Packard’s Predictor show car in 1956
“A vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably
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.,
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.
Above: Schmidt with a model of the Lincoln Futura.
Below: Benson Ford at the wheel of the Futura
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.
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!
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:
Completely over-the-top by today’s standards, the Predictor was spectacular in the context of its time.
Above & below: Full size styling mockup of the production ’57 Packard Four Hundred four door hardtop. The wheelbase would have been 130″.
Patrician four door sedan (above); Caribbean convertible (below)
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.