(This started out as kind of a history/car post and turned into a political rant. You have been warned. If you want to skip this, go check out “Love Is” instead. It’s about two naked eight-year-olds who are married.)
I’m a big car nut, and a major history buff, and one of my favorite topics is defunct car brands — you know, the kinds of cars that haven’t been made for years and are mostly punchlines to jokes, like Fozzie Bear in his Studebaker and the dad buying an Edsel in “Peggy Sue Got Married.”
I was sitting in a waiting room on Tuesday with several hours to kill, started surfing old-time car blogs, and fell down a wormhole, reading about the Packard car company and its giant factory in Detroit.
Of all of the defunct car brands in the U.S., perhaps none has a stronger fan base than Packard. Before the Great Depression, it was considered one of the “three P’s” of American luxury cars — Packard, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow — that rivaled Rolls-Royce in prestige and quality.
When the demand for luxury cars collapsed in the early 1930s, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow exited the business, but Packard soldiered on, mainly by moving down-market and making cheaper cars. During World War II, Packard, which was famed for its high-quality engineering and manufacturing standards, supplied aircraft engines for fighter planes.
After the war, unfortunately, Packard reintroduced the same cars it had been making in 1941 and 1942. Though fashionable before the war, styling trends had moved on. The company quickly got a reputation for being too conservative and stodgy. Increasingly, its cars were bought by little old ladies, retired bankers and clergy.
Packard’s motto was (the not-very-inclusive) “Ask the Man Who Owns One,” but the man who owned one was likely to be an elderly doctor driving a plain black one with no radio and rubber floor mats. (When I wrote my G.C. Murphy Co. history book, one of the people I interviewed remembered her father, the company president, driving a Packard in the 1950s. His kids would hide on the floor when they saw their friends. “It looked like a hearse,” she told me.)Continue reading “Hey, wake up, your eyes weren’t open wide”