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.
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1941-1947 Packard Clipper Planning
A product of necessity, the 1941-1947 Packard Clipper was the result of what we might term Packard's recurrent Five Year Plans. Every five years or so, the conservative old company would take a concerned look at declining sales and mounting competition, overcome its inertia, and decree that something had to be done.
In 1923, Packard had opted out of the Twin Six and truck business to build its first Eights; in 1928 it dropped its Six to make Eights exclusively. In 1932, Packard moved upmarket with its new Twin Six (Twelve) and downmarket as well with the new Light Eight; in 1937 it shifted radically into high-volume production with a new Six to run alongside the popular One Twenty.
"By 1942," we may imagine Packard's management saying to itself, "we will need a full line of newly styled cars to keep abreast of competition." By 1942 they got just that: Clippers across the board, save for the low-volume convertible and a handful of luxury models.
Perhaps echoing its own forward-looking mood, Packard's 1942 brochure asked prospective buyers, "Looking Ahead?" The answer, of course, was to "Skipper the Clipper."
Alas, not many buyers got the chance to skipper a Clipper. World War II brought domestic car production to a standstill in February 1942, and in the process robbed the Clipper of what would have certainly been its peak sales years and a proliferation of body styles -- convertibles, wagons, and long-wheelbase cars.
In fact, notable designers showed how graceful some of them would have been: Dutch Darrin with his one-off Clipper convertible for Errol Flynn, Brooks Stevens and Briggs Body Company with fanciful renderings for Clipper fastbacks, Packard itself with the long-wheelbase models of 1946-1947.
George Hamlin and Dwight Heinmuller, in the 1978 Automobile Quarterly, succinctly explained the origins of the Five Year Plan that produced the Clipper: "After setting an all-time record in 1937 with its first 100,000-car year, Packard had sold half that number in recession year 1938, and only marginally [more] for 1939. The $3 million profit of 1937 had turned into a $1.5 million loss the following year, followed by a modest $500,000 profit in 1939 -- scarcely enough to live on. . . . Packard designs were not keeping pace with the industry when they absolutely had to -- a new experience for a company which never before had to meet styling competition."
To learn more about the design team behind the Clipper, check out the next page.
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1941-1947 Packard Clipper Styling
How did a company that had never competed stylewise -- a company indeed where "styling" per se functioned under the aegis of Engineering -- come up with a car as beautifully proportioned as the 1941-1947 Packard Clipper?
The answer is simple. Packard had a shrewd director of design, Ed Macauley, son of longtime president/chairman Alvan Macauley, and Ed acquired the aid of the most talented designers outside General Motors.
The quality Ed Macauley brought to Packard was a great "eye" for design, and concomitant ability to sell good designs to a conservative, engineering-dominated management. In mid-1939, Macauley responded to management's need by launching the quest for new lines with his own designers: Werner Gubitz, John Reinhart, Howard Yeager, Phil Wright, and Ed Nowacky.
Then he asked Briggs Body Company, which supplied design ideas to client companies as a service, to consider Packard's problem. Finally McCauley, his father, and Packard's legendary chief engineer Jesse Vincent went headhunting for outside talent, promising riches and fame to three prominent freelancers: George Walker, Bill Flajole, and Howard A. "Dutch" Darrin.
Talentwise, this group was fathoms deep. Packard's great Werner Gubitz had created the timeless styling themes that had lasted the company for a decade; John Reinhart would later help create the Continental Mark II, Phil Wright the Aero-Willys .
Briggs Styling was run by John Tjaarda of Lincoln Zephyr fame, and boasted Alex Tremulis, later to design brilliantly for Tucker, Ford, and Kaiser-Frazer.
George Walker's company would one day produce the handsome 1949 Fords and become intimately involved with Ford styling for a decade; Bill Flajole's ideas for compact and mini cars would influence Nash's early Ramblers and Metropolitans.
But the brightest star in this constellation -- if he said so himself (and he often did) -- was Dutch Darrin.
After having designed custom bodies abroad for over a decade, Darrin had returned home in 1937 to set up his own studio in Hollywood. There he flogged semi-custom bodies to the film community with an on-again/off-again French accent as good as Raymond Loewy's.
