Youth and the automobile

Packards and their relationship to youth and the old car hobby
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Debbie the toddler was introduced to a 1950 Packard when she was still shorter than the grille.

Debbie the toddler was introduced to a 1950 Packard when she was still shorter than the grille.

What would have happened if Packards attracted young people when the brand was launched in 1899? It’s only conjecture now, but the infusion of young blood into the burgeoning car business back then could have started something that may have lingered for decades thereafter.

On second thought, that may have happened to a degree, depending on your definition of “young.” Many up-and-coming businessmen and executives tinkered with the notion of owning a motorcar as 1900 dawned and as time then marched forward. Early photos of motorists indicate that trend. Most “operators” (we call them drivers today) were men (and also occasionally women) in their 20s and 30s. Generally, those were the monied folks who had spare time to indulge in motoring. There were others who were in that same age range who simply felt deeply in their spirit that personalized motive transport on wheels and roads was the fling of the future.

Prove that for yourself by looking up details on Henry Ford’s age was when he went to mechanical tinkering, or even the two Packard brothers when they envisioned a business. Those pioneer spirits enticed others of similar ages to tag along as assistants, technicians, officer personnel, procurers, promoters and sales experts. The American auto industry was launched by people prior to reaching middle age or slightly into it. There are exceptions, no doubt — Henry Leland of Cadillac and then Lincoln is one, Mr. Pope another, but the inventive genius of the motorcar rode on the backs of the younger set.

Generally, folks who just passed their youth could hardly afford a car as the industry grew. Yet, there are tales about how a young child’s fancy was stirred when they encountered a car. Overall, that first generation of movers and shakers in the car industry jumped into the business with both feet, some losing their shirts while others struggled toward success. The truth of this statement is supported by the celebration of the American car industry’s Golden Anniversary in the late 1940s. At that Detroit event, many auto pioneers were in their 70s, 80s or older, and a good number never reached those years having died “too young.” Even many in what some would call the second generation of motoring greats spent their hard-working younger years with cars, then fell to age by the time of that celebration or shortly after.

Let’s repeat the initial question today, but slightly from a different angle: the hobby.

At what age did you enter the old car hobby? When you were 20? 30? 40? Or...?

I recall my future wife accompanying me to a one-day car show at a resort-type setting more than 70 miles from any large city. It was there that I came upon a Packard for the first time. It was a Six from the late 1930s. Standing in awe, I paused to ponder it against the cars nearby — some were of the brass age of motoring (pre-1916), others from the Classic Era. Several were larger and fancier than that Packard Six, but none seemed to match its distinguished appearance. “One day, I want to own a car like that.” This happened decades ago, and history played out that some years later my dream was manifested in a 1950 Deluxe and then a 1940 Custom Super Eight.

All this leads us to ponder why Packard, amid the woeful days of the Great Depression, determined to concentrate on the medium-price offerings more than the bank-account-breaking, high-dollar cars that established the company’s initial fame. Literally, it was a matter of assuring there would be a jump in current sales and a plan for future deals as young buyers aged and income increased. Pricing cars lower in the 1930s while not skimping on quality but basically trimming back on size and extravagances seemed to become the norm that decade, not only for car makers but buyers as well. That proved to be a good, wise trend that helped keep many brands on the market for years to come.

This was especially true for Packard.

The idea of youth plays out today for the current generation of Packard owners. Many such owners were counted among the Young Set when they entered the hobby. Now they are grandmas and grandpas, some even “greats.” Some (perhaps more than we could imagine) introduced their children to the merits of “Packarding,” not too dissimilarly from generations ago. Others may still have the opportunity to convince young people in their families to follow in their steps. Who will own that precious Packard that has been in the same family since new? Or that special Packard that seems to beg, “Keep Me?”

It all adds up to a simple adage: Train a child in the way to go. Do it soon, if not already.

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