“Queen Mary”: We Love Our 1950 Packard Eight Club Sedan

“Queen Mary”: We Love Our 1950 Packard Eight Club Sedan

“We love our Packard Eight Club Sedan” was first pub­lished in The Packard Cor­morant 183, Sec­ond quar­ter 2021.

Early encounter

Over ten years ago on a Packard  Club tour, we hitched a ride in a friend’s 1950 Packard Eight club sedan. Flip­ping a seat­back, we “clam­bered” aboard. There are no assist grips in this bot­tom-line coupe, so you sort of walk in. It’s not hard to do because of the huge door opening.

We were bowled over by the ride—smooth and silent, enthroned on plush cush­ions which had recent­ly been recov­ered with looka­like striped broad­cloth out of a Chevy Mas­ter. I nev­er for­got that ride. There wasn’t a sound out of the lit­tle 288 cubic-inch straight eight. The body was as sol­id as a bank vault—not a squeak nor a rat­tle anywhere.

Back in the day, my Dad always said coupes were tighter—if more impractical—than sedans. Rid­ing in this big bath­tub, I real­ized what he’d meant. It helped, of course, that the car was an original—showing about 50,000 miles. Our friend had tend­ed its needs since 1984.

Searching for a ride

EightBack then we were enjoy­ing a pret­ty 1936 One Twen­ty con­vert­ible, but after eight years, we’d had enough. The prod­uct of an age when most roads were still dirt, the One Twen­ty is hap­pi­est at 40 mph, run­ning hard at 50, and strain­ing at 60. Weath­er pro­tec­tion is rudi­men­ta­ry, espe­cial­ly if you don’t duct-tape the head­er where top meets wind­shield. After a dri­ve through a thun­der­storm on a nar­row inter­state with no wipers, 18-wheel­ers snort­ing past and water drip­ping on my knee, I decid­ed that for long-haul tour­ing, we need­ed some­thing more modern.

For awhile we sub­sti­tut­ed a ’53 Stude­bak­er Com­man­der Star­lin­er, designed for Loewy by my old friend Bob Bourke. But a Stude­bak­er is not a Packard. For all its svelte looks, the Star­lin­er was still a cheap car, and drove like one. (Bob told me that if GM had built it, it would have been cheap­er yet.) We also missed the genial cama­raderie of Packard folk. So we sold the Stude and shopped around for anoth­er Packard—one that could han­dle mod­ern high­ways and—mainly—keep the rain off my knee.

The Eight coupe: a perfect tour car

Deal­er-option ivory steer­ing wheel com­pli­ments the wood­grained dash. Cupholders.com sup­plied the cen­ter console.

I’ve always loved the ear­ly post­war Packard Cus­tom Super Clipper—the ide­al com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tion­al styling hall­marks, the Clip­per body, and the mighty, fabled 356 straight eight. Don Vor­der­man of Auto­mo­bile Quar­ter­ly, the best edi­tor I ever had, often said: “The Cus­tom coupe is my idea of the per­fect Packard. Won­der­ful­ly smooth big-ass straight eight and that grace­ful, swoopy shape. Doesn’t mat­ter what color—they’re all gorgeous.”

There were two prob­lems with this “new Packard con­cept,” as a pal quaint­ly put it. There are plen­ty of four-door Cus­tom Clip­pers, but club sedans are rare. What’s more, they cost a for­tune. I looked for awhile at sedans, but their lines while good are not quite as svelte as the coupes. Also, they rat­tled, and I hate rat­tles. That was when I remem­bered the 1950 Eight club sedan and the swift, silent ride we’d had in it.

I phoned the own­er, got him at the right time. He was will­ing for us to see and dri­ve it. Look­ing at it as a poten­tial buy­er, I real­ized that the coupe looks good even on a wheel­base sev­en inch­es short­er than the Custom’s. The flow­ing fast­back lines help inter­dict the chub­by body sides, and the mid-lev­el chrome strip and pod-like tail­lights make the 1949-50 Twen­ty-third Series cars look more stream­lined than their imme­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors. The dri­ving was exact­ly as I remem­bered from our ride in it a decade ago. In a week or so, it was in our garage.

First impressions

There were a few minor sur­pris­es, but none we couldn’t han­dle. This is an orig­i­nal car, unre­stored except for the uphol­stery. The old black lac­quer paint shows areas of craz­ing, espe­cial­ly along the rear body sides. It’s a “20-foot­er”: from 20 feet away, it looks fabulous.

I’m told an expert could relac­quer those rough spots, but I have yet to find any­one who would guar­an­tee a per­fect match. And as you know, there are a hun­dred shades of black. Then too, the pati­na of orig­i­nal­i­ty is some­thing to be desired. How many 70+-year-old Packards do you see with their orig­i­nal paint?