In his memoirs of his "safaris" in the automobile jungle, he probably claimed more than he had actually done, but there was little doubt about his influence over the Clipper.
Specific information about how Darrin influenced the Clipper can be found on the next page.
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1941-1947 Packard Clipper Development
Dutch Darrin, a driving force behind the styling of the 1941-1947 Packard Clipper, said he was recruited by Packard president Max Gilman in early 1940 and promised $1,000 a day if he could develop some acceptable lines on a small-scale clay model in 10 days.
"The irony of the thing was the fact that I never got paid!," said Dutch. "Packard's purchasing agent Jim Marks said to me, 'Now Dutch, you know the real money is in your custom Packards [the swoopy semi-customs, usually convertibles, he had been turning out on various Packard chassis since 1938]. So let's up your order for them by a substantial amount.' This they did, and then later they quietly canceled it."
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 design director Ed Macauley, who brought it back to Detroit and showed it to his in-house team, and also to Briggs.
Alex Tremulis recalled that there was no doubt in his mind over the unidentified model's authorship: "There was the downward swept beltline and an inimitable Darrin blind quarter, with a Darrinized notchback roof flowing into a beautifully swept rear luggage compartment . . . it had a front fender flow that had the characteristic Darrin angle." He knew at once that it was a Packard -- and that Darrin had designed it.
The clay model, of course, was subject to design review by Werner Gubitz's Packard team. It is a tribute to their sense of style that they offered little alteration, but Darrin maintained that to touch it at all was to destroy it.
"The original called for a sweeping front fenderline that carried right on through the doors to the rise of the rear fender, similar to the custom Clipper I built later for Errol Flynn,." he said. "But Packard shortened the sweep to fade away at mid-door . . . because nobody knew if the through fenderline would sell."
Packard designers also raised the beltline to the point where there was no "damn dip," except behind the doors; they decreased the backlight for more passenger privacy; and they added traditional running boards but compromised by hiding them under a built-out section of sheet metal along the wheelbase. Darrin called the last act vandalism: "They threw on huge gobs of clay. . . . The Clipper never recovered."
As it turned out, this "look" guaranteed the Clipper an appearance never compromised by competitive imitators. When in 1942 -- not because they'd seen the Clipper earlier but out of normal styling development -- Cadillac and Buick adopted the selfsame "pontoon" fenderline so the Clipper still looked unique and, with its new long-wheelbase 1942 seniors, unimitated.
To learn about the production car built off of this model, see the next section.
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1941 and 1942 Packard Clipper
The original 1941 Clipper debuted as a single four-door model priced at $1,375-$1,420, precisely between the One Ten/One Twenty and the One Sixty/One Eighty but sharing the senior 127-inch wheelbase and the One Twenty's 282-cubic-inch straight eight upped by five horsepower to 125.
This made it a fairly expensive car, competing with the Cadillac Sixty-One, Lincoln Zephyr, Buick Roadmaster, and Chrysler New Yorker. Although it did not arrive until April 1941, 16,600 copies were sold for the remainder of the model year -- but this was only the beginning.
By the start of the 1942 model year, Packard had poured in a new line of Clipper-styled One Sixty and One Eighty models, including a svelte fastback coupe model in addition to the sedan. Simultaneously, the former One Ten and One Twenty were replaced by new 120-inch-wheelbase Clippers, except where special tooling existed for convertibles, taxicabs, and commercial cars.
Thus, for 1942 the expanded Clipper line used all of the engines offered by Packard: 245.3-cubic-inch L-head six, good for 105 horsepower; 288-cubic-inch straight eight with 125 horsepower; and the 356-cubic-inch straight eight that cranked out 165 horses.
The last was America's most powerful production engine in 1941-1947 (matched by Buick in 1941-1942); it outpowered Cadillac's V-8 by 15 horsepower during those years.
Packard writer George Hamlin has pointed out how favorably the big 1942 Clippers compared to their luxury predecessors: "While no direct comparison with the 1941 One Eighty was possible (because the only 127-inch 1941 One Eighty was a convertible), the Clipper One Eighty sedan compared equally well with the 1940 One Eighty, which did share its wheelbase.
