The REAL Story of the 1956 Packard Chassis Display

It all started with a comment on Facebook.

Now, I am not a big fan of Facebook, but on occasion I, too, venture into the new world of social media. A Facebook member posted a picture (see below) of a tall lanky young fellow standing on top of the famous working Chassis Display of Packard’s revolutionary self-leveling torsion bar suspension introduced in 1955.

His questions were, “Who was this young gentleman, and where is this display now?” Our good friend and Packard historian John Lauter responded it was a one-of-kind display exhibited at many Packard dealers demonstrating the uniqueness of the new suspension. He stated Display now resides at the Packard Proving Grounds. However, John did not recognize the person or know the story behind the photo.

That is when I chimed in . . .

. . . that the man was my longtime friend and MCP member Curt Fischbach, whom I have known since the 1996 re-introduction of the convertible to the Corvette. I was the Body Engineering Group Manager at the time, and Chevrolet contracted with Dura Convertible Systems to help design and manufacture the top mechanism. Curt was their Manager of Advanced Engineering, and our teams worked together three years on the program. We became close friends and have remained so for all these years.

Even though I recognized Curt, I had no idea that, as a young man, he became interested in Packards and was the first private owner to take possession of the Chassis Display after Packard closed its doors in Detroit and gave it to the University of Michigan.

Because the Display has become a highlight in our tours at the Packard Proving Grounds, as Collections Manager for the collection, I was anxious to learn more of its history. Consequently, I contacted Curt and Charles Blackman, who donated the Display to us in 2007, to help piece together the true history. After all, rumor had it that the Display was found buried in a farmer’s field in Lower Michigan, and it was just one of six built by Packard.

Color image of the 1956 Packard chassis display at the 2021 Back to the Bricks event in Pontiac, MI.
The 1956 Packard chassis display at the 2021 Back to the Bricks event, ready to draw the crowds.

Here is “the real story.”

Curt Fischbach purchased the Display from the University of Michigan’s Automotive Engineering Laboratory in October 1963, where Packard’s former VP and Chief Engineer Bill Graves was Director of the Laboratory and had been his faculty advisor at the University of Michigan. Bill stated it was the only one of the six produced as a 1956 demo. The above photo shows Curt proudly having taken procession in October 1963, with the chassis on a trailer hooked to his 1960 Lincoln Continental Mark V. Curt later traded the unit to antique car collector Homer Fitterling of South Bend, Indiana, in 1969.

Charles Blackman first saw the Display as part of the Fitterling Collection. In 1988, the Fitterling Collection was sold to the huge Ed Weaver Collection in Dalton, GA. With the liquidation of Weaver’s estate after his death in 1993, it ended up with a Bill Tilden from Georgia, and Charles took procession of it in 2006. He graciously donated the Display to the Packard Motor Car Foundation, caretakers of the Proving Grounds, in 2007. It was in rough shape, having spent the last years buried in mud (obviously not in Lower Michigan).

Another frequent donor to the Proving grounds and Packard enthusiast, the late Olë Book, financed a complete restoration of the Display in 2019. It now proudly resides as the final display among 18 Packards that add to the story of the Packard Motor Car Company.

In the first week of this October, Curt arrived at the PPG and posed for the picture below 58 years later.

And that’s “the rest of the story.”

Many thanks to Dave Dolby for guest writing this week’s blog post! Do YOU have a Packard-related story you’d like to share with our readers? We’d like to hear about it! Click here to learn more about how you can share your stories with us.

Author

  • Emily Benoit

    Lover of research and writing, libraries and archives. Graduate of Oakland University's MA of English Literature program; and Wayne State University's MLIS program with an additional certification in archival administration.