Packard was not a man to take
this lightly. Returning the car to its builder he engaged him in a
furious argument. When the flying sparks and thunder of verbal
battle had reached their height, Winton challenged Packard to
build a better car. James Ward Packard not only accepted the
challenge but went to work immediately. One year later he and his
brother William Dowd Packard originated a new automobile company
in Warren, Ohio, and released their first model, a singlecylinder
buggy-type car. Bigger engines and advanced body designs followed
The Packard brothers were
after quality and dependability and they proved the worth of their
machines by entering them in endurance tests. The Packard cars won
many cross-country reliability runs, but their early fame was
secured by an out and out racing model named the Gray Wolf. This
machine was a four-cylinder speedster with an aluminum body and a
total weight of only 1,300 pounds. It appeared in 1904 and set
many records, but its greatest triumph was placing fourth in the
1904 Vanderbilt Cup race. Incidentally, the Gray Wolf, in full
racing trim, was available in quantity to the public, a policy
which made Packard one of the first American firms to sell a pure
By this time the cars of the
Packard brothers had, for all practical purposes, completely
eclipsed the earlier Wintons and the challenge that was taken up
in 1898 was fulfilled. James Ward Packard had built a much finer
car. But he did not stop there. He continued to develop his large
limousines, exciting luxury cars which sold at comparatively high
prices. Like Rolls-Royce the early Packards had a distinctive flat
radiator which slowly evolved into a classic pointed shell.
In 1919 a Packard returned
the Land Speed Record to America. It was the first time since the
1906 Stanley Steamer that an American car had traveled a measured
mile faster than any other earth-bound vehicle. With Ralph De
Palma, the hero of Indianapolis, sitting behind the powerful
12-cylinder engine, the big disc wheeled machine sped across the
hard sands of Daytona beach at a speed of 149 mph.
But Packard did not continue
to pursue speed. After this triumph the Packard corporation
concentrated almost exclusively on expensive passenger machines
and by the 1930's was producing some of the finest prestige cars.
The big square bodies had a look of solid elegance, and the
straight-eight engines were fast and dependable.
However, in the 1930's
competition grew fiercer and the greater resources of General
Motors slowly pushed Cadillac to the fore. Their V-16 engine
proved a better sales point than Packard's V-12 and the public
followed the trend of counting cylinders rather than judging
performance. As the decade drew to a close Packard turned to the
production of a smaller but still handsome machine the 120. This
happy decision saved the firm, for now people of modest income
could afford the status-building name of Packard, and sales
increased. Then World War II intervened and ended all competition.
In the postwar period the
Packard firm found itself in a predicament. The smaller cars had
become just about as large as the Packard, and Cadillac was firmly
entrenched as America's luxury machine. By the 1950's sales had
dropped drastically and Packard was finally merged with the
Studebaker corporation which continued the line for a short time.
But the Studebaker people were caught in the same economic
squeeze. They were forced to discontinue their own big car line,
dropping even the beautiful Raymond Loewy-designed cars.
Eventually Packard was dropped completely. The popular Studebaker
Lark appeared some years later; and the huge, powerful, handsome
Packard was gone.
It was a pioneering car.
Packard was the first American production machine to use the H
pattern for the gearshift; the mechanically practical hypoid bevel
gear system in the rear end; two-tone paint jobs; and the greatest
device of all, a steering wheel! Yet the Packard outlasted most of
its early contemporaries, and left a host of classic cars for the
collectors. To really savor the essence of this fine old car, it
is now necessary to "Ask The Man Who Owned One."