What is it?

1955 Packard Clipper was on its last legs

Our quiz last week show the odd two-toning on the side of a 1955 Packard Clipper. Our only hint was that this was a marque no longer manufactured, but of course, that title also could go to DeSoto, Plymouth, Mercury, Studebaker, Rambler, Oldsmobile, Saturn … well, you get the sad picture.

You will recall that Packard was an esteemed luxury car in the old days, the product of the Packard Motor Car Co. of Detroit. Known by its massive grille that looked as though it hailed from ancient Greek architecture, the car was preferred by dignified owners who settled for nothing but the best.

Poor sales after World War II forced the company to merge with Studebaker in the 1950s, however, and after a couple of years of “Packardbakers” (1957-58) that did nothing to honor the past decades, Packard went the way of LaSalle, Auburn and Duesenberg.

This 1955 Clipper shows that by 1955, Packard looked for all the world like Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth with its loud two-tone paint, Oldsmobile-like tail lamps and horizontal grille that, though still graceful, gave no hint of its family tree.

The next year, Clipper became its own line of cars, the same as Packard. It didn’t go over well to have the two brands competing, though and Packard, a luxury car standard since 1899, passed away in 1958. On its deathbed, it was built by the Studebaker-Packard Corp. of South Bend, Ind.

Both Packard and Studebaker had been well-respected trendsetters in their heyday, but the times and the economy just caught up with them. Gone forever were the Super Eight, Patricians, Caribbean, Custom, Executive and, of course, the Clipper.

Chosen randomly from the correct entries was the name of Phillip Crump, of Hephzibah, who wrote: “This week’s What Is It? is a 1955 Packard Clipper. It is just like the one I saw in the showroom of our local Packard dealership on 13th Street. I was 12 years old when I went in to look and touch this beautiful car.

“The salesman told me not to touch it because the Packard was an upscale car and they didn’t want us kids leaving fingerprints all over it.

“Then he asked what my daddy drove, I told him a 1953 Lincoln, and he told me to bring my daddy in to buy a Packard – but he wasn’t interested in buying a Packard.”

Thanks to Crump for his memories. Other readers identifying the vehicle were:

AUGUSTA: Lowell Fritsche wrote: “You got me on the car last week, and I’m not doing much better on this one. I was thinking maybe a 1950 Ford Crestliner, but I don’t think its right. But that’s my guess and I’m sticking to it.”

Gary Engen wrote: “This time you’re back in the ’50s again. The photo is of a 1955 Packard Clipper Custom four-door sedan. For 1955, Packard became a marque in the newly formed Studebaker-Packard Corp. and significantly altered the Clipper model with a new design, new engine options and a new chassis. That wraparound windshield you can identify in the photo was new that year.

“The Clipper Custom was the most deluxe sedan of three trim levels offered by Packard in 1955 and came factory-equipped with power windows, power brakes and steering, power four-way front bench seat, power antenna, auxiliary rear heater, auxiliary rear speaker with volume control, the first lockup torque converter and an automatic rear leveling suspension. Many had that distinctive two-tone paint pattern.

“When I was growing up, my family never owned a Packard but we did once own a 1954 four-door Oldsmobile that had a very similar body style and two-tone paint design. The Olds, though, with its ‘Rocket 88’ V-8 engine, would easily outrun any of those Packards.”

John Hayes wrote: “I think the car in today’s paper is a 1955 Packard Clipper Constellation.”

James Wall thought it might be a 1959 Ford, although the white paint at the bottom of the door made it resemble the 1958 or 1959 Mercury.

CANTON, Ga.: David Anderson said: “The Packard Motor Car Co. was founded by brothers James and William Packard in 1898 after James had numerous mechanical breakdowns driving home in his newly purchased Winton automobile. His already being a manufacturer of electrical equipment, the first Packard plied the streets of Warren, Ohio, in November 1899 after just 14 months.

“By the way, Packard Electrical was eventually sold to General Motors and still exists today as a subsidiary of Delphi, which was spun off from GM.

“Almost from the beginning, Packard was known as an outstanding automobile. It was James Packard himself who reportedly coined the advertising phrase, ‘Ask the man who owns one.’ Packard quickly became the leading luxury-car brand and the one to which those of wealth and power aspired. Various histories of Packard today often refer to Packard as America’s Rolls-Royce.

“Packard was a small company, however, building only a total of a few more than 1.6 million cars in its entire 59-year history. The recessions and hard economic times of the 1930s forced Packard to introduce smaller, less costly models to boost sales, just to survive. These models certainly saved Packard, but they diluted the brand name.

“When America’s involvement into World War II became evident after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Packard had just introduced its new Clipper styling in 1941. Sales were sufficient that Packard switched nearly its entire lineup over to the Clipper styling for 1942; then manufacturing came to a halt.

“After the war, the American new car market was wide open with a need as much as a desire to buy something – anything new. Packard made the fateful decision to stick with the volume of the lower-priced models with now-dated looks, rather than try to reclaim the title of America’s top luxury car manufacturer.

“It has been noted in several references that immediately after the war, cars at all price points sold quicker than the manufacturers could build them for several years. Packard built cars that sold and made them money, but could most likely have made the same or better profit on fewer luxury-level cars. In the process, it maybe could have at least remained on an even keel with other luxury manufacturers such as Cadillac.

“Between 1948 and 1952, Packard dropped the Clipper name. It reappeared in 1953 as an all-new entry-level model. The 1955 model shown in the teaser shot is an updated version of that 1953 model. Packard President James Nance was wanting to separate the Clipper name from Packard into its own brand, and so in 1954 they had become ‘Clipper by Packard.’