I’d also forgotten—or maybe nev­er realized—that this car had Ultra­mat­ic trans­mis­sion. That’s your orig­i­nal, basic, down-home, Mark I Ultra­mat­ic, with all its faults and virtues. Its virtues are almost silent shift­ing and direct-dri­ve in High. Unlike most ear­ly auto­mat­ics, you get engine brak­ing on a down­grade, just like a man­u­al trans­mis­sion. Its main fault is that it takes awhile to lurch into for­ward motion.

EightWait­ing at a light in High, you need to issue the car an invi­ta­tion. As the light is about to turn green you nudge the accel­er­a­tor. The trans­mis­sion likes to sigh and whine and get up some gump­tion before the off. You get used to this, but at first it’s disconcerting.

Back in the day, own­ers in a hur­ry would start in Low and shift to High once rolling. But as many found out, that caus­es an uncom­fort­able lurch and doesn’t lead to long-lived Ultra­mat­ics. (In 1954, Gear-Start Ultra­mat­ic fixed this with a Dri­ve range between Low and High. It used the Low ratio and torque con­ver­tor to start off, switch­ing to High and ulti­mate­ly to direct dri­ve as the car accelerated.)

Silky smooth, dead silent

Her own­er called the big Eight “Proud Mary,” but we call her the “Queen Mary” for her bash­ful accel­er­a­tion, roly-poly cor­ner­ing and mus­cle-test­ing man­u­al steer­ing. There are five and a half turns lock to lock, and you real­ly need to haul on that wheel. If it would not cause excom­mu­ni­ca­tion from Packard-dom, I’d retro­fit pow­er steer­ing. Nav­i­gat­ing this ship into port (that is, a park­ing space) is a test of mus­cle, patience and endurance.

Over­all, of course, this only mat­ters about 3% of the time. The great thing about the Packard Eight is the man­ner of its going: silky smooth and dead silent. As Tom McC­ahill said, it makes you think you’re rid­ing in a bed of marsh­mal­lows. In a way, the ’50 Eight was the lin­eal suc­ces­sor to the old One Twen­ty, but a quan­tum leap for­ward in con­ve­nience and performance.

On the road

Per­for­mance may be described as “com­fort­able.” Zero to 60 must take 20 sec­onds, but we’ve nev­er floored the old girl to find out. Nor have we pushed her over 70. Yet at 60, when our ’36 was pant­i­ng, the ’50 Eight is just cruis­ing. Gas mileage aver­ages about 15 mpg, and the best I’ve done was 18. But hey, remem­ber, this is 1950, and gas is only 15 cents a gal­lon. (A fun fea­ture at fill­ing sta­tions: Packard’s “whistling gas tank” stops whistling when you’re near­ing full, cap­ti­vat­ing bystanders. Noth­ing like that on an Audi A6.)

The Eight han­dles bet­ter than you would expect for a car of this vin­tage. There’s body roll, but once into high speed curves, she tracks sweet­ly and doesn’t toss you about. It helps that we have added a Packard Deluxe fea­ture: cen­ter arm­rests. Obtained from CupHoldersPlus.com, they house two large drinks and a cov­ered stor­age lock­er. It’s fun to hear peo­ple yet unborn when this car was new say: “I didn’t know they had cup hold­ers back then.”

The dash isn’t as glitzy as its Cus­tom cousin, but the wood­grain­ing is beau­ti­ful. A for­ward step for the Twen­ty-third Series was illu­mi­nat­ed switch­es, so you don’t have to fum­ble for them at night. Ordi­nar­i­ly it’s an upright dri­ving posi­tion, but there is so much sheer room in that wide front seat that you can move around and find sev­er­al com­fort­able posi­tions. Vis­i­bil­i­ty is good except to the rear quar­ters, where the fast­back styling cre­ates blind spots. The back win­dows, like most coupes of the day, don’t crank all the way down.

From Standard to Deluxe

The first thing I did was remove and sell the after­mar­ket bumper guards. I found they were so pop­u­lar that I could have sold five pair. To me they just clut­ter her up—and there was a bonus: Hav­ing been cov­ered since new, the chrome bumper guards under­neath were pris­tine and unmarked.

Nev­er able to leave good enough alone, I’ve been upgrad­ing from Eight to Deluxe Eight equip­ment. The dif­fer­ence in price in 1950 was $134 ($1450 in today’s mon­ey). It bought a lot of nice extras.

Lined trunk is a retro-fit.

The stan­dard Eight came with rub­ber front floor mats. A rus­tic elf care­ful­ly removed them, so they can always be put back. He installed Deluxe-style full car­pet­ing (Mer­cedes-Benz mate­r­i­al) front and rear. It real­ly improves the ambi­ence. While at it, I had him line the scruffy trunk com­part­ment with form-fit­ted grey marine car­pet­ing. Again, the orig­i­nal mat was care­ful­ly pre­served. He had enough car­pet left to make a spare tire cov­er, too. The head­lin­er and door pan­els, recent­ly replaced, need­ed nothing.

