Packard Pan American

Gee, ain't she swell?

You can't claim that Packard was behind the times, because when this debuted in 1952, it used a few hot rod and kustom tricks only a few years after shops in California had started to modify cars in their distinctive style.

Amazingly, the marque wouldn't see the end of the decade—this is despite having at least a clue at what the market wanted from its Packards. The company ended up trying everything at its disposal on the show circuit…but little of it translated into production, except the Pan American.

I've previously featured the Packard Request, a fan-led design so awful it could have predicted the Homer Simpson-designed "Homer" concept car satirized by The Simpsons. Packard President Hugh Ferry wanted a two-seat performance car in the vein of a slightly larger Ford Thunderbird-style convertible. Even better, the Thunderbird would be on the market in 1955, giving Packard a few years' head start—so what gives?

Built by Henney, otherwise known as a custom hearse and ambulance body company, Packard took a 1951 Series 250 Convertible, cut out its floor and "channelled" the body—lowering the car without altering its suspension. Not a problem for a show car, of course, but hardly the way to increase performance.

Four Pan Americans were constructed, each slightly different. The first was shown at the 1952 New York Motor Show, built at a reported cost of $10,000—today, that's $90,000, a figure likely less than you'd be able to pick one of these prototypes for!

Built for just four years, early years of the at-most 310 horsepower, V8-powered Packard Caribbean were inspired by the Pan American but failed to capture much interest as, ultimately, an expensive Jet Age cruiser with little performance to match.