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Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
#1
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patgreen
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Lots of talk here about how Packards enjoyed superior construction, engineering and so forth.

Can you prove it with examples?

Seems like many parts were conventional, from standard suppliers that everyone used.

So where did the excellence fit in?

I should point out that this is not meant to provoke fights; I just want to be able to put down hecklers.

Posted on: 2012/6/19 14:39
When two men ride the same horse, one has to be in the back...
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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Kevin AZ
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Torsion level. Best ride available in 1955!

Posted on: 2012/6/19 15:33
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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bkazmer
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Steering wheel

V12 1916

Air conditioning 1940

lock-up clutch automatic 1949

Posted on: 2012/6/19 16:31
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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Tim Cole
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Dear Pat:

I really couldn't agree more and will try to be objective.

Packard was always trying to bill itself as the greatest thing on wheels and probably achieved that with the Twin-Six.

The single cylinder stuff was Winton engineering AKA William Hatcher. Later the four and six cylnder cars were plain old T-heads with lots of cubic inches. For my money though I have heard owners of all kinds of big ticket brass cars tell me "The Model T is the ultimate."

Back in the 1960's and 70's you could take a good running pre-war Packard out and it drove better than a brand new Chevrolet. And mile for mile the only car that could match the Packards for longevity was a well maintained Roll-Royce.
If you get behind the wheel of a 734 Speedster and bring it up to 55-60 it does pretty good. George Jepson told me he thought it was a better car than the Duesy. And any of the Packard twelves were superlative when fitted with high speed ring and pinion ratios. Good low mileage classic era Packards really do perform although they burn gas like crazy. But they do wear out and most of the stuff today shows it.

Now I'm gonna tell you something. I have met a few Packard nuts who are just plain rude, obnoxious, uncultured, and uncivilized. I even knew some old time Packard guys who switched to Cadillac because they were treated badly by some people. Some of the old car politics is just plain ridiculous and the way people spit at each other is terrible. And I won't even start about the people who were friendly until they found out I wasn't going to buy their freaking cars. Back in the old days you weren't going to get anywhere with people unless they knew you weren't jealous of their cars. Imagine me having lunch with George Jepson and talking about how much I wanted his car. He had a little favorite restaurant in Hillsdale and we would have some lunch with cocktails. He drank Manhattans. We talked about everything except other people's cars.

A lot of this is about money and with what it costs to restore a car I really can't blame people for having some religion. But here at this forum I just try to help people. I am actually happier since I stopped dealing with Packards and some of those cuckoo birds. The money isn't as good due to the depression, but at least the workplace isn't a war zone. We're dealing with sophisticated problems over here.

Posted on: 2012/6/19 16:42
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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In the years i'm interested in, the late '30s, immediate prewar cars -- my '47 Super a warmed over '42 One-Sixty Clipper-- if you compare any Packard, junior or senior, with an upper echelon GMobile, the Packard has a needle or roller bearing where the Buick or Cadillac has a plain bushing. Bearings are to an automotive chassis what jewels are to a watch, so think of a Packard as a Rolex, a period Cadillac/Buick as an upscale department store timepiece.

Packards of this era were alone in offering a fifth rear shock absorber to control lateral side sway. Sadly, too many of Packard's refinements were unseen, and subtle.

Packard offered overdrive, something not seen in any GM product 'til the '55 Chevy, with its Ferrari grille, just as the '67 Camaro aped the '63 Ferrari Lusso, and the introductory '27 LaSalle was an unabashed copy of Hispano-Suiza.

GM sold sizzle, with just enough steak to seal the deal.
Toss in the sophisticated styling of the 1940 1/2 C bodies,
and HydraMatic, and Packard was in trouble. HydraMatic was a convenience option, has nothing to do with a serious road car, does nothing for performance, but when you're in the car business, you offer what people want, or think they need, or you go under.

I've no interest in anything after 1947 and agree with Tom McCahill, dean of domestic roadtesters, who raved about the '46 Clipper Deluxe 8 and previous Packards, that the '48 Packard was "a goat." By this time, the GM production men Packard started recruiting back in 1933 to teach them how to produce and market the One-Twenty, a stellar car that saved the Company, had taken over Packard
and reverted to what they knew: producing Oldsmobile/Buick-level cars.