Sev­er­al Packard friends said that a deluxe chrome-trimmed ivory steer­ing wheel was a deal­er option. I didn’t inquire into this too close­ly. For a cool $1600, a steer­ing wheel spe­cial­ist cast one from a core sup­plied by a friend. Looks like a mil­lion bucks! I sold the orig­i­nal steer­ing wheel and took my friend to lunch. Kan­ter Auto Prod­ucts sup­plied a set of Deluxe Eight wheel trim rings, to help glo­ri­fy the tires—which are wide-white radi­als, by the way. They make a huge dif­fer­ence in han­dling com­pared to bias-plys.

Deluxe Eight parts wanted

Fresh­ly wood­grained and replat­ed, Deluxe win­dow mold­ings add a touch of lux­u­ry. Click to enlarge.

Giv­en time and patience, I found a set of Deluxe Eight chrome-trimmed win­dow reveal mold­ings, and gen­uine, stalky Twen­ty-third Series rearview mir­rors. (This car last­ed 68 years with­out out­side mir­rors, but our first ride on an Inter­state made me slap on a tem­po­rary one.) Orig­i­nal mir­rors, unique to this series, rare and expensive.

A Packard Club mem­ber sup­plied a rough set of inte­ri­or win­dow mold­ings. A tal­ent­ed wood­grain­er in Flori­da made them look like new, while a plat­ing expert in Con­necti­cut restored the bright work. The improve­ment is pal­pa­ble and beau­ti­ful. The only Deluxe fit­tings I haven’t yet found are the assist-grips which install on the “B” pil­lar for back­seat passengers.

 Back to the Fifties

I men­tioned that this Eight is an orig­i­nal, low mileage car—it has just turned 55,000. And that is a real plus. Yes, there are flaws in the paint—but the bonus is: every­thing works! I mean, every­thing. Even the clock, which keeps per­fect time—the for­mer own­er wise­ly installed a quartz movement.

Items that often pose prob­lems for ear­ly post­war Packard own­ers behave like new. The knurled heater/defroster knobs turn eas­i­ly and the vent knobs deliv­er blasts of fresh air, like God and Packard intend­ed. (No old-fash­ioned cowl vents after 1948.) The heater is toasty warm, and the defroster spews enough warm air to defog the wind­shield. Most remark­able of all, the vac­u­um wipers con­tin­ue to wipe, even under load. Dri­ving the Eight in a down­pour is there­fore a pleasure—except for a pesky water leak under the cen­ter of the wind­shield. But much less water gets in than it did on my ’36.

The radio works, too—and the remote con­trol aer­i­al that neat­ly stores on the wind­shield divider. But it’s AM-only, and recep­tion is dicey. Reluctantly—because there’s noth­ing like the rich, fat sound of old tube radios—we gave up on it. With Spo­ti­fy and a Blue­tooth sound box, we have fab­u­lous audio of our choos­ing. Now Ella and Satch­mo, Bing and Frank, Nat and Judy, echo the tunes that once rever­ber­at­ed over the Packard Eight’s speakers.

And that’s real­ly what it’s all about, isn’t it? Dri­ving such a car takes you back, to a sim­pler, qui­eter, more placid, more inno­cent time. All too soon you’re jerked back to the ever more dis­con­cert­ing present. But behind that big ivory wheel, cruis­ing to Vaugh­an Monroe’s mel­low bari­tone, it’s 1950 all over again.


1950 Packard Eight 23rd Series Mod­el 2395-5 Club Sedan

Orig­i­nal paint, 55,000 miles. Pro­duc­tion: 5200. Wheel­base 120.” Weight 3800 lbs.

Straight eight, 4.7 liters, 288 cu. in., 135 bhp. Top speed: 90 mph. Mileage: 14-18 mpg.

List rice: $2409 includ­ing Ultra­mat­ic Dri­ve ($28,000 in today’s money)

Packard’s first post­war redesign (1948) was based on the 1941-47 Packard Clip­per, designed by Dutch Dar­rin and Wern­er Gub­itz. Fol­low­ing the con­tem­po­rary styling school, it was bul­let-shaped and round­ed, heav­ier look­ing than the Clipper.

In 1949 a mild facelift applied a body-length chrome strip and larg­er, more vis­i­ble oval tail­lights. This stan­dard Eight was the bot­tom of the 1950 line, which ranged up to the $4500 Cus­tom Eight con­vert­ible. Its clos­est com­pe­ti­tion was the Oldsmo­bile 98.

Ultra­mat­ic Dri­ve is a hydraulic auto­mat­ic with “Direct Dri­ve” torque con­vert­er lock­up, designed by For­est Mac­Far­land. The only auto­mat­ic designed exclu­sive­ly by an inde­pen­dent man­u­fac­tur­er, it deliv­ers the same gas mileage and engine brak­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics as a stan­dard transmission.

Read­ers in search of top-qual­i­ty wood­grain­ing, car­pet­ing or chrome plat­ing even pit­ted pot met­al parts may con­tact me for the excel­lent crafts­men I found.

Comments are closed.
RML Books

Richard Langworth’s Most Popular Books & eBooks

Links on this page may earn commissions.