By on November 23, 2010

It’s mysterious enough that a genuine CCCA-designated classic car suddenly appears curbside in my neighborhood. And not just any true classic, but the immensely desirable and infinitely awesome Clipper Super Coupe, the most powerful and fastest American car of its day. But the mystery deepens: why did its owner try everything possible to keep me from photographing it the day I first found it, and then why did someone deface it by pouring paint over it the very next night?

Before we get started on this strange story, for a frame of reference, here’s how it looked on the day before, when I first drove by.

This Packard is the biggest find of the year so far, rivaling the official CC logomobile, the 1950 Cadillac Series 61 Coupe for top-dog status. But in terms of the human elements connected with each of them, they couldn’t be more different.

Mike, the Caddy’s owner, proudly showed off his pride and joy, took me for a memorable ride, and is now a friend. The guy that presumably owns this Packard threatened me in numerous ways. Bid vibes surrounded him and his car from the minute my eyes laid on him. But it wasn’t just me; someone else must not like him very much either.

I had been tooling down West 24th, scanning the side streets as always, when I saw that big black ass two blocks down. At first I thought it might be a Volvo 544, or a big Olds or Buick from the fastback era. I drove around the block and as I turned onto Taylor, that distinctive Packard Clipper front end came into view.

The 1941 Clipper was a milestone car for Packard, the most handsome and advanced new car of its day. It was a response to Harley Earl’s groundbreaking 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special (top in photo below). The sleek Caddy made quite a splash, and Packard needed to up the ante or fall behind.

In 1940, they hired Dutch Darrin to come up with a quarter-scale clay proposal in ten days(!), which he did, but the design was a bit too progressive for staid old Packard. Darrin’s original design had the front fender flow all the way back, and dropped any hint of running boards. But the quote “success has many fathers while failure is an orphan” applies all too well here; there is endless controversy over the Clipper’s true patrimony, which also involves Briggs Body, Packard chief designer Werner Gubitz’ team, George Walker, Alex Tremulis and whoever else wants or deserves a cut of the credit. We’ll leave that endless debate to others. Clearly, a healthy dose of typical Darrin taste and flair survived, including his hallmark touches which reappeared in more modern form in the 1947 Kaiser and Frazer.

The Clipper appeared as a four door sedan only in 1941, riding on the 127″ wheelbase of the senior Packard, and initially used the 120′s 282 CID (4620 cc) straight eight engine. It was actually wider than it was tall, which was highly unusual, and at least as pioneering a design as Earl’s Caddy, if not more so. And thanks to a positive reception, Packard quickly adopted Clipper styling across the board for 1942. Only one big problem: WW II.

Arriving just some six months before Pearl Harbor, the Clippers were on the market barely a year before production ceased. This would have consequences in 1948, when Packard face-lifted (body-bulged, more accurately) the Clipper to go against the all-new 1948 Cadillac. We covered that painful part of Packard’s history and demise in our other Packard CC, the 1951 200 here, so let’s just dwell on this long-hooded elegant beast here.

As mentioned earlier, this is a CCCA recognized true classic, of which very few post-war cars qualify. It applies only to the two top-line 1946-47 Packards; this Super and the more lavishly-trimmed Custom Super, in recognition of these cars being carry-overs from the pre-war era as. Maybe it’s also because of the powerplant. The Supers for 1946 and 1947 were endowed with Packard’s ultimate straight eight, the 356 cubic inch mammoth that was introduced in 1940, and was the final and finest expression of the genre.

This giant slab of engine weighs some one thousand pounds. The crankshaft, which swings a mean 4.63″ stroke, alone weighs 105 pounds. Supported by nine main bearings, it is virtually impossible to tell that these engines are running, unbeaten in the “balance a quarter on its side on a running engine block” trick (see video here). That half ton of engine represents one full quarter of the weight of this Coupe, which at 4,000 lbs is not all that hefty for today’s standards.

With 165 hp and enough tug-boat torque to start off in top gear, the big eight outclassed all its competition in power as well as refinement. One hundred mph plus was genuine and effortless. The Clipper Super offered the kind of refined speed that the Bentley R-Type Continental became famous for a few years later.

Enough for the historical preamble: I parked my old Ford truck and greeted the owner, who was just headed toward his house. I’m always eager to introduce my self and explain my intentions, even when its not necessary for a car parked on the street. And I’ve always gotten a friendly response, especially with the more exotic and unusual cars. One of the few paybacks of owning an old or unusual car is getting some love and attention. Not this guy.

He had a sour look to start with, and instantly started yelling at me insisting that I can’t photograph his Packard. He made a cryptic remark along the lines of “I’ve had enough problems with this car, and it won’t be here much longer”. I tried in vain to reason with him and explained that I have every right to shoot it sitting on a public road, but he started jumping in between me and the car, and threatening to call the the police. That was an empty threat, but he became more agitated and aggressive, so I let it go for now.

I drove by a couple of hours later, and grabbed a few quick shots from my car before he came running out the door. I figured I would let him simmer down overnight, and walked over the next day. What the hell! That very night, someone had come by and dumped white paint all over that black Packard’s long tapering roof. Or was it a giant bird? This time the owner was not sitting by the window waiting for me; the curtain was drawn, and there was no response. I got my shots, and left the poor thing sitting in the drizzle, with paint dripping down its flanks.

Who knows what that was all about, but it certainly wasn’t random vandalism. That very rarely happens around here anyway, and this car was clearly targeted. The owner’s extreme agitation and paranoia the day before made it obvious that there were “issues” surrounding this car.

It’s still sitting there, forlorn like a black rock the sea gulls have adopted. Undoubtedly, this Clipper has a future brighter than its current state. These are very desirable cars, for obvious reasons. I’m still getting over having found my second genuine CC Packard within a dozen blocks of my house. What’s next; a CC Duesenberg with patina? And I’m trying hard to get the Clipper out of my head; not only wondering what happened to it, but imagining tooling this majestic coupe down the McKenzie highway on a warm summer night, and opening the cutout on the exhaust. Nothing quite beats the sound of a big honking Packard straight eight (listen for yourself here and here). And although I like my cars rough and ratty, a little scrubbing might be called for.

My guess as to what happened: this Packard has obviously spent  a very long time in a barn or shed, from the look of the rotted tires. Perhaps the current buyer made a deal with the former owner that somebody else isn’t any too happy about; possibly another buyer, or a family member of the former owner. What’s yours?

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65 Comments on “Curbside True Classic: 1946 Packard Clipper Super – And Why Did Someone Dump Paint On It The Other Night?...”


  • avatar

    KNEW IT!  Man, what I wouldn’t give to have a Packard.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Family heirloom, bitter dispute involving a will, or lack thereof.

  • avatar

    I’m going to guess either a pterodactyl or a huge murder of crows.
    What an elegant shape.

  • avatar

    Actually this guy sounds so mean, it could have been Quakers who dumped the paint on his car.

  • avatar
    N Number

    The styling of this car makes it easy to see past the paint.

  • avatar
    Steinweg

    The “owner” might have thought to himself, after your visit, “No this won’t do. It’s too obvious out there on the street… I know! I’ll paint it white, then no one will recognize it as the black Packard! The cops’ll just roll on by!” I can see the boys in their radio car now: “Uh, copy that, we got a 40s Packard coupe on the… Black? That’s a negative, this one’s white… kind of. Back to base, 10-4.” But the plan to drop a paint bomb on top and watch it smoothly coat the entire body went awry, as it would do.

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    Careful, Paul.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the old man suspected that it was you who vandalized the car, and people have been at the wrong end of a shotgun for lesser things.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      It felt very strongly to me that he was already anticipating trouble, and that I just happened to appear at the wrong time.

    • 0 avatar
      fastback

      If our ‘hero was indeed anticipating trouble, you’d think he’d endeavor to park that ghastly beast off the street, eh? 
      BTW: it’s my nomination for CC post child, Paul. Love that car.
      Thanks~!

      al

  • avatar
    marjanmm

    Does anyone know where is the rpm red line for this classic straight 8?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Not a fan of the rear—I like a little more pragmatism—but otherwise this is my favourite era of car design.  Great find!

  • avatar

    Negative guys like that bring on negativity. Call it karma, call it “what goes around comes around” or self-fulfilling prophecy. I wouldn’t want to have any more to do with him either.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    What a car. Thanks for another great CC post but avoid any Kolchak-like encounters when doing your investigating.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Good memory (or guestimate), Paul.  The 1941 Clipper inline eight put out 120 horsepower at 3600 rpm, according to the 1950 MoToRs manual that I have at hand. 

    The car was indeed on a 127″ wheelbase, but the 282 cubic inch eight (3 1/4 ” bore, 4 1/4″ stroke) only had FIVE main bearings. 

    Later on this engine was bored and stroked to 327 cubic inches and for 1954 only, a 359 cubic inch version was built (with aluminum head).  Some 327′s had 5 mains, others had 9 mains; all of the 359′s had 9 mains.  (This 1954 359 engine was based upon the “smaller” 282/288/327 engine, not the old, massive “senior” engine which had 356 cubic inches). 

