the most magnificent new replacement wiring harness in existence. We performed the nursing duties while he dutifully did the surgery. It was a successful operation.

We look forward to completing the color scheme Mitch devised by continuing the interior renovations in complementary colors of leather and black jacquard cloth. This is a tough decision, since the Light Gray Matelasse and Dark Gray Doeskin interior–though well worn–is still inviting and totally original. Interestingly this car, first delivered to Central City Sales in Solvay, New York on November 15, 1955, has a power seat but no power windows.

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Readers’ Car Series

• Chris-to-Fear’s ’55 Studebaker Champion, “Uncle Tilden”

• PacDoc56’s ’56 Packard Executive

• Roscoe S’s Fuel Injected ’56 Packard Executive

• George Hamlin’s ’56 Packard Esquire

• Dave B’s ’56 Packard Esquire

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The Packard – Ford Connection

Last week, our story was about Edsel Ford, only son of Henry, becoming president of Ford Motor Company. Comments by several readers in response to that story prompted this update, including the Packard – Ford connection:

• The management style of Ford Motor Company, beginning with old Henry himself and continuing with Henry II, was to pit managers against each other. Until recent years, Ford had been run as a series of warring feudal duchies. When Edsel became president of Ford, his own father went behind his back, telling managers to ignore Edsel.

• When old Henry died, no Lincoln hearse was available, and Henry’s last ride was in a Packard, a ’41 Packard-Henney hearse!

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Henry Ford’s last ride was in a Packard!

• When Packard president James Nance couldn’t secure financing to tool for the spectacular ’57 Packards, stylist Richard Teague adapted the design to the ’56 Lincoln body shell. Nance wanted to buy the Lincoln body shells using Packard’s own sheet metal. Teague created a fine design that carried the major themes of the planned ’57s and would have been a very handsome car. Henry II was in favor of selling the Lincoln body shells to Packard, but the warring tribes within Ford killed the idea and Henry II didn’t override them.

• The ’56 Lincoln, one of the most handsome of any mid-’50s cars, was largely designed by William Schmidt. Schmidt left Ford and went to Packard. His touch is seen in the mild facelift the ’56 Packards got over the ’55s, and he did much of the work on the Predictor show car and the planned but unbuilt ’57 Packards.

• When Packard closed in June, 1956, president James Nance went to Ford as general manager of the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division where he became a favored target of Henry II’s warring managers. They blamed Nance for Edsel’s failure, when in fact he had virtually nothing to do with it – the die had already been cast when Nance arrived.

• Ford bought the Packard Proving Grounds outside of Utica, MI. It is to Ford’s credit that they did not destroy the Alfbert Kahn-designed Lodge at the Proving Grounds.  The Lodge and a portion of the test track is now preserved by the Packard Motor Car Foundation.

2 Comments

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  1. Stuart R. Blond 10/01/2017 — 08:59

    When James Nance joined Ford Motor Co. on November 1, 1956, it was as Ford’s vice president of marketing. The next year, Ernest Breech and Henry Ford II tasked him to combine the Lincoln and Mercury divisions. Thus, on September 4, 1957, Nance became the vice president and general manager of the newly combined Lincoln and Mercury divisions. (The name was the “Lincoln and Mercury Division,” not “Lincoln-hyphen-Mercury” as it had been in the past – and would be again in the future.) In January 1958, Breech dumped the Edsel division into Nance’s lap, with the division now designated M-E-L [for Mercury, Edsel, Lincoln]. However, with the recession of 1958 digging in, car sales were way down, and Nance was blamed within Ford by Robert McNamara for the poor sales efforts. Richard Stout, who worked with Nance at Packard, and no doubt had his ears bent by Nance on the subject, boiled Nance’s departure from Ford in September 1958 down to these words in his book “Make ‘Em Shout Hoorah!”: “McNamara gave an ultimatum to Henry Ford II. Dump Nance or, as a group, he and the Whiz Kids would leave. Nance would get thirty days notice.”

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  2. Dave Brownell 10/01/2017 — 13:11

    It is good to actually see Henry Ford’s last trip in a picture. At least, the Packard was followed by a Lincoln, probably the first of many in the cortège. I believe that the granite building in the background, with the arched windows is the famous Detroit Public Library, home of the world’s most extensive auto photo library. That photograph possibly came from the very building pictured.

    I have had the pleasure of meeting both John McCall and Mitch Parker. Both are talented people, befitting the very best of what Packard men are supposed to be. I had not previously heard the story of Mr. Pushbutton on the supermarket lot before. Some Packard guys just don’t ever give up! Let’s hope that we can find replacement enthusiasts to follow people like them to carry on the spirit.

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