A minor Packard mystery

Creative Packard-PredictorREVISED AND UPDATED — Here’s a familiar photo in auto history: the 1956 Packard Predictor, the fabulous showboat built by Ghia. Except that’s definitely not Ghia headquarters in the background. Hmm. Let’s take a closer look.



The famed Packard Predictor concept (they were called dream cars or idea cars then) made its debut at the 1956 Chicago Auto Show with its construction officially credited to Ghia. However, the building serving as the backdrop in the publicity photo above? That’s not the Ghia facility in Turin. That’s a well-known Motor City car-building facility of the time, Creative Industries of Detroit.

Creative built countless prototypes and short-run cars for all the Detroit automakers. The outfit did everything, from hand-built show cars like the Predictor to the production run of Dodge Charger Daytona winged aero cars. Later the company became part of Masco Industries, then MSX. Companies like Creative did a very good business around Detroit, and they still do, performing much the same back-room work that Ghia was known for, but in a more discrete fashion, allowing the automakers to take the credit. Car enthusiasts might be surprised to learn how much of the work in the Motor City is actually done by subcontractors.


1956 Packard Predictor LR


And so the photo of the Predictor parked at Creative had always bothered MCG a little. If the Predictor was a Ghia creation, what’s it doing parked in front of Creative? The photo is no snapshot; it was carefully staged. There’s even an alternate version (see gallery below) featuring a fashion model, an addition that would easily double the cost of the photo session.

This small mystery was cleared up for MCG by good friend and ace auto historian Bill Glass. Yes, the Predictor was indeed constructed by Ghia in Turin. That’s a fact. However, shortly after its arrival on these shores, the car developed a nasty electrical short (insert Italian coachbuilder joke here) and burned nearly to the ground. At that point, the Predictor was sent over to Creative for a hasty and complete do-over. And thus we have this photo today of the Predictor in front of Creative’s distinctive machine modern facade at 3080 East Outer Drive.

The one and only Packard Predictor is still with us today. You can see it at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana, a great car collection that’s well worth a visit. See MCG’s full photo feature on the museum here.


1956 Packard Predictor color

33 thoughts on “A minor Packard mystery

    • So this is 1956/57 I personlly got to push the car outside of the old water works building in SouthBend Indiana about 50 years ago so I could take pictures of it. As I recall there were only Two other Packerds their both very old 1919 & 1923. The predictor was so far ahead of it’s time that ALL the car makers took components from it’s design. Packards “pan” was a very roadworthy design that was extremely fast. Yes there were some issues with the 55 & 56 Ultramatic transmission Like the rest of the automotive industry still struggles with today. Those that want to bash it need to be more generous as it lead the industry for many years to come for the BIG three.

      • I like the admonishment to evaluate 70 year old designs with their peers. GM had the Motorama cars, Chrysler had the Adventurer II & the Ghia Dart which was an extremely clean design. See it at St.Johns Concours last summer it was almost shocking how petite the car is. There was a huge amount of differentiation among the car companies that wasn’t seen until the Tom Gale/Chrysler concept car renaissance in the late ’80s thru ’90s. This years crop of concepts are all going down the same road except for some strange Toyita Japanese market experiments.

  1. Looks like a Pontiac Bonneville, Lincoln, Edsel, Mercury parts bin raid! Sad thing about trying to copy ideas from others, they don’t always go together! No wonder Packard was dying, they had totally ran out of new ideas. The line drawing actually doesn’t look too bad, it has a early 60’s feel to it, they should have tried harder to match it.

    • I agree as a whole it’s a convoluted design. But, it’s from ’56, way before Breezeway Mercs, wide track Pontiacs and horse-collar Edsels. So, who copied whom?

    • This car became copied as Packard was expected to survive and this car was proof. So the design details which appear familiar began here. It’s not a copycat. The other makers copied it.

