The Packard Clipper was a model of the
PackardMotor Car Company from 1941 to 1954, and the Studebaker-Packard Corporationfor 1955 and 1957. Clippers built for model year 1956 are considered a stand alone make, not a model of Packard.
The 1941-47 Packard Clipper
By the end of the thirties, Packard president Max M. Gilman realized that his best efforts to improve profitability during the last lean decade had not been enough. The One Twenty had arrived in the nick of time in 1935 to save the company from immediate demise; the One Ten had followed, achieving even higher volume. But despite a strong performance in revival year 1937, Packard sales had plummeted as the depression returned in 1938, and the 76-000 sales for the calendar year 1939 were hardly past the break-even point. To be precise, they netted the company a scant half million dollars. Combine this precarious financial state with the new model developments among Packard’s rivals, we can see why Gilman needed something radically new, and that he needed it in a hurry. Introduced a scant eight months before Pearl Harbor, Packard’s hopes for the future rode on a sleek new car design. The milestone Packard Clipper represented an almost total break from traditionally styling and embodied an abrupt change in construction techniques. But with the falling of that first bomb over our Pacific fleet, the fate of the radically new Clipper was irrevocably altered. Instead of a fresh new interpretation of traditional Packard styling—the basis for a plethora of new luxury body styles—it was cut off from the showrooms by World War II. By the time it returned, management was too busy thinking about a quick facelift to consider that they had in the Clipper the key to regaining Packard’s luxury image. The investment to produce the only all-new 1941 American car had been squandered; it led only to a compounding of earlier mistakes: a postwar round of non-luxury Packards which in the end proved fatal to the Packard Motor Car Company. The Clipper’s historical importance lies in its timing and the result that timing had on subsequent decisions which so crucially affected Packard’s later years. In these events, we can see that the Clipper represented a continuum: Packard’s timeless styling hallmarks combined with the modern envelope body was as effective a mating of the old and the new as anyone could point to in American automobile history. Management abandoned that continuum in a decision that almost immediately affected the Packard image, inflicting a wound that would prove terminal by the mid-Fifties. Yet its decision was not at all extraordinary or unexpected at the time.
Unfortunately for Packard, the Clipper’s timing couldn’t have been worse. After only 16,600 of the ‘41’s were made, and a few thousand ‘42’s, Detroit stopped building civilian automobiles to concentrate on defense production. By the time cars began rolling off the lines again in late 1945, the Clipper was no different from other old-had models offered by the rest of the industry. The bright promise of its debut was limited by late introduction; what should have been its solid sophomore year was nipped in the bud by World War II. Its third and fourth years were postponed until 1946-47 when they served only as reminders that the Clipper was out of date.
There was just one other auto maker that introduced all-new 1941 models which were stopped short by the American entry into World War II and thus rendered obsolete before their time. Other than Packard, only Ford brought out a much changed design for the 1941 model year--the restyled Ford and its Mercury clone. No other manufacturers introduced new 1941 models. General Motors redesigned for 1942, arguably a piece of bad timing even worse than Packard’s, but the ‘42’s were so few in number that they still looked new when GM resumed automotive production in 1946. The Ford/Mercury comparison is not apt either, primarily because these were quite different cars from Packards, with no pretense of luxury. Nor did their design history mirror the Clipper’s. The 1941 Fords and Mercurys were evolutionary developments, clearly related to the ‘40’s they replaced. The Clipper was such a dramatic break with previous Packard design as to preclude comparisons.
After the war, while Packard opted to facelift the Clipper (1948), Ford chose a total restyle for Ford and Mercury in 1949. And, while the bulbous 1941-48 Fords and Mercs were replaced by superior modern designs, the elegant Clipper was replaced by a bulbous facelift that owed nothing to modernity. It is not entirely coincidental that a 1949 Mercury Eight which had cost $2,000 new was still worth $430 five years later, while a 1949 Packard Eight which had cost $2,200 new was worth only $375.So the Clipper’s timing was unique. The state of the world being beyond Packard’s control, Clipper production came to a halt in February 1942, just as it was hitting its stride—just as Clipper styling had permeated virtually the entire line. It left a void that Packard failed to fill; a promise Packard failed to keep; a continuum Packard disdained and discarded.
