Packard 300

Packard 300 DEFAULT

Packard 300 (1951 to 1952)

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The above-pictured car is a 1951 Packard 300 in front of an auto shop in Northern California. The faded paint and spray-painted “For Sale” sign are good metaphors for the new-for-1951 body, which represented the last “real” Packard.

This basic design was produced through 1956, when a financial crisis resulted in Packard closing its Detroit-based operations. For two additional years all Packards would be based upon thinly disguised Studebaker bodies.

The 1951 Packard represented a dramatic change from the previous-generation body, whose curvaceous shape was based upon the once trend-setting but now dated 1941 Clipper.

1948 Packard Super 8

1951 redesign was modern but rather generic

For 1951 Packard offered a squared-off profile that was as modern as any of its Big Three competitors. Designers adopted a fairly anonymous look that aged better than many of its competitors but undercut Packard’s long-term viability.

1951 Packard 300 front quarter

1951 Packard 300 taillight

1951 Packard 300 trunk insignia

The Packard’s classic vertical grille was discarded in favor of a horizontal look. Vertical bars in the grille’s centerpiece hinted at Packard’s past, but by 1953 those were gone. The following year the traditional chrome spears on the upper front fenders also went away.

1954 Packard Patrician

One of the biggest challenges that Packard’s postwar designers faced was how to apply its most iconic feature — a uniquely shaped radiator grille — to the much lower and wider car shapes of the 1950s.

At least some people thought Packard ran too far away from the classical look — and lobbied for a return of the radiator grille. As discussed here, the 1955 Packard Request show car wasn’t a very satisfying response.

1937 Packard 12

High-end models were more heavily differentiated

Along with a complete redesign, the 1951 Packards also received new nameplate nomenclature. The 300 was on the longer, 127-inch wheelbase shared with the top-of-line Patrician four-door sedan but offered less luxurious trim. The longer wheelbase added five inches of rear-seat legroom.

1951 Packard 300 rear quarter

1951 Packard 200

Exterior styling changes from the lower-priced 200 sedans included distinctive taillights and a wrap-around rear window. These Packards had more glass area than any other American car except for the 1951 Kaiser (Hamlin and Heinmuller, 2002).

Given the widespread view that Packard didn’t do enough in the postwar period to protect its luxury image, it should be noted that high-end and entry-level models were differentiated to an unusual degree. This was particularly true compared to other independent automakers.

The automatic transmission was problematic

The car pictured below is equipped with an automatic transmission called the Ultramatic. Packard was the only independent to develop its own in-house design. That was a costly endeavor which would later contribute to the automaker’s financial travails.

1951 Packard 300

Might Packard have been better off trying to supply other automakers with automatics rather than maintaining the Ultramatic’s exclusivity? The brand didn’t do so until 1955, when it sold a V8 and Ultramatic drivetrain to American Motors.

Drive to modernize undercut Packard traditions

During the 1951 model year, Packard’s traditional cloisonné emblems were replaced with painted ones on the wheel covers (Hamlin and Heinmuller, 2002). As you can see, the paint wasn’t terribly durable.

1951 Packard 300

The cormorant had been used as a Packard ornament since 1932. The 1951-52 Packards were the last ones to display such a large bird. For 1953 the ornament was much shorter.

1951 Packard 300 hood ornament

In 1955 the cormorant was so stylized that it looked almost like a jet from some angles (Hamlin and Heinmuller, 2002). This was undoubtedly intentional given Packard’s effort to look more modern (for further discussion about the 1955 Packard go here).

1955 Packard hood

The 1951 design aged well despite high beltline

Packard’s chief stylist, John Reinhart, later complained that the car’s beltline (called “high pockets”) was roughly an inch-and-a-half too high. Engineering staff “was more concerned over the cost of glass than the price of sheet metal tooling,” wrote George Hamlin and Dwight Heinmuller (2002, p. 546).

Also see ‘Packard brochure tells the story of a dying legend’

Despite the high beltline, the Packard’s basic body aged fairly well because it didn’t experiment with exotic features such as the Nash’s enclosed front wheels, the Kaiser’s bubble-shaped roofline and the Studebaker’s radical teardrop profile.

1955 Packard 400

In the absence of major production and reliability problems, the cleverly facelifted 1955-56 Packard might have sold at profitable levels. That said, the styling of the last full-sized Packards didn’t really capture the brand’s historic distinctiveness. This was the kiss of death.


This is an expanded version of a story originally posted August 1, 2019.

Share your reactions to this post with a comment below or a note to the editor.




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Packard 300

The Packard 300 was an automobile built and sold by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan for model years 1951 and 1952. The 300 represented the upper mid-range Packard model and provided better appointments than the Packard 200 or the Packard 250 models. The premier Packard offered during these years was the Packard Patrician 400.

For both model years the 300 model was built as a four-door sedan only and was mounted on Packard's 127-inch (3,200 mm) wheelbase.[1] The car included the basic trim appointments found in the 200 and 200 Deluxe model lines and included tinted windows, a robe rail for backseat passengers and striped interior fabrics. Exterior trim included full wheel covers as well as Packard's graceful pelican hood ornament. The 300 also received a wrap around rear window which it shared with the Patrician models.

Power for the car in both years came from Packard's venerable Super Eight engine, the 327-cubic-inch (5,360 cc) "Thunderbolt" inline eight which was shared with the 250 line. A three-speed manual shift was standard while Packard's Ultramatic automatic transmission was offered as optional equipment.

In 1953 the 300 was renamed the Packard Cavalier as Packard moved away from its strict numeric model naming structure. A total of 22,309 Packard 300s were built in the model's two years on the market with 1951's total of 15,309 representing the high sales mark for the 300 model.


  • Gunnell, John, Editor (1987). The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975. Krause Publications. ISBN .CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Dawes, Nathaniel D. (1975). The Packard: 1942-1962. A.S. Barnes & Co. Inc., Cranbury NJ. ISBN .

Packard passenger vehicle timeline, 1899–1958

Number of Cylinders1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s
0123456789 0123456789 0123456789 0123456789 0123456789 0123456789
Single and Twin Model A-FModel GWWII
Six SixSingle Six/Six110ClipperClipper
Eight Light Eight120120200Clipper/Mayfair/Starlight
Single Eight/Eight/Super EightCustom Super Eight 180/Super Eight 160Super Eight/Station Sedan400/Caribbean/Patrician
Twelve Twin SixTwelve
1951 Packard 300 Ultramatic Sedan


300 packard


Riding In A 1951 Packard 300


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