    • Except here are the ideas long before Pontiac, Lincoln, Edsel or Mercury featured them, so it seems you have the shoe on the wrong historical foot. I know, might makes right in ‘murica, and no independent could possibly do something before or better than the big 3. (sic)

  2. In the context of the Predictor being built in 1956, it was the others who were inspired by this forward-looking Packard rather than Packard “borrowing” from others. The man who did most of the design work on the Predictor was Bill Schmidt who had come to Packard from Ford. It was Schmidt who had done the Lincoln Futura show car which George Barris later converted to the original Batmobile. When Packard closed, Packard president James Nance went to Lincoln-Mercury. That “C” pillar on the Predictor next appeared on the ’58-’60 Lincolns and next on the ’63-’66 Mercurys with their “Breezeway” window. It is very likely that Nance took these ideas with him to Lincoln-Mercury. The “Breezeway” window idea was originally planned for the Richard Teague-designed ’53 Packard Balboa show cars – which was also the antecedent for the “C” pillar on the Predictor. As built, the 2 Balboas did not have retractable rear windows, though the brochure for the car claims that it did.

    The Predictor was appropriately named as it “predicted” many automotive trends. Manyof the features on the Predictor would have become standard on the still-born ’57 Packards:
    • Impact absorbing front bumper
    • Four wheel disc brakes
    • Fuel injection
    • “Flow-through” fresh air ventilation
    All of these (above) were planned for the ’57 Packards.
    In addition, the Predictor featured:
    • Swivel seats – picked up by Chrysler
    • T-Top – picked up by GM and others
    • Transaxle – used on the ’61 Pontiac Tempest

    So, who was copying whom?

    • Considering the cross pollination of designers, auto design generally moving in similar directions, & typical lead times of 5 years for production, there is not that much copying going on, unless a feature is really superior. GM had Rochester fuel injection on Corvettes & Pontiacs in ’58. Chrysler had a short, unsuccessful run then, also. Swivel seats had been seen on GM Motorama show cars as early as ’53. The EMF cars used transaxles ca. 1911-12. Chrysler had a version of 4 wheel disk brakes in 1953-54. AMC had their Weather Eye ventilation system by ’57.
      There is little that hasn’t been seen before, to this day, excepting the revolution in computer controlled ignition & timing & valves.

  3. Is or was the car EVER driveable at least under routine light duty service conditions???? Or was it strictly a styling buck????

    • The Predictor is completely driveable. The chassis of one of the first ’56 Clippers was taken from the assembly line and shipped to Ghia where the Predictor was crafted. As the article points out, soon after it arrived in Detroit from Italy, it had an electrical fire and Creative Industries repaired the car. It is fitted with the mechanical fuel injection the ’57 Packards would have used (a Bendix unit, if I remember correctly). The Ultramatic transmission is fitted at the rear axle (transaxle) for better weight distribution. In many ways, the Predictor was a running prototype for the ’57 Packards.

  4. I truly belive you miss the forest for the trees. The car has aspects that were copied by all of the auro makers for the next decked. the rear window went down, tee tops, swivel front bucket seats and torosin bar suspension and pontiac sure used the vertical grill.
    I realy do get where you get off at? The car was very ahead of it’s time

    • Torsion bars were known to champ & sprint race car builders for years prior to the Packard. Chrysler started at least in 1955 to design theirs for production. VW had been using them since 1949, so they weren’t an exotic technology. I think you missed the history, never mind the point.

      • RE: torsion bars on Packard Predictor and production 1955-56 Packards and Clippers… The real point here is not merely that Packard was using torsion bars. But rather that Packard was using a revolutionary ELECTRONIC self-leveling full torsion bar suspension–front and rear. A system, governed by an electronic controller and an electric motor that raised or lowered the vehicle.

        This system was something entirely new and it is a shame that to this day it still does not receive the credit it deserves. When foreign car makers in Europe and Asia came out with electronic suspensions in very recent years, the press and even auto enthusiasts went wild praising them! Yet, decades earlier Packard had all this stuff and more, but hardly anybody noticed. Some people made a big deal out of the leveler aspect of the system and ignored the rest. And then people quickly forgot.

