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