"The One Eighty Clipper was also wider, almost as long, had more interior width, and almost as much legroom, compared to the long-wheelbase One Eighty of 1942, which still used the old-style bodywork. "
If all this doesn't convince you that the senior Clippers were genuine luxury cars, consider their interiors. "Both the old-style One Eighty and One Eighty Clipper for 1942 offered six quality wool broadcloths, rear center arm rests, plush carpeting, walnut grained instrument panel, and equivalent appointments," Hamlin continued. "The Clipper had a walnut grained smoking set on the back of the front seat, while the others had twin side armrests. Clippers did not have real walnut wainscoting, but they didn't have plastic dashboards either.
"Comparable Clippers had greater interior dimensions in all respects; they had identical mechanical equipment save for hydraulic window lifts; they had equivalent luggage space, weighed the same or more, had the same appointments, were priced the same, and met the same standards of fit and finish." They were luxury cars, all right.
But World War II would interrupt production. Learn what happened during the war by continuing to the next page.
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World War II and the Packard Clipper
The 1941-1942 Packard Clipper made a splash with its luxury appointments. Then came World War II, and the three-year hiatus in car production.
There is no doubt that the Clipper would have made Packard very prosperous indeed in 1943, 1944, and 1945. Even in the abbreviated 1942 model year Packard produced close to 34,000 cars, the vast majority Clippers -- an annual rate of 80,000-plus units, better than 1941, 1939, and 1938.
"The logical next step would have been convertibles and commercials -- and a wagon," the late designer John Reinhart said. "[Dutch] Darrin's custom Clipper for Errol Flynn certainly represented what a production convertible would look like, although we abandoned any thought of returning to Dutch's full-sweep front fenders once GM's senior cars came out with that feature, for obvious reasons."
But the war stopped all that and Packard was faced at war's end with a plant torn apart for defense production and a bottled-up demand for new cars by a transport-starved America. The dies for the old-style seniors and convertibles had worn out or had been given away. (Ample evidence exists that the Soviets received Packard dies for the early postwar Zis.) Convertibles were forgotten in the rush to get back into production, using the now five-year-old but little-worn Clipper dies.
In a key decision that would determine Packard's future, president George Christopher determined to follow the path the firm had begun to take before the war, namely, away from the production of luxury cars and toward high-volume cars selling in the medium- and low-medium price classes.
Accordingly, a massive effort was put into the junior 120-inch-wheelbase line, and well over two-thirds of 1946 production comprised Clipper Sixes, Eights, and DeLuxe Eights (equivalent to the prewar One Ten and One Twenty) in the only two body styles available: sedan and coupe.
A relative handful of Supers and Custom Supers (formerly One Sixty and One Eighty) were built, including about 1,300 new long-wheelbase Custom Supers, the first Clipper-styled "professional" limousines and long sedans.
The production proportions were even more lopsided in favor of the junior models for 1947. The two postwar model years were virtually identical stylewise, though both boasted wider horizontal grille bars than the 1941 and 1942 junior Clippers.
To learn about the models Packard built when production resumed, check out the next page.
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1946 and 1947 Packard Clipper
If few in number, the top-of-the-line Custom Supers in the 1946-1947 Packard Clipper line were splendid automobiles. Hubcaps enhanced with jewel-like cloisonné, a Packard tradition of two decades, were standard equipment, though surprisingly no pelican hood ornament was available. (Some people managed to install them anyway, but the effect was not graceful.) Instead, Packard used a rather plain-looking chrome spear, with a stylized "flying lady" as an option.
Inside, the Custom Super departed significantly from the Super, which, though identical in size and specification, was trimmed similarly to the lower-priced Deluxe. Exclusive to the Custom were individually wrapped coil springs for seat cushions and backrests alike, which insured even weight distribution and noiseless operation; they were adjustable by the dealer to any firmness setting -- a forebear of today's lumbar adjustors.
A material similar to foam rubber was placed over these springs, while the seat backs were padded with genuine down -- a remarkable extravagance.
Where the Super had "oriental wood graining" on its garnish moldings, the Custom Super used an exclusive "Amboyna éburl" appliqué for window molding wainscots and the central dash panel, combined with a handsome, smoky "pearwood" graining for the upper door panels.
