"One guess what name it bears!" was the advertising headline for the new 1948 Packard Custom 8. It was Packard's first new post-war design, and they were so sure that it was unmistakably Packard, that they left all of the name plates off of the car. It was easily identifiable though, with its ox-yoke grill, hexagon cloisonné hubcaps and cormorant, but just in case you weren't totally sure, there was the Packard family crest on the grill.
It came at a time of change at Packard, with longtime chairman of the board, Alvin Macauley retiring that year and George Christopher taking total control as president. Christopher had been brought in from GM in the '30s to spearhead the production of the new 1935 120--a car targeted at the middle class buyer. The 120 had been so successful for Packard, that Christopher wanted to regroup the company to sell medium market volume carstargeting Buick instead of Cadillac. Packards old school management fought to continue their prestigious Senior line and a compromise was reached to come up with one body design that could be produced in all price ranges, to include a six, eight, super eight and custom eight. They planned a low cost face lift of the 41-47 Clipper series by re-tooling the Clipper dies. After they finished, the only parts that werent heavily modified were the trunk and roof sections. So much for cost-cutting! They fattened up the doors and rounded the hood, giving a bulbous look that became known as bathtub design, because of its resemblance to an inverted bathtub. There were many people, including management, who came together to bring this design to light. Edward Macauley, Alvins son, was the head of design. He was over chief stylist John Reinhart and had control over Packard's body builder, the Briggs Manufacturing Company. Briggs built bodies for them from 1940-1954, and their designer Al Prance received credit for the finished 1948 design. Basics of the design were worked out on the Phantom Ed Macauleys personal car built in 1941, a convertible designed after a Darrin 180. It was a rolling work in progress in which the design team worked out ideas and incorporated them into the car, similar to the way GMs Harley Earl did with his Y-Job. By the time the '48's went into production, it was easy to see the free-flow side panels, overall shape and horizontal bar grill from the Phantom Even with its questionable styling, sales for the 48 calendar year were 98,897, second only to their best year in 1937!
About the car: The Custom Eight came in several body styles, including a two door (Club Sedan), a four door Sedan, 7-passenger Sedan, a Limousine, a Convertible, and s commercial chassis. The Convertible was the highest priced production car of its day, and was used in the 1948 presidential race by both parties. Harry Truman rode in a black one and Thomas Dewey rode in a white one.
Outside: The cars exterior had a massive egg-crate grill with a crest, top center, and a restyled, rounded cormorant to grace the hood. The hubcap's ornamentation was a chrome circle with a cloisonné (fired enamel) hexagon. The side trim was two parallel stainless strips running front to back along the lower portion of the body. In the rear was a repeat of the egg-crate theme.
Inside: It was like stepping into a Pullman car of the period. The dash and window moldings were wood grained with pear wood panels on the upper quarter of the door panels. On the seat surrounds, there were leather stitched squares with stainless steel buttons at the junction of each square, and this was duplicated on the bottom section of each door panel. The seats were designed by an orthopedic surgeon, with individually wrapped Marshall coil springs covered with a tone-on-tone shadow broadcloth. The seat bottom cushions were button tufted and the carpets were deep cut mosstred The headliner was wool with the seams running fore-to-aft instead of side to side, giving the car's interior a longer look.
Drive train: The engine was a 9-main bearing L-head 356 straight 8. Some people say that it was the best straight 8 Packard ever built, but the smaller eights should not be discounted. They are fine engines that can hold up on today's freeways and are far less costly to rebuild. However, no one can dispute the 356's smoothness and incredible torque. It had hydraulic lifters and was linked to a nine-roller-bearing transmission that could be ordered with overdrive and electromatic clutch.
A look at some of the features: One of the new features was Flite Glo instrumentation. It featured phosphorescent dials that lit up with indirect lighting, giving a black lightillumination. Although subtle and pleasing. It left the dash dark and the dash controls impossible to see. Even when you were lucky enough to find and turn off the headlight switch, the phosphorus dials took a while to lose their glow, leaving the driver puzzled, wondering if the lights were on or off! In late 1949, Packard changed to conventional lighting.
Overdrive: Our car has it and it is an important feature, reducing engine speed by one-third. It is operated by a cable with a knob just under the dash on the right side of the driver. It was pushed IN to engage and pulled OUT to disengage. The car must be in motion to do this. Once the knob is IN and the car reaches approximately 22 mph, the driver momentarily lifts his foot from the accelerator, then resumes with the overdrive in operation. To pass, press the accelerator to the floor to put the car into conventional gearing. To resume overdrive, lift the foot, then return it to the accelerator.
Our car also has the Electromatic clutch--a semi-automatic drive that was vacuum operated. Shifting gears, stopping and going are done in the conventional way, except the clutch is not used. It is engaged or disengaged by a marked button on the dash. Packard needed a fully-automatic transmission to go up against GM's Hydramatic, and they would introduce their Ultramatic the following year.
Driving impressions: I like to drive this car! The best way to describe it is by our car's nickname, the Queen Mary. Its smooth, quiet, stable and gives a feeling of total control. With the overdrive engaged, it can cruise all day at interstate speeds, running cool, and with all of the gauges doing what they are supposed to do. The brakes are not power assisted, but require very little pedal pressure, stopping quickly without fade. Gear shifting is a carryover from the Clippers tower linkage, making shifting effortless. My only complaint is heavy steering, especially when the car is stopped or is at low speeds. It could benefit from power steering. I know people who have added this and have been happy with the result. It is a car that is now appreciating in value, being collected by restorers and street rodders alike. A car from a time when America was designing and building quality cars to please their customers and were not worrying about looking like everyone else. See you next month. Keep 'em driving!