1953-1956 Packard Clipper

Beginning in the mid Thirties, Packard had gotten comfortable with the idea of selling an array of cars priced well below its esteemed full-luxury models. This practice in Packard's background came into question after World War II. One of those doing the questioning was new company president James Nance, who wanted to follow a different path.

1956 Clipper
By the time Packard split off Clipper as its own make in 1956,
its future had been sealed. See more pictures of classic cars.

"If I were to write an open letter to Packard, I would be tempted to recommend a divorcing of the lower-priced Clipper line from the Cavalier and Patrician, even to the extent of leaving off the Packard nameplate," wrote Motor Trend editor Walt Woron in June 1954. "Let the Clippers stand on their own merits; they have enough of them to make them highly interesting to many people."

Packard was already anticipating just that, as Woron admitted: "The Packard crest on the grille and 'Packard' in script on the trunk are the only written indications of the ['54] Clipper being a Packard; the Clippers have new rear fenders that are unlike those of the other models; there are other indications that this may be [the Packard Clipper's] last year."

He was off by 12 months. The '55 Clipper was still officially a Packard -- though considerably different from senior models. For 1956, Studebaker-Packard registered Clipper as a separate make, and Packard became an undiluted luxury marque for the first time since 1934. Unfortunately, by then it was too late. But not because of the product.

Packard has been accused of willful homicide of its own reputation at least since 1935, when it introduced the One Twenty to stave off the Great Depression. The eight-cylinder One Twenty was anything but a cheap car, but it was a relatively cheap Packard.

Then, in 1937, Packard introduced the even cheaper Packard Six, priced at the cost of a Pontiac. There was not enough space in Detroit to build Packard Sixes, and the company rode back to prosperity with its volume lines, which in 1937 accounted for 94 percent of a record sales total.

The volume option was right for the time. Though many thought it foolish at the outset to put a Packard nameplate on a mass-production car, this was not easy to avoid. With mighty General Motors behind it, Cadillac could afford to offer the cheapened post-1933 LaSalle, while barely selling luxury Cadillacs.

But the LaSalle was dropped when hard times ended, while Packard continued to field volumes of inexpensive Packards. After the war, when automakers could sell anything and factories could be realigned to produce it, this proved a cardinal error. Once competition returned at the end of the Forties, Packard found itself relying on models in the most competitive market sector.

The Fifties Clipper evolved from the 200 series of the 1951-52 range and the Packard Eight of the Forties. Like its conceptual forebear, the One Twenty, the 200 was a cheaper Packard but not a cheap car, aimed at the middle-priced field alongside DeSoto, Oldsmobile, and the junior Buicks.

But they had two problems not suffered by the old One Twenty: performance and styling. One wonders what other problems it might have needed.

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