While bespoke automakers had floundered during the depression, Packard managed to weather the storm, repositioning themselves to cover the entire luxury market from middle-class to millionaire buyers. Their fortunes wouldn’t last forever, but before they shut down, they had one last success with the decidedly pre-war Super 8. Its mix of classic craftsmanship and design has led to it being one of just a handful of post war cars accepted by the Classic Car Club of America.
Packard had introduced a new Super 8 six in 1942. The styling had been modernized to keep pace with the Harley Earl-penned Cadillac Sixty Special; although Dutch Darrin had originally designed a body with full shouldered fenders and no running boards, the production version was more conservative, adding a wider grill and moving the headlights to the fenders. The attack on Pearl Harbor meant the end of the Super 8 less than a year after its introduction.
The Packard Super 8 Returns
In 1946, civilian production resumed, allowing Packard to bring back the car with a few improvements. It still had a straight 8, the last of its kind in production, but displacement increased to 356 c.i. and output to 160 hp. Although it was more powerful that Oldsmobile’s revolutionary overhead valve Rocket 88 V8, Packards’s motor weighed over 1,000 lbs, double that of the Olds design. However, the Packard’s smoothness and massive amount of low-end torque made it perfect for its duty in a luxury car, and that power meant it could easily reach 100 mph, the benchmark to beat before the war.
The interior also saw improvements. The 1942 model’s mix of wool and metal was gone, replaced by leather on the seats and door panels with wood accents along the dash and a full wood headliner. The springs in the seats were individually wrapped and could be adjusted for tension by the dealer, providing the amount of firmness the owner desired.
The success of the Super 8 was short-lived. Cadillac got their own OHV engine for their all-new 1948 models, but a new Packard wouldn’t be ready for another two years. Short on cash, the company hastily restyled the Super 8, giving it wider body panels that earned it nicknames like “bathtub” and “pregnant whale.” Together with Packard’s cheaper Clipper models, their luxury mystique eroded alongside their technological lead. By the mid-’50s, they had been fully absorbed by Studebaker.
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