Reviled by Packard purists, ignored by the collector car world, the final Studebaker-based Packards of 1957-58 have earned the unfortunate name “Packardbaker.” Here’s their short, sad, and interesting story. There very nearly was no Packard for 1957.
On June 25, 1956, the last of the Detroit-built Packards rolled off the assembly line on Conner Avenue. On the following day, company president James Nance resigned, unable to persuade the bankers to advance any more funding for new products and tooling. On August 20, with all the other possibilities exhausted and time running out, the Studebaker-Packard board elected to throw together a skeleton lineup of ’57 Packard models. These cars would be closely based on existing Studebaker products and built in the Studebaker plant in South Bend, Indiana.
This last-ditch, last-minute effort was attempted mainly to satisfy the few remaining dealer commitments, keep the Packard name alive in the marketplace, and buy time for a reorganization that, as things turned out, never arrived. The Studebaker-based Packard lineup—soon to earn the name “Spackard” or more commonly, “Packardbaker”—made its debut on January 31, 1957.
There was but one model line for 1957 and it was designated the Packard Clipper, a tacit admission that these were not true senior Packards. Only two body styles were offered: the four-door Town Sedan (lead photo at top) and the Country Sedan, a four-door wagon. The four-door was a mildly facelifted Studebaker President, of course, while the wagon, based on the Studebaker Broadmoor, gave Packard its first wagon model since 1950. Just one engine was available and it was Studebaker’s most powerful, the 289 CID V8 with McCulloch supercharger usually found in the Golden Hawk, and it was good for 275 hp.
With barely 90 days to work with and virtually no budget, the styling team, led by Richard A. Teague, tacked on classic Packard design cues wherever they could. Among other imaginative tricks, somehow they managed to graft the fabulous ’56 Packard tail lamp assemblies to the aging Studebaker sheet metal. But if you look a little more closely, the wagon’s 1953-vintage greenhouse is all too evident.
Priced near $3,000 and carrying more standard trimmings, the Packards sold for around $400 more than comparable Studebaker models. Sales amounted to only 3,940 Town Sedans (Model 57L-Y8) and 869 Country Sedans (57L-P8). But given the shortened ’57 model year and the rapidly vanishing Packard dealer network, maybe it’s a wonder they sold as many as they did.
For 1958, the Clipper label was dropped and two more body styles were added to the line, a two-door hardtop (above) based on the new-for-’58 Studebaker Starlight roof, and the Packard Hawk, a variation on the Studebaker Hawk theme (below). The previous sedan and wagon models continued largely unchanged except for the addition of awkward fender extensions to house quad headlamps, the hot Motor City styling trend of 1958. The normally-aspirated version of the 289 CID V8 was now standard on all models except the Hawk, which retained the McCulloch VS-57S blower setup.
The Packard Hawk (58L-K9) is known in some parts as the “Hurley Hawk” after Roy T. Hurley, Studebaker-Packard chairman and CEO at Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which effectively controlled S-P at the time. Hurley admired a Ferrari he saw on a visit to Europe and asked Duncan McRae, S-P design chief, to work some Italian styling flourishes into a Packard-badged Hawk design. As the story goes, McRae assumed the request was for a one-off special and was as surprised as anyone when it turned up on the production schedule. Along with a wide, Ferrari-esque grille, McRae added vinyl-upholstered door tops and a faux spare tire to the deck lid.
The addition of a Hawk model to the lineup did little to boost sales. Only 588 units found buyers, for total of 2,622 cars in Model Year 1958 and a grand total of 7,431 for the two years of South Bend-built Packards combined. Volume was far too miniscule to carry on, obviously, and the Packardbakers were discontinued on July 13, 1958.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.