HBO’s new series, Lovecraft Country premiered as Jordan Peele’s interesting re-working of noted weirdo and virulent racist H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos into something that incorporates the realities of ‘50s American culture and racism, along with all those creepy many-eyed monsters old H.P. loved so damn much. As a period piece, it’s filled with some great vintage iron, but I want to focus now on the shows’ central car because it’s something a bit unexpected.
I don’t want to give anything away, but I can tell you that the protagonists of the show are on a road trip, and one of them has a business that deals directly with travel by car across America, and it appears that the car used for this purpose, affectionately known as “Woody,” has been part of things for quite a while. It’s treated with genuine affection, which makes a lot of sense, in context.
Woody is, as its name implies, a wood-paneled station wagon. It’s not the usual Buick or Ford woody, though, and it’s not even one of the Big Three—Woody is 1948 Packard Station Sedan. Yes, that’s right, Packard couldn’t quite bring themselves to call their woody wagon a wagon, because it was something a little bit stranger—a woody wagon adapted from their all-steel sedan.
Unlike most woody station wagons of the era, the Packard only used actual wood structure for the tailgate; the wood on the sides of the doors and the pillars were just applied for aesthetics, something that would actually predict the patterns of future station wagons, which would nearly all have fake, non-structural wood.
The styling of the Station Sedan fit with the chubby-cheeked look of all of Packard’s first post-war designs, with a smallish tombstone-shaped grille in the center that was lavishly overcompensated for by a series of three full-width chrome grille bars that blended into the bumper, which had another pair of full-width chrome bars, supplemented with some big vertical overriders.
You can see that the sedan version has just about all the same body panels, with just the roof, cargo area side glass/D-pillars, and wooden tailgate being unique.
I kind of love the way the rear looks on this thing, with its split tailgate that seems just a bit too small for the car and has a wonderfully clunky hinge setup, which several scenes in the show manage to show in action, if you’re watching carefully for things like hinges, which I am.
See those big-ass hinges back there? It looks like there’s a multi-step process of sliding and pushing levers and arms to get the tailgate open and shut.
These beasts used Packard’s straight-eight engine connected to a three-on-the-tree transmission, pretty conventional stuff for the era. These big, nearly five-liter engines made about 130 horsepower, which for the era was respectable, and could likely get one of these massive tree-slathered beauties up to about 85 mph, though getting to 60 took over 18 seconds.
The show has a number of scenes of the old Packard getting really wrung out, which is exciting to watch, as the handling on these could be considered dinghy-like at best, but the stunt drivers do a fantastic job with them.
These Packards were only made from 1948 to 1950, and never sold in numbers even close to what the Big Three were offering. It would have been easy to cast a much more common woody in this role—in fact, other similar wagons like Buicks are mentioned specifically in other contexts—but I like that a sort of underdog was selected.
It fits better, somehow, with who the main characters are here—underdogs themselves, certainly not people in positions of power or even control of their own lives, in many circumstances. A well-built, reliable, but unusual car is a good choice.
The series has a lot of other interesting cars, including the usual assortment of middle-America 1950s usual suspects and some more unexpected ones, like that mid-to-late 1950s Bentley S1 there. I bet we’ll cover these more later.
The Packard goes through some rough treatment in this first episode, so I’m hoping we’ll keep seeing it throughout the series. At least that wonderful cormorant hood ornament, at least. That thing is fantastic.