1953-1956 Packard Clipper

1951-1952 Packard

The 1951-52 Packard 200 was not ugly, but it was hardly beautiful by standards of the day. John Reinhart's high-beltline "contour styling," the basis of Packard's first complete restyle, worked arguably better on the longer-wheelbase senior models.

The 200 had no station wagon, hardtop, or convertible; the latter two could be had as 250s, but they were much more expensive. Homespun 200 sedans and coupes (there was even a business coupe in '51) were as plain as Tom McCahill's Aunt Matilda.

DeSoto's styling was no great shakes either, but Buick's and Oldsmobile's were -- and in '52 you could buy an Olds Super 88 hardtop for only $32 more than a Packard 200 Deluxe two-door club sedan. That's where the competition was.

In performance, the entire Packard line was fast being eclipsed by that darling of the Fifties, the V-8 engine. Against Packard's solid, reliable, but unexciting straight eight, Oldsmobile's Rocket V-8 was cleaning up in salesrooms as well as racetracks, and in 1953, Buick and DeSoto had V-8s too.

By then the picture had grown acute, as James J. Nance, the 51-year-old appliance executive hired as Packard president in May 1952, quickly realized. Fresh from success at General Electric, Nance was concerned.

"Packard had handed over its luxury-car reputation to Cadillac on a platter," he said. "One of my main objectives from the outset was to divorce the lower-priced models, to sell them under a separate nameplate, and to reestablish Packard as a luxury make."

New model lead times being what they are, Nance could make little change in his '53 offerings, but what he accomplished was significant. For the first time since 1947, the Clipper name appeared, replacing 200 at the bottom of the line.

Advertising for these cars emphasized "Clipper" instead of "Packard." Then, in 1954, Nance was able to separate the Clipper visually with unique rear fenders, tipped by what stylist Dick Teague called the "sore thumb" taillight. (It looked much better than its name suggests.)

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