    By the way the 1954 “359″ engine (3 9/16 x 4 1/2) would put out 212 horsepower at 4000 rpm and had an very high (for the era and for the engine type) 8.7 to 1 compression ratio, which means it took Premium fuel (until fuel octanes boosted at the pumps a couple of years later).  This contrasted to the modern OHV Cadillac V8 of 1953 which belted out 210 horsepower (but Cadillac didn’t stand still and in 1954, their V8 put out 230 hp).  The 1953-1954 Lincoln OHV V8 “only” put out 205hp.  The HEMI in the 1954 Chrysler Imperial beat them all with 235hp. 

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Just to clarify: the 1941 Clipper had the 282, but the 1946 and 1947 Clipper Super, like this car, had the nine bearing 356 engine. And since it had a longer stroke than the 282, I’m guessing its power peak came at about 3400-3500 rpm.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      That’s a lot of main bearings.  The Chrysler Slant-6 had four great big bearings and a >4″ stroke.  The AMC straight 6 at seven bearings but <4″ stroke.  But nine mains… wow.  Sure, lots of engines were built this way a long time ago, but it’s really neat to hear about one that is still around.
       
      Long crankshafts (well, all crankshafts) also twist and vibrate in torsion regardless of how many bearings they have.

  • avatar
    geeber

    What a great find…these are such classy cars. One wonders if Packard could have simply kept going with this body style through 1950, but with the addition of a hardtop and special sedan to counter Cadillac’s de Ville and 60 Special, respectively.

    According to one stylist, when Packard management commissioned this car, it was “so scared (of GM) that it couldn’t see straight.” While Packard is criticized for focusing too much on the 120 and 110 in the late 1930s, it’s also worth remembering that the luxury car market was changing in the 1930s. The market for chauffeur-driven, custom-body cars was dying. This had been Packard’s forte.

    Sales of the big Packard Twelve were dwindling (as were sales of competing, multi-cylindered Cadillacs). But Cadillac had found the sweet spot in the changing luxury market with the Series 60. Packard, even with the handsome new Clipper, never quite matched Cadillac’s efforts in catering to this changed luxury market. Much as, 60+ years later, Cadillac still hasn’t quite adapted to the changes brought about in the luxury car market by lower tax rates on the wealthy, two gas crises and the demands of younger buyers.  

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      Good points.  I wish the reskinned, post-war version hadn’t been so bloated out.  This was a beautiful design that deserved better.
       
      The dominant theory is that Packard shouldn’t have introduced a premium-priced car under its own name.  Perhaps, particularly when via merger or acquisition it could have increased economies of scale with an established brand.  But once they moved downmarket it would have been pretty much impossible for Packard to have refocused on the luxury market.  It was pretty much stuck straddling the premium and luxury car markets, not unlike Chrysler.
       
      One of Nance’s errors was attempting to make the Clipper a brand; that was doomed to failure regardless of what happened with the Studebaker marriage.  If Chrysler couldn’t make a go of DeSoto how could Packard have possibly fielded a viable premium brand not using the Packard name?
       
       

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    I’m thinking there is an angry woman involved in this somewhere.

    Men smash things. Women throw paint.

    And yeah, a beauty of a car.

  • avatar

    Considering this guy is being so difficult; I’ll bet he dumped the paint himself to counteract the point something can be photographed because its on a public street.
    His comments seem to indicate he has no care for this car or the fact someone may appreciate it, or want to take a picture.
    My guess is he’s just being a “posterior region of the alimentary canal” by making it difficult to photograph the car, and to him a can of paint would do the trick quite nicely.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      That would be my guess, too. It reminds me of the turd that owns what is perhaps the most famous movie car, ever, i.e., the 1968 Mustang fastback from Bullitt. But rather than maintaining the car in any kind appropriate manner (or selling it to someone that would), it is supposedly rusting away in some barn in Kentucky. The guy steadfastly refuses to sell at any price and, probably like the Packard’s owner, revels in the knowledge that he owns something that other people want dearly.

      So, even snapping a photo of the rare Packard is a great affront, and is the reason the owner did the vandalism himself.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      @rudiger Yup.  I’ve experienced that kind of psychotic reaction from owners of desirable old cars.  Years ago, I noticed a Plymouth Superbird sitting in a driveway not too far from where I lived.  The car sat unmoved until all the tires went flat, so I stopped to inquire about it.  This was in the days when a running example could be had for $1,500.  The owner, a big fat slop wearing a wife-beater, opened the door and proceeded to curse me out and told me to get the f*** off his property.  The car sat in the driveway in that condition until it was moved to the backyard — I assume the neighbors complained about the eyesore.  Fast forward a number of years.  I drive buy and notice an “estate sale” sign in front of the house in question.  The owner finally popped his clogs — I guess that last can of Cheese Whiz finally plugged up the last bit of artery.  Anyway, the car sat in the backyard, rotting away until it sank up to its floorboards in the mud.  When the family hired a tow truck to remove it, the car split in half.  I spoke to one of the nephews who confirmed that the crazy old fat guy refused numerous offers on the car — some of which were quire lucrative.  They salvaged as many old parts as they could from that Superbird and sold them off on eBay.  Someone should come up with a psychological term for people — almost all of them men — who hang on to old cars that they can’t, or won’t, care for, but refuse to sell at any price.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      It already exists in my mind.  Just call them… Gollum.  The car has become their “precious.”  When you read the book version of Steven King’s Cristine I feel that irrational love of the original owner for an inanimate object is what breathes evil life into the old Plymouth.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    What was the “inspiration” behind mounting rectangular signal lights on such a curvy design?

