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More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#1
Just can't stay away
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Fyreline
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Most Packard afficianados have heard the tale of the proposal to rebadge the Facel Vega Excellence as a Packard. While Jean Daninos, father of the Facel Vega, said he was unaware of such a proposal (although he never said he would have been opposed to it), the rumor continued to surface in numerous places over the years and made it into print in some of the very few books printed on the Facel Vega. A couple of them even showed artists renderings of such a car. It was undeniably handsome, but whether or not it could ever have succeeded as a Packard is certainly a debatable point. Anyway, as the story goes, Studebaker-Packard at that point had a marketing contract with Mercedes-Benz, who supposedly did not want a competing car to their own in S-P showrooms so they discouraged the deal . . . If there ever really was one. And that was that. Or was it?

In the early 1960's I was working as a lot boy (one of my first jobs) at the local Studebaker-Packard / Mercedes-Benz dealership here in Syracuse, NY . . . A. Robert Perry Sales in the valley area. As I recall, they also sold Jeeps, in the pre-AMC days. I distinctly remember a meeting back in the new car prep area (which was rare enough, especially since that was kind of "my area", and even rarer because no one asked me to beat it). Anyway, there were a couple of VERY interesting cars side by side in the bays. One was a new Mercedes 300 "Adenauer" pillarless hardtop, which I knew was in the Mercedes-Benz line (I "gathered"a lot of dealer catalogs, which thankfully I still have). To the best of my knowledge we had never sold one new, they were well over $10,000 and pretty old-fashioned looking, although beautifully made. They always struck me as a German Rolls-Royce. Next to it was a low-slung 4-door pillarless hardtop with suicide doors and tail fins, unlike anything I had ever seen before. It had stacked headlamps, an upright grille, and red hexagons on the wheel covers. I thought for a moment that it might be a factory prototype of a new Packard, but the name was lettered across the deck lid - "Facel Vega". The interior was out of this world, leather buckets, a huge console, and yards of wood. As you can probably tell, I was properly amazed. I found out through eavesdropping (hey, it WAS my area!) that the Facel belonged to a Syracuse University professor from France, and was one of the few in the USA and maybe the only one on the East coast at the time. It was a deep maroon with a black top, and black wall tires. Not all tarted up like some of those you see at car shows today. Anyway, there were a couple of gents from Mercedes-Benz there to look it over and they had mixed reviews. They thought the styling made their 300 look very old, but the suicide doors struck them as a huge problem for body integrity and stiffness. I would have certainly agreed about the styling if they had asked me (they didn't- I was trying to stay invisible) but I thought the suicide doors were neat. As it turned out, they were right about the doors. I remember them saying that their replacement for the 300 was coming soon, and it would be everything the 300 was not and then some. This apparently was a reference to the forthcoming Grand Mercedes 600. In any case, both groups of executives (Mercedes-Benz and Studebaker-Packard) looked both cars over for most of the day, then left. The Facel Vega was driven back to its owner, who I heard got the use of a new Mercedes for the day although I don't know which model. The M-B executives took the 300 with them . . . Just as well, as I said we had never sold one. So what does all this mean?

Was there actually a plan for Studebaker-Packard to market the Facel Vega as an updated Packard? Can it be just a coincidence that those two cars came together that day to be inspected side-by-side? And most importantly, why the hell hadn't someone invented the cell phone camera 50 year earlier? I will never, never forget that day or the sight of that Facel Vega. As I said, whether it ever would have made a decent Packard or not, we'll never know. But it sure as hell impressed me at the time . . . I remember the growl of its Hemi V-8 as it wheeled out of the dealership, and that raised a few M-B executive eyebrows as well.

So who knows? What do YOU think?

Posted on: 2013/6/8 11:26
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#2
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Craig Hendrickson
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I don't know what to think, but that is a GREAT story, both in content and composure!

Craig

Posted on: 2013/6/8 13:20
Nuke them from orbit, it's the only way to be sure! Ellen Ripley "Aliens"
Time flies like an arrow. Frui
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#3
Not too shy to talk
Not too shy to talk

57 Detroit Built
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I remember of the Facel-Packard story. After some thought I found some photos of a car that was built and then put up for sale at the Hershey car corral in 1991. It runs in my mind too that one of the car magazines run a story about this endeavor a few years back. That one I have not found yet. I'll post the pictures as soon as I can track down some computer whiz kid. After 4 tries I give up trying to post the pictures.

Posted on: 2013/6/8 19:50
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#4
Just can't stay away
Just can't stay away

Fyreline
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A few further remembrances from that day (and shortly thereafter) . . . A few of the dealership mechanics and salesmen nosed around the two cars a bit as well, until Bob Perry chased them away (and back to work!). I don't think any of them had ever heard of the Facel Vega. They didn't much care for the suicide doors either. . . . "Yeah, they look great, but wait 'till you drive over some railroad tracks". A few days after the cars were together, some of the salesmen were trying to figure out what the Facel Vega's price tag was (it was around $13,000 - even more than the Mercedes-Benz 300). At no time did anyone mention the possibility of a Packard-based Facel Vega Excellence, even though a couple of guys (including me) thought it had a distinct Packard flavor about it. One of the salesmen wondered what kind of engine it had, and the mechanics all ribbed him about not knowing a 392 Chrysler Hemi when he heard one.

