Sunday, June 20, 2010

1956 Packard Clipper Super 4-door

"King-size and fit for a Queen! . . . that's the Clipper Super 4-Door. Man about town, lady about town, or the whole family will enjoy driving this clean-lined beauty that rides with the greatest of ease – because it has Torsion-Level Ride, the marvelous suspension that gives you unheard-of comfort, superb ride control and safety! Top power for its field, too, with its 240 horsepower V-8 engine . . . and Packard craftsmanship in every respect."

For decades, the name Packard was a synonym for America's most aristocratic car company. But when the 1956 Clipper was introduced, Packard was already sailing in rough waters, and ready to plunge. Things had started in the late 30s when Packard's brass decided to launch a mid-priced lineup of cars. Named Packard Clipper, these new cars led to record sales for Packard. Soon, "Clipper-styling" spread across the whole lineup, but this practice substantially eroded Packard's image as luxury car maker, leaving Cadillac room to step in and seize the throne of the most prestigious car brand right after the second world war. As one of the smaller "independents", Packard never was in the position to profit from the vast development resources and the economy of scale that allowed Cadillac as part of the GM-empire to roll out fancy new designs year after year. In the style-conscious 50s, Packard soon was just a follower.

Relief seemed to lie the merger with Studebaker in 1954, but for Packard this meant to introduce the last self-developed lineup in 1955. Designer Dick Teague did a marvelous job in updating the aged 1951 body by adding the "must-have" wrap-around windshield and modernized front- and rear ends. The 1955 Packard was a well engineered car in all respects, and Packard could have sold much more, if circumstances would have allowed it: Packard had sourced out the casting of the bodies to the well-known coach builder Briggs in the early 40s. But in 1954, Chrysler bought Briggs, and Packard hastily had to set up its own body plant in Detroit's Conner Avenue. Quality problems and miscalculation led to just 55.000 Packards sold in an otherwise record-breaking year 1955, less than half of Cadillac's production.

For 1956, Packard sold the Clipper without any Packard signs, stirring such an uproar at the dealerships, that half-year a tiny Packard badge re-appeared. Anyway, customers already were well-aware of the financial troubles of Studebaker-Packard, and just over 18.000 Clippers left the factory. This was the last year for "real" Packards, as for 1957 the Clipper should be just an re-badged Studebaker President. The last Packard should leave Studebaker's assembly line in 1958, and then one of the most prestigious names in american car history would disappear.

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