Saturday, October 12, 2013

1946-1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper '8' Limousine

"'We wish we had a thousand of them!' a Packard dealer wired us. And we wish we could supply all the new 1946 Packard Clippers our dealers, and their customers, are clamoring for! Right now, all we can say to the thousands of loyal Packard friends, is this: We are doing our level best to accelerate production, and we shall continue to apportion available cars fairly among our dealers. Naturally, we, too, are eager for you to become the proud owner of this magnificent new car - for it's The Greatest Packard Ever Built!

In the brilliant flash of its performance ... and in every sweeping contour of its speed-stream styling ... it's far-and-away America's No.1 Glamour Car! And the new skills developed by Packard master craftsmen in building high-precision combat engines for planes and PT boats, now bring you, in this great car, a mechanical excellence that is little short of perfection itself! So, if you have to wait a little while for your new 1946 Packard Clipper, we hope you'll be patient. Here is a car worth waiting for, if there ever was one!"

We can't tell if the passengers of this Packard Custom Super Clipper are aware of the fact that they travel in one of the most aristocratic american automobiles of it's time. What once was reserved for a elite selection of wealthy citizens, now runs as a fixed-route taxi through Havana, cramming in as much passengers as possible on every trip. 

The Packard Clipper, aside from its stately appearance, was a milestone of american car design and engineering in its time, but in hindsight it was also the begin of Packard's downfall. Well into the 30s, Packard was the pinnacle of american status and luxury, building very expensive cars for very wealthy people. But declining sales after the Great Depression and the increasing competition by cheaper mass-production brands made the Packard directors conclude that elite luxury cars alone wouldn't keep the company afloat forever. Traditionally, Packards were built almost in a coachbuilder's fashion, involving a great deal of traditional craftsmanship. Things should change in 1938, when the upcoming rival Cadillac presented the inspired Sixty Special, a car which demonstrated that luxury buyers were much less consevative and instead much more fashion conscious than it was believed at the time. The Sixty Special, initiated by Harley Earl, and designed in Bill Mitchell's Cadillac studio, was another landmark GM design, and it was very radical for its time. Cadillac was still far from being the "Standard of the World" by then, but this stylish design stunned the experts and customers alike. In a reaction to the commercial success of the new Cadillac, the Packard board ordered to develop a completely new, "low-priced" model: the Clipper, to compete with the Cadillac. This conclusion seems logical, but it inherited a substantial problem: the loss of brand value.

In 1941, the new Clipper line was launched and soon accounted for most of Packard's production volume. Quite unfortunately, the profit on this car was much smaller than on the older, pricier Packards, and on top of that, by moving out of the elitist niche, Packard suddenly became comparable with other brands and faced direct competition. The cheaper Packards began to erode the company's patriarchic luxurious brand image. The Clipper itself was anything but a bad car, though, as it was designed with aid of illustrious names, such as George Walker (who should later be credited for the 1949 Ford and become Ford's styling chief), Packard's own Ed Mackauley and Werner Gubitz, and especially Howard "Dutch" Darrin, who provided the winning quarter scale clay model, and later styled the significant Kaiser-Frazer. The new car simply looked stunning. The well-proportioned Clipper was wider than tall, which was a novelty at the time. Its "fade-away" fenders beautifully extended way into the front doors, and the running boards almost disappeared, being cleverly concealed by the overlapping door panels. Despite being Packard's "budget" car (and being only half as expensive as the Cadillac Sixty Special) the Clipper had an really imposing appearance, especially the pictured long-wheelbase Limousine. The Clipper was an instant hit for Packard, and outsold the 1941 Cadillac by a margin of four to one. Too bad that the Second World War abruptly stopped the Clipper's success by stopping civil car production at all.

After the war, Packard resumed selling the prewar cars with some optical touch-ups, as it was common practice for all american car companies. Certainly, these postwar Packards look much better than the extensive facelift which debuted way too early in June 1947. Yet, the so-called "bathtub" styling which integrated the fenders completely into the body to form one consistent overall volume, was all the rage in postwar times, as it was a really novel contribution to american car design, and something that the "Big Three" wouldn't adopt before 1949. So we can understand the urge of "independents" like Nash, Hudson and Packard to show-off a new and advanced design direction. It's upon speculation if saving the retooling costs for this facelift and continue selling the Clipper until the presentation of its successor would have brought Packard in a better financial situation. In fact, the company was more and more struggling with declining market share and low budget, which ultimately led to the merger with Studebaker in 1955, and in result an even faster demise.

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