Other than a few visits by Mercedes-Benz zone reps, I don't recall any further visits by M-B executives and darned few from Studebacker-Packard execs either. Of course, by 1966 Studebaker was gone. The A. Robert Perry dealership hung on into the late 1970's as a Mercedes-Benz dealer, eventually closing and now it's a video store.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

Posted on: 2013/6/8 21:02
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#5
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su8overdrive
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Monsignor Fyreline -- Wonderful firsthand story, thank you.
Amazes some of us that a dying Packard brought Mercedes-Benz to our shores, an automaker managing to retain their hallmark vertical grille while selling similar-looking cars at different price ranges without bleeding a proud name white, something BMW also managed. C-E-S Class. 3- 5- 7-Series. Six, Eight, Super Eight.

Not so much today, but for decades we heard how the One Twenty "tarnished" the Packard name. No one ever said that about the lower Mercedes and BMW lines. Unlike the German companies, Rolls-Royce with their funky little Silver Dawns/Bentley R-Types, even GM, Packard never learned how to market downscale as upscale.

As mentioned, a l l the independents were doomed by the '50s simply as they couldn't match Big Two (Chrysler's market share only 12.9% in 1954) unit cost, tool amortization, or afford the increasingly "necessary" silly annual model changes and expensive TV advertising. This was underscored by the Facel Vega using a Chrysler drivetrain.

Posted on: 2013/6/9 2:45
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#6
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Just can't stay away

Fyreline
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There's been a lot of lively discussion over the years - and continuing to this day - regarding whether or not the lower priced 120 damaged Packard's reputation, if it "saved" the company (at least temporarily), or if it just postponed the inevitable. Obviously Packard felt the need to build it, and it did sell decently. su8overdrive makes a good point that it's difficult for a premium automaker to successfully reach downscale. Who wants a "cheap" Rolls-Royce? Also witness Cadillac's debacle with the unlamented Cimarron in the 1980's.

It really was a remarkable pairing for Mercedes-Benz to select Studebaker-Packard as their American marketing arm. Certainly they realized that GM, Ford and Chrysler were not realistic partners as long as they had Cadillacs, Lincolns and Imperials to sell. That only left the independents as an avenue to a pre-existing dealer and service base . . . And Studebaker-Packard definitely made more sense than AMC. Studebaker, with their Lark and Hawk featuring pseudo-Mercedes grille styling, and at least the memory of Packard quality, may have made the showrooms and service bays of the nation's S-P dealers the most appealing option available to Mercedes.

Some of the discussion in more recent years surrounding any potential Facel Vega Excellence-based Packard revival has centered around how (and how much) the Facel would need to be changed to perform its new role. Some have recommended the inclusion of the cathedral taillights, or some snazzy side trim and/or two-tone paint schemes. It's pretty much a given that the classic Packard grille would be required, but that actually looked very nice in the different artist's renderings I have seen. In my own opinion, and much to my own disappointment, I would have to suggest that the Excellence body would have to be re-engineered to feature conventional doors instead of the suicide-style that, while they were a stylish tour de force, represented a real Achille's heel as far as body stiffness and integrity were concerned. I've also been somewhat surprised that no one has mentioned the already established precedent of U.S. automakers "going overseas" for their ultra-luxury cars . . . Witness the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham (Pininfarina) and the Chrysler Crown Imperial limousines (Ghia). It didn't really represent all that much of a stretch for a French Packard to appear. Even the $13,000 price tag of the Facel Vega Excellence was right in line with the Italian-bodied Eldorado Brougham . . . Although it was never profitable for GM and who knows what a Facel-based Packard (called, perhaps, the Parisian?) would have ended up costing? In any case, I can't see the car selling in any kind of numbers that would justify the cost of producing it.

Which is a shame, because I would have definitely wanted one then, and even more so today. She would have been a tragic beauty, doomed from the start, but the heart wants what it wants.

Posted on: 2013/6/9 8:15
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#7
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su8overdrive
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Good point contrasting the "Packard" Facel Vega with the Crown Imperial Ghia and Eldorado Pininfarina, even tho' i care nothing for anything domestic after the war (my '47's just a warmed over '42) other than a couple '50s Chrysler New Yorkers and a Packard Mayfair coupe w/ stick and OD.

Your "French Connection" makes perfect sense, given the last Packard w/ elan was inspired by tho' we can quibble over how much design by, Dutch Darrin, who made his name in Paris.

Packard was the first American car to have "that French thing," as it was derisively called, a steering wheel.

Gasoline, carburetor, chassis are French words, the French more than anyone else refining the initial German forays.

A late friend had a number of Delahayes, which were good cars, better real world machines than his Bugatti, which i also drove, despite Delahaye retaining mechanical brakes through the end in '54, using a rugged pushrod ohv inline 6 akin to a Gallic GMC.