But ALL independents died. No one could match GM/Ford tool amortization costs, afford the "necessary" 1950s annual model changes, expensive TV advertising. People who rave about other marques conveniently forget that all Cadillacs from 1936-on were junior cars, increasingly sharing components with lesser GM divisions; that Rolls-Royce's main business from 1935 on was aero engines, the cars increasingly a rationalized, tho' skillfully marketed product with bodies stamped out by the same Pressed Steel producing bodies for humdrum little Austin family sedans and half the English car biz;

that Hispano-Suiza survived/survives making pumps for nuclear power plants;

that all Lincolns from 1936-on other than a handful of outsized Model Ks through 1940 were "Ford and a halves," then FoMoCo fodder, even using HydraMatic, as Rolls-Royce/Bentley did beginning in '52, their first year for an automatic transmission.

By 1953-54, even Chrysler was down to a mere 12.9% of the domestic market, leaving just a "Big Two." Ford nearly folded in 1948, industry reporters cited Ford Motor Company's bookkeeping dept. being "....a small room filled with ancient men with receipts in shoe boxes."

Henry Ford II, only 26, knew enough to bring in the Harvard "Whiz Kids," including father of the Edsel and Vietnam War, Robert McNamara. They turned things around, but a friend's original 1950 Ford has such poor quality you can stick your smaller fingers through the cracks of the passenger side door when it's closed.

I'll leave it to others to drum up Packard's bathtub and '50s merits, but the only noteworthy things i can think of are Ultramatic's direct-drive, lock up torque convertor, which one of the gents cited above, and, and, um....uh... that's it, because Torsion Level was from Bill Allison, an outside engineer who had to sell the hell out of it to Packard's complacent management after GM and Ford turned it down. Oh yeah. Reversible seat cushions......zzzzzz....

Packard's sole production hit of the '40s, the svelte 1941 Clipper, came from outside-- Dutch Darrin, but you don't expect all that Detroit Athletic Club, Masonic, East Grand Avenue boardroom ego to admit their first big hit since the '35 120 was from a fast-track Hollywooder who chased skirts and swore like a sailor. Doesn't matter who on Packard's staff appropriated or fussed with Darrin's proposal. If you take up oils and paint "in the manner of Cezanne or Monet," whose work is it?

Look at the horrendous non-quality of the Packard Darrins
in 1940, produced in the old Auburn-Cord Connersville, Indiana plant, far from East Grand Avenue's quality control. As Darrin said, "Packard was so afraid of GM they couldn't see straight." So Packard let those beautiful Darrin victorias go to the highest-profile public, with doors flying open, front fenders flapping. Compare with the relative body quality of the 1940-41 Lincoln Continentals, despite their lackluster engines.

At the risk of invoking ire, the bathtub Packards were hideous. Look how much crisper, hipper, the '48 Cadillac looked than that year's Packard, despite the latter's refined, strong chassis, drivetrain.
John Reinhart and others wanted to retain and "sweeten" the 1941-47 Clipper, good enough for Rolls-Royce to use, razor-edged, with a modern, curved, one-piece windshield, as the 1956-65 Silver Cloud I-II-III and concurrent Bentley SI-SII-SIII.

Several auto journalists on both sides of the Atlantic dismissed '50s Packards as looking like "bigger, gaudier Fords." A Packard Mayfair coupe with stick and overdrive
was and is a good ride, but Packard was just another car, an also-ran by the '50s.

In their heyday, Packard wasn't a follower. Packard stood apart and uphill from, while competing against, not following, GM and the rest of the industry.

They weren't also-rans.

Packard didn't need buffs defending them as "nearly as good" as such and such.

They were Packards. Always thought it timely that Alvan Macauley, Packard's president 1916-39, chairman into '48, president of the Automobile Manufacturers Association 1928-45, often called "the only gentleman in the car business," left the Company in 1948.

I agree with Tim Cole above. I've seen too many semiliterate Joe Sixpaks attracted to Packards, witness Darrins, Twelves and other once lovely, understated models in resale red and other circus wagon Branson, Missouri konkours kolor. Whitewalls on everything, just like the rubes in the 1941 Cadillac Club of America, formerly known as the CCCA, and for many years, "a Packard club."

BTW, PT boats were such gas hogs they often had to be towed back to base by destroyers.