        All Chrysler did was replace two front springs with two torsion bars… and yessss, there certainly was nothing all that new or revolutionary there. But far too many people make the mistake of trying to compare this little development with Packard’s hugely amazing true genius of a system. Like comparing firecracker to a volcano.

        Today, even some historical accounts and internet “forums”–rather than praising the mere fact that Packard had made such a bold and revolutionary move all the way back in 1955–instead criticize Packard’s Torsion-Level as being “troublesome” or “complicated”. Sad. Even the likes of almighty “Motor Trend” magazine a few years ago implied the suspension was problematic and said it used “air bags.” Don’t take my word for it….go back and look at their write-up on the 1955 Howard Hughes/Jean Peters Caribbean.

        Anyway, Packard’s Torsion-Level suspension was not merely torsion bars. Anyone believing this is simply mistaken. And it sure did not incorporate “air bags.” And while it was complicated for its day (most revolutionary new systems of any kind are) it worked amazingly well and many are still out there today working in the 21st century. This in itself out to be jaw-dropping that such a thing was made long before the era of computerized automotive systems.

        So… just for reference and to illustrate how far past “torsion bars” Packard went, here is what the system actually featured:
        • Torsion bars on all four wheels
        • Linkage between front and rear suspension
        • Full electronically controlled leveling of the car–front and rear
        • Anti-squat upon take-off from a stop or sudden acceleration
        • Anti-dive upon sudden stops or hard braking (yes, the system WAS linked to the brakes)
        • Anti-roll (electronically controlled)
        • Optional manual override which could allow the driver to manually raise or lower the vehicle

        Now, to show just how far ahead this was in 1955 and 1956–and yes, how far ahead it was for Predictor, it took all the way unto the 1980s before car companies were doing electronic anti-dive, anti-squat, anti-roll systems. And they were doing it with computer controls. So let’s give Packard, Bill Allison (the inventor) and Jim Nance’s team a little more respect, huh? This suspension system was a milestone–even if it is not seen as such in automotive forums and automotive history. It is a shame that Packard’s brilliant move at a time when they were so strapped for cash did not receive the recognition it was due either then or now.

  5. I’m sure this is what the Jetson’s would have been driving if they hadn’t figured out that flying thing…

  6. Like Johnny Cash song, one piece at a time. Looks like a little bit of everything. Wonderful vehicle

  7. Looks like it was designed by a committee that couldn’t agree on anything altho many fine ideas.

  8. All of this speculation about the Predictor and Creative Industries (incidentally, the proper name for the company at this time was “Creative Industries of Detroit”) is amusing and yet distressing to read after all these years when historians ought to know better.

    None of this would be a mystery at all if one would simply read the accurate history of Predictor as published in The Packard Cormorant magazine–the glossy publication of the Packard Club. It is no mystery at all. In fact, anyone who has read the history of the Predictor in The Packard Cormorant magazine (issue #131, Summer 2008) from the Packard Club will know exactly what this photo is and where it was taken, etc., etc. The entire accurate history of this car is in that issue… including explanation of the photo. No guessing needed and no mystery at all.

    The Predictor was built on a Clipper chassis and is fully operable. The transaxle design was discussed and intended, but there was no money (or time) to implement all of these features at the period when the car was built. The transaxle was one of the ideas of one John Z. De Lorean–who, contrary to what auto histories usually claim–was not at GM at this time, but rather was at Packard. The transaxle concept eventually made its way into the early Pontiac Tempest (and YES, this is yet another thing that Predictor predicted).

    I was around when this photo was taken and was at Creative often. The address was NOT 3080 East Outer Drive, but rather 3050 East Outer Drive (a vacant field today).

