1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA – Displaced the Model T

Trade catalog for the 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA Capitol, featuring an image of the 2-Door Sport Cabriolet.

Trade catalog for the 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA Capitol, featuring an image of the 2-Door Sport Cabriolet.

At the beginning of the 1920s, the Ford Model T reigned supreme in the American automobile market. Cheap, mechanically simple, and easy to repair, the “Tin Lizzie” was much beloved by the American driving public. But Ford changed the Model T very little and by the middle of the decade, a combination of stiffer competition, advancing technology, and changing customer tastes rendered the Model T obsolete. Faced with such realities, in May 1927, Ford shut down its production lines for 6 months to retool for production for of the Model T’s successor, the Model A. When Ford temporarily went offline, other manufacturers sought to fill the gap in the market. One car succeeded in displacing the Model T as America’s best-selling car: the 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA.

The 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA was the end result of some very shrewd product planning and development. Starting in 1923, at the instigation of General Motors Corporation’s president Alfred S. Sloan, Chevrolet adopted a strategy of offering cars that were low-priced, but a little more expensive than the Model T. In return for a little more money, Chevrolet offered its customers much more in the way of updated technology, modern styling, and creature comforts. Built and marketed in accordance with this strategy, Chevrolet cars proved quite competitive with the Model T and the company dramatically increased its market share between 1924 and 1926. When the Capitol AA was formally introduced in January 1927, it helped drive the Model T out of the market. When Ford temporarily ceased production, the Capitol AA became the top-selling American car for the 1927 model year.

Trade catalog images of 3 of the 8 available body styles for the Chevrolet Capitol AA: Landau, Sedan, and Coupe.

Trade catalog images of 3 of the 8 available body styles for the Chevrolet Capitol AA: Landau, Sedan, and Coupe.

The 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA was a reasonably modern low-priced car for its time. Riding on a 103-inch wheelbase, the car was powered by a 171 cubic-inch inline-4 engine, which was good for 26 horsepower and featured air and oil filters as standard equipment. The car’s engine was mated to a modern 3-speed sliding gear manual transmission. The Capitol AA was fitted with a handsome contemporary body shell, which featured full crown fenders and bullet-shaped headlights. Customers had a choice of 8 different body styles, ranging from a 2-Door Roadster to a 4-Door Landau Sedan. Of particular interest was the 2-Door Sport Cabriolet, which came equipped with rumble seat, a Chevrolet first.

Selling in the $525-$745 range, the Chevrolet Capitol AA typically cost $160-$200 more than the Ford Model T. Nevertheless, it was more than a match for the Model T and was well-received by the motoring public. American drivers liked the Capitol AA’s modern appearance and were pleased to discover that it was a more comfortable and better performing car than the Model T. The Capitol AA also earned a reputation for being a high-quality car over the course of its production life and was found to be quite durable. Such qualities made it a worthy top-seller.

The Chevrolet Capitol AA was superseded by the Chevrolet National Model AB for the 1928 model year. More than 678,000 Capitol AA’s were built. Largely due to the events of 1927, Ford and Chevrolet became archrivals in the American automobile market and remain so to this day.

Sources

83 Quality Features – Chevrolet for Economical Transportation: Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Chevrolet Range, 1925-1927, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

How Stuff Works – 1927 Chevrolet Series AA Capitol

How Stuff Works – 1908-1927 Ford Model T

How Stuff Works – 1923-1927 Ford Model T

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 283, 292, 571, 586-587.

The Most Beautiful Chevrolet in Chevrolet History – World’s Lowest Modern Quality Cars: Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Chevrolet Range, 1925-1927, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Three New Faces Join the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Project Staff

I am pleased to announce that some new faces have just joined the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Project staff at the Hagley Museum and Library. Without further ado, I would like to use this week’s blog to introduce three new staff members who will be helping us process the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection this summer: Alison Kreitzer, Annalise Berdini, and Cassia Balogh.

Alison Kreitzer is the Z. Taylor Vinson Graduate Assistant. This summer, she will be responsible for processing the Vinson Collection’s manuscript materials, which document Mr. Vinson’s professional career with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ms. Kreitzer is a graduate student at the University of Delaware, where she is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History’s American Civilization Program. Her research interests include twentieth century cultural history, material culture, and the history of technology. She is currently working on her dissertation, which explores the history of American dirt track automobile racing in the mid-Atlantic region during the twentieth century. Ms. Kreitzer also has previous processing experience. In the summer of 2010, she processed the Collins J. Seitz Papers at the Delaware Historical Society in Wilmington, Delaware.

Annalise Berdini is one of two Z. Taylor Vinson Summer Interns. This summer, she will be responsible for processing the Vinson Collection’s visual materials, which consist of a wide variety of visual formats, including, but not limited to, photographs, photo negatives, slides, and postcards. Ms. Berdini is a graduate student at Drexel University, where she is working towards an MLIS with concentrations in digital libraries and archives. Previous to joining the Vinson Collection staff, she worked in public libraries and volunteered at Hagley in the Library’s Digital Collections. Ms. Berdini is also the President-elect of the Special Libraries Association’s Drexel Student Chapter.

Cassia Balogh is the other Z. Taylor Vinson Summer Intern. This summer she will be responsible for processing the Vinson Collection’s artifacts, which consist of a wide variety of three-dimensional objects, including, but not limited to, toy cars, model cars, numerous other types of automobile memorabilia, and award plaques. Ms. Balogh is a recent graduate of Marist University in Poughkeepsie, New York and Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence, Italy, where she studied Conservation and Art History. Previous to joining the Vinson Collect staff, she gained experience working with artifacts at the Penn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In her spare time, she enjoys all kinds of arts and crafts.

Please join me in welcoming Alison, Annalise, and Cassia to the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Project. I will look forward to seeing them contribute to the project in a big way as the summer progresses!

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1957-1958 “Packardbakers” – The Last Packards

During the 1950s, Packard Motor Car Company, once a renowned American manufacturer of luxury cars, found it difficult to compete against the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) in the American automobile market. Deciding that it could not survive as an independent, Packard looked for a merger partner and found one in Studebaker Corporation, a struggling American manufacturer of low and medium priced cars. In 1954, the two companies merged to form Studebaker-Packard Corporation, whose headquarters were based in South Bend, Indiana. But instead of getting better, Packard’s fortunes continued to get worse. By 1956, Packard’s sales had dropped to point where it was forced to cease the design and production of its own cars.

Postcard of 1957 Packard Clipper 4-Door Sedan

Postcard of 1957 Packard Clipper 4-Door Sedan

For the 1957 and 1958 model years, Studebaker-Packard made a last-ditch effort to keep the Packard nameplate alive. It sought to do this by marketing rebadged Studebakers under the Packard nameplate. The end result of this endeavor was unsuccessful and was considered by some purists to be the ignominious end of the once prestigious Packard nameplate: the 1957 and 1958 “Packardbakers.”

For the 1957 model year, the Packard line consisted of only one model, the Packard Clipper. The Clipper was based on the Studebaker President, a large car that occupied the high end of the Studebaker model lineup. It was built on the President’s chassis and fitted with the President’s body shell. Outwardly, the Clipper was distinguishable from its Studebaker counterpart by body modifications, which included finned rear fenders and distinctive chrome trim. The car was also given a more luxurious interior that featured what Studebaker-Packard called the “Packard Look.” To give the Clipper horsepower considered appropriate for a Packard, it was fitted with an engine not offered on the President: Studebaker’s 289 cubic-inch supercharged V-8. Featuring a McCulloch supercharger, this engine was good for a then-impressive 275 horsepower, which endowed the Clipper with excellent performance for a large car of its time.

Trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Series 58L 2-Door Hardtop

Trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Series 58L 2-Door Hardtop

In the 1958 model year, Packard dropped the Clipper designation, but expanded its line to two models: the Packard Series 58L (simply referred to as the “Packard”) and the Packard Hawk. The Series 58L was based on the Studebaker President. The Hawk was based on the Studebaker Golden Hawk, which is considered to be an early example of an American muscle car. Efforts were made to cosmetically differentiate the Series 58L and Hawk from their Studebaker siblings. Both cars were given body modifications, this time in the form of odd-looking fiberglass bolt-on noses and distinctive chrome trim. The interiors of both cars were given a “Packard Look.” But underneath their skin, both 1958 models used the same engines as their Studebaker counterparts. The Series 58L was fitted with the Studebaker President’s normally aspirated 289 cubic-inch V-8. The Hawk was given the Studebaker Golden Hawk’s supercharged 289 cubic-inch V-8 engine, which gave it muscle car-like performance.

Trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Hawk

Trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Hawk

When the 1957 and 1958 “Packardbakers” were introduced to the motoring public, they received a chilly reception and few people bought them. One reason for this was Studebaker-Packard’s failure to sufficiently differentiate the Packards from the Studebakers. In addition to that, many Packard purists resented their favorite make’s association with Studebaker (although some conceded that the cars were of very good quality) and refused to view the rebadged cars as “real Packards.” Perhaps most damaging of all, customers hesitated to buy cars from a make they feared would soon disappear. Faced with these realities, Studebaker-Packard ceased production of the Packard line. The last Packard automobile rolled off the assembly line on July 13, 1958.

Only 4,809 1957 “Packardbakers” and 2,622 1958 “Packardbakers” were built. Surviving examples are rare collector items today.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1175-1176.

How Stuff Works – How Packard Cars Work – The Packardbaker and the End of Packard http://auto.howstuffworks.com/packard-cars9.htm

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 623-624, 638-639.

Packard Club

Photograph of a trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Series 58L 2-Door Hardtop 

Photograph of a trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Hawk

Postcard of 1957 Packard Clipper 4-Door Sedan 

Studebaker – Packard (1958): Packard: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Packard Range, 1941-1958, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.