June 25, 1956 – The last true Packard

The last true Packard rolled off the assembly line on this day in 1956, although the name would be used on re-badged Studebakers through 1958. Packard is said to be born out of a feud that started in 1898 between James Ward Packard and Alexander Winton, who produced Winton Automobiles. Packard had purchased a Winton, which was the largest automaker in the US at the time, but continuous problems with the car led Packard to offer numerous suggestions for improvements to Winton. In 1899, growing tired of Packard’s ideas, Winton exclaimed to him, “Well, if you are so smart, maybe you can build a better machine yourself!”  Packard accepted the challenge and went to work in his Warren, Ohio, workshop. By the next year, 1899, he had built his first vehicle, a single cylinder automobile. 

Above: c. 1904 Packard Gray Wolf
Top: A 1956 Packard Patrician, from the last year of true Packard production

In 1904 the Packard Motor Car Company gained popularity when it released a four cylinder, aluminum bodied speedster dubbed the Gray Wolf. It was one of the first cars designed explicitly for racing that was sold to the general public. By 1916, Packard had established itself as a premier luxury American automaker. It released a revolutionary V-12 engine that year called the Twin Six. That engine would be adapted for aircraft during WWI, called the Liberty Aircraft engine. It is often said to be the most important output of all of America’s war manufacturing effort, and is also the engine that put Lincoln Motor Company in business.

James Ward Packard in a 1902 Packard. He was the first person to drive with one hand and look cool while doing it

Packard remained the top luxury automaker in the United States up to through World War II, staying afloat by offering a more diverse lineup of luxury vehicles than its competitors. In the 1950 sales began to fall. After a hopeful merger with Studebaker, the board of directors deemed the cars too expensive to build. Then president of the newly combined company, James Nance, made the decision to end production of Packards at the Detroit Packard plant in 1956. However, some executives saw value in the name and continued to use it on re-badged Studebakers in hopes of creating enough income to once again produce a luxurious Packard in the near future. The plan failed and in 1958 the name was put to pasture.

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