Packard company officials in 1953 may have asked, “Why Clipper?” But much of the sales force throughout North America and beyond was generally inclined to say, “Why not?” So, the model range was initiated.
Packard had first applied the term “Clipper” in 1941 as a design designation, rather than a model name. The smooth, sleek styling of the last significantly new Packard before the United States entered World War II was fresh and innovative. Modern was the best description. Well more than 16,000 Packard Clippers saw the light of day in the hands of buyers. Some were even requisitioned into military use by high-echelon officers, per a federal government contract for several hundred of the cars. Clipper styling was picked up again through 1946-1947 postwar production, then was retired.
Yet, it was not forgotten. 1953 brought a resurgence of the Clipper name, this time as a model range attached to price categories at the lesser end of Packard lineage. Was it a Packard? Yes. The true lineage was there. Old timers in motoring likely recalled the Packard swing in the early 1920s from the stately magnificence of the Twin Six to the economic grace and lighter agility of the successor Single Six.
Posted as a sentinel at the end of Packard’s line for 1953 was the Clipper Special; it was followed upward in modest, hundred-dollar steps, by the Deluxe and, in 1954, the Super Clipper ranges. Those categories aligned with earlier models from 1948 through 1952 known as Packard Standard, Deluxe and Super versions. For the 1953 model run, Clippers sold well, with more than 33,000 Specials finding homes in garages while just short of 31,000 did likewise in the Deluxe range. The base factory price for a 1953 Clipper Special was around $2,500 (more than $900 above the lowest-priced Chevrolet for that year, making it priced to compete against the entire Oldsmobile lineup). Clipper buyers realized a great deal of value for their dollars spent.
Clippers were intended to be a first-step Packard for new buyers on the rise, or as a second car. The Clipper was a tad shorter in length than “senior” Packards, thus providing easier drivability in congested traffic. Good and reasonably economical straight-eight power was respectable (Buick and Pontiac, for example, were also hold-outs for the straight-eight engine configuration during this time). Production of Clippers for the 1954 model run was a shade more than 21,000, which means collectors of said cars have rarer Clippers than the 1953 run. Let’s realize that, after 1953, the governmental regulation of car production was tossed to the wild wind, and sales wars raged between the big auto makers, thereby cutting into production totals of lesser-volume makers, including Packard.
Every bit a Packard in the eyes of new buyers, there was a large jump in price between the Clipper and the banner-carrying models in the senior range. For 1953 and 1954, the senior models included the Patrician, long-wheelbase offerings and the Caribbean convertible. There was even a short-termed 1953 Derham conversion. In those two years, high-priced Packards were listed at $4,000 to $7,200.
The nearly universal switch in thinking toward V-8 engines resulted in Packard’s launch of its own such power plant for 1955. So, the venerable straight-eight of yore was retired in favor of a 320-cid V-8 for the least of Clippers up to the 352-cid V-8 for the top Clippers. Senior Packard models touted that same 352 V-8 with boosts via carburetor enhancements, which lifted horsepower to 260 and 275 units. For 1956, there were modest upgrades for seniors, but a big shift in Clipper thinking came as a result of a movement among dealership owners.
There was a gap of nearly $1,000 between the top Clippers for 1956 — the Custom hardtop and sedan models — and the lowest-priced senior Packard, the Patrician. A meeting was called for select dealers to come to Detroit to vent their grief. Packard officials listened. Soon, the Packard Executive was introduced to span that gap at $500 more than the leading Clipper, and $500 less than the seniors. In the minds of some collectors, it remains conjecture, even today, whether those two models should be designated as senior or junior models, since each is mainly a Clipper Custom with additional tweaks and upgrades, some unique trim changes and a senior front clip. Overall, introduction of the Executive model came as too little, too late, and the Executives were around merely a few months before Detroit production ceased and Packard’s future was clearly in jeopardy.
The last usage of the Packard Clipper designation arose for 1957 from the Studebaker plant in South Bend, Ind., which, by eyewitness account of dealers, had a production line too narrow and short to accommodate senior Packard production. Hence, for 1957, all Packards made there were based upon Studebaker designs designated as Clippers and priced around $3,200, as were immediate predecessors. Those were very good cars as Studebakers, but were not quite like the Packards appreciated by longtime buyers of the brand. Sales dipped to an alarmingly low level in the wake of huge shifts to other makes by buyers and dealers, who were determined to not stick with Packard products as they had become.
Still, surviving examples of Clippers, even into 1957, carry a hallmark of the past that respectfully honors the Packard name.
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