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. It’s too bad that the oval taillights didn’t show up until the 1949-50 Golden Anniversary pregnant elephants. The fastback 2-door was still reasonably stylish though, and I remember when I was at college in Des Moines, Iowa, in the late 50′s that a guy there had a 1950 robin’s egg blue one with a Caddy V8.
      I put quite a few miles on the old man’s 1950 4-door, but never had the chance to drive one of the big-engined cars.

  • avatar

    Fantastic car!  This is what Batman would have driven in the 40s (even looks like that era’s comic book batmobile).  Thanks for sticking with it to bring us these photos. 
    Should it replace the Caddy as the CC poster car? I dunno, I still dig the Caddy, but this thing is beautiful!
     
     

  • avatar
    h82w8

    Now, THAT’S a Curbside Classic. What a gem!

  • avatar
    K5ING

    One of the best looking cars of that era I have ever seen.
     
    Go talk to him again.  If he’s having that much trouble with the car, offer to buy it from him (sell your house if you have to).
     

  • avatar

    Great write-up, Paul. Too bad the car is being subjected to this… it belongs in a garage. At the very least it should be covered.

    I could never understand the love with cars that have not been taken care of, but then again, I’m not meant to understand everything in life!! I’m not by any stretch a “trailer queen” type of a car owner, in fact I look down on the practice… to me, they all belong on the streets, roaming like they should, unless one is rebuilding the car with the purpose of eventually bringing it back to the streets.

    But man, I do like old cars that have visibly been taken good care of. Especially if we’re talking a car that was always meant to be a toy (like this one or that Caddy)… you know… as in different from an appliance type of beater!

    These cars, at least in my not so humble opinion, were not meant to be mere appliances. I think of it in terms of a nice coat vs an everyday coat. Or shoes. So… I find it sad with this Packard, that it has to end up as undignified as it now appears to be.

    But what do I know? Once upon a time I rescued an old classic that had been beaten up just as badly. So I’m biased in the direction of restoration, as opposed to mere preservation. :)

    Once again, nice write-up, as always!

    MM

  • avatar
    Neb

    That engine is just insane. Like a Toyota engine crafted entirely from Iron and steel. Erm, really OLD, heavy duty Iron and steel.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    What a fabulous find!  I have been sitting here gazing at the pictures and realize that I have never really taken a good look at one of these coupes before.  What stunning proportions for 1946 (let alone 1941).  That is one LOOOOONNNNGGG and beautiful car.
    Although I have no firsthand experience, I have always understood that the big Packard straight 8 was a real honey in an era of very good straight 8s.
    As for the owner, well, at least you got an interesting story out of it.
     

  • avatar
    kkt

    What a gorgeous car.  Thanks for posting.
    One suspects fraud or theft of some sort.  Too bad we’ll probably never know the whole story.
     

  • avatar
    dave-the-rave

    Well, clearly the car needed a paint job– just a better one.

    BTW, when I was just a pup living in the Bronx, the family car was a 1955 Packard Clipper, bought used. It was red and black two-tone originally; after Bondo-ing the body rust over the headlights, it was repainted an unfortunate navy blue all over. The car is long gone, but I’m pretty sure my Dad still has the little metal ship’s wheel that was the Clipper logo from the dash.

    Like my dad’s car.

    • 0 avatar
      arjaysmithjr

      I don’t believe it.
      Growing up in Baltimore County, my dad had
      a 55 Packard, two tone, black and red!
      We had a memorable experience in that tank.
      Going into Baltimore City to visit the grandparents
      around 1959, we were going down a long hill
      (Edmondson Avenue), and the brakes gave out.
      We rolled all the way down the hill (about 1/3 mile)
      with my old man honking the horn all the way,
      going through red lights, my mother praying,
      and miraculously made it to the bottom without
      wrecking. I was just 9 in 1959, so I don’t recall
      what the problem was, but I’ll never forget
      that day, or that car.
      Actually if we had hit anything we probably would
      have wiped it out.

