Tale of Two Packard Museums

Ohio has two Packard automobile museums, one in the northeast and the other in the southwest part of the state.

“Hey there, friend, what can we put you in today?” may echo in both museums.

The National Packard Museum is where the automobile was first invented in Warren, Ohio, by the Packard brothers. Walk around, and the nostalgia and authenticity of Packard’s origin come to life. It’s another chapter of Ohio’s innovation at the turn of the Nineteenth to Twentieth Centuries.

The American Packard Museum boasts the most extensive public collection of Packard automobiles and memorabilia worldwide. The museum is in a former Packard dealership that opened in 1917. It would be an excellent find for Hollywood if a movie needed a scene from a classy auto dealer’s showroom.

Until that happens, know that the museums have acquired their Hollywood stars. An example is the 1948 Henney Landau 3-way Hearse displayed at The American Packard Museum. It was featured in the 1972 movie The Godfather when Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) was taken to the cemetery and buried.

Two shooting stars crossed paths in the 1950s. As Packard was fizzling out, DeLorean was burning red hot. The illustrious and infamous John DeLorean invented the iconic DeLorean car of Back to the Future cinematic fame. During his early career, he worked for Packard. The 28-year-old auto engineer set out to improve  the company’s new “Ultramatic Drive” (automatic transmission).

The Packard Motor Car Company invented several key components of the automobile. These innovations included the steering wheel (cars until then used steering rudders), bumpers, and air conditioning. It was, after all, America’s most luxurious automobile. It was known for its unsurpassed quality and luxury, with a price tag to match it. The first Packard was built by two brothers, James and William Packard, in Warren, Ohio, in 1899. Their company name changed from the Ohio Automobile Company to Packard Motor Car Company a few years later.

Packard autos were a status symbol for their owners, rivaling names like Mercedes Benz and Rolls Royce. Celebrities of the 1930s, like Charlie Chaplin, owned a Packard among their collection of glamour toys. That is until the company tried to compete in the mid-market autos in the 1930s. This was in part due to the rise of the Cadillac as America’s new darling in the luxury automobile market. Its overall market share shrinking, the company attempted to remain relevant but ultimately folded. Its last hurrah was merging with another fading favorite, Studebaker. The last Packards made were in the mid to late 1950s.

In its heyday, Packard was a household name even though most households couldn’t afford one, at least until its later years. The Dayton museum features a 1934 Super Eight Sport Phaeton, made special for the New York Auto Show that year. Its color, Orello, was a unique blend of orange and yellow, although this color wasn’t  in the Packard catalog. Its price tag was more than $3,000 when the average new automobile only cost $700. The cost was double the average annual salary and half that of a new house. The story behind this particular car on display is that wealthy parents gifted it to their sweet 16-year-old daughter. She hated the color.

Fun tales like this abound at both museums. Plan a visit to see how high society rolled in America back in the early decades of the Twentieth Century.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun

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