Although the voyage was almost over, the (Packard) Clipper was one mighty ship. Full of technological advances, most reserved for the premium revamped Packards of 1955, they should have held the tiller til brighter successes throughout the rest of the 1950’s.
Many factors prevented their efforts at buoying the fleet of Packards while exploring the Medium-Price field against Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Chryslers and Mercuries. All but in name, they were the final formal Packards, and some of the finest to boot.
Both the senior 400, Patrician and Caribbean and the various Clippers refreshed in 1955 were clever re-works of the 1951 vintage Packard. Gone was the Straight-Eight, in was a modern V8, wrap around windshield, hooded headlamps and tail fins all the equal and contemporary to their rivals in the upper half of the American Automotive Market. Some wonder if it were wise for Packard to continue to field offerings in the Medium price field, at the detriment of their former prestige image.
Some say it was the only way the company kept afloat. Nevertheless the blend of old and new allowed Packard to post hopes on more profits, while continuing its reputation of leadership among premium offerings.
Trickling down from the most premium offerings this year included the Torsion-Level ride. Unlike Chrysler’s upcoming Torsion-Aire ride, Packard/Clipper used full length torsion bars for both front and rear wheels. The front wheels pre-loaded, or adjusted, with the help of a compensator motor mounted mid body, shocks for the rear wheels, minimizing impact.
Between the isolation of the set up, and the Body-on-Frame construction, it gave a weird combination of magic carpet ride with exceptional road holding and body control.
Although Big Barges far north of 2 tons in any guise, Packard/Clippers were perhaps some of the finest roadworthy cars, perhaps only behind the Citroen DS. An addition boot was the upsized V8, now in 352 cube guise conservatively tuned to 240 horsepower. These ratings matched competition from DeSoto, Oldsmobile and Buick, and was only slightly behind what Chrysler offered.
These stout and torquey engines did test the durability of the Twin Ultra-Matic however, which among other faults, were quality issues that plagued Packard as they tried to regain a foothold in either or both market segments, while carrying the albatross of the fully moribund Studebaker product line as well.
Among all the tumult trying to merge South Bend with Detroit, and wondering what path would work best for each brand, the Clippers and Senior Packards took most of the punches. Only 5,173 Clipper Super Sedans found buyers, business was even lighter for the more glamorous hardtop coupes and Senior Packard offerings.
Folks complained that they wanted real Packards for example, so year end versions like our subject car have small “Packard” badges. Although a splendid update, besides the new drivetrain and new suspension it was still a 1951 Packard underneath it all. Studebaker-Packard’s creditors refused to infuse any additional credit towards development of new models and new tooling. Therefore, 60 years ago, the last “true” Packards rolled off the line. Despite years of Asking the Man Who Owns One, Packard executives could not navigate the ocean that was the American Automotive market based solely on their compasses. Although the ship sank fast in the fast forward 1950’s, these final Clipper Ships proved to be fantastic vehicles nevertheless.