A full envelope body of genuinely modern mien was a long time coming at the Packard Motor Car Company. Cadillac was wearing pontoon fenders and flowing lines by 1934 and had adopted all-steel bodies by 1935. In 1936, Lincoln announced the Zephyr, with a radical all steel unit-body and a shape so advanced that derivations of it were still in production twelve years later. By comparison Packard had been incredibly conservative. Its main acknowledgement of new-era styling was the skirted fender which appeared in 1933. Packard, like Lincoln and Cadillac, had survived the Depression by building medium-priced cars: the One Twenty, Zephyr and LaSalle, respectively. But unlike its rivals, Packard styling had remained arch-traditional. Unlike Lincoln, Packard followed its medium-priced One Twenty with an almost-low-priced car, the Six (later briefly known as the One Ten). Unlike Cadillac, Packard refused to market its cheaper models by a different name and remained wedded to them long after prosperity had returned. By 1941, the year the Clipper debuted, the cheapest Cadillac cost $1,445; the cheapest Packard sold for only $927.
Arguably its conservative design philosophy had stood Packard well in the years leading up to the Clipper. The company was able to advertise—and sold quite a few Packards with—styling continuity from year to year. There was a family resemblance between a ’39, say, and a ’32. In 1939 comparison of its One Twenty with the LaSalle, the company declared that: “Packard has style identity...Packard styling is consistent..But look ant the 1938 LaSalle! About the only similarity is in the name, and who can be sure that a sudden fanciful style change won’t make the 1939 a style orphan?”
That was a good argument and still is. Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce survived for years with very expensive obsolete designs. Packard also survived with limited styling change for at least eight or nine years up through 1940. What’s more, Packard hallmarks were very good ones: the chiseled frontispiece; the grille recalling classic Greek architecture; the ox-yoke radiator/bonnet shape that harked back to the noble Model L of 1904. What’s more, the pelican mascot, red hexagon hubs and arrowhead side-spear were a combination at least as recognizable and timeless as the stand-up hood ornament and meshwork grille of Mercedes-Benz. Together, these consistent hallmarks unmistakably said “Packard” to school children and bankers alike and had been the adornments of the chosen transport of moneyed America since Packard’s Boss of the Road Six and Twin Six of the Teens and early Twenties.
To create a modern envelope body while retaining those famous hallmarks was no small undertaking. It is still one of the chief accomplishments of automotive industrial design that the people who created the Packard Clipper were able to do so almost flawlessly. When advertising invited America to “Skipper the Clipper” in 1941. It was showing the country an obviously brand-new, up-to-date, “speed-stream” automobile, yet one that was undeniably a Packard. Though it didn’t owe a curve or contour to any previous model, the milestone '41 Clipper carried the same inimitable radiator and hood shape, the same arrowheads and red hexes, the same long hood and close-coupled profile of great Packards of the past. The smooth styling transition was a stroke of genius.
Genesis of a great design
Writing in The Classic Car and The Packard Cormorant, Joel Prescott published an account of the Clipper design which considerably revised the picture offered by George Hamlin and Dwight Heinmuller in Packard: A History of the Motor Car and The Company, published by Automotive Quarterly. The Cormorant has also published excerpts of James A. Ward’s book on the decline of the Packard Motor Car Company. The testimony of such designers as Howard Darrin, John Reinhart, William Reithard and Alex Tremulis is on the record. What can be added to the story of the Clipper’s bittersweet production is the Clipper’s place in Packard history. Prior to World War II, Packard never had a styling department. Indeed, few auto companies did. It was Harley Earl’s formidable Art & Colour Section at General Motors that convinced the industry of the importance of styling. But even Earl’s efforts didn’t force rivals to add design departments until after the war. A handful of outside consultants, like Raymond Loewy at Studebaker, occasionally sold their designs to American producers. Sometimes the designs even reached production without drastic changes by the body engineers who then largely controlled the shape of cars. One such design consultant was a Californian named Howard “Dutch” Darrin. His involvement in the Clipper occurred because his favorite American make was Packard.
Dutch was born a promoter, and when he was alive, his claim to the Clipper was never challenged, primarily because he was the loudest exponent of it and would drown out any rival by sheer verbiage. Enough is known now to realize that the Clipper wasn’t entirely Dutch’s work. But its story must start with Darrin because without him it probably would not have looked as it did. If he was not its sole designer, then he certainly inspired it.
