An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

1952 Packard Pan American Showcar

Packard Pan American Show Car: Coachwork by the Henney Motor Company

Thanks to reader Richard Laible, who sent in the images featured today we now know some of the background information about the construction of the six Packard Pan American show cars coachwork and the coachbuilder. A video at the end of this post features the new 1953 Packard Carribbean convertible, the luxury production car that followed the Pan American. The lead photo was taken when Laible was only ten years old, an exciting time for him as he explains:

“My father was one of the craftsmen who built the first of the six Packard Pan American concept cars. The Henney Motor Company in Freeport, Ill constructed them in 1952 under contract with Packard. Henney had been building special cars for the automaker for many years. I joined my dad to see the first Pan American car shipped”.

“In addition to the Pan American, Henney built hearses, ambulances, and limousines for Packard including a series of limos for President Truman. In the photo (below) John Henney is standing on the left, my father is on the far-right, and another worker is in front of a limousine under construction on a body jig. Some of the sheet metal came from Packard, but the rest of body sections were hammered out by hand on forms”.

“My father went on to night school and became a manufacturing engineer and worked for a division of Honeywell. His days of working at Henney held his most cherished memories.”

You can read an interesting account by H. Reid Horne, who was the director of personnel at Henney, he was employed there between the years of 1928 and ’54 when production ended at the Company. The end of the road followed when the coachbuilder was liquidated in 1955.

limousine body being built at Henney

    • A body jig set up on top of an one inch-thick piece of steel mounted on top of I-beams. Note the large moveable square on the left side of the table.
  • The video (below) features the new 1953 Packard Carribbean convertible which followed the Pan American. 

11 responses to “Packard Pan American Show Car: Coachwork by the Henney Motor Company

  1. In the top picture it looks like the lady of the family has her skirt caught in the car door.
    I’d sure hate to park that beautiful big boat.

    • Since I don’t see anyone in the car…unless the lady of the family is bending down…I’d guess it might be a paper floor mat or perhaps some uncompleted interior trim.

      • I’m thinking the same John. Assuming the car had just been unloaded from transport, I can see where paper mats to protect the carpet were used. The seats might even be covered with protective plastic.

  2. Wow, just wow. This kind of stuff is fascinating.
    Pulling your Packard up the drive to be greeted by the hounds and riders evokes a very different time. It sets the marketing tone that is a far cry from now, when what the monthly payments will be is a priority.

    Thank you

  3. I believe that’s the first time I ever heard a 50’s Packard referred to as a “sports car”. But it’s beautiful, however you classify it.

  4. Since John Henney Jr., son of the founder, died on 11/26/1946, the John Henney in this photo would be the third Henney at the helm — after the Henneys no longer owned their company.

    The man who bought it had sold the business that had made one of the earliest automotive radios (Transitone) to Philco in 1930, and his infusion of millions allowed Henney to survive and thrive — from the late 1940s until 1955.

    In addition to Packard hearses and limousines (and flower cars) and 9 Lincoln Cosmopolitans for the White House (in conjunction with H&E, since they had the sole government-approved contract for armoring) and the Pan-American, Caribbean and the final Packard limousines, it was Henney that also built the “Super Station Wagon” prototype in 1953-1954 — a car that was so stunning that it is still “interpreted” by coach builders (in Central America…) in 2019.

    Perhaps Henney, like Packard, was a victim of either “down-marketing” or “down-sizing” — for after it found that its smaller and cheaper Junior products cost about as much to build as its senior coaches (and that Cadillac took its customers [and Chrysler’s and Lincoln’s] alive or deceased, both Henney and Packard “died” in 1955-1956. Two ends of two LONG lines.

    Yes, Packards were still built in South Bend and Reos joined Autocars and Whites and Diamond Ts (and Killowatts were Renault Dauphine EVs), but it just wasn’t the same.

    Even if the Packard cove was re-built by AMC, the Packard Predictor was re-built by Stevens for AMC, and the luxury compact by Arbib that never was built by Packard WAS built by AMC.

    All of it is interesting — as is all of auto history.

  5. A truly interesting “candid” photo in that no one in the picture appears to be aware their picture is being taken, yet all are in attendance as the product of their long labors is preparing to depart. Fortunately the continental spare has not yet been installed. To me , at least, those rarely add to the esthetic. (I mean, really, you couldn’t have found room -somewhere! – in that enormous trunk for the spare? You’d have probably had to send a search party to find it tho.) In this case, another opportunity to show off one of those beautiful wheels, so we’ll let it go.

    • Anyway, you are certainly not looking at the Pan American under construction in the second photo here. So there would not have been a “continental spare installed.” What you are looking at in this photo appears to be a formal sedan or limo. Note the vertical B-pillar structure (on the right) and C-pillar reinforcement hat-section (on the left). And the door spacing structures. Neither of these were ever in a Pan American–before, during or after construction.

      Also Henney and Hess & Eisenhardt did not have the “sole government-approved contract for armoring” since Creative Industries of Detroit was certainly approved by the feds to do likewise and they actually did the engineering and most of the work on President Eisenhower’s bubble-top Lincoln Cosmo. And one of the Hess family was actually a part of Creative’s management in later years. These points are covered in the “Creative Industries of Detroit” book.

      Finally, the flap of fabric hanging out of the passenger door of Pan Am #1 in the first photo was merely a protective covering for the carpet since the car was quickly photographed and then went directly to preparation for shipment to New York (where it was to appear at the First International Motor Sports Show in March of 1952). The last thing they needed was soiled carpet since everything was already behind schedule as it was. The wheels shown here had just been cobbled together and were the very last items installed. The car was quickly photographed and then packaged for shipment to New York. Right up until the moment this photo was taken there was a question at Henney as to whether the wheels would be ready in time. There was even talk that three of the wheels would have to be sent separately on to New York to be installed there.

      As for the continental kit wheel not yet being installed in the first photo… the reason was that in cobbling a set of wire wheels together out of old parts, Henney had lots and lots of trouble– especially with the plating. Initially they only had two wheels completed when the car was finished (they stated so in a memo to Packard). So Henney decided to start taking photos with only those two wheels installed. Fortunately they managed to complete the other three wheels in time for quick photographing and shipment to New York.

      Putting the spare in the trunk would not have been such a great idea since the trunk was hardly “enormous” and was far too shallow after body sectioning to hold the spare in any position other than flat on the floor–which then would have taken up most of that space.

      As for the aesthetics of a continental kit spare… this was the early 1950s and many people back then still found an exposed spare on the rear to be “sporty.” Ford Thunderbird (which looked very much like the Packard Pan American from the rear) also had a continental kit spare on the rear too… all 1956 T-Birds had one.

      The first complete history of the six Packard Pan American concept cars is in “The Packard Cormorant” magazine, #173 (the present issue) which is the glossy periodical published by The Packard Club. I believe they still have a few issues left on hand which are $8.

  6. The Caribbeans I remember were the 1956 three-tone ones with the broad panel down the side. I don’t think most of my (or my parents’) friends had the same opinion.
    That ’53 was indeed a beautiful automobile and one deserving the unremembered “sports car” description.

  7. Henney lived on past 1955, though in a greatly reduced role. It was the parent company of Oneida School Bus Company, and in 1959-60 it manufactured the Henney Kilowatt. The Kilowatt was a transistor-controlled electric car built on a Renault chassis as a joint venture between National Union Electric, Exide, Eureka Williams, and a consortium of electric utilities. As best as I can tell, Henney wrapped up operations in late 1960 by selling Oneida to Marmon-Harrington.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *