The History of the Packard Car Company

December 21st, 2022 by

history of packard

Germany has Mercedes-Benz, England has Rolls Royce, and the United States had Packard Motor Company. Those who don’t know about the exclusive American automotive brand might find it hard to believe that a Packard car could truly be so luxurious. As the company’s famous slogan said, you can always “ask the man who owns one.”


Anyone who has had the good fortune to sit in a Packard car will tell you how special these vehicles are. It is something every high-end car enthusiast should experience at least once. In the meantime, enjoy soaking up the history of the Packard Motor Company.

Rise of the Packard Motor Car Company

It all started when a mechanical engineer named James Ward Packard got a Winton car in 1898. Winton was known for innovation and quality, but the one James Packard acquired had all kinds of problems. Winton challenged Packard to make a better vehicle, so James got right to work with his brother, William Dowd Packard.

It took the brothers about a year to create a one-cylinder car, and they officially began production in 1899. The original name for their company was the Ohio Automobile Company. When production relocated from Warren, Ohio, to Detroit, Michigan, in 1903, the brand needed a new name. 

The brothers renamed their business the Packard Motor Car Company and continued their pursuit of automotive excellence. The brand was already known for splendor by this time. Consider the following car prices from 1903:

  • The Black Motor Company’s Black car was $375.
  • Western Tool Works’ Gale Model A roadster was $500.
  • Oldsmobile’s Runabout was $650.
  • A Cole 30 or Cole Runabout was $1,500.
  • The Packard car started at $2,600.

A combination of status and quality made these vehicles attractive to the wealthy and powerful. A Packard car became the first to drive a United States President to an inauguration when Warren G. Harding rode in one in 1921. The Japanese royal family owned 10 Packard cars in 1931. Unfortunately, hard times were just around the corner for the brand.

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Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company

Management wanted to make the Packard car more accessible to everyone. It was a nice idea but ultimately contributed to the company’s downfall. At first, the Packard Six did well during the 1938 recession because of its relatively low price of $1,200. Then the strategy to produce more affordable cars started to backfire after World War II.

The expensive models and the affordable models looked similar, which started to make the brand seem less exclusive and luxurious. Furthermore, the new approach to mass production made the post-war material shortage hurt that much more. Packard bought Studebaker in 1953 in an effort to lower production costs, but it was too little too late.

Even after the strategic partnership with Studebaker, Packard had difficulty competing with Ford and GM. Many people consider the last true Packard car to be the one that rolled off the line in Detroit in 1956. The company continued to make cars in South Bend, Indiana, for two more years.

Shop the Most-Wanted Classic Cars

At its peak, Packard Motor Company was known for its commitment to providing its customers with the best experiences possible. That’s our goal at  LaFontaine Classic Cars, too. To add a Packard car to your garage, explore our online classic car inventory or contact us for more information.

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History of the Pontiac

Featured Images: Kimberly Hall LeStudio

Posted in Classic Cars