After returning to America in 1937 following a successful career as a Paris coachbuilder in league with such names a Fernandez and Hibbard, Darrin looked around for chassis on which to practice his automotive art. He said, “I concentrated on Packards knowing that by lowering the radiator I could make a very beautiful custom-bodied Packard with little change in its basic structure.” The result was a long skein of dramatic Packard-Darrins, which were actually catalogued be the company at one point and which led to Dutch’s role in the Clipper.“Around 1940, Packard called and asked if I’d design a new standard line car for them. The hitch was that I had only ten days to do so. Chief stylist Ed Macauley (actually vice-president for design) would be on the coast for that amount of time, and if I didn’t have anything before he left, it would be a lost cause. The company offered me a thousand a day if I could meet the deadline.”
Confident in his ability to put a thousand a day to good use, Dutch casually said he thought he “could establish enough lines for a full- and quarter-scale model.” Later he said that to meet the deadline, he “slept several nights on a drafting table, “ yet Packard never paid him.
That is the gospel according to the late Dutch. What seems sure is that he did in fact deliver a quarter-scale clay model to Ed Macauley, who brought it back to Detroit and showed it to his in-house team, and also to Briggs. Darrin’s claim to the Clipper was subsequently supported by the late Alex Tremulis. Tremulis recalled his first encounter with the Clipper prototype at Briggs, Packard’s coachbuilder from 1941, where the Clipper was finalized for production. One glance had convinced him, Tremulis wrote, that this model had “all the fingerprints” of Darrin: “There was the downward swept beltline and the inimitable Darrin blind quarter, with a Darrinized notchback roof flowing into a beautifully swept rear luggage compartment. It had a front fender flow with the characteristic Darrin angle.” The door hinges were concealed and the archaic running boards had disappeared.Darrin’s claim of authorship went largely unchallenged until 1991, when Joel Prescott published his revealing interview with William Reithard, model maker hired by Packard’s Werner Gubitz in 1940. Gubitz had handled in-house styling for Packard for years and did marvelous work within the limits imposed by the company’s conservatism. What input, Prescott asked, did Packard get from Dutch? Reithard’s reply would change Packard history as we had known it:“My first meeting with Darrin was when he was brought into the Styling Section at Packard to present his concept for the Clipper. The arrangement had been made with top management and was not popular with Styling. Bud Hall (a clay model builder) and I were assigned to the project and spent several weeks with Dutch. He turned to be a delightful personality, very enthusiastic and friendly. As we worked, we were regaled with stories about his exploits in Paris. We did our best to help him out. But the model we did was discarded. There just wasn’t any interest in it. We never got any drawings from Dutch. We just worked on a (clay) buck. He wasn’t the kind who really sat down and designed, you know. . . In my opinion, Dutch was not a great designer. He did have a good feeling for form and a good sense of proportion, but he was not a careful detailer. He was a terrific salesman, though. You know, when he and Thomas Hibbard were together over in Paris, Hibbard was responsible for the design work and Dutch was the salesman.”
This is a casebook description of another styling salesman who knew good lines when he saw them: Raymond Loewy. Two longtime Darrin rivals also had made similar remarks. Designer Brooks Stevens once said, “Dutch never designed anything—he just gesticulated with a clay tool.” Meanwhile, Kaiser-Frazer stylist Bob Robillard recalled finding Darrin’s model of the 1951 Kaiser “with a clay tool imbedded to the hilt in its hood: you could have entitled that scene ‘frustration.’” The real talent behind the Clipper, Reithard went on, “lay right within the design group that Gubitz had. Howard Yeager was the man, as far as I’m concerned, who was responsible for the Clipper. Phil Wright (on loan from Briggs) was there, Bud Hall and, of course, there was Johnny Reinhart (later chief Packard stylist, responsible for the 1948-54 bodies). Shortly after I arrived they also hired Art Fitzpatrick, a terrific renderer.” As Robillard remembers:“My first assignment was to work on a twelfth-size model that was actually derived from a Buick design, with a Packard front end on it. The Clipper design later emerged from that model. As I said, it was primarily Howard Yeager’s work, other supplied various details. In fact, I myself later worked on the Clipper instrument panel.”
Robillard admitted that Darrin had held onto his claim as originator of the Clipper almost from the start. He still has copies of a 1946 Darrin paper delivered before the Society of Automotive Engineers, “Does Styling Control the Design of Cars?” In it Darrin states that he widened the Clipper body because the continuous fender-line, which comes right through the door past the A-pillar, required more width for the proper hinging of the door, “the net result being a wider and more roomy car.” Reithard disagrees. Before Darrin arrived, he remembered, “the parameters for track, wheelbase and overall length had been established. Other than that we had very little to go on except some very rough sketches and hand-waving from Dutch.”
