Before we get started, it would be wise to describe just what it is we are dealing with. The 1941-1947 Packard Clipper represents the best of its age. To drive one is to experience prewar American production-car design at its most advanced.
To own one -- especially on the long, 127-inch wheelbase, in a dark color or with conservative factory two-toning -- is to become immediately the envy of Packard folk, among others. The Custom Super Clipper of 1946-1947, for example, is among the few postwar cars eligible for "Classic" status in the Classic Car Club of America. And, of course, it long ago earned its Milestone Car Society status as a "Milestone."
What is it about the Clipper that earns it the acclaim of collectors with interests on opposite sides of World War II and of clubs as diverse as the CCCA and MCS? Was it the elegant translation of classic Packard styling themes into smooth, contemporary 1940s styling? Was it that sterling engineering that produced the smoothest straight eight in the industry?
Was it the car's origins on the drawing boards of a star-studded cast featuring Dutch Darrin, George Walker, Briggs Body Company, and Werner Gubitz? Was it Packard's reputation, or simply the Clipper's proportions: a foot wider than it was high, the widest car on the 1941 market?
Who cares! The fact is indisputable that the Clipper has to make almost anyone's list of the finest American cars of the 1940s. Unfortunately, it was born too late to do Packard much good before World War II -- and too soon to help the company afterward.
When considering the great transitional designs that brought us from the art deco and speedlining age of the 1930s into the envelope bodies of the '40s, much is always made (and rightfully so) 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.
Packard's Clipper had at least as many pioneering features in an even more integrated package. A single piece of seamless steel formed the roofline from windshield header to decklid; the floor pan comprised only two separate pieces welded longitudinally. Instead of the traditional three-side-window format, Clipper used pivoting ventipanes built into the rear doors.
Concealed door hinges, rotary door latches, a low-slung double-drop frame, broad areas of glass, and the banishment of the archaic running boards were also Clipper features. So was the double-link steering design, incorporating a cross bar and idler arm with two cross tubes between the steering brackets and Pitman arm, to allow independent wheel movement; and the canted rear shock absorbers, with a fifth unit to absorb sideways.
Clippers also offered such recent Packard developments as air conditioning and Econo-Drive overdrive. Also available was the Electromatic clutch, which, according to Packard, provided "Simplified driving with no jerk -- no slip -- no creep."
To learn how Packard arrived at the the idea of such a sharp car, keep reading on the next page.