1953-1956 Packard Clipper

1953 Packard

The 1953 Clipper was a distinct im­prove­ment on its 200 predecessor. It had a new grille, larger backlight, and cleaner side trim. Colors and interiors were brighter, fresher. But the 1953 Packard still had no V-8, so the Clipper made do with a 288-cubic-inch straight eight in use since 1948, though newly uprated to 150 horsepower.

1953 Packard Clipper
The 1953 Packard Clipper was brighter outside
and more powerful under the hood.

The Clipper DeLuxe used a 327-cubic-inch, 160-horsepower engine. The business coupe had been dropped after 1951, but now there was an upmarket Clipper Sportster two-door sedan. While not a hardtop, it was painted in bright colors and came with fancier trim.

In 1954, aside from a reworking of the rear end, the base series became the Clipper Special, and the Sportster was moved to the Clipper DeLuxe line. A top-end Clipper Super range was added, including the first Clipper hardtop, dubbed Panama, another in a series of Western Hemisphere place names like "Caribbean," "Balboa," "Pan American," and "Pacific."

Only the Special had the 288 engine; the rest used the 327, which gained five horsepower for '54. Among all U.S. makes, only Packard and Pontiac still used straight eights.

The Clipper was a big, comfortable road car, with chair-height seats and smooth if not scintillating performance. It got around corners rather better than the ordinary Detroit balloon, and braking was notably fade free.

But 0-to-60 mph in 15 seconds was dull stuff compared to the scat of V-8 competition. Motor Trend suggested holding Ultra­matic-equipped Clippers in Low to 50 mph, dropping into High, and skipping the torque converter part of the range. (A special governor kit adopted in 1954 allowed the high-range clutches to engage quickly.)

Packard's service department worried about what that kind of hot rodding would do to transmission life, and few drivers cared to hand shift automatic-equipped cars anyway.

The solution, in late 1954, was Gear-Start Ultramatic. This had two "Drive" ranges, one for torque-converter starts, the other for low-gear starts shifting automatically to high. The latter helped a little.

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