But a quarter century later in Automobile Quarterly, Dutch was still repeating his 1946 claims, which were not challenged at the time. As Darrin stated: “Packard introduced the Clipper with a series of ads entitled, ‘A Star is Born,’” which he considered inaccurate. “The best compliment they paid me was stating that ‘three international designers’ combined to create the Clipper.” Packard was evidently referring to Darrin. George Walker (another outside consultant) and Briggs, all of whom had contributed to the design. But Darrin typically had his own interpretation: You might construe that to mean that I was the equal of three designers.”
While Darrin clearly held himself the central design figure, his view of the final production car was equivocal—and also provides us with clues as to what really happened. Darrin’s original design “called for a sweeping frond fender-line that carried right through the doors to the rise of the rear fender, similar to a custom Clipper I built later for Errol Flynn. But Packard shortened the sweep to fade away at mid-door. This was done as a hedge because no one knew if the through-fender-line would sell.” He said Packard Styling also “vandalized the design by throwing on huge gobs of clay along the wheelbase” creating a flair to the doors to hide the running boards they added for the same reason. Thus by Darrin’s own admission, the Clipper that appeared in production was not entirely his work. That Packard never paid Darrin also suggests that they held him less than fully responsible. And no designer besides Dutch ever believed this splendid car was the product of ten days’ work.
The question of how much influence Darrin had therefore boils down to whether we accept Reithard’s remembrance that his model was discarded. Even if this was the case (and we have no reason to doubt it), automotive design is a group sport. There is no telling, so many years removed, the degree of Darrin’s influence over Howard Yeager, Werner Gubitz, Phil Wright or George Walker. One can only surmise. But based on Alex Tremulis’ recollections, we might well grant Dutch a degree of credit. The lines of the Clipper definitely recall certain Darrin themes which Tremulis with his professional eye recognized. The elegant curves and the long hood, the sweep of the fender (whether or not it swept all the way back) and the sheer presence of the car relate to the Darrin Packards. If Dutch’s pen didn’t create those lines, his ideas almost certainly influenced them.
Perhaps the best summation of the Clipper’s design comes from Joel Prescott: “The truth may well be that the Clipper should be remembered as automotive history’s most successful committee design, because assigning the genius of its beautiful lines exclusively to one particular designer cannot now be done with any degree of certainty.” And as it turned out, this new “look” guaranteed the Clipper an appearance never compromised by competitive imitators. In 1942 Cadillac and Buick adopted the same pontoon fender line, but the Clipper still looked unique and, with its new long-wheelbase ’42 seniors.
Engineering and evolution
When considering the great transitional designs that brought us from the art deco and speed-lining age of the Thirties into the envelope bodies of the Forties, much is always made of Bill Mitchell’s famous Cadillac Sixty Special. In particular, its thin window frames, squared-off roof, wider-than-high grille, and concealed running boards were bold steps forward. The Clipper had at least as many pioneering features in an even more integrated package.The original milestone 1941 Clipper rode the senior wheelbase of convert|127|in|mm and used the One Twenty’s convert|282|CID|cc|sing=on straight eight, but produced 125 bhp (five more than the One Twenty). Despite the familiar engine, few Clipper parts were interchangeable with other models. The chassis was entirely new: a double-drop frame allowed a lower floor without reducing road clearance. The engine was mounted well forward and the rear shocks were angled to assist the traditional Packard fifth shock in controlling side-sway. The front suspension was entirely new, since the lower frame eliminated the need for Packard’s traditional long torque arms. A double-link connection between the Pitman arm and steering brackets, with a cross bar and idler arm and two cross tubes, controlled wheel movement.The 1941 Clipper was the widest production car in the industry and first to be wider than it was tall—a foot wider to be exact. The body from cowl to deck was a single piece of steel—largest in the industry, and the floor pan had only one welded seam from end to end. Single pieces of sheet metal comprised the rear quarters and hood. The hood could be lifted from either side of the car or removed entirely by throwing two levers. Instead of the traditional third side window, ventipanes were incorporated in the rear doors, providing wonderfully controllable flow-through ventilation. The battery made its first move from under the seat to under the hood, where it stayed warmer and was more accessible. There was a “Ventalarm” whistle to warn when the tank was within a gallon of being full, and an