The only hitch is that if the soul of any automobile is its engine, your Packard "Parisian" --- as novel a barouche as anyone might desire in the '50s --- would really be a Chrysler.

What "Packard" Packard do you have, or do you want? You'll certainly find it here, PackardInfo being best of all automotive websites, tho' for sheer spirit, the Railton Club is also nice.

Never cared for suicide doors, thinking them well named.
What good are they, other than serving as emergency air brakes?

The junior Packards 1935-47 were wonderful cars, none better on either side of the Atlantic. My '40 120 was road car incarnate. At the same time my mechanic was rebuilding its transmission he was doing a '40 Buick Roadmaster gearbox. The junior Packard transmission mainshaft was half again thicker and had nearly twice the bearings than the more powerful senior Buick. A Packard 160/180 mainshaft thicker still. The number of needle and roller bearings throughout a junior Packard's chassis, insistence on fine threaded nuts and bolts, trivialize any upper echelon GMobile or anything else on the road, make them easily as fine as the Rolls-Royce/Bentley Silver Dawn/R-Type junior cars.

Packard's o n l y blunder was in not marketing them upscale, as R-R did, as Cadillac did from '36-on when ALL their cars were essentially rationalized juniors;

as Mercedes and BMW, Toyota/Lexus, Audi manage today.

More sophisticated marketing would've helped Packard, but again, ALL independents were doomed by the '50s regardless. Those limping into the '50s were increasingly badge engineered, Packard not even making their own bodies since 1941.

Posted on: 2013/6/9 12:17
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#8
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HH56
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I'm curious what Lincoln did to improve or eliminate any problems with the suicide doors. They used them very successfully thruout the 60's -- or at least I don't recall reading about any big problems.

Posted on: 2013/6/9 12:29
Howard
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#9
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JWL
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Howard make a good point about those wonderful and beautifully styled 60s Lincoln Continentals and their rear hinged, rear doors. I refuse to use the common term for rear hinged doors.

The stigma about rear hinged doors being dangerous comes from the pre-war time when bodies had some wood framing in them and had a lot of flex. Going over a railroad track, hitting a bump, or going into a pothole many times would cause the body to flex enough for a door to spring open. When this happened the air flow would catch the sprung door as if it were a sail and fling it wide open. If passengers were caught unawares, which was usually the case, they could be thrown from the bounding car through the open door space. This problem diminished as bodied got stronger and the flex eliminated; however, manufactures chose to go with front hinged doors.

Anyway, that is my take on it.

(o{}o)

Posted on: 2013/6/9 12:52
We move toward
And make happen
What occupies our mind... (W. Scherer)
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Re: More on the Facel-Packard . . .
#10
Just can't stay away
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Fyreline
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According to Wikipedia (now THERE's an unimpeachable source!):
"The new Continental's most recognized trademark, front-opening rear "suicide doors", was a purely practical decision. The new Continental rode on a wheelbase of 123 inches and the doors were hinged from the rear to ease ingress and egress. When the Lincoln engineers were examining the back seats that styling had made up, the engineers kept hitting the rear doors with their feet. Hinging the doors from the rear solved the problem."

I would have thought it would go without saying that any Facel-Packard would not be likely to use a Chrysler-sourced engine . . . Which begs the question, what V8 might it have used? The Excellence I saw had the 1958-spec 392 Hemi, which had about 380 horsepower in Chrysler 300D trim but was rated at 360 horses in the Excellence. I don't think that Facel ever moved up to the Chrysler 413, which was not a Hemi design but was still rated at 380 horses in 300E trim. They did use the 355-horsepower Chrysler 383 in their later cars. What did Studebaker-Packard have available at the time? The 1956 374 cubic inch Caribbean-spec Packard V-8 had 310 horsepower and that was about as good as it got. Studebaker's highest- output V-8 would likely have been the rare R3 supercharged 304.5 cubic inch job used in a few Avantis, but that wasn't really available until late 1963. It made 335 horsepower. None of these seem like an equivalent replacement for the Chrysler V-8. I wonder what S-P's plan was, if in fact a Facel-Packard was ever really considered? It seems to me that a car of this stature (not to mention size and weight - at 4230 pounds the Excellence was no lightweight!) would require at least 350 horsepower and commensurate torque , and Studebaker-Packard simply had no engine that fit that bill.

What motor would YOU have put in it . . . Or would you have tried to cut a deal with Chrysler to continue to supply their big V-8 for the car? Do you think they would do so? Fascinating question.

I have never owned a complete Packard on my own - at least not yet - although I have been part-owner of a couple over the years as they were fixed up and resold. The quality of construction always impressed me. My "dream Packard" would be a 1937 Super 8 Touring Sedan. I would love to have said a Twelve in the same body style, but that's a little over the top. A Super 8 will do just fine, thank you. For my money there was no finer 1937 automobile produced anywhere in the world. I have driven a few examples of the '37 Super 8, and most of its competitors as well. The Packard wins, hands down. Just my opinion, of course.

Posted on: 2013/6/9 16:29
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