Packards Club ready to rev

Published 5:03 pm Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Minnesota Packard Club car is displayed. The club will be in Austin this weekend. -- Photo submitted

The Minnesota Packards Club will be meeting with the Hawkeye Packard Automobile Club this weekend in the Austin area, bringing a trove of antique automobiles and classic cars to the area.

The cars may be viewed at the AmericInn in Austin for much of the weekend, although the clubs will be taking their cars to several locations such as the Hormel House on Sept. 17 in the afternoon and along Highway 56 to Lanesboro the morning of Sept. 18.

Packard brand cars represent a long history of automobile innovation, according to Jane Caldwell, the Minnesota Packards Club’s newsletter editor. Packards, which first came onto the market in 1899, were the first type of cars to have a steering wheel (in 1901), the first cars with backup lights (in 1927), the first to feature air conditioning (in 1939), and the first to have automatic windows (in 1940).

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Many club members are interested in the company itself, as legend has it James Ward Packard founded the company after buying a Winton-brand automobile and complaining to Alexander Winton, the founder of the Winton Motor Carriage company. Winton supposedly told Packard that if he didn’t like the car, he should try making one himself.

Packard Motor Car Company built a reputation as a successful luxury automobile company during the early 20th century, even suspending automobile production to work on engines for boats and airplanes during WWII.

Packard’s downfall, according to Caldwell, came when the company decided to buy Studebaker Corp. in 1954. Packard, in tough financial straits, didn’t realize how much worse Studebaker’s financial situation was compared to their own.

The company produced Packards up until 1958, although Packard purists believe the last Packard cars were built in ‘56, with any Packards made after that really being Studebakers. By 1962, the Studebaker-Packard Corp. dropped Packard from its name, reverting back to Studebaker.

Caldwell hopes some younger people come out to see the cars, as one of the Packard Club’s missions is to educate younger generations about the first automobiles.

“The thing I think all of us in the antique car clubs feel bad about is that a lot of your young people aren’t interested in cars,” Caldwell said.

According to her, most young people don’t think of cars from the early 20th century as being classic cars, which leaves antique car clubs in a unique position to act as a source of information about what antique automobiles really are.

“I think (car clubs) are finding that we need to somehow educate what a Packard or LaSalle is,” Caldwell said.