What if there had never been a Packard Motor Car Co.?
Let’s say that, if Packard had never existed to innovate certain features and improvements in its new cars year after year for more than half a century, perhaps no other car company may have offered the same advancements. Granted, this is a real stretch, and, logically, most of the advancements pioneered by Packard were likely to have eventually been introduced by other car companies. But simply for the sake of fun on what might not have been, let’s take a jaunt through the list of Packard improvements for the industry.
No Packard? No steering wheel. The advancement was popularized and added to production Packards for 1901. Imagine if no other company had come up with the idea. What would have been the substitute? Levers? Individual hand grips? Imagine driving a car today using levers!
Automatic spark advance was another introduction. Today, with the rise of electric cars, and even in the steam-car era before World War II, spark advancement seemed beside the point, unless you had an internal combustion engine. No Packard, no spark advance? Perhaps.
Packard was a master builder of straight-eight motors and pioneered the first successful production Twelve. The year was 1915 for the latter. When that massive engine block bowed, it was a “zippity-doo-dah day” for the industry. In some respects, it marked the advent of a horsepower craze that continued to recent years. Imagine, no Packard, then perhaps no horsepower race as we knew it.
Air conditioning. Yes, another Packard first. The company was first to introduce air-conditioned comfort to production cars in 1940, and motoring has been a cooler experience since. The innovation caught on and by the end of the 1960s, half of all new automobiles sold were equipped with air conditioning.
The H-shift pattern was a choice Packard promoted. It took some time before it became widely used. A simple invention? Yes, but logical and handy, and it caught on.
Hydraulic shocks. Yes, if there was no Packard, who knows what cars would have used to cushion road shock.
Torsion-Level ride graced many fine Packards in 1955 and 1956. No one seems to have stepped forward to say Packard was not the perfecter and promoter, even though the idea arose from a Hudson man who offered the idea to that company before sliding it to Packard. Still, it was Packard and select Clipper models that “wowed” the public with the slick-ride principles of smoothness. Chrysler went with partial torsion bars, General Motors liked its air suspension motif. But it remained to be realized if any other car company in the New World ever greased the track with this Torsion-Level invention.
Firsts are not readily proven, and some are substantiated over time. Someone may have invented a feature or technical advantage, but kept back from realizing it in production. So Packard’s firsts can be seen in this light. In simple words, the Torsion-Level invention existed some years prior to Packard’s redesign and application, but the fact of the matter is that Packard was the first domestic car maker to make it happen in production.
This leads to more inventiveness, such as the revisions to Rolls-Royce motors for military use, thus avoiding slowdowns in hand-finishing parts and assembly. Tens of thousands of those power plants were mass produced, thanks to Packard advances. Imagine being in the South Pacific or the European Theater of War in the early 1940s and one of those necessary motors conked out. Who could fix it beyond a handful of artisans and master technicians in England? No time to fly them overseas just to fix one unit. Multiply that notion time and again, and the necessity for mass production and exchange of parts for speedy repair and you get the point.
Also, Packard’s involvement in marine motor production scooted numerous Patrol-Torpedo (PT) boats around coastal waters as the Axis Powers were on the defensive. So, was World War II won thanks to Packard? Not totally, but Packard did provide a crucial element toward victory. Think of the lives that were likely spared as a result!
Beyond firsts, Packard made its mark on society. Significant numbers of specialty cars were offered in conjunction with the Henney company of northern Illinois. Generally, Packard produced the majority of parts, and Henney completed lucrative numbers of funeral cars and ambulances. More than 1,900 were made in the late 1940s, which was a truly high mark. Rushing people for medical attention and honoring the dearly departed were services provided by Packard vehicles. Even presidents and other heads of state liked the Packard brand in open and limousine forms. Imagine if these aspects had not been available. For a good number of car hobbyists, watching historical news clips or old movies and seeing a Packard seems to make the whole story seem special and more enjoyable.
Packard also brought a feeling of good self-worth to its employees. Some plant employees felt they had made it to the top of their mechanical or assembly-line jobs by being hired by Packard. The same for designers and technicians. A high number stayed many years with Packard. Much more can be said of the sales force across the land. Selling other good brands of cars was proud work, but selling Packards was a step even higher, according to what dozens of workers told this writer.
Ultimately, Packard more than pulled its weight in the business. And even as some of its firsts were launched, there were feelings that those advancements were steps on the path toward greater success for the entire industry.
Packard played its part well.
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