Gear Head Tuesday – Packard’s Predictor

Gear Head

1956_Packard_Predictor_Concept_Car

Packard’s Predictor show car in 1956

“Saudade” (Portugese)
“A vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably
cannot exist.”

Predicting a future that didn’t materialize as (ahem) predicted, Packard’s 1956 Predictor show car made the rounds of the car shows and stops at important Packard dealers to show the future Packard was predicting for the company.

In previous posts, we’ve chronicled how, when James Nance arrived at Packard in 1952, he began clear cutting the dead wood from the company and pressed “pedal to the metal” to modernize Packard. He vowed to restore Packard as the luxury car leader in the U.S.,

james-nance

James Nance

Nance had his work cut out for him. Certainly he was up to the task – but circumstances over which he had little or no control overwhelmed both Nance and Packard. The company and the man went down fighting and they very nearly pulled it off.

Among the tasks facing Nance and Packard was the need to bring a modern V-8 engine to market. Packard, labeling itself as “The Master Motor Builder” had stayed too long with its straight eight engine. Cadillac with its modern overhead valve V-8 was doing laps around Packard. With Nance’s arrival at Packard, the V-8 program was at last begun.

Nance’s background was not in automobiles but his stellar performance at General Electric’s Hotpoint unit made him the prime candidate to replace George Christopher at Packard. Christopher, a Production man,  had come to Packard from General Motors and had done an admirable job of bringing Packard’s 120 Series to market in 1935, saving the company in the Depression.

But, chasing volume, Christopher (when he became president of Packard) tried to take the company more down market, pursuing Buick and handing Packard’s luxury car business to Cadillac. In doing so, Christopher refused to develop a V-8 engine, likely because Buick (his former alma mater) was still using a straight eight engine, though Cadillac and Oldsmoblie were going all-in for a modern overhead valve V-8.

Nance realized that Packard not only needed to restore its reputation in engineering but in styling as well. The post-war Packard “bathtubs” had not aged well. Nance wanted Packard to set the pace in styling. To that end, he appointed the talented Richard Teague to head the Packard styling studios.

Coincidental with Packard’s acquisition of Studebaker, Nance began picking off management talent from Ford. Among his Ford hires was William Schmidt, whom Nance appointed as director of Styling for the entire Packard and Studebaker operation. Teague remained in charge of Styling at Packard. (It must have miffed Teague to have had Schmidt placed over him when Teague was there first. But, as Raffi Minasian pointed out, these men were cut from a different bolt of cloth than people today. This is the generation that fought and won World War II. They stiffened their upper lip and marched on. And, I’ve never found any indication that Teague and Schmidt didn’t work well together. Apparently they did.)

At Ford, Schmidt had designed the Lincoln Futura show car, which George Barris later butchered into the Batmobile.

Thus as Nance was looking to make public statements about Packard’s future, Schmidt proposed at show car that would showcase Packard’s engineering and styling prowess. Nance agreed and the task of designing the car was assigned to Teague, naturally with input from Schmidt. Originally called the “Packard Projector” the name was soon changed to “Packard Predictor” as it predicted many styling and engineering features not only For Packard but for the industry.

Bill Schmidt

Bill Schmidt

Bill Schmidt-Futura

Above: Schmidt with a model of the Lincoln Futura.
Below: Benson Ford at the wheel of the Futura

lincoln_futura_concept_1

The Predictor had the original “t-top” – adopted by the industry generally in the industry many years later. The front seats swiveled out to great the driver and front passenger. (Later adopted by Chrysler). The slanted rear window would retract, aiding fresh air circulation from the industry’s first “flow through” ventilation system. (Put into production by Lincoln and later by Mercury.)

The Predictor’s then-modern interpretation of the traditional Packard grille was intended to be impact absorbing, a feature the ’57 Packards would have had. Disc brakes and mechanical fuel injection were also planned for the pace-setting ’57s.

Many of the styling features of the Predictor made their way into the designs for the ’57 Packards. Fred Hudson did much of the work of adapting Predictor themes to the would-have been ’57 production Packards.

57 Packard convertible Fred Hudson rendering

One of Fred Hudson’t renderings of the ’57 Packards

I was nine years old when the Predictor made its appearance at the Texas State Fair. I was lucky enough to see the car. It captured my imagination, young “Gear Head” that I was. Years later, I learned that the Predictor stopped in Dallas on its way to Houston to be displayed by Packard dealer Wendell Hawkins. Hawkins was one of those dealers that showed others how to sell cars. Packard needed more dealers like Hawkins!

Wendell Hawkins Packard

When Packard announced its closing, Wendell Hawkins grabbed every ’56 Packard he could get. The man knew how to sell cars!

Despite the Herculean efforts of Nance and his team, Packard could not be saved. The Portuguese term “saudade” is appropriate for the end of Packard.

Gallery of photos of the Predictor
and what the ’57 Packards would have looked like:

1956_Packard_Predictor-rf

Completely over-the-top by today’s standards, the Predictor was spectacular in the context of its time.