You want the best from the brass years, it wasn't Packard, or Pierce-Arrow, or Peerless. It was Lozier, Chadwick, Simplex. From the 1920s, a Stutz-- overhead cam, hydraulic brakes. A former Buick engine designer, Howard Reed, tried in the late '30s to talk Packard's increasingly hidebound management into not just overhead valves, but an overhead cam, according to Maurice Hendry. Packard's mgmt. replied that such an engine's "noise" would be unseemly in a Packard. Didn't stop Buick from trumping stablemate Cadillac during 1941-42.

Tim Cole's right as rain. Packard made some fine, fine cars. But some perspective never hurts.

PackardInfo is an equally fine site, a fitting homage to Packard. Like Dr. Cole, many here try to share what insight, tips we've accrued through the decades. But we don't walk on water, and can learn from everyone, witness both the genial level of discourse, and pictorial charm, of www.railton.org

Today, there are many people who can tell you down to the last lockwasher and cotter pin HOW a car was built,

but not WHY.

Posted on: 2012/6/19 17:20
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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Fine diatribe! Now, my turn, enthusiasm for but tempered with realism. I'll leave the citation of the merits of specific features to others more expert than I. What made Packard's reputation for perceived overall superiority to their contemporaries was an over-three-decade exclusive focus of a stalwart management ethic of engineering, crafting and servicing the optimum combination of the finest features of an automobile with minor regard to unit costs versus overall quality. Pioneering advancements first was of far less importance than presenting thoroughly perfected features on a timely basis.

It was then in regular, even rigorous, service that all those subtle, unseen perfected details delivered the superior durability, performance and reliability that outshone competitive makes. Only then did every, genuine, word-of-mouth endorsement by a satisfied Packard owner build their sterling reputation brick by brick, cementing them tightly as it went. No amount of costly advertising hyperbole could ever have the same affect or value.

Over those three decades of a developing auto industry, this was an absolutely correct course for them to pursue, in the framework of a generally ever-expanding auto market. Even it was marred by occasional sudden downturns that gave indication what could happen if a worst case collapse should come. But, as is human nature, ever optimistic, those minor downturns were weathered and forgotten. That is until 1930. To say that the framework that supported the auto industry in general and Packard's lofty position was suddenly overturned would be to make gross understatement. For a company in Packard's position, relying solely on the upper price segments for it's prosperity, it was analogous to the ground supporting it suddenly becoming a abyss, them sailing off in a long arc into thin air. For a management who had heretofore experienced little but positive, even glowing, response to their every manufacturing effort , now suddenly, nothing they did, regardless of how magnificent, resulted in that one key thing that keeps it all together.....i.e.......profits.

Operating in parallel and contrast GM, under the calculating dour Mr. Sloan, was under no such constrictive restraints of sterling reputation. Its total focus was profit, from each division within their respective price segments, maximized by as much component sharing and economies of scale across makes as was practical, or as much as they could get away with, without raising customer ire. To this end, GM's business model was perfected, even if it's cars always weren't. They were, for the general usage, "good enough" which in a period when many were experiencing automobile ownership for the first time or stepping up only to their next car, expectations were still forming. Sure, Packard and others had established a fine reputation, but it was largely out of reach for most......still it was a widely held opinion which could be exploited when and if the circumstances demanded...which they did as the '30's unfolded.

Cadillac up until 1930 had charted a similar course from inception, made serious progress building a unassailable reputation, operated as a worthy competitor and spur for Packard never to relent. And their thrust might have remained on that course, one championed by Larry Fisher, but for the intervention of the Depression. Both makes essentially stood at the same critical crossroads in 1932, each had to chart a course first for survival, then one to build on and thrive. Compromise was going to be the order of the day, or they could stand, as Pierce-Arrow did, regaled in it's royal purple finery, forever asking "Where are my peers?" until the bankruptcy gavel fell. Or, as Edsel Ford did with the Lincoln Model K, admitting they didn't stop building fine cars so much as people stopped buying them.