accelerator-activated starter button, so the act of starting simultaneously set the automatic choke. Reithard’s beautiful symmetrical dashboard contained a full ration of instruments, including an electric oil pressure gauge adapted from the One Sixty. Options included Packard’s Electromatic clutch to shift into “Econo-drive” (overdrive), an effective auxiliary under-seat heater, leather upholstery, full fender skirts, and one of the first air conditioning units in the industry costing only $275.Introduced in April of 1941 as a single four-door sedan model, the Clipper was by no means a cheap or even medium-priced car. It sold for around $1,400, in a market niche between the One Twenty and One Sixty, competing with the Cadillac Sixty-One, Lincoln Zephyr, Buick Roadmaster and Chrysler New Yorker. Despite a late start, it garnered 16,600 model year sales, almost as many as the One Twenty. Clearly, for Packard, it was the wave of the future. By the 1942 model year, Clipper styling had permeated every Packard in the line, except where special tooling existed—convertibles, taxis, wagons and commercial cars. Curiously, however, the market slot occupied by the ’41 Clipper was abandoned, recreating a gap between the Clipper One Twenty Custom ($1.341) and the Clipper One Sixty ($1,688).The bulk of the 1942 production was concentrated on the 120-inch wheelbase junior models, but the One Sixty and One Eighty Clippers proved conclusively that Packard was as much a builder of luxury cars as ever. The 1942 One Sixty sedan, for example, was convert|9.5|in|mm longer and convert|140|lb|kg heaver than its square-rigged 1941 predecessor. The One Eighty was wider, almost as long, with more interior width and almost as much legroom as the long-wheel-base 1942 One Eighty, which still used the old-style Packard bodywork.The silky smooth convert|356|CID|cc|sing=on straight eight of the One Sixty and One Eighty Clippers, with its convert|105|lb|kg|sing=on, seven-main-bearing crankshaft, was the mightiest engine in the industry through 1947, exceeding Cadillac’s V-8 by 15 horsepower. Although not designed primarily for performance, its power delivery has been compared by some drivers to a late model steam locomotive: smooth, refined and extremely powerful. It could deliver convert|80|mph|km/h in second gear and circulate the huge Packard Proving Grounds banked oval track at convert|110|mph|km/h|abbr=on—marvelous for a convert|4000|lb|kg|sing=on luxury car in 1942. Its prodigious torque would allow it to walk away from a dead stop . . . in third gear. . . up hill. You could (and Packard did) balance a nickel on the head with the engine idling.The top of the line Clipper One Eighty offered two shades of leather or six colors of wool broadcloth upholstery, Mosstred carpeting from New York’s Shulton Looms, walnut grained instrument panels, amboyna burl garnish moldings, seatbacks stuffed with down and rear center armrests. Unlike any other contemporary, the post war Custom Super’s headliner was seamed fore to aft instead of sideways. Packard claimed that the unique headliner was adopted “to provide a more spacious feel to the interior.” That these superb luxury cars were built for the classes and not the masses is attested by the Classic Car Club of America, which granted “Classic” status to the 1946-47 Custom Super Clipper, one of the few postwar cars so recognized.With a nearly-full line of Clippers, Packard managed to build 34,000 1942 models before production ceased in February (an annual rate of around 80,000). According to the late John Reinhart, there is no doubt that Clipper styling would have proliferated in 1943-45. “The next logical step would have been convertibles and commercials—and a wagon.” But the war intervened. Whereas Cadillac with its greater facilities was able to field a complete line of restyled ‘42’s including convertibles, all of which came right back in 1946, Packard was able only to add a club coupe body before the war.The club coupe was a magnificent looking car—the sportiest and rarest Clipper destined to be built. Only about 40 are thought to have been built before production closed down in 1942; a single One Sixty is the only example known to exist. Postwar, scarcely 600 senior coupes came off the production lines, compared to about 6,600 senior sedans as Packard emphasized the more popular four-door body style.
In 1946-47 the numerical designations were dropped and the line consisted of Clipper Sixes and Eights on the convert|120|in|mm|sing=on wheelbase and Supers and Custom Supers on the convert|127|in|mm|sing=on wheelbase. For the first time there were now seven-passenger sedans and limousines, riding a convert|148|in|mm|sing=on wheelbase. For their type, these “professional Packards” enjoyed excellent success. They compare favorably with Cadillac’s 1946-47 Seventy-five, beating it not only be 15 horsepower but by a foot of wheelbase, yet selling for about the same $4,500-$5,000. Counting several thousand bare chassis supplied to commercial body manufacturers, the Seventy-five outsold the long wheelbase Clipper; but for finished cars from the factory, production was dead even: about 3,100 cars each for 1946-47 combined.
