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March 20, 1928 – James Packard, Founder of Packard Motor Car Company, dies

James Packard and his wife Elizabeth Gillmer in a Packard

James Packard, co-founder of the Packard Motor Car Company, passed away on this day in 1928. At the time of his death, Packard ran with the top selling luxury brands in the world. Building such a company started with James’ purchase of a Winton Automobile in 1898, changing the course of automotive history forever. Packard found himself dissatisfied with his new vehicle, which one has to admit is a bit bogus, considering the number of comparable automobiles in an existence barley reached one. Having done business with a Winton investor for his existing electrical company, Packard was able to take his complaints directly to Alexander Winton, the founder of the automaker. Winton waved off any suggestions Packard offered telling him something to the effect of, “If you think you can do better, then do so.” Packard took him up on that challenge. The first Packard automobile left a Warren, Ohio factory on November 6, 1899.

James Packard

Packard Motor Car Company 1900-1930

In September 1900 James and his brother William founded the Ohio Automobile Company to produce Packard cars. Their sister, Alaska Davidson, would go on to become the first female FBI agent. Back to the bros: on October 13, 1902 they changed the name to Packard Motor Car Company. While many automobiles were selling between $500 and $1,500 at the time, James Packard focused on the luxury market. The starting price for a Packard in 1903 was $2,300, about $71,000 in 2020. The company continued building high end cars through the 1910s and into the 1920s, when it really hit its stride. Throughout the decade, many saw Packard as the pinnacle of automotive luxury. These cars could be found in the driveways of movie stars, royalty and other ultra-wealthy folks.

1916 Packard Twin Six. By Buch-t – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Packard in the Great Depression

Drive History Every Day. Get it here.

The Great Depression brought great trouble for the automaker. In an attempt to stay competitive, they rolled out the Light Eight in 1932. Though it had a cheaper price tag, it did not cost less to make, leading to a $7 million dollar loss for the company. Packard’s problem? Up until now, production efficiency had never been a primary concern. After the Light Eight catastrophe, an attempt to ramp up production led to the 1935 Packard 120. The smaller, mass produced vehicle aimed at Buick and LaSalle, earned the company a $7 million profit. The Packard Six, later to become the 110, soon followed, and production of the marque’s famous one of a kind luxury rides soon dwindled to nearly zero.

1933 Packard Tenth Series 12. By Rex Gray – svr, CC BY 2.0

The End of the Line

Following World War II, as the prestige of owning a Packard wore off, sales sharply declined. In an attempt to save the company, a merger with Studebaker occurred in 1954. The deal effectively killed Packard when the new president of Studebaker-Packard ended manufacturing of the cars in Detroit. The last true Packard left the factory on June 25, 1956. The name continued to be used on what essentially rebadged Studebakers through 1958. But when the recession of 1958 hit, the name was discontinued as well. The final Packard branded car would roll off the assembly line in 1958, with hardly a trace of luxury the line once represented.

1958 Packard Hawk. The last year of the Packard name. By Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA – 1958 Packard Hawk, CC BY 2.0

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