Genuine leather-covered kick panels were standard; plush "Mosstred" carpeting, like velvet to the touch but very hard-wearing, covered the floors.
Overhead was Clipper's unique woolen headliner, its seams running fore-to-aft. The only reason given for this complicated sewing method was to give "an impression of greater length" to the interior. Obviously, Packard was as willing as ever to spend extra money on aesthetics.
The first postwar Packards were built in October 1945, but the first Custom Super didn't come off the line until April 18, 1946. Interestingly, after building a few with "Super" script, Packard deleted the nameplate entirely -- two years later a famous ad would say of the then-current Custom, "One guess which name it bears."
Only 2,763 Customs were produced for the 1946 model year; the 1947 total came to 7,480. Of these 10,243 cars, 3,081 were long-wheelbase models. No convertibles were offered, though a few formals by Derham and others were built on the long chassis.
The lack of a convertible (and a wagon) was eventually rectified, but it took a major restyle to do so, in 1948. John Reinhart thought the 1948s (nicknamed "pregnant elephants" by friend and foe alike) represented a mistake, while admitting that at the time, the dealers just clamored for more.
But those were years when a manufacturer could sell anything, and the case was strong for loading more sheetmetal onto the Clipper to freshen it up and meanwhile pushing the lower-priced junior models as fast as they could get them out the door. This worked -- for a while. The return of competition after 1950 would prove Packard's policy a short-sighted one.
Thus, the Clipper line that had debuted with such promise in 1941 was consigned to oblivion after 1947, that is until Packard collectors began snapping up the many survivors and returning them to their original glory. More power to them, and to their cars -- they know what it is to "Skipper the Clipper."
Packard knew what it had all the time, though. To learn how Packard positioned the Clipper in sales material, continue on to our final section.
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How Packard Viewed the Clipper
Excerpted from Packard Promotional Pointers, April 1, 1941, prepared by the Sales Promotional Department. This advertised the first model in the 1941-1947 Packard Clipper generation.
The Packard Clipper taps an entirely new market for Packard. It makes its bow at the season of the year when the greatest number of buyers are in the market. It comes at a time when business is booming as never before. It arrives when many persons, who, under normal conditions, wouldn't consider a new car for a year or two, are now wondering if the present isn't the logical and economical time to buy. The announcement of the new Clipper couldn't have been more perfectly timed.
The new Packard Clipper marks the opening of an entirely new program. It is the first fruit of an intensive engineering development schedule, which has been in progress for some time and will be continued intensively. The Clipper is the forerunner or nucleus of a program which will offer other new and tempting innovations later.
The Name "Clipper"
The selection of the name "Clipper" was made by the public. From many names, all carefully considered, four were finally selected by judges. These four names and a carefully retouched photograph (to conceal identifying marks) were submitted to hundreds of people by the organization directed by Dr. George Gallup. The name "Clipper" was preponderantly the favorite.
There will be those, of course, who will prefer the more conservative and conventional Packard lines. The answer to all persons who exhibit such a preference is the present One Ten, One Twenty, One Sixty, and One Eighty. Thus, as demand justifies, Packard will cater to two fields of choice in motor car styling.
Conversion to One Ten or One Twenty
There will be many prospects drawn to your showroom by the new Packard Clipper who will be most favorably impressed with it, but whose financial means will not permit the purchase of the car. The very fact that the prospect is present provides a golden opportunity to interest him in either a One Twenty or One Ten. When you discern the fact that he cannot qualify as a Packard Clipper buyer, be quick to parade the many value advantages offered by the One Twenty and One Ten. With the One Twenty and One Ten you can make immediate delivery and can offer a choice in several distinctive body types.
Generous advertising support is given to the new Packard Clipper -- the kind that causes people to sit up and take notice. From the week ending April 26, and every week through the month of June, the story of the new Packard Clipper will be told time and again in more than ten million homes. Starting off with the sensational announcement ad -- 3 pages in 4 colors -- the big news will be carried by Saturday Evening Post, Time, Collier's, Newsweek, Fortune, and Town and Country. Newspapers will also be used liberally to spread the news of the new Packard Clipper.