  9. I just love all of the 20-20 design hindsight & lack of knowledge of design history by these learned pundits!

    As was obvious that there are a lot of details seen on various brand subsequent cars, this car was an amalgam of concept thinking at the time. Swivel seats were first seen in one of the GM Motorama cars, then Chrysler did put them in production from ’67 to ’60. GM brought them out in the late ’70s in the Pontiac Grand Am, along with adjustable pedals.
    A reminder that even then, designs were finalized a couple of years in advance, so seeing something pop up elsewhere is not a big surprise. I have seen photos from the Don Beyreis collection, of this car with models, in front of Creative & in the Packard studios on Grand Blvd. He also had studio photos of the Lincoln Futura (aka Batmobile). Don started out at Ford Styling, but they went thru a big layoff around that 1955 so Don went to Packard, Another young designer, Jim Pappas, went to AMC. After Packard’s demise, Beyreis went to Chrysler for the rest of his career.
    BTW, the 1909 -1912 E-M-F car had a transaxle. This was not a new concept, just not very often used. It is a mistake to say any single car was the source for so much of what was going on. Even today every manufacturer pays close attention to what the other companies do & how they do it. This includes a department that disassembles a car down to every single piece. There is also a group think that goes on where the culture points to certain design directions & everyone moves in the same direction. Note the distinctive Pontiac split grills from 1959 on. Is it due to the Packard? Probably not. Everyone tries to create brand character and a distinctive look. How else can you differentiate in class & brand of car? Mr. Dixon is quite correct in explaining the history. The last time I saw the Cretive building, it was aburned out shell with just the distinctive curved yellow brick wall remaining.

    • Reference here to “transaxle” in my original posting perhaps might be clarified as “automatic transaxle with specialized drive shaft.” Of course there were numerous examples of tranxales, but unlike what was proposed here.

      As for the Creative Industries building at 3050 East Outer Drive… it is long gone. The site is a vacant field today. I was lucky enough to obtain (as a gift) one of the original decorative blocks from the front of the building. I keep it in my office to this day.

      Finally, it is sad to see attacks on Predictor using values of 2015 for a dream car done for 1956. No matter what anyone thinks of it today, Packard Predictor drew tens of thousands of fans when it debuted and was considered to be one of the most popular and significant dream cars of 1956…IN 1956. THAT is all that really matters. Throwing darts at it in 2015 means what? It was designed for a time that is gone, by people who are gone. Shown in a time that is gone. By a company that is gone.

  10. BTW, this is NOT a Packard mystery.

    “The last time I saw the Cretive building,..” should be:
    The last time I saw the Creative building, it was a burned out shell with just the distinctive, curved, yellow brick wall remaining.

    I really dislike skinny white 10 point type on black. This needs to be a larger size to read as well as black on white. A black background may look “sexy” but is miserable to read for any length of time. Bad web design for writing not photos.

    • As Mr. Dixon points out, 20-20 design hindsight is all but useless in discussing history. The results of historic designs can be seen everywhere. Opinions of 70 year old designs by someone born after the moon landing are really not relevant to the discussion. I see it all of the time, just call it “Revisionist History”.

      • There never was a “mystery” about where the photos of the Packard Predictor were taken. The only mystery is why anyone could call this a mystery in 2015 if they indeed kept up with the history of the Predictor… or the history of Creative Industries of Detroit. Of unless one is a youngster.

        Now… the full solution to this 2015 “mystery” of where Predictor was photographed was completely listed in both print and photograph in December of 1978. Looks like 37 years ago. If you don’t have it, do a search on eBay… it turns up periodically.

        When and where again? Go to “Car Classics” magazine, December, 1978 issue and read the pictorial history on Creative Industries. Then turn to Page 61: (and I quote–this is the exact caption) “PACKARD PREDICTOR, the car was essentially built by Ghia in Italy, but Creative did the fittings and rewired the complicated electrical systems. Creative also performed all service on the car not handled by Packard engineers. Publicity photos were taken in front of Creative’s Outer Drive plant.”

        Who wrote this article back in 1978 and who always knew where these photos were taken? I did.

  11. To me, one useful way to evaluate the Packard Predictor is in comparison to its peers. One that comes to mind is the 1956 Mercury XM-100 Turnpike Cruiser concept. The two have some interesting similarities.

  12. The story of the I-talian wiring burning up is fully covered in the “Packard bible” the Automotive Quarterly book on Packard edited by Beverly Rae Kimes. Not really a mystery.

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