“For 1955, significant engineering changes such as torsion-level suspension and power steering were added. Engines and transmissions were unique to Clippers, and they also had unique two-tone exterior color schemes each year in addition to unique styling features. The two-tone color scheme is what identifies this as a 1955 Clipper.

“With its unique looks and features now in place, Packard finally in 1956 marketed it as a separate name with only Clipper badging. Dealers had to sign all-new agreements to sell the Clipper.

“Customers were not fooled, and although they knew it was a Packard, they began shunning it for obvious reasons; they had wanted a Packard and they wanted it to say ‘Packard.’

“Packard quietly began adding the Packard scripts to the cars midyear and even allowed the dealers to retroactively add them to customers’ cars if they asked, but not before they had already begun losing both customers and dealers to other brands.

“1955 is significant in the history of Packard because that is the year they merged with Studebaker and the company name officially became Studebaker-Packard, although on paper it had been Packard that bought Studebaker.

“Things did not go well for Packard (that could be the subject of entire column) and they were around for only three more years with nearly all of the models in those years being rebadged Studebakers, not so affectionately referred to as ‘Packardbakers.’ As the final insult, before Studebaker ceased operation in 1966 it officially dropped Packard out of the corporate name.”

EVANS: Jeff Keevil got the 1955 Packard Clipper and said: “This was a tough one for me. There were several versions of the Clipper line. I don’t recall seeing any of them.”

Wayne Wilke wrote: “You probably will notice a new submitter, our son Paul, for the 1955 Packard Clipper. He flew in from California on Wednesday to visit.

“I was reading The Chronicle. Paul likes cars, and over the years I have shared stories and details about the What Is It? car contests. I said to him, ‘You’re on your own, you got this one.’ He said, ‘Well it’s one of the cars that is no longer made and (the quiz) used the word ‘narrow,’ so it might be a narrow car like a Nash Metropolitan. I think it’s from the ‘50s.’

“I said, ‘Sometimes the clues can be esoteric or misleading, so look through my book of Cars of the ‘50s and see what fits.’ He started listing all of the discontinued cars and started looking through the book. After a while he shouted out: ‘I think it’s a ‘55 Packard Clipper.’

“He then went on the internet and decided that he had gotten it right. The whole exchange really turned into a great father/son sharing moment.” (Editor’s note: We’re glad to be a part of that experience, but “misleading”? We never would mislead our readers. Not on purpose, anyway.)

Bill Harding wrote: “Well, here goes nothing. I’m taking a wild guess that this week’s quizmobile is a 1955 Packard Clipper. The company’s motto was ‘Ask the man who owns one,’ but by the mid-’50s it had become difficult to find such a man.

“Once upon a time, Packard was a very popular luxury car, routinely outselling Cadillac. However, in 1949 Cadillac unveiled its new overhead-valve V-8. Chrysler’s Hemi V-8 came out in 1951, and Lincoln launched its new V-8 in 1952. Packard still relied on its ancient flathead straight-eight for motivation. In 1955, Packard – at long last –joined the overhead-valve V-8 fraternity. The engine displaced 352 cubic inches and made up to 275 horsepower. It was coupled with Packard’s ‘Ultra Matic’ transmission, and the nicely restyled cars rode on Packard’s all-new torsion-bar suspension systems.

“With all the new equipment came quality-control issues, exactly what Packard did not need for it was trying to upgrade its luxury-car status. It took most of calendar year 1955 to sort out and eliminate the many quality-control problem areas. 1956 Packards were quite reliable, but much damage had been done to the marque’s reputation. Studebaker-Packard Corp. killed off the car after 1956.

“When the 1957 Packards went on sale, they were simply restyled Studebakers, made at the Studebaker plant in South Bend, Ind. Packard’s Detroit plant was shuttered. When I was 9 years old, a neighbor bought a new 1955 Packard. I knew all about the car’s nifty suspension system and would press down on one corner of the car and watch (and listen) as the electric servos magically raised the corner back up.

“Just in case you were wondering whether the neighbor got wise to my antics, he did. He cured me by informing my mother, who then informed my father. No, I never touched that man’s Packard again. Within a year, the Packard was replaced by a swoopy new 1957 DeSoto. It had a torsion-bar suspension, also – but it wasn’t self-leveling.”

GRANITEVILLE: Kyle Corley said it looks like a 1957 Ford.

HEPHZIBAH: Theo Hammontree said it was the 1955 Packard Clipper Constellation.

Eddy Marsh said: “Today’s car is a 1955 Packard Clipper four-door sedan. I can’t tell which model it is by the photo but it could be a Custom, Deluxe or Super. When I first saw the teaser I thought it might be hard to find. But after looking at it for a minute or two I thought of the mid-50s Packard. Sure enough, it was a 1955. There was a total production of 38,684 Clippers in 1955, with 24,996 of them sedans.

“There were two engine choices, a 320-cubic-inch V-8 with 225 horsepower and a 352 V-8 with 245 horsepower. Transmissions were either three-speed manual or a three-speed Ultramatic automatic. 1957 was the last year of the Packard.

MILLEN, Ga.: David Thompson said 1955 Packard Clipper: “Wasn’t a bad-looking car. I would like to have one.”

PERRY, Fla.: Larry Anderson said the 1955 Packard Clipper.

VALLEJO, Calif.: Paul Wilke correctly