To those critical objectives, a path to survive then thrive again, Packard was ill-equipped, both in it's manufacturing framework and it's management mindset. Cadillac, on the other hand, always had it's corporate umbrella, it's ace-in-the-hole, and the unwavering support of Mr. Sloan whose long-range view of GM's future wasn't to be thwarted by the near-term dismissal of it's flagship marque simply because it was unprofitable for a few seasons. GM had the strong financial base in Chevrolet, a deep-well reserve of funds, and dozens of smart and savvy strategists/engineers who would develop a course for Cadillac, albeit in smaller 'junior-size' packages, to pursue it's way back to prestige sales leadership, that being of first importance. Profits would just be the felicitous byproduct of the effort. It had worked for Packard in spades in the '20's, it would work even better for Cadillac in the '30's & '40's.

Su8overdrive is spot-on correct, GM really only sold sizzle and just enough steak to keep 'em coming back for more. This is not to cast aspersion at their cars as inferior, only to recognize their efforts were directed by a more pragmatic philosophy. In the person of Harley Earl, they understood how to get inside the customer's psyche, to massage the need for recognition that a new car with advanced new styling could fulfill, out-weighting the common-sense urge toward practical transportation needs. Annual styling changes were about that and only that and Packard woefully neglected developing it's styling department as the '30's unfolded and the role of styling became increasing influential in purchasing decisions. Neglected it until it had no alternative other than to turn to Darrin and Briggs to pull it's complacent fat out of the '40 GM C-body Torpedo fire, albeit terribly belatedly with the Clipper. For all this magnificent design capability, Gubitz was just one man, who could only get it right perhaps 60-75% of the time maximum. When the idiom changed to one beyond his understanding, they had no one to turn in-house to developed what they needed so badly. No need to denigrate Ed Macauley here, his 'contributions' stand on their own merit

Better yet, had they realized how important styling was becoming, they might have arrived at the new idiom, perfected from continual exploration at the custom-body and/or styling studio level, then spring it on an unsuspecting public.....much as Cadillac did with the '38 60 Special. Individual preference or distaste for the frontal aspect of each or any of the initial four 60 Special model years notwithstanding, the overall major importance of that breakthrough was to pioneer the 3-box sedan configuration that's become the norm, influencing the sedan body architecture of the whole industry for generations. (You knew I'd work this point in eventually if you've read my prior postings!).

Kidding aside, it was a seminal achievement for Cadillac and one that cemented their reputation for daring, doing it so right at the right time. It is nothing more than the sport sedan with integral coupe trunk, the very architecture Packard and others luxury marques had featured on full custom-bodied sport sedans back to 1930. Unhappily, Packard didn't figured out to package it as a lithe, nimble, owner-driven luxury sedan of moderate price until Cadillac pull the rabbit out of it's hat.....then GM unleashed a herd of rabbits with similar architecture at even more popular prices.

This would not have harmed Packard if their major market emphasis hadn't been centered completely on the middle priced segment, which it was by then, it's Senior offering mostly window-dressing at less than 10% of annual production. Consequently what was seen on the street, what constituted a 'Packard' in the public view was now a middle-priced car, not terribly exceptional to any of its contemporaries. Sure, they still saw FDR in his Packard phaetons, but given the miniscule numbers of Seniors spread across the country each year, the idea of a luxury Packard and only that was fading from the public conscience.
Being saddle with three year old touring sedan architecture in 1940, regardless of how fine the chassis was, as Su8overdrive so succinctly put it "but when you're in the car business, you offer what people want, or think they want, or you go under. To which I would add, offer it first in a perfected form if possible, stealing the march on the competition. But for that to happen, to do so meant that all facets of the business have to be functioning at a higher, more constantly aggressive level, searching actively for worthwhile advancements, which brings me to another major point.

Mindset: Four years of emotional and intellectual thrashing the Depression extracted on the Packard board left them cautious and timid in their approach, no longer acting to lead the industry. Certainly, the conquest into the middle-priced arena was a bold one for Packard, but it was just about the last bold action they ever took. It also was the only realistic course available for them to maintain their operations near-term, the other options were no-existent. As such, the entr?e into the middle price segment should have been approached and handled as a temporary market detour until the economy returned to reasonable strength, with Packard set to fully resume it luxury car sales domination. The GM production and hard-boiled internal leadership mindset that displaced the "only Gentlemen in an ungentlemanly business" understood only mass-market production to the exclusion of the very segment that had made Packard's reputation. Worse, Macauley and the board acquiesced to their program and made no insistence the Senior models receive much more than rationalization and IFS for '37 and a mild restyle for '38-'39.

