Two decades before Ford cracked the whip on its most iconic nameplate – that would be the Mustang – another wild stallion took the world by storm. However, this magnificent machine did not run but flew high in the skies. And it wreaked havoc in its path: the P-51 Mustang was undoubtedly the best fighter plane of the Second World War.
It entered service on the European front in December 1943 with the B and C variants, but the most emblematic was the P-51D – the ‘Bubble Top.’ From March 1944 until the surrender of Germany in May of the following year, the Mustangs claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft kills – more than any U.S. fighter in Europe.
That’s an undeniable testament to Packard's rigorous engineering standards that had made the brand famous for its high-end craftsmanship. But after the war, something happened – and it wasn’t a good change.
It took Packard six years to develop a new post-war car design; while the heavyweights from Detroit were rolling out new vehicles in the late forties, America’s oldest carmaker (at the time) completely missed the start. The company paid much attention to putting out a mid-price model and neglected their main customers from the luxury class.
Packard was reluctant to sudden changes, confirmed by its attachment to a symbol of pre-war motoring, the straight-eight engine. Along with Pontiac, Packard was the last of the automobile companies to ditch the dated design in favor of the new wonder kid, the V8. That was in 1954 when the clouds of fate were already glooming over Detroit’s first carmaker (Packard broke ground for its assembly facilities in 1903).
One of the last eight-cylinder Packard dinosaurs still roams Planet Piston under the hood of this 1954 Packard Convertible. One of a batch of 863, the Convertible was one of the two drop-tops offered by the carmaker for 1954, from a line-up of seven models.
A compression ratio of 8.7:1 (the highest in any production car in the world at the time) was vital for the engine’s output, and its 4.5-inch stroke (114.3 mm) delivered the high peak torque at 2,200 RPM. It wasn’t a high-revving tiger but a composed, low-grunt grizzly bear.
The 359-cube S8 plant was new for the 1954 model year, and thanks to its over-square architecture and four-barrel carburetion, it offered heaps of low-speed torque, suitable for casual, carefree cruising. But it was on its way into history since more efficient V8s were already taking over (remember Chrysler’s first hemispherical-heads FirePower that came out in 1950?). The long piston travel and innate high-speed breathing difficulty – typical of valve-in-block designs – drew the demise of the aging L-head motors.
Still, the styling and build quality were tailored to Packard’s high standards from before the war, backed by ride quality, comfort, and high-end engineering. The owner of this stylish Convertible doesn’t tell if the car is a survivor or not – those shiny nuts on the heads are misleading – but an astute Packard connoisseur will reveal that there’s something not right with the engine.
The odometer read 86,997 miles (just shy of 140,000 metric clicks), so it falls right on the edge of the motor overhauling interval between 80,000 and 100,000 miles (roughly 130,000 to 160,000 km). However, a keen viewer of the video noticed this unit sounds like it has a miss at idle (with the most probable suspect being a sparkplug or its ignition wire).
The massive Packard is a rare appearance today – car show enthusiasts are more than thrilled to see it in metal – just as it was when it came out. With a very low production (863) and a steep retail price of $3,935 (roughly $41,500 in 2023 equivalent purchasing power), the Convertible Coupe was a rare bird even in its heyday.