Many economic experts predicted that the end of World War II would bring a severe recession or perhaps even another depression to the United States. They had history of their side because the U.S. did experience a sharp, albeit brief economic downturn after World War I. Perhaps Packard’s management team took these calamitous warnings to heart while planning its postwar strategy. Obviously, if the economy were to take a tumble, it would make sense to push the low-priced Packards—the Clipper Sixes and Eights—rather than the up-market Supers and Custom Supers.
The postwar economy, of course, proved the experts wrong. It was healthy—so healthy in fact that many materials, notably sheet steel, were in short supply. Workers, wanting their piece of the pie, demanded more money, and so the automakers and their suppliers endured a series of strikes. These factors, of course, strangled production. At the same time, Americans had money jingling in their pockets, and they were willing to spend freely to acquire most anything—especially new cars. Price, it seemed, hardly mattered. Packard thus found itself in a dilemma, whether or not it realized it. On the one hand, the firm couldn’t even begin to produce cars in the numbers it had intended. On the other, the cars it did turn out were mainly the less profitable junior-series models.Unfortunately as it proved, Packard management’s chief interest after the war was in the same medium-priced cars that had saved it in the Depression, the Six and junior Eights. The company was still firmly run by President George Christopher, who had helped save it with the One Twenty, and whose most famous remark refers to the luxury Packards as “goddamn senior stuff.” Christopher had junior Clippers in production by October 1945, but it wasn’t until June 1946 that the first Custom Super came down the line. Total Packard production in the first two postwar model years was 82,000, against 91,000 Cadillacs. The difference was that the vast bulk of Packard production was of Clipper Sixes and Eights priced $1,700-2,200. The Cadillacs (except for the fast-diminishing Sixty-one) began around $2,300. Quite obviously, Packard could have built, and sold, almost as many senior Clippers as Cadillac sold Sixty-two’s and Sixty Specials, had Christopher and his team chosen to do so.Clearly, the long-wheelbase Clippers were competitive with the Cadillac and the low-volume Chrysler Crown Imperial (Lincoln had no long models) in the first two postwar years. Likewise, among owner-driver models, Packard had Cadillac neatly bracketed. The Cadillac Sixty-two sedan and coupe started around $2.300 in 1946—about the same price as the Super Clipper. Against Cadillac’s $3,100 Sixty Special, which came only as a four-door sedan, Packard offered the all-out-luxury Custom Super Clipper sedan or coupe for about the same money, albeit on a slightly shorter wheelbase. While it’s true that the 1946-47 Sixty-two and Sixty Special outsold the Super and Custom Clipper by three to one, contrary to common impression, that was something that Packard could have done something about.This is a new point which has been missed in the many postmortems of Packard’s fall: that reverting to the status of a producer strictly luxury cars would not have meant downsizing the labor force or contracting the facilities. The market for anything on wheels was bottomless; it didn’t matter whether the car cost $1,800 (Clipper Eight). $2,300 (Clipper Super) or $2,900 (Custom Super). It would have sold. Nor is this a hindsight judgment, since Packard management was capable of seeing this at the time. At the start of postwar car production, Fortune recorded a consensus that “there now exists a market for from 12 to 14 million cars,” and that was in a day when three million or so cars was considered a very good year. “In 1941,” Fortune continued, “The 32 million American families owned 29,600,000 cars . . . As 1946 began, the cars were down to 22 million which is not very far from the danger point (18 million) of a transportation breakdown . . . of this remaining total, at least half are in their last days.” It didn’t take a mystic to comprehend these facts, as the late Hickman Price , Jr., who bought Willow Run for the Kaiser-Frazer partners, once said: “I believed we would have a period of three or four years—I remember putting 1950 as the terminal date in which we can sell everything we can make.”Almost immediately after production got rolling in 1945, chief stylist John Reinhart was told, much against his judgment, to update the Clipper. If Dutch Darrin had thought Packard loaded “gobs of clay” onto his original model in 1941, what must he have thought of the 1948 models? Furthermore, there was no change in market orientation, still rooted firmly in the medium price field. Indeed in 1948, the final year for President George Christopher, senior Packard production dwindled from 30 percent to 11 percent of total production, training Cadillac by tens of thousands. Packards, as a later president, James Nance, stated, “just handed the luxury car market to Cadillac on a silver platter.”Professional designers have contemplated continuations of the Clipper into 1948-49, with a broader range of body styles including hardtops and convertibles. Their designs were beautiful and would have kept pace with the all-new Cadillacs and Lincolns of 1949, allowing Packard to come back with