A first for Packard: Car featured at 55th Das Awkscht Fescht
The Packard, featured car for the 55th annual Das Awkscht Fescht, Aug. 3-5, Macungie Memorial Park, Macungie, is legendary, from being one of the first gasoline-powered vehicles to powering military aircraft during World War I and II.
Das Awkscht Fescht is said to be the largest antique and classic car show in the United States, with 2,500 vehicles expected.
A “Friday Night Cruise to the Fescht,” is Aug. 3. There’s a “Car Corral” sales area; “Antique Auto Flea Market,” with 500 vendors; arts and crafts with 100 artisans; entertainment; food, and a fireworks display Aug. 4.
Also, a “Toy Show” is Aug. 4 in Eyer Middle School and an outdoor “Toy Town,” is Aug. 4 at Shoemaker and Macungie Elementary Schools.
The Antique Automobile Club of America Ontelaunee Region sponsors the vehicles display. Das Awkscht Fescht (Pennsylvania-German for The August Festival) proceeds benefit Macungie Memorial Park.
There’s a Lehigh Valley connection to the Packard automobile: Packard Laboratory, Lehigh University, where the first Packard is displayed.
James Packard (1863-1928), a 1884 graduate of Lehigh University, donated 1899 Ohio Model A-1, said to be Packard Motor Car Company’s first automobile, to his alma mater. Before his 1928 death, James Packard donated $1 million for a new laboratory for the university’s engineering school. Packard Laboratory was dedicated in 1930.
“In all the years of their existence of the featured car, it has never been the Packard,” says Rich Walters, membership director of Keystone Packards, whose members are bringing their Packards to Das Awkscht Fescht.
“I haven’t missed one [Das Awkscht Fescht] since 1988,” says Walters, of Eagleville, Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County.
Keystone Packards, founded in 1973, based in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and affiliated with Packard Automobile Classics, the national Packard Club, has 120 members.
“When I was a youngster, when doctors made house calls, my doctor had a Packard,” says Walter, who will bring his 1956 Packard Patrician 400 Hardtop Coupe to Das Awkscht Fescht.
“When I bought it, it had been restored, and I had it re-stored since.
“I was born and raised in a Ford, Chevy family. And when I came of age, I always tried to get something more sporty than what mom and dad had,” Walters says.
Walters, a retired machinist, says, “A 1942 Packard was my first. I’ve had others through the years.”
Car of the stars
The Packard was one of America’s first luxury cars, with the slogan “Ask the Man Who Owns One.”
“They were sold to movie stars. Clark Gable had one that is now in the state of Maine,” says Walters.
Gable owned a 1932 Packard V-12 Roadster. Another Hollywood star, Jean Harlow, owned a 1932 903 Eight DeLuxe Sport Phaeton.
Though the rich and famous owned Packards, many may not be familiar with the marque.
Brothers James and William Packard and their partner, George Weiss, built the first Packard in 1899, in Warren, Ohio.
While gasoline-powered buggies date to Etienne Lenoir, in 1860 in France, and Siegfried Marcus in 1870 in Austria, the automobile and automobile companies date to Karl Benz, 1885, Germany; Panhard et Levassor, 1889, France; Daimler and Maybach, 1889, Germany; the Nadig, 1889, Allentown; Duryea Motor Wagon Company, 1893, Massachusetts, and Frederick Lanchester, 1895, Great Britain.
“In the entire life of Packard, from 1899 to 1958, they produced 1,614,000 cars. In comparison, in 1955, the Chevrolet Division of General Motors produced 1,715,000 in one model-year. That’s kind of the reason very few people heard of Packard,” Walters says.
Packards can fetch dear prices. A sampling of Packards for sale on the web site, Hemmings, billed as “the world’s largest collector car marketplace,” lists a 1953 Packard Series 26 convertible, a “rare car, beautiful restoration,” $29,950; 1955 Packard Caribbean Convertible, $65,500; 1939 Packard 120 Coupe, $44,900, and 1928 Packard 443 Murphy Convertible Sedan, $189,500.
The national Packard Club has 3,500 members.
At Das Awkscht Fescht, 56 Packards are registered for Aug. 4 and 63 Packards are registered for Aug 5.
Under the big white featured-car tent, there will be a 1902 Packard, the oldest model on display, and a 1958 Packard, the last year of producton. Nine other Packards, including a 1919 World War I troop truck, will be under the tent. There will be memorabilia, including advertisements and posters. More Packards will be parked outiside the tent.
What appeals to Walters about the Packard automobile is “the very fine manufacturing techniques that they used. They were a direct competitor to Cadillac for many years.”
The Packard Motor Car Company earned fame for its four-cylinder aluminum speedster, the “Gray Wolf,” in 1904, one of the first American racing cars sold.
In 1916, with its “Twin Six,” a V-12 engine, Packard was regarded as the leading luxury-car manufacturer in the United States.
“The big achievement of Packard was the V-12 engine,” says Walters. “In World War I and World War II, when they went into all-miltary production, Packard was a big producer of engines.”
Packard developed a V-12 airplane engine, the “Liberty engine,” for use in the Entente air corps during World War I.
Gar Wood’s record-setting Miss America 2 racing boat was powered by four V-12 Liberty engines to win the 1921 Harmsworth Trophy.
The V-12 was pivotal in America’s World War II effort. The World War II fighter, the P-51 Mustang, was powered by a V-12 Packard V-1650. PT boats in the South Pacific were powered by three supercharged gasoline-fueled, liquid-cooled Packard 4M-2500s.
Packard trademarked a number of automotive innovations: Ultramatic, self-developed automatic transmission (1949-1953); Gear-Start Ultramatic (1954), Twin Ultramatic (1955-1956); Torsion Level Ride, Packard’s torsion-bar suspension with integrated levelizer (1955-1956); Easamatic, Bendix TreadleVac power brakes available after 1952; Electromatic, electrically-controlled, vacuum-operated automatic clutch; Twin Traction, optional limited-slip rear axle (the first on a production car worldwide), 1956-1958, and Touch Button, electric panel to control 1956 Ultramatic automatic transmission.
Packard never quite recoverd from the “upside-down bathtub” design of its 1948-1950 models, even though Nash, Packard, Hudson, Mercury, and Lincoln has similar designs.
“Every one had that rounded design. Packard was more faulted for it than anyone else,” Walters says.
A slab-sided, crisp design was introduced with the 1951 Packard.
It wasn’t enough.
Despite the then trendy Packard Caribbean convertible (1953-1956) and futuristic auto-show concept cars, Cadillac had eclipsed Parkard in the luxury-car segment.
Facing dwindling sales, Packard merged with the Studebaker Corporation.
In 1903, Packard had moved its manufacturing plant from Warren, Ohio, to Detroit, Mich. In 1954, the plant was moved to South Bend, Ind., following its acquisition by Studebaker.
Studebaker was also struggling and ceased manufacturing of its larger cars, including the Packard in 1956, athough the marque would continue until 1958 on a rebadged Studebaker.
Tickets: at the gate. Information: awkscht.com; 610-967-2317