National Packard Museum is worth a pit stop

story tease

By KALEA HALL

khall@vindy.com

WARREN

“Ask the man who owns one.”

That was the Packard way of getting “the man” into the luxury car.

The man wasn’t just anybody. He was an attorney, a doctor, an elite member of society.

This Warren-born car was built for them.

IF YOU GO

Where: National Packard Museum

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday; Noon to 5 p.m; Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: Adults (and children ages 13+): $8.00; Seniors (65+): $5.00; Children ages 7-12: $5.00; Children ages 0-6: FREE with purchase of adult admission

National Packard Museum

“The Packard Motor Car Co. wasn’t interested in building cars for the common working man,” said Mary Ann Porinchak, executive director of the National Packard Museum. “All of the advertising almost has an arrogant feel to it.”

“If you can afford a Packard you have arrived,” was another ad.

“They knew that clientele was going to carry that company,” Porinchak said. “They weren’t worried about volume.”

The Packard came from the minds of two brothers, William Doud Packard and James Ward Packard, founders of Packard Electric. The brothers were the sons of a self-made man, Warren Packard. He came to Warren, worked at a hardware store and then bought that hardware store at age 23.

“He was very active and very wealthy before he built the mansion on the square [in

Warren] and had five children,” Porinchak said.

The Packard brothers’ mother, Mary Doud, was a businesswoman who came from a wealthy family with a chain of hotels in Pennsylvania. They grew up in business and went on to work at Sawyer Mann Electric, which later became Westinghouse Electric Corp.

“They learned everything they could from those guys and then came back to Warren and opened their own company,” Porinchak said.

The Warren brothers founded Packard Electric in 1890.

In 1898, James decided to buy a Winton Automobile, which inspired the brothers to build their own car. The Winton broke down on the way home from Cleveland due to electrical failure.

“It had to be pulled into town by a team of horses,” Porinchak said.

The Packards knew they could build a better car, and in November 1899, they did just that inside the Packard plant on Dana Street.

“Every other car that was being built at the time was not reliable,” Porinchak said. “The Packard boys decided that they were going to build a car that ‘ran’ on the roads that we had in this country.”

The luxury car impressed William D. Rockefeller so much he bought two of the cars in 1900.

The Packard was built in Warren until 1903 when the Packard brothers sold the company to a group of Michigan investors, including Henry Joy.

“Henry Joy was already building a state-of-the art manufacturing facility where they built the body on the top and the chassis on the bottom and then married them together at the end,” Porinchak said.

The Packard brothers were involved with the company into the early 1900s.

“Their first love was electric,” Porinchak said. “They built the best car that could ever be built in this country.”

Business just kept growing for Packard through the Roaring Twenties.

“They had the means to mass produce these cars now,” Porinchak said. “Henry Joy had the connections. Packard already had the clientele. It just grew and grew.”

During the Great Depression, Packard switched to volume-based production and was able to provide vehicles to the working class but still maintained its ability to cater to elite clients.

“They were going gangbusters and then war,” Porinchak said.

When war hit, Packard joined the efforts. The company went from 350 to 3,500 employees in just months to make engines for planes and maritime vessels.

“The problem with the war contracts is they retooled the entire place to build these engines,” Porinchak said. “So after the war they had to retool to go back to cars.”

Packard had lost traction in the automobile industry, but that didn’t stop the company from trying to get back in.

But America had changed, and people were ultra conservative.

“The elite class was gone, so to speak,” Porinchak said. “They were there, but they weren’t flaunting their wealth because it was considered communist after World War II. If you had wealth, that means you didn’t sacrifice for the war effort, which means you aren’t patriotic which means you are communist. That’s how they looked at it.”

Packard and Studebaker merged in 1954 as a last-ditch effort to try and save both dying brands, but they didn’t think about the loyalty customers had to each brand. In 1957, the last Packard rolled off the line in Detroit. Packard Electric continued on and became a part of Delphi, which is now known as Aptiv and still has a presence in the area with plants in Warren and Vienna.

Today, the Packard car and history of the Packard is on display at the local museum, where there’s also an antique motorcycle exhibit until May 20.

The museum was incorporated in 1990. It has been in its current location at 1899 Mahoning Ave., the bath house for the former Packard Park public swimming pool, since 1999.

The museum was renovated and a federal grant allowed for the addition of a 10,000-square-foot gallery.

More than 30 Packards shine inside the museum, and every one of them has a story.

A 1940 Packard 110 is the newest addition. It was purchased for Heather Nicholson of Nashville, Ind., in 1963 by her father when she was a junior at a high school in Topeka, Kan. The car, at that point, was old.

“It was OK,” Nicholson said. “It was no Corvette, but it was fine. ... I don’t think I appreciated its antiqueness quite like I did later.”

Nicholson couldn’t afford a new starter, so she would park it on a slight hill to get a rolling start and then pop the clutch. Football players at her school would push the car to help get the Packard going.

Nicholson stopped driving the Packard for a while after she got a job in Wyoming.

After she was married in 1974 to Walter ‘Clint’ Studabaker, they decided to remodel the old Packard.

“I decided to convince everyone that I needed to restore this car,” Studabaker said. “It’s a cool car. It’s got design that’s unmatched. It’s got an old gangster look to it. It just had an appeal to me.”


Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.