its first postwar redesign in 1950. But this is the lesser point: the key failure was to reorder the corporation’s priorities and establish it once again as the American luxury car it had been so successfully for forty years.Hindsight does suggest that Packard lost its battle for survival at this point, although it wouldn’t be evident immediately. Since the company couldn’t achieve high volume, it would have been more logical to maximize the profit from each car it could build. Not only were customers standing in line, but by putting top-of-the-line Packards on the road, the public’s image of Packard as a luxury car builder would have been enhanced. Worse still, the 1948 facelift lost the design continuum the Clipper had so brilliantly offered. These elegant and inimitable lines dating back to the early years of the century, so laboriously maintained by countless Packard designers over the years, almost instantly departed. Though it retained the Clipper’s basic shell, the 1948 model bore no resemblance to its predecessor. Although it was as brilliantly engineered and was as fine a performer as before, the latest Clipper no longer looked the part of a luxury Packard. The bulbous “up-side-down bathtubs” owed nothing to modernity and never gained much popularity. Market share suffered at a time when Packard should have, and could have become the luxury car leader again. They could have been ahead of the styling curve, not behind it. If the release of the Clipper had been saved until after the war, and if it would have been in a style closer to the one Howard “Dutch” Darrin proposed for the styling team in 1940, Packard would have been in a position of styling leadership and the 1948 “pregnant elephant” Packards could have resembled the “high-line” style released in 1951. The designs of the ’51 cars were on the drawing boards shortly after the war, but instead, Packard management settled for facelifts.The money spent on the facelifts, John Reinhart and many others always maintained should have gone into an expansion of Clipper body styles to compete with Cadillac. Packard recognized this too late when it brought out a convertible as the first ’48 body style—a model it should have had by 1947 at the latest. Eighteen months later Cadillac was already out with the glamorous Coupe de Ville hardtop, while Packard’s newest model was . . . the Station Sedan.It was already apparent to some advanced thinkers in 1948 that the future of the car business belonged to the giants. But the strategy would have placed Packard in a much stronger position for a successful merger around 1950-51. At least one independent manufacturer was ready to make that happen. His name was George Mason, President of Nash-Kelvinator. Mason wanted a postwar combination of independents, a fourth player in an automotive Big Four, with Packard as the luxury division. But that is another story—another chapter in the sad decline of what Don Vorderman has called “the car we couldn’t afford to lose.”
For 1946-1947 all Packards used the Clipper styled bodies and the "Clipper" name.
The Clipper nameplate was dropped for 1948 as Packard issued its Twenty-Second Series automobiles, which, while proclaimed by the company as "all-new," were actually restyled Clippers. At a time when the company could have sold virtually any car it built, Packard's president,
George Christopher, insisted upon concentrating on sales of the company's lower-priced cars, while longtime competitor Cadillac focused its attentions on the upper end of the market.
The Twenty-Second and Twenty-Third Series (from mid-1949) cars wore the "upside-down bathtub" styling that was briefly in vogue in the late 1940s. Unfortunately for Packard,
Nash, Lincoln-Mercury, and Hudson, the four manufacturers who embraced this type of styling, General Motors introduced designs that were lower-slung, more tightly-drawn and less bulbous at around the same time. GM's designs quickly caught the buying public's fancy, while the "bathtubs" quickly fell from favor.
Following a round of bitter corporate infighting in 1949, Packard management finally decided to phase out the "bathtubs" and create the all-new Twenty-Fourth Series for 1951. The new "high-pockets" design (so called because of its high beltline) was much more modern and impressive. However, Packard continued to push hard into the lower end of the mid-priced field with its new "200" and "250" models, which was dominated at the time by Oldsmobile, DeSoto and others.
James J. Nancebecame the company's president in 1952, and he immediately set to work on divorcing the lower-priced cars from the higher-end Packards. To this end, he decreed that the 200 and 250 would be consolidated into a new line of Clippers for 1953.
Nance originally had hoped to introduce the new "Clipper" as a stand-alone marque, targeting the mid range price field which he felt was dragging the Packard image down. When word was leaked to the Packard dealer network that they would be losing their best selling Packard model to "Clipper", they balked. As an appeasement, Nance rolled the Clipper out as a Packard, and worked to transition the cars toward their own make. Thus, the Packard Clipper name was reintroduced and applied to the company's entry-level models, previously known as the
Packard 200, beginning in 1953. Clippers were available in Special and Deluxe trim models, as two and four door sedans.
