1956 Packard Executive

Pricing for the 1956 Packard Executive
The Executive hardtop accounted for just barely more than 1,000 of the approximately 2,800 built.
The Executive hardtop accounted for just barely more than 1,000 of the approximately 2,800 built.

Since it replaced the Clipper Custom, the 1956 Packard Executive was not so much a market-filler as a market substitute. You paid about $400 more for than you did for a Custom (and about $700 less than the cheapest senior Packard); in exchange you received the Packard name and an ornate Packard front end, which added more weight to an already nose-heavy package. Performance was decent (0 to 60 in 11.7 seconds -- with three people aboard no less -- by Motor Life's count), but not earthshaking with all that weight.

This was the heaviest 1956 powered by the 352 engine; at 4,185 pounds it was a good 300 pounds heavier than a Clipper Custom. (With its standard four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts, the Executive did enjoy a 35-bhp advantage over the remaining Clippers. The hotter of two available axle ratios was standard and a Twin-Traction anti-slip differential was an option.)

On the plus side, anyone who has ridden in a torsion-bar Packard will say there was nothing to compare with it on the contemporary market, and the cars were prettily kitted out with flashy upholstery and paint jobs: Most of them bore the big broad side stripes of two-tone color worn by the Clipper Customs. Power assists could be ordered for windows, seats, brakes, and steering. "Readability and handling are better than average, and power steering gives fairly quick control," said the Car Life review. "Unassisted manual steering is not recommended on a car as heavy as 4,200-plus Ibs."

The statement that Executives were good buys for the money requires qualification. If resale value was important, buyers were well advised to consider something else (judging by sales figures, most of them did). Five years after the last Executive was sold, it had an average retail value of about $500, against about $800 for a Buick Roadmaster, which had sold for about the same money new and notched up more than 50,000 sales. (This relative value judgment has more or less continued into the collector era. A leading price guide assigns a top condition Roadmaster hardtop a value of $27,000 against $17,000 for the Executive, although the four-door sedans are rated about even.)

A Packard ornament graced the hood on the Executive.

The figures above also suggest a certain psychological problem created by disobeying Nance's dictum and producing Buick-level Packards. A car with a Packard badge on it was supposed to sell for Cadillac prices. Had the Executive sold in real volume, the way the early postwar Packard Sixes and Eights had, it would have further eroded the luxury image of Packard in the public mind. But this is a speculative and academic observation; by 1956 the public mind was made up.

Nance knew right away that sales were going to be thin for the Executive. Read about the measures he took to keep Packard from falling apart on the next page.

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