  • avatar
    Oregon Sage

    I may have to make a little trip to the south side of town to see this one….quite the find.
    Or maybe it will join my Olds, the Cad and the prior Packard up here off of River Loop #1 .
    I get to take a look at the Cadillac every morning, along with the other eclectic collection the owner has parked beside the house. That big Coupe is a brutally handsome and I cant help but admire it every time I drive by. Fortunately there is a stop light in front of the house so I often get to linger.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Paul, I’m at home so I don’t have access to the MoToRs manual from back in the day, but I believe you are right about the RPM’s of the Senior Eight engine (356). 

    These straight eights could have as many as 9 main bearings because there were 8 cylinders standing in a nice straight row.  One bearing on each side of each piston = 9 mains. 

    The crankshafts on these babies weight about as much as an entire Toyota Camry V6…. I’m guessing. 

    Yet the cars themselves (despite the very thick steel) didn’t weigh much more than a moderately sized modern FWD SUV with V6. 

    They also were not as slow as you might think, folks.  TORQUE (twisting power) was in abundance at low RPM’s which = acceleration power.  Horsepower is more useful for top speed. 
    Think of the worst, thinnest, oldest two lane roads in your area and those would have been the best roads around when this car was built.  60-70 mph was daring, indeed; most people drove 40-60.  Also don’t forget that in the early 1940′s, many roads were not even paved.  And the ones which were, had “crowns” to them of something like a few inches to as much as a foot (i.e. the center of the road was significantly higher than either edge – in order to help the rain dislodge from the roadway). 

    In regards to the question of James Nance, the final destroyer of Packard (in my humble opinion), if you read the book “The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company” by James A. Ward, you’d see that he seems to think there were a litany of errors that management made. 
    One of the MAJOR mistakes made, however, was NOT differentiating the junior cars from the senior cars soon enough. 

    In other words, Packard would have been wise to have brought out the CLIPPER make as a sub-brand even before the war, and definitely immediately following the war. 

    You have to remember that the 1940′s/1950′s were NOT the 2000′s/2010′s.  People buying a top of the line luxury car didn’t really want to have their egos deflated by their hired help being able to buy the same brand of car on workingman’s wages.  This is what Packard did in 1936 with the new mass produced mid-market Packard 120, in order to survive.  

    But keeping the Packard cachet AND bringing out a sub-brand would have kept the fire going in the company a lot longer.  

    The other thing that Packard did absolutely wrong was to buy Studebaker without sufficient due diligence.  Yes, the more things change the more they stay the same - Studebaker management “misrepresented” their break-even point (lied).  It only took from 1954 to 1956 for Studebaker to bleed Packard’s bank accounts dry.  

    The most interesting “what if” transpired in the post-merger Studebaker-Packard board meeting where the true demise of the real Packard was being discussed mid-1956; on the table was the discussion about closing down the newly modernized Packard assembly plant on Conner Avenue Detroit and near new V8 production plant in Utica Michigan, adjacent to Packard’s test track.  One board member, a Mr. ZurSchmede, opined ”why Packard”?  (As in why are we not closing the money losing STUDEBAKER operations and centralizing production in Detroit?)  He was not even given the dignity of a response – just silence.  

    That tells me the others knew very well that the decisions had already been (illegally) made outside the boardroom and that ZurSchmede was not playing along.  He wanted his question on the legal records of the board meeting.   

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Imagine a line of all-new 1957 Packards based upon the Predictor show cars. 

    http://www.madle.org/epredictor.htm

    Imagine a whole line of differentiated Clipper (marque) cars AND all new Studebakers sharing most of the unseen mass produced underbody parts. 

    This was the plan of Studebaker-Packard for 1957, and loan monies had been earmarked by bankers and the Prudential Insurance company for the purpose of tooling these cars up. 

    Nance delayed opting to take the money in hand to do the job and the bankers and Pru yanked the rug from under him. 

    Now, imagine ZurSchmede winning the day; the board going to the banksters and saying “OK we hear you – we’re closing down South Bend and moving operations to Detroit – we’d like the money to tool up the cars, and only need 1/2 of what was promised since we only need to tool up Detroit.” 

    All new, long and low, modern “shared bodyshell” cars (with highly distinctive exterior sheetmetal – I’ve seen photos of all of the prototypes) and the resurrection of the 320 cubic inch V8 from the 1955 Clipper would have meant that Packards would have had 374 cubic inches, Clippers 352, and Studebakers 320 (plus the old Packard inline six was being contract built for White truck use – and could have been put into service as the base six for Studebaker – it displaced 245 cubic inches (and was a cut-down 327 straight eight, in fact). 