Where, one has to ask, by '36 or '37, was the badly needed new monoblock Senior series straight eight once the 120 was safely in production? The Seniors financial drain could have been abated somewhat with a modern, cost-effective new engine to replace at least the two straight eights, based on 120 engine manufacturing technology.
Why did the Seniors have to take hand-me-down, year old Junior all-steel bodies to create a new '39 Super 8 upon? It was all indicative of a 'let-just-do-something-good-enough' mindset in the approach to the Senior line that would have never been tolerated by Macauley and the board a decade earlier. It was beginning of the slide into the "Also-Ran" status to become Packard's lot in the postwar years. The intervention of ordinance work gave Packard a breather to regroup, assess where it should directed it's efforts after the war ended.

Further comments after yours, which are eagerly anticipated, personal postwar perspective to come shortly.

Steve

Posted on: 2012/6/22 19:03
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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Tim Cole
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Now this discussion seems to be getting into the corporate area. I agree with Turnquist's opinion that the only way the company could keep going was by going down market.

However, blaming McNamara & Co. for the Edsel is not the way to go. Edsel was the brain child of Henry Ford II and Ernest Breech who was recruited from GM.

I have always thought the best route for Packard would have been a merger not with other independents, but into Ford. They would have gotten more for their money from a Packard buyout than they did from the Edsel. And it would have only cost a fraction.

However, Ford was in pretty bad shape and had turned down an offer to buy the VW (before the Whiz kids arrived) so it didn't look like a company interested in a new image. I'll bet if McNamara was given a plan to buyout an independent he would have gone for it as a way to kill off the E-Division Plan.

Posted on: 2012/6/22 21:24
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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Bobby
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Well, in addition to the comments already posted, one of the many joys of Packard ownership for me is the high quality of the fit and finish of my 5406. Even after almost 60 years, my unrestored baby is tight and smooth, very stitch on the original interior is crisp, the original black finish is smooth and glassy, the doors close with that 'Coach built click', panel gaps are even and minimal...and all of this was done by hand, without robots or computers or even calculators...just eye and hand and human conscience...pride. That's what Packard means to me, and that's what sets it apart from mere cars.

Posted on: 2012/6/24 20:20
1954 black Patrician, unrestored, mostly original, minty!!
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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Mahoning63
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"So where did the excellence fit in?"

Take away 10 years of Seniors from 1928-37 and there wouldn't be 1/5th as much excellence in the Packard name. Long hoods and beautiful, tailored styling is what brought all the other things - quality, technology, etc - together in a way that made the name stand out for all time.

Cadillac made a few spectacular cars in this period that should not be discounted.

Posted on: 2012/7/3 20:17
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Re: Ok, I'm calling your bluff. Show me how Packards were "better".
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Any luxury brand touched by the Ford Motor Company turns to stone. Dearborn stumbled into those few truly wonderful Lincolns of yore then quickly bumbled right back to their bad old ways. A front wheel drive wimpy 2012 Packard made in Mexico? "No thanks" said the luxury buyer.

This thread's focus on what made Packards exceptional gets to the crux of the matter and Steve's comments in particular lay it all out nicely and belong in a nice hard cover book.

I usually don't take major issue with Packard folk on this forum when the lay down an argument that I don't particularly agree with but tonight am feeling a bit feisty so please forgive...

The argument about GM buying power, GM scale, GM this and GM that doesn't jive with me. Cadillac cars in the 1950s had a tremendous amount of unique tooling in their bodies and powertrain and the division had to pay for its own unique advertising. Equally true, Senior Packards in the 50s also had low priced cars to borrow tooling from and could leverage that part of Packard's advertising budget that was earmarked for overall brand building. Most of the Independents blew it, plain and simple. Bad leadership.

Packard stopped making true Seniors, exceptional Seniors, beginning in 1940 and the fact that the One Eighty rolled down the Junior's line had nothing to do with it. The Junior line was a good thing for a theoretical 1940 Packard Senior. The 356 was also fine and it didn't need OHVs until the late 40s. Packard's main problem was that it lost its deft styling touch and the ability to spec out proper Senior proportions. Of lesser but still important significance was that Packard was too late in getting out an automatic.

Posted on: 2012/7/3 21:41
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