Sunday, August 18, 2013

1951 Packard Patrician 400 Sedan

"The way people are crowding into our showrooms to see the new 1951 Packard, you'd think they had never seen a new car before! And they haven't! Never a car like this one! Your first glance tells you why Hollywood's famed Society of Motion Picture Art Directors selected the 1951 Packard as the most beautiful car of the year. And so practical, too — from the new low bonnet and Guide-line fenders (for safer parking and passing) to the new giant luggage compartment! You'll get another lasting thrill from the stunning new Fashion Forum interior. So amazingly roomy, so luxurious. Plus new visibility that changes your entire outlook! And what a joy it is to handle! Effortless steering — and effortless performance! New Packard Thunderbolt engines — teamed with Packard's exclusive Ultramatic Drive (now even finer for '51) — give you America's most advanced automatic motoring! Come drive this wonderful car!"

One of 9,001 built, this battered Packard Patrician from Havana has already lost all the chrome trim around its rear fenders. We think that this clean look makes the car actually look better than when it was new.

Packard entered the 50s with an all-new lineup, styled by chief stylist John Reinhart under supervision of Packard's styling director Ed Macauley. The cars looked reasonably modern and lean, compared to their more traditional predecessors. Although they certainly didn't stand out from the crowd, their styling was well in tune with Packard's conservative brand image. All in all, the 1951 Packards were good cars. Yet, their success should badly suffer from decisions that had been made much earlier.

Traditionally, Packard had been America's most prestigious car maker, essentially a "Rolls Royce of the Americas". In the 30s, Packard management decided to enter the medium priced car market, which by then was a reasonable choice because it helped Packard riding out the shockwaves of the Great Depression. A new entry-level "Packard Clipper" line, introduced in the late 30s, initially enjoyed a massive demand, but it ultimately eroded Packard's luxury image because more people could own a Packard now, rendering Packard ownership a less exclusive affair. Making things worse, the postwar Packards were based on the outwardly successful "Clipper-styling", and by 1951, all Packards literally looked the same: just a shorter wheelbase and different trim pieces discerned an entry-level Clipper now from the top-level Patrician. For Packard's wealthy regular clientele, this patently was a "no-go".

Over at GM, Cadillac happily filled the void that was left by Packard's erratic brand strategy: because there was no need to create production volume by offering lower-priced cars, Cadillac could concentrate just on their high-priced lineup, flaunting an ostentatious styling that was perfectly matching the general mindset of the decade. Thus, Cadillac soon became the number one luxury car maker in the US, leaving Packard far behind. With 100,000 cars in 1951, Packard still closely trailed Cadillac, and was outsold by just about 10,000 cars. Five years later, the picture was a different one: 154,577 Cadillacs versus 10,353 Packards – guess, who was winning!

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