Q: I am a lover of the Packard and would like to know when was the last official Packard built? My late husband always drove Packards in the 1950s, and even had one when the Packard looked like the Studebaker. Thanks, Jean, Spokane, Washington.
A: Jean, Packard was another of my favorite makes as my grandfather, who drove a Buick, told me his second choice would have been a Packard. The decade of the 1950s found Packard losing market share to the big three, as did the other independents during that period. Several independents merged, most notable Nash-Hudson to form American Motors in 1954 and Studebaker-Packard also merged in 1954. And, although it was Packard that purchased Studebaker, the end result was the Packard nameplate folding up and Studebaker brand surviving.
By 1958, the merge of Packard and Studebaker came to judgment day as the Studebaker design and reputation took over the now extinct "true Packard" line. Packard felt that the larger Studebaker dealership network along with a Packard badge on a Studebaker in 1957 would sell.
They were wrong.
Thus, the Packard in 1957 came available in just two models, a 4-door sedan and a Country Sedan Wagon. The consumer knew immediately it was a Studebaker, and sales dropped to 4,857 units sold. In 1958, even less Packards were sold, and the Packard-Studebaker board announced it would end all Packard production midway that year.
Notable, too, was a Pan Am lawsuit versus Packard in 1955, which charged that Packard's use of the names Clipper, Caribbean, Constellation, Pan American, Panama and Pacific, all of which Pan Am used in its marketing programs and all models produced by Packard, was copyright infringement. The lawsuit, filed by Pan Am, drug on for three years until Packard dropped the names, with Studebaker's help. Pan Am agreed to dismiss the lawsuit, although millions were already spent in defense. Packard also found out too late that the strength of the Studebaker balance sheet, which was "puffed up" when the purchase took place, crippled the new company beyond a short-term fix.
As for me, the last official "true blue" Packard came in 1956, when the floundering company released some beautiful models still under its assembly platform. Packard's design for 1956 included a facelift from the 1955 new generation, which replaced the famous "bathtub" Packards we came to love beginning in post war 1948. Today, a 1956 Caribbean Convertible tri-tone is worth big money on the collector car auction stage, complete with Packard's first ever overhead valve V8 which also debuted in 1955.
This reality is a very sad ending to the Packard brand, which shared much glory with the best luxury vehicles of the previous decades. Studebaker would go one to find solace in the "all-new" Lark, which it debuted in 1959 as a new body on a same old chassis. But by then, the Packard we knew was gone forever.