Packard, as all car manufacturers after WWII, wanted an all-new car. Because of the steel shortages, union strikes and other concerns, they would have to wait until 1951 to get one. Packard had been the most powerful American car with its 165 hp, 356 straight 8 through the end of the '40's and fought with Cadillac on being America's most expensive car. By 1949 it was losing its most prestigious status to Cadillac due to Cadillac's newly styled fin design that was introduced in 1948 and the new overhead valve V-8 engine that Cadillac introduced in 1949. Cadillac also had its Hydramatic automatic since 1941 and Packard only had the Eletromatica semi-automatic. Packard had been working on their own fully automatic since 1935, but didn't fully develop and install it in their cars until their 50th anniversary 1949 model. It was called the "Ultramatic." It is a torque converter transmission like Buick's Dynaflow. Packard's, however, was a new development, combining two turbines with a pump and a reactor to produce torque multiplication or gear reduction within the unit, no external gearing required. There was a manually selected low gear.
The Ultramatic also had a direct drive that was accomplished by an 11" cork-faced unit running in transmission fluid actuated by throttle pressure and vertical speed. Once engaged, the torque converter was no longer in use. All power was transmitted through the clutch resulting in lower running temperatures and better fuel economy. It was the only automatic solely produced by an independent car maker. The selector positions on the 1949-1953 Ultramatics were P-N-H-L-R. Most Packards were fitted with Ultramatic after 1949. Chief Research Engineer Forest R. McFarland was given credit for the Ultramatic. Packard's bathtub design of 1948-50 had been popular, but by 1951 looked dated, and a new look was needed. Packard had number designations for their cars, and the new 1951 would be the 24th Series. Credit for the new model was given to John Reinhart. He was chief stylist and worked for Edward McCallie, director of styling. When you compare the 1950 Packard to the 1951, you immediately notice the lower, leaner and greater greenhouse area of the new car. When the '51's came out, they were an instant success. The Custom 8, Super 8, Standard 8 nomenclature had been replaced by 400 Patrician (top of the line), 300 and 200 Series. Although the bodies were the same, the 200 Series could be identified by a 288 straight 8 (327 optional), 122" wheel base, no grill teeth, cormorant, and small plain hubcaps. The 300 featured a 327 CID straight 8, grill teeth, full disk hubcaps, more trim, bottle openers (like Buick's ventiports) on the rear quarters. The 300's had three on each quarter and the Patricians had four. The 400 had 327's but they had 9 main bearings for ultimate smoothness instead of 5. The new Mayfair, a 2-door hardtop, named after a fashionable section of London, had the cormorant, teeth in the grill, vertical rear tail lights, one-piece windshield, full disk hubcaps and a sporty nylon, vinyl and leather interior. They were fully carpeted, but cost cutting had begun and the beautiful deep moss-tred was replaced by cut pile. The woodgrained dash and moldings were now painted the exterior color. Most hardtops were two-toned and the dash would match the top with door cap moldings in chrome with chrome convertible type bows along the headliner. On the dash warning lights replaced gauges for the amp and oil pressure. The Senior Series cars could also be ordered with hydro-powered windows and seats. Other Mayfair options were heater, windshield washer and under-hood light. The 1951 Mayfair was introduced in March of '51 and only approximately 1500 were made that year. We were lucky to find one right here in Chattanooga in the late 1990's.
It was sitting outside an old wooden garage. Almost automatically, we aimed our '58 Buick up the steep driveway toward the car. As I approached, I could see that it was straight and solid. The paint was coming off in flakes, but the chrome was perfect, the glass was excellent as was the original interior. The owner came out and kindly opened the hood, revealing that everything was there, apparently even the correct 327 straight 8. He said the car had only 36,246 documented miles. The only problem was that the car wasn't for sale! I made him an offer anyway and tried to put it out of my mind, in spite of the several thousand articles about that specific car which I just "happened" to run across in magazines for the next several weeks! Then, the call cameit's your car if you want it! I spent the next few days re-reading about the car and checking the numbers. It was, indeed a 1951 Packard Mayfair straight 8, 327 with Ultramatic transmission. The next Saturday we loaded the truck, hooked up the car trailer and went to get the car. Its engine had been turned over from time to time in storage, so we decided to start the car. We disconnected the gummed-up gas tank and hooked up an auxiliary tank to the fuel pump, put in a hot battery and the car startedno knocks, no smoke, no stuck valves! As it warmed up, we checked the antifreeze and oil and found no trace of water in the oil. Then we moved the car back and forth to check the transmission, and checked the trunk and underside for rust. The brakes were down, but the emergency brake worked, so I drove it up onto the trailer. When we got back to the shop, the first thing was to remove the gas tank and check the sending unit so that we could send the tank to the radiator shop for cleaning and sealing. The original wheel cylinders (Wagner/Lockheed) were on the car. Even the metal dust covers were there, so we rebuilt them: 1 1/8" kits in the front and 1" in the rear, and replaced the master cylinder, hoses and brake shoes. We replaced the tires with OEM style Firestone 4 1/4" white walls, matching the factory spare in the trunk. The engine compartment was complete in every way, but seemed to have much more than 45 years' worth of grime! The underside had been undercoated years ago, which did a good job of protecting it from rust.
New for '51 was the glovebox that pulled out like a drawer. When I opened it, there was an owner's manual, accessory booklet and a mileage certification. In the trunk, besides the factory spare tire, were a jack with its cardboard box, points, condenser and chrome tail pipe extension, all in "Packard" cartons. Unbelievable!
To bring this car up to a nice driver level, we removed all the chrome and stripped the body, repainting it in Packard Ivory with a Matador Maroon metallic top, cleaning and detailing the engine compartment, removing and flushing the radiator, a tune-up, new wires, belts, carburetor rebuild, hoses, thermostat, brakes, gas tank, wiring was replaced as needed and interior removed and cleaned.
This has been an ongoing project and everything is done except for assembly and some interior work. We recently put in the grill that had been totally disassembled. All of the grill chrome was excellent except the 8 teeth. These were replated and when we assembled it, all new studs, bolts and fasteners were used. We also replaced the 6V park light bulbs (#1154). The grill park lights are glass and are removed by unscrewing them. All underhood is done, with the inner fender wells and panels being painted with factory semi-flat black and new flange hex head fender screws were used. The air cleaner is still being refinished. I am going with gloss black instead of the factory semi-gloss, because greasy fingerprints wipe off easier and in this engine compartment I like the gloss-to-semi-flat contrast.
The engine block was painted gray. Packard changed its longtime green on its straight 8's in mid-1948 to gray. The 1951 327 5-main-bearing straight 8's were gray. In 1954, Packard brought back a revised version of its famous 356. The '54 was a 359 and was painted bronze. I will go into detail in later articles about color changes for Packard engines. Look for future articles where we will finish this '51. The interior will be left original except for headliner and carpet. I will show details of the leather and gold nylon seats. Old cars are great, aren't they?
See you next month, and keep 'em driving!