    Packard even built their own aluminum case automatic transmissions (first in the industry with this, in 1956) with lock-up torque convertor (not adopted by the big 3 for another 20 plus years). 

    Coulda, woulda, shoulda…. but it’s all fascinating to me as an automotive historian. 

    Yes, the 1941 Clipper was indeed a beauty.  But let’s not forget how different people’s tastes were back then.  The “pregnant elephant” slabsided facelift of this body which Packard built from 1948 through 1950 was the highest selling car they ever did on an annual sales basis!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      One feature of the 1955-56s Packards that I find particularly intriguing is the electric torsion-bar suspension.  Sounds like it was quite elaborate — and a breakthrough design once they got the bugs out of it.
       
      That said, given the subsequent tanking of premium-priced car sales in the late 50s and early 60s, do you think that Packard could have survived that period if it had managed to come out with its new design for 1957?  During that era Edsel and DeSoto died, Buick took a big fall, Mercury and Dodge’s once great hopes were dashed, and Lincoln limped into the 1960s with a radically downsized Continental.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Carpenter

      Hi Dr Lemming

      Studebaker (as well as Clipper – which obtained its own dealer network in 1956) and Packard still had a relatively extensive dealership network in 1957.  Dealers hadn’t morphed into huge lots near suburbs yet – they were small family operations in towns, still – for all manufacturers. 

      Look at how Chrysler did with their 1957′s (which were low, long and modern looking for the day) – they did very well, even after nearly moving towards that final light in 1954 due to the Ford-GM sales wars (which essentially fatally crippled all of the independents, in the end).

      Yes, a Studebaker, Clipper and Packard line-up could have done well enough to keep Packard’s Conner Avenue plant moving along on two shifts.

      In 1955, Packard’s newly purchased combined body and assembly plant on Conner Avenue (flawed as it was) churned out 55,500 cars (even taking into account the very slow ramp-up, and later drop-off in sales).  Clearly with improvements and two-shift operation, it could have churned out 120,000 cars a year. 

      Studebaker’s Hamilton, Ontario plant was easily able to churn out 20,000 units on two shifts (in 1965 when it was tapped as the last resort factory). 

      Studebaker’s modern, yet small Chippewa Avenue, South Bend truck factory had been tasked to build Hawks in 1956 alongside trucks; this plant churned out the 20,000 pickups, medium duty and heavy duty trucks as well as the roughly 19,000 Hawks that year so was clearly capable of at least that much production, leaving the Detroit plant to concentrate on the bread & butter cars.

      Having a total plant capacity of about 140,000 cars per year in the US would not have been far away from what brand new restyled Studebakers, Clippers and Packards could have sold in 1957, since Studebaker churned out 74,750 cars from their South Bend plant for the US that year (with a real world break-even point of about 3 times that) and Packard (including Clipper) had sold 55,500 cars in 1955.  So my estimates for 1957 restyled Stude-Clipper-Packard sales would have run in the 130,000 to 140,000 range (plus another 20,000 in Canada).  Near 100% utilization of physical plant.  PROFITABLE. 

      So to recap, running Conner, Chippewa and Hamilton flat out on two shifts each would have netted about 160,000 cars which should have kept the dealers clamoring for more in 1957 – and would surely have made the company profitable.  Imagine the dealers truthfully advertising that customers desiring a new car should come down right away as demand exceeded supply (for a change)!  Studebaker-Packard might have learned the lesson that Mercedes-Benz and BMW found valuable; if you can’t compete directly with the big boys, build something special and don’t try to discount them too much. 

      1958 (a recession year) would have netted them something like a 35% decrease, which was pretty close to what the industry did that year (which could have meant running plants on one shift for part of the year with lay-offs).  I suspect S-P would have still been profitable…. but we’ll never know.

      The Torison-Level system WAS apparently phenomenal – AND it was also reliable.  It was to be offered with tapered variable rate torison bars in 1957, and given that the architecture would have been shared on the all-new Studebakers, the system could have been an option on the Studebaker cars (but not the Hawk – different car).  1958 saw GM, Ford and even Chrysler trying to sell air-suspension (rear only for Chrysler), all of which were absolute, total and miserable, leaky and unreliable failures. Packard’s system gave a superior ride and was proven. And in the late 1950′s, five things counted: “NEW”, “LOW”, “FINS”, “FAST” and SMOOTH”.

      Had I been in charge in ’56, that’s what I’d have done.  Then I’d have used the 1957 profits to develop a proper compact for 1959 introduction - retaining body/frame construction (as the Lark DID have from ’59 through ’66) and would have made it possible to therefore use any S-P plants to build the compacts, or senior cars on demand.  