Packard Predictor lr

packard-predictor-interior

56_Packard-Predictor_Tail light

57 Packard Four Hundred 4 dr. hardtop

Above & below: Full size styling mockup of the production ’57 Packard Four Hundred four door hardtop. The wheelbase would have been 130″.

'57 Four Hundred 4 dr hardtop

57 Packard Patrician 4 door

Patrician four door sedan (above); Caribbean convertible (below)

'57 Caribbean convertible

Below: The Executive, introduced mid-year ’56 sold well in its short life & was planned to be continued into 1957. Note the openings at the top of the windshield – the ’57 Packards would have had the industry’s first “flow-through” fresh air ventilation system.

57 Packard Executive

gear

14 Comments

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  1. kimmargosein 25/02/2020 — 08:53

    During WWII, Packard built the Rolls Royce Merlin aircraft engine, arguably the best inline aircraft engine in WWII. This engine had four valves per cylinder, and injection carbueration. With the knowledge gained by this program, Packard could have, and should have, an advanced V-8 in production by the 1950 model year. But, as many have said before, Packard was dealt a bad hand, and played it badly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Packard was dealt and bad hand and played it badly”
      Well-put – though many of the things that happened at Packard when Nance arrived were beyond Nance’s control: Ex-GM Chairman Charles Wilson as Secretary of Defense yanking Packard (and Studebaker) Defense contracts, Briggs being bought by Chrysler, etc.

      BTW – The Merlin engine was a V-12, not inline, but your point is nonetheless quite valid.

      Like

  2. Stuart R. Blond 25/02/2020 — 09:00

    Just a few notes – That’s Benson Ford, not Henry II, at the wheel of the Futura. Production retractable rear windows appeared on the 1958-60 Continentals before they appeared on Mercurys. The Predictor does not have fuel injection, just a regular 4-barrel carburetor fitted to a 352-cid 1956 Clipper Custom V-8 (#5667-1001). I examined the car closely at the Studebaker National Museum in 2007.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary Lindstrom 25/02/2020 — 10:38

    Thanks to Mr. Blond for the comments and corrections. By 1957, Mercury Turnpike Cruisers also had air intakes above the windshield.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There is always a pattern in technological advancing. The airplane, the automobile, Morse code telecommunications and computers, first there is an idealist then There is a succession of pioneers. Thank you for sharing this automotive timelines. The earlier vehicle models are the best. German made is tops followed by the U.K. 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jerry Sarchet 26/02/2020 — 06:41

    In the design in the Packard, You can see a lot of style in the later GM and Mopar cars. To bad Packard had to go under.
    Unkle Jerry

    Liked by 1 person

  6. William K. Wilson 29/02/2020 — 01:34

    Packard made so many design changes of the RR-Merlin engine that it was referred to as the Packard-Merlin.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The original name intended for the Predictor was never “Projector.” It was “Javelin.” The original scale model of Predictor was built at Packard by my late friend, Tom Beaubien and his coworker Charlie Flory. The original model clearly showed the name, “Javelin” which was favored by Richard Teague. You can see original photos of this model in my book “Creative Industries of Detroit–The Untold Story of Detroit’s Secret Concept Car Builder” and other photos in my original history of Predictor in “The Packard Cormorant” magazine years ago.

    The “Projector” name was only bandied about quite temporarily during construction at Ghia. Packard discovered that two other car companies were planning on using the Javelin name on their own concepts. As I describe in my “Packard Cormorant” history, this situation caused a panic and selection of a new name. Of course with all of the confusion, things ended up with no one using the Javelin name at the time.

    Because magazine and other press lead times can be long, some publications got hold of the “Projector” name and used it in their releases. But it was never the original intended name for Predictor.

    Also, Mercury Turnpike Cruiser indeed had a rear window section that lowered in 1957, but it was not a reverse-slant backlight like Packard Balboa and Packard Predictor had. Predictor’s rear window was indeed copied by 1958-1960 Continentals… and later by early 1960s Mercurys where it became known as the “Breezeway Window.”

    And yes, Mercury Turnpike Cruiser had air intakes at the top corners of the windshield for an early flow-through ventilation. However these intakes tended to leak rainwater and were not very successful features. One can only imagine what would have happened with Packard’s full-width windshield top air intakes as proposed for 1957. Also the 1957 Caribbean convertible was never intended to have such intakes.

    Bill Schmidt told me that while some Edsel and Mercury features looked like his Packard designs, the FoMoCo stuff all came later, rather than before Packard. I am also the one who saved and restored the original film that Tom Beaubien took at the uncrating of the Predictor at Packard on New Year’s day, 1956. Bill Schmidt appears in this film and you can see it as a video on the Packard Club’s web site where I sent it years ago.

    Finally, while Predictor ended up with just a four-barrel carb, it was originally intended to have fuel injection and a transaxle with independent rear suspension (as I mention in my history, John Z. De Lorean’s idea–and yes, he worked for Packard at the time). However Packard was quickly running out of money and these features had to be deleted from the Predictor.

    Liked by 1 person

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