Bill Vance: Canadian effort to reboot Packard was a bust

As a boy, Roy Gullickson was captivated by his uncle’s 1936 Packard Super Eight limousine. He loved the way it glided down the highway, and the smooth purr of the big straight-eight engine.

He never lost his Packard fascination, but by the time he could afford one, the company was out of business.

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For many years, Packard was among America’s most prestigious cars. Established in 1899 in Warren, Ohio, by brothers James and William Packard, both engineers, it quickly established a reputation for sound engineering. At the request of major financial backer Henry B. Joy, Packard Motor Car Co. relocated to Detroit in 1903.

Early one-cylinder models were joined by a four in 1903. A six was added in 1912, but Packard’s big breakthrough came in 1915 with the introduction of the “Twin Six” V-12, the world’s first series production V-12 engine. Packard’s prestige was such that many regarded it as America’s Rolls-Royce.

The big 12 also laid the foundation for the renowned First World War V-12 Liberty aircraft engine, a project in which Packard chief engineer Jesse Vincent was a leader.

Packard kept the Twin Six until 1923, then, after a hiatus, revived it from 1932 to 1939. Its well regarded straight-eight arrived in 1924.

Unlike other prestige auto manufacturers such as Peerless, Pierce-Arrow and Duesenberg, Packard survived the Depression by resorting to the lower-priced One-Twenty model in 1935. It gave Packard the required financial boost, but also diluted its prestige, from which it never fully recovered.

Packard returned to production after the Second World War and built some excellent models, but Cadillac had by now clearly assumed the mantle of America’s leading luxury car. Under relentless competitive pressure, Packard merged with Studebaker in 1954. The company became Studebaker-Packard in 1955, and although the Packard name was gone by 1958, it didn’t extinguish the good memories of thousands of Packard enthusiasts.

In the meantime, Roy Gullickson grew up and graduated in mechanical engineering. He amassed 35 years’ experience in the aeronautical, automotive, agricultural and off-road equipment fields, including the Avro Arrow’s Orenda Iroquois engine project, White Motor Co. and Massey Ferguson. He was a longtime member of the Society of Automotive Engineers.

He held several patents, and eventually co-founded Keho Alta Industries, manufacturing farm equipment in Barons, Alta.

In 1992, the successful business was sold, which gave Gullickson the time and resources to pursue his Packard dream. It went beyond just buying a nice classic Packard; he wanted to resurrect Packard as a modern, high-performance full-size American luxury car.

He purchased the Packard name from Bayliff-Packard Coach Corp. in Lima, Ohio, in 1992 for $50,000 US. Bayliff had been modifying regular production cars by fitting them with Packard insignia.

Gullickson incorporated Packard Motor Car Company in Phoenix, Arizona. His business/design office and fabricating shop staff reached seven, although the usual complement was four: Roy and another engineer, plus two highly skilled fabricating technicians. Other expertise was engaged as required.

They began designing and creating the first prototype Packard in 1994, a unit-construction four-wheel drive, disc-braked sedan with styling inspired by the 1941 Packard Clipper. It was about 90 per cent aluminum, including the engine block, cylinder heads, transmission and differentials cases and suspension arms.

As with all car companies, some components such as air conditioning, seats, glass, instruments, seatbelts and switches came from suppliers. The Packard Twelve prototype was substantially complete by mid-1998 and field tested locally.

It was powered by a 440-horsepower, overhead-valve V-12 produced by Ryan-Falconer Industries, a well-established racing-engine builder in Chino Valley, Arizona. It was fitted with General Motors fuel injection, ignition and manifolding, and drove through a GM four-speed automatic.

The Twelve had a 2,794-millimetre wheelbase, was 5309 mm long and weighed 1700 kilograms. Zero to 100 km/h time was a claimed 4.8 seconds.

It met all 1999 emission standards, and escaped stringent government safety legislation based on the anticipated limited production. Selling price was to be about $160,000 US.

The prototype was registered in Arizona as a 1999 model, and although Gullickson admitted it needed some refinement, it was impressive enough to attract about 70 orders.

Alas, it’s a long road from prototype to production, and despite Gullickson’s credentials and business success, he couldn’t raise the estimated $10 million for the first batch of 10 or 12 Packards.

After a valiant attempt, Gullickson suffered the fate of most budding manufacturers: lack of capital. He reluctantly abandoned his dream, and the prototype Packard Twelve was auctioned off in 2014 in Michigan by RM Auctions for $143,000 US to an undisclosed buyer.

If this talented Canadian engineer-entrepreneur had been successful, it would have been a grand revival of a storied marque.

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