      Eventually, Clipper could have died out – as did DeSoto (last year 1961), Hudson (last year 1957), but for all intents and purposes a “fabricated out of whole cloth” marque didn’t necessarily mean it wouldn’t last.  Plymouth lasted for decades, as did Mercury, as did Pontiac.   

  • avatar
    Robbie

    My guess to the mystery:
    This car is haunted by an evil spirit; the car is like a siren, gorgeous and seductive, and brings a terrible fate to all men who fall in love with it… The unfortunate owner was trying to shield Paul from it; he tried to avoid pictures being taken, in order to prevent the car from making its next victim… Then, he defaced it with paint, in order to try beat it… However, the car has now taken its terrible murderous revenge on the owner, since the owner has disappeared… And, it is right now entrancing one poor ttac reader, who will fly out, buy it, fix it up, and become its next victim…

  • avatar

    Gawd I love Packards. Always have… likely always will.
    There is an old guy in the town I lived in until this year that has a pre-war Packard, and still uses it as a daily driver. It is a tad ratty, but otherwise is in fine mechanical condition. The look so stately rolling down the road.
     
    Great find, and good story as always Paul.
     

  • avatar
    majo8

    Gorgeous car.  Although I enjoy looking at original, unrestored classics, this car deserves a quality restoration.

  • avatar
    DeadInSideInc

    Ateupwithmotor.com has a. as per usual, excellent history of the Packard brand and cars

    1916-1923 Packard Twin Six and 1932-1939 Packard Twin Six and Twelve
    1935-1937 Packard One-Twenty
    1941-1950 Packard, Packard Clipper, and Station Sedan
    1951-1958 Packard, Packard Clipper, and Caribbean

    • 0 avatar

      Beat me to it. I love the looks of the Clipper — the roofline is really artfully done. To see one in prettier shape, this is a 1947 Custom Super Clipper (the top of the line) I shot earlier this year at the Packard International Show:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/argentla/4336310185/

  • avatar

    Robbie, I suspect you are correct. The TTAC potential buyer should consider bringing a Rooster, 2 Havanas, an 8×10 glossy of George Romney and twice as much cash as necessary for the sale. Fly Steven “King” Lang out for advice on dealing with the seller, I suspect he’s dealt with such creatures.

  • avatar
    Garak

    There’s no paint on the windows, why would the vandal cover them? Maybe the crazy guy did that himself for some reason?

  • avatar
    phantomwolf

    Keep the Caddy on the front.  The true essence of a Curbside Classic is that it is still out there, tearing up the roads like it was meant to do.  Of course should somebody else buy this one and use it to its true potential :)   But in all honesty, I this car must be part of some family dispute so don’t be surprised to see it up for sale soon.  Ed, you might want to dawn a Groucho mask or send the young one in to snatch it then, just an idea.

  • avatar
    phantomwolf

    And for those of you who want to make the trip east, I found this, http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/Straight-8-manual-3-speed-trans-2-door-/270668485721?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item3f05195459

  • avatar
    Zarba

    What a wonderful car. My guess is that it sat in a garage for a few decades, then was fought over by the heirs of the original owner.

    I can’t find The Rise and Fall of The Packard Motor Company in print anywhere for a reasonable price.  I’d love to get my hands on that.

    When I married in 1995, we hired a 1938 Packard Twelve Convertible Sedan from a local collection. They still have it.  When that lottery ticket pays off, I’m buying it. No matter the cost.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Zarba, Amazon is your friend. 

    Item 0804724571 used price from about $40

    You can also borrow it through your public library (they can do an inter-library loan and get it from whichever other libraries are in their state-district, usually for free or for a very small fee). 

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Here’s how to find a library that carries the book.  Go to the website:  http://www.worldcat.org/
     
    Once there, you don’t need to sign in or create a free account, so you can ignore that.  Under where it says: “Find items in libraries near you” click on the “Books” tab.  Then type in the EXACT title or the name of the author of the book you’re looking for.  In this case it is “Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company” or “James Arthur Ward”.  Then click “Search”.
     
    Up should pop he book you’re looking for, or a list of books by the author whose name you typed in.  (Sometimes a book will be listed more than once because there will be different versions of the same book, or sometimes different libraries will catalog the same book differently.)
     
    If you have trouble finding what you’re looking for, click on “Advanced Search” and try a key word search or one combining key words with the name of the author.  Or try something else completely.
     
    Click on the “Title” of the book and up will pop a page with more detailed information about the book.
     
    This is the neat part.  Near the bottom of the page (sometimes you will have to scroll down to find it) you will see “Find a copy in the library” and below that “Enter your location”.  Enter your zip code or the name of your city and state (or city and country outside of the US) and click on the button labeled “Find libraries.”
     
