In the early 1950s, Packard sales and service were strong at D. D. Gross Motor Sales.
When Packard purchased Studebaker in 1954, the subsequent changes began having an impact on the dealership.
When Packard purchased Studebaker in 1954, it really put the dealership at a crossroad. This was especially true when Packard went out in 1958. D. D. Gross Motor Sales had built their client base around Packards since 1940. This was a client base of doctors, attorneys, and people who could generally afford a Packard. For the most part, our customers that bought Packards were not that interested in buying a Studebaker. They were more interested in cars like Lincolns or Cadillacs.Roger Gross
One of the last new Packard ads for D. D. Gross was found in The Perrysburg Messenger on January 20, 1955. This advertisement featured the new corporate name of “The Studebaker-Packard Corporation”.
By December 6, 1956 an ad in The Perrysburg Messenger announced that D. D. Gross Motor Sales would begin selling the Studebaker line in addition to the Packard Line.
In part, the text from this advertisement stated , “Entering the low price marketing field for the first time with Studebaker cars, D. D. Gross has had the Packard franchise here in this area and will continue to handle these cars. The new Packard cars will be introduced in January. Highlight of the grand opening will be showing of the all-new 1957 President, Commander and Champion car series, a complete line of sports-type cars and the new line of Transtar trucks”.
At first, the dealership did not fare very well with selling Studebakers. 1957 and 1958 were very lean years for new car sales. With the loss of Packard, the dealership almost went out of business completely. The client base from Packard had pretty much evaporated and a whole new client base had to be built for the Studebaker brand. During this time, very little print advertising found in The Perrysburg Messenger. The ads were small and simple, like this example found from September 26, 1957.
During the lean years of the late 1950s, the dealership relied on the repair and body shop for steady revenue. When Packard went out, buying and selling Packard parts became a big business for Dan’s dealership, as explained by Roger Gross:
Dealing in Packard parts became a business all of its own. We generated a pretty good income with Packard parts sales. When Packard went out, they quickly discontinued producing parts. This became a major problem in maintaining customer’s cars, since the parts supply dried up so quickly. We really struggled to find parts to keep many of our long time customer’s cars running. We spent a lot of time on the telephone, trying to chase down parts.
As area Packard dealerships closed, D. D. Gross bought their parts inventories. Chuck Gross would go to the neighboring dealers and negotiate a price for their parts inventory. We would buy the whole inventory, including the big stuff like fenders and body parts. Sometimes, we would take a rental trailer or an additional truck to load up everything that we could – whatever it took to get all the parts back to the garage. We would lay out all of the parts on the garage floor, inventory them, and store them away. Some of the bigger parts had to be stored up in the granary at the E. M. Gross farm (Dan’s father). We used a card system to keep track of all of the parts.
After a couple of years, we finally sold our remaining inventory of parts to another individual. I suppose we probably needed the valuable space to stock Studebaker parts. Around this time, our Packard repair work was dwindling anyhow.Roger Gross
In time, the Studebaker sales did take off.
The introduction of the Lark in 1959 was a turning point for the dealership. D. D. Gross Motor Sales more than doubled their sales of new cars to more than 120 new cars per year. The dealership actually became well known in the area for their Studebaker sales and service. However, the profit margin per car from the Studebakers was much less than that of the Packards sold in the early 1950s. Even with the increase in new car sales, the total profit was actually less than when they were only selling 50 new Packards in a year.
Completing the transition from Packard to Studebakers took a few years. For a while, the dealership still bought and sold used Packards. During this transition, the dealership’s print advertising still referenced both Packard and Studebaker sales. It even took time to change the building signage. For example, during early 1960s, a wooden Packard sign was still affixed to the front of the building. However, the neon sign, which was originally a Packard sign, had been reconfigured into a neon “Lark” sign.
By 1960, Dan was less involved with the dealership, partially due to his health. But with the Packards gone, Dan didn’t have as much interest in the business anymore. Dan took great pride in “Ask the Man Who Owns One”. During the Packard era, Dan and his wife Muriel had maintained a certain social style. Their social circle included doctors, lawyers, politicians and other wealthy associates. Between Dan’s health and the end of Packard, this changed for Dan and Muriel. A few years after the end of Packard, Dan Gross passed away. He died on September 22, 1962 at the age of 63 years old.
The dealership continued with Muriel, Frank, Ted and Chuck all having an active role in running the business. A few years later, Muriel retired and the business continued with the three brothers, Frank, Ted and Chuck. By 1972, Frank and Ted were ready to retire, so the business was closed. At the time of closing, D. D. Gross Motor Sales was one of the very last remaining Studebaker dealerships in the nation.
My personal thoughts:
I think the conclusion for this series ended on a somewhat sad note. I apologize for that. The end of any era carries a certain amount of sadness with it. This is true with the end of the Packard era at D. D. Gross Motor Sales.
I was a kid in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. I only remember the dealership in the waning years when it was only a repair shop. But reflecting back on my childhood, I can say I was very lucky. I was lucky to have known my extended family members of this generation. Dan passed away before I was born, but I do have many fond memories and experiences with Muriel, Frank, Ted and Chuck.
While writing this conclusion, it occurred to me that I have not shared pictures of Dan, Muriel, Frank, Ted and Chuck. I assembled a collage of photos from the 1920s and then photos from the 1960s/1970s so you can put faces to the names.
As mentioned in the introduction, I started this project in 2002 by conducting interviews with past employees. Now in 2022, working on this project is a little bittersweet for me. With the passage of time, most of my interviewees have since passed away. I am glad that I could share their stories with you, but a little sad since they are not with us to see the outcome of my efforts.
After reading this series, you may be thinking that surely I must own a fully restored Packard. I must admit to you that this is not the case. You see, I did not inherit those incredible mechanical skills from my father and grandfather. But I can relate to those of you who own, maintain and show your fully restored Packard. Why do you own your classic car? First, it is probably your joy and passion to work on it. Second, you probably feel like you are doing your part to preserve a little piece of history. These are the exact same reasons I like to research and write about my family’s business.
I would like to thank the Packard Proving Grounds for giving me the platform to share my story.
During my research, I was pleasantly surprised to find connections between my family’s business and the Packard Proving Grounds. First, I found the D. D. Gross ads which featured the proving grounds and then I found the article where Uncle Dan attended an educational event at the proving grounds. These connections were completely unexpected.
In my opinion, organizations like the Packard Proving Grounds need our ongoing support. Locally, I volunteer for my county’s historical society. I have observed two factors that are important for the success of a historical organization – volunteers and monetary donations. I would like to take a moment and personally encourage you to either volunteer your time at the Packard Proving Grounds or consider making a donation. For a historical organization to remain sustainable and continue to preserve history, they rely on our help in whatever form we can give.
Finally, I would like to thank my dad, Roger Gross. He has been so instrumental in helping me fit together all of the pieces of this story. He has also shared so many wonderful stories and accounts over the years. He may not realize it, but I have considered this to be our father and son project.
We have now come to the end of the series. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed my story of a small town Packard dealership. My family is planning another trip to the Packard Proving Grounds this summer. Maybe I will see you there!