Customizing on the cheap

How Packard realized the add-ons added to the salability of their cars.
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1940 Packard Super Eight 160 Club Sedan

1940 Packard Super Eight 160 Club Sedan

A burgeoning automotive accessory industry gets partial credit for the decline of expensive custom-made automobiles and the marked improvement in desirability of lower-priced models. How? Extra add-ons spiffed up the vehicle exteriors while making the operation and ride more pleasurable and a bit more dynamic. In effect, a vehicle could be personalized at reasonable cost.

Packard was among the car brands to catch that vision. Although dedicated to making quality cars of superior repute, Packard’s sales staff was not beyond the temptation to enhance a lesser-priced model in such a way that — with added extras — it became an expressive re-design of the buyer while keeping far afield of high-end prices.

The concept of accessories quickly came to the fore in the first decade of the 20th century. By 1910, all sorts of extras could be bought “aftermarket” and retro-fitted to the brass-era cars scooting around town or ambling between farms. Among the hottest-selling items were practical gas headlamps and kerosene side lamps. Even detachable rear lamps were sold to serve as lanterns when light was needed in darkness to tinker a stalled vehicle to life, or to walk the road for help. Time progressed and so did extras so that by 1940, Packard accessory trim items were mainly chrome-plated and targeted to exterior areas such as the bumper, grille, wheels and hood with an added mascot. By then, interior extras allowed buyers to order upgraded interiors, different cloth patterns, improved radio sets and, chief of all, air conditioning which was only installed at the factory, and remained so for Packard at least through 1954.

Packard’s most profitable sales for its 1940 run were being rung up by dealerships from coast to coast and overseas thanks to the initial interest in the junior One-Twenty models and the “110” Six. Meanwhile, the style leaders for the Packard lines were the senior models: the One-Sixty and top-line Custom Super Eight One-Eighty.

Original sales invoices for new 1940 Packards show the varying prices of factory-sanctioned accessory trim and other extras that model year. “Deluxe emblem” for a 110 model cost a mere $6.75. Deluxe heater and defroster added $21.99 to the bill. Some items were sliced down in price. A front bumper guard was being offered by some dealers at $3.50.

One Model 1801 Packard Touring Coach was sold “loaded” by Albrecht-Burke Packard, St. Louis, just before Christmas 1939. The car had Econo Drive at $67; Motorola Radio at $69.95; Santex seat covers at $12.75; Flexible steering wheel at $11.95; Auxiliary Bumper Assembly at $7.95; oil filter priced at $6.50; two gallons of Prestone anti-freeze at $5.30; and a high-temp thermostat at a buck-fifty.

The total list of extras raised that mid-priced Packard from $1,171 to $1,375.85.

In a different sale, wide white wall tires cost an additional $20 when the dealer wished to reduce the price for a good customer.

Packard dealerships could order an accessories display unit such as this from the factory in 1940.

Packard dealerships could order an accessories display unit such as this from the factory in 1940.

Focus the scope of factory-sanctioned extras available only through a Packard dealer and even the least costly Packard business coupe could be jazzed up in tiny ways. An exhaust extension ran $1. License plate frames were an additional $2.25. A door mirror cost $1.75. A locking gas cap could be had for $1.50. A trunk lid guard was $2.95. These plus a few others not mentioned brought the total $70 higher than the 1940 base price. This came to nearly an eight percent rise in total new-car price of the lowly business coupe.

To put this in perspective for 1940, an average loaf of bread cost eight cents, round steak sold for 36 cents per pound, eggs cost 33 cents a dozen, milk went for 25 cents per half gallon and 10 lbs. of potatoes ran nearly 24 cents.

Atop the Packard offerings for 1940 was the Custom Super. Its title meant the buyer could follow a checklist of nearly any available option from the factory to be included at no additional cost. Thus, the model was promoted as a custom “makeover” suited to the desires and personality of the buyer.

Selling extras was not new in 1940, but the aggressive actions of Packard officials, coupled with a driving desire of the field sales force to make notable progress, resulted in very good sales for Packard. This progress cemented Packard’s presence not only in the high-priced field, but also in the mid-priced ranges. The tactic was to be notched even higher after World War II, as the hungry postwar sales climate thrust Packard ever onward toward 1950.

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