    Up will pop a list of libraries that carry the particular book that you’re looking for, with the library that is located closest to the location you’ve entered, followed by libraries that are progressively farther away from the location you’ve entered.  You can go to that library or, if your library doesn’t carry the book, you can use the information when requesting it from “Interlibrary Loan” (also known as ILL).
     
     
     
     

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    We owned a 39 Packard 120 circa 1948.  A small bus, it held our family of 8 comfortably.  Jump seats and all.  We were not out of the Depression then so it got little maintenance.  Shfting from 1 to 2 took care because the tranny would go into reverse without a wimper.  I did that one evening with a date in a downtown Easton Pa intersection.  The fix was to have someone stand on the rear bumper and rock the car several times to disengage reverse.  My father delighted in demonstrating that the straight 8 would pull the car up a steep winding hill at 15 mph 3rd gear with 8 aboard.  I admired the Packard through 1941.  After that they were pedestrian cars far outclassed by Cadillac.  Here’s a link to nostalgia 1941:
    http://www.cars-on-line.com/35903.html 

  • avatar

    Hey guys, I loved reading these tidbits.  I actually found this car when I was down in Eugene visiting family recently, and was lucky enough to talk to the girlfriend and not the owner.  She was very nice, but I could tell that there has been a lot of drama surrounding the car.  The owner is convinced that someone has stolen trim pieces off the car, and I think that burned him on anyone who shows interest in it.  She told me that weird looking stuff is rust sealant of some kind, and that it’s actually a 1947.  Check out my shots at http://www.oldparkedcars.com/2011/02/1947-packard-motor-car-company-clipper.html

  • avatar
    Huck

    Found Dr. Niedermeyer’s swell site whilst Googling 1941-47 Packard Clippers and had to thank you for getting the gist of this august car– Paul’s historical accuracy, evenhanded perspective as rare these days as the pictured survivor. A good site attracting appreciative motorheads, witnessed by the many thoughtful comments above.

    Also enjoyed Dr. Carpenter’s above consideration of what Packard might’ve done in the ’50s in a parallel universe. Interesting.

    Of course, even had Packard not failed to groom new mgmt. and continued too long with their smooth, dependable L-head eights, NO independent could get unit costs and tool amorization down to GM/Ford levels, or afford expensive TV advertising and annual styling changes. By 1954, there was only a “Big Two” as Chrysler’s market share had fallen to 12.9%.

    Remember, all Cadillacs were downsized for 1936, becoming from then on “junior” cars, sharing components with lesser GMobiles. A ’41 Cad conv., for example, shares every piece of sheet metal with a ’41 Pontiac drophead.

    Rolls-Royce was from 1935-on chiefly an aero engine manufacturer, the cars a boutique sideline, after the war bodies stamped by Austin supplier Pressed Steel of Cowley. The “small horsepower” junior R-R 20 introduced in 1922 was along the lines of the 1920 Buick 6, tho’ in the words of an English motoring writer of the era, “….not so good.” It was the basis for all R-R and R-R Bentleys except the limited-production Phantoms ’til R-R finally offered a V-8 in 1959, whose chief engineer, inebriated at its debut, blurted out, “….it’s bloody near as good as the Chrysler.”

    R-R copied Packard’s Safe-t-fleX IFS bolt for bolt after WWII.
    R-R’s Silver Cloud and concurrent Bentley S-series introduced autumn, 1955 look like razor-edged 1941 Packard Clippers with curved, one-piece windshields.

    W.O. Bentley, Ettore Bugatti, Enzo Ferrari openly respected Packard.

    Count Felice Trossi, millionaire in dollars and pounds, not just lire, who raced and commissioned custom Mercedes, Alfa-Romeo, Maserati, and won the 1947 Italian Grand Prix, ’48 Swiss GP, as the Italian representative for Packard in Italy, owned a ’46 Clipper like the down at the heels survivor Paul profiles above.

    If you doubt Dutch Darrin’s paternity claims, superimpose his 1940 Packard Darrin Sport Sedan over a 1941 Clipper. Not much chance of all that Masonic Packard boardroom, Detroit Athletic Club
    ego admitting their big production hit of the ’40s was by a rake who courted showgirls and was brought from Paris to Hollywood by Darryl F.Zanuck’s assurances that the polo was good.

    Pardon this ramble, but Paul’s gem and perspective was a welcome surprise to my once in blue moon search for intelligent life in the ethernet.

    Missed an episode of Highway Patrol on one of the Valley stations i have to use rabbit ears and a convertor box to get to post this. But it was worth it. Many thanks for getting it right.

    Broderick Crawford solved anything with a roadblock.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Was this the car that featured in a youtube story in 2009?


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