For 1954, the "Clipper by Packard" was given its own unique rear fender trim and tail lights to further differentiate it from traditional Packards. The cars were also available with a distinctive two-tone paint pattern. For 1955, Packard became a marque in the newly formed
The Packard Clipper Constellation was a two-door hardtop automobile produced by the
Studebaker-Packard Corporationin model years 1955 and 1956. The 1955 model was a Packardproduct and sold as part of the Packard Clipperline; for 1956, Clipper was divorced from Packard, becoming a make in its own right.
Model year 1956 finally saw Nance's dream of Clipper as a separate marque realized, although by this time, most experts would later agree, it was too late. The Clipper was now its own separate registered marque, manufactured and sold by the Packard-Clipper Division of Nance's
Existing Packard dealers were required to execute a Clipper dealer franchise sales agreement, but once again, most cried foul and, not long into the model year, "Packard" script emblems began to be placed on the decklids of new Clippers that rolled off the company's Detroit assembly line. In a complete reversal of Nance's strategy, the emblems were also made available for placement on already-built cars that were languishing on dealers' lots across the country.
By the summer of 1956, Studebaker-Packard was in deep financial trouble. The Packards and Clippers were not selling at anywhere near a profitable level, and the company's creditors refused to advance any further money to the company for new tooling that would have allowed Nance to finally realize his ultimate goal of sharing body components among the company's three lines of cars. In late July, the final Packards and Clippers rolled out of the Conner Avenue factory. No one knew what the future might bring.
Following the closure of the
Detroit, MichiganPackard plant, Studebaker-Packard entered into a management contract with the Curtiss-WrightCompany. Under C-W's president, Roy T. Hurley, S-P's new president Harold Churchillapproved production of a new Packard, to be built in Studebaker's South Bend, Indianaplant. The new Packards, originally to continue the Packard Executivenameplate, were to share the Studebaker Presidentfour-door sedan body and new four-door station wagon body as well. The total tooling cost of the new Packard was estimated at roughly $1 million. At some point, however, the Executive name was dropped, as all of the Packards produced for 1957 carried the Packard Clipper name.
In order to keep the tooling cost as low as possible, trim components from the 1956 Clippers were used. This was done to make the 1957 model differ in appearance from the President; outside, this included a narrower Packard-style front bumper and 1956 Clipper taillamps and wheelcovers. Inside, the cars' dashboards were fitted with the same basic instrument cluster as used in the previous two years. On the whole, the effect was that of a glitzy Studebaker.
Sales of the new Clippers were not great; historians differ as to why, although the cars' obvious Studebaker origins (which led the new Clippers to be derisively nicknamed "
Packardbakers" by many people) certainly didn't help. Only about 4,600 were sold for the year.
For 1958, the Clipper name was discontinued, and the few Packard automobiles that were produced (four-door sedans, station wagons, and two-door hardtop coupes) were simply known by their marque name. The only exception to this was the
Packard Hawk, which was based on the Studebaker Golden Hawk.
What might have been
Had Studebaker-Packard's creditors not cut off the flow of money to the company in early 1956, James Nance and his underlings had some grand plans for their three lines of cars for 1957 and beyond. However, as time and money slipped away, these plans died without coming to fruition.
As planned, Studebaker and Clipper cars would have been built around a shared chassis and inner body structure, but both cars would have had distinctly different outer styling. Photos exist of a proposed Clipper with modest, tasteful tailfins, a flat, taut roofline, crisply-drawn lower body features and even slight fins over the headlamps that extended back, flowing seamlessly into the tops of the long front fenders.
All in all, the proposed look was thoroughly modern and would certainly have made an interesting contrast when compared to the bulky, rounded 1957-58
Oldsmobileagainst which it would have competed. One is led to wonder, however, how the proposed car would have fared in the market given the " Eisenhower recession" that began in late 1957 and extended through much of 1958, when so many other established marques such as Oldsmobile, Buickand DeSotohad a tough time selling cars.
It is all very much a situation where one wonders "what might have been."
* Packard-Clipper division, Studebaker-Packard Corporation,"Clipper dealer sales agreement", Studebaker-Packard Corporation, 1956, forms 80-698 & 59
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