Quote of the week

Ric Locke, on what he calls the Soviet Union’s Potemkin space program, and the American response thereto:

[I]t was important for international prestige that the United States establish that it could do it bigger, better, and with flashier paint jobs. This was duly accomplished, and although the budget for it was huge by any other standard, in comparison to the GDP or even the Government budget of the United States it was trivial. The United States could go to the Moon on pocket change and walking-around money; the USSR never got there at all, despite depriving its people of many comforts in order to try.

It might have been better if American politicians of the time had noted that Nikita Sergeyevich [Khrushchev] was being squired around in a ’57 Packard with Cyrillic badges. The Soviet Union, from inception to end, was like the Western towns in old movies — tall imposing front, little better than huts behind the façades. There is no doubt the space program was a magnificent achievement, but it came at a cost that wasn’t measured in money and hasn’t really been accounted for to this day.

What won QOTW status here was the reference to the ’57 Packard — which, as fans of lost automotive marques will recall, was a rebadged and retrimmed Studebaker, a desperate attempt at maintaining two brands by a company that at the time couldn’t even afford one. Come to think of it, they could have called it the Packard Potemkin.


  1. KingShamus »

    4 March 2011 · 7:00 pm



    Any historical parallels there?

  2. CGHill »

    4 March 2011 · 7:50 pm

    Only if one buys the other, which seems unlikely at this point.

  3. Ric Locke »

    4 March 2011 · 8:39 pm

    Not in the sense I meant, Charles.

    The last cars actually designed and built in Detroit, “real” Packards, were the 1956 models, but the factory wasn’t sold until late in the year, and the people there were working on the ’57s, which were to be ’56s with a few trim changes. It isn’t totally clear at this late date, but there may have been as many as 25 or 30 cars built in the Packard plant as ’57 models. If so, none have shown up in the collector market.

    When the plant closed in late ’57, the tooling and remaining parts were sold as scrap. The tooling was, of course, for the ’57 models after the changeover. I would love for somebody to go back and research how it happened, but the tooling and spares ended up in Moscow, and beginning in 1959 limousines and luxury cars were built under the name “Chaika”. The first one was made for Khruschev, of course. There were no major changes made to the design — most of the parts fit, and one thing that enrages Packard collectors is that there are essentially no NOS spares. That’s because the Russians went around to Packard dealers and bought them all up for their use.

    The cars sold under the Packard name in ’57 and ’58 were Studebakers with some cosmetic changes. The cars made in the USSR were Packards under the Chaika name. So Nikita Sergeyevich had a ’57 Packard, and nobody in the United States did.


  4. CGHill »

    4 March 2011 · 8:48 pm

    I learn something every day. I knew of the Chaikas, of course, but I had no idea they were using the old Packard tooling. (Did any of them use the old straight eight?)

  5. Tatyana »

    4 March 2011 · 10:28 pm

    This article mentions two last Packard models that were “used for Soviet copying” (riiiight) – “Caribbean” and “Patrician” and that there were rumors that John DeLorean was responsible for their styling.
    This and , well, lots of nonsense about Packard using space rockets (Soviet, apparently) as inspiration for their last models – and that’s somehow the reason the last models were sent to Moscow. Bull.

  6. CGHill »

    4 March 2011 · 10:44 pm

    Well, those were real Packard model names. (For ’56, the low-end Clipper was spun off into a separate make, which lasted all of a year.) I never saw anything particularly spacey about them. (You want rockets? Go to Oldsmobile. They’ve got the Rocket 88.) Then again, the late-1940s Packards were derided as “pregnant elephants,” next to which almost anything would seem rocket-like. (Here’s one in blue.)

    Johnny Z. did indeed work at Packard until right after the Studebaker merger, though he was more of an engineer than a designer.

  7. Ric Locke »

    4 March 2011 · 11:39 pm

    No Chaika ever used the straight 8; they all had V8s, as later model US Packards did. Wikipedia says the V8 was 5.5 liters, but it was the Packard 352 V8. One source tells me Packard had a choice in the early Fifties of developing a high-compression OHV V8 or a new, sporty mini-car. They elected to do the car — then, instead of making it sporty and low, the President of Packard insisted that he be able to wear his hat while driving it. The result was tall, tippy, and awkward-looking, and buying the tooling is part of what broke the company.

    Chaika also used the Packard (late version) two-speed automatic, with control buttons on a stalk by the steering wheel. One wonders if it was more reliable for them than it was for the Americans who bought them here…

    The Chaika line was a small offshoot of the gigantic GAZ factory, a.k.a. “Ford of the Soviet Union”, built in (IIRC) 1927 with help from ol’ Henry hisself.


  8. Tatyana »

    5 March 2011 · 7:08 am

    ZIL, not GAS.
    ZIL: Завод имени Ленина (Zavod imeni Lenina).

  9. Tatyana »

    5 March 2011 · 7:33 am

    Maybe I should expand on that.
    ZiL – is an auto factory in Moskow, GAZ (Gorky Auto Factory), as said in its name – is in a different city, Gorky (i.e. Nizhny Novgorod)

    There are 2 cars repeating American design that were built in 1950s: ZiL111 and GAZ-13
    Before 1956 ZiL car was called ZiS (Зис); the model ZiS111 “Moskva” looks remarkably American.

    [aside: I know nothing about the subject; above is a translated summary I found in Russian Wiki]

  10. Tatyana »

    5 March 2011 · 7:40 am

    Ooops, I take it back! “L” in ZiL is not Lenin, but Likhachov (first “innovative” director, who came to the factory in 1927).

    I’m terribly ashamed at this mistake.

  11. CGHill »

    5 March 2011 · 10:00 am

    This was, I think, an endemic problem with everyone’s attempt at lower, less tippy cars. Someone (was it K. T. Keller of Chrysler?) once said scornfully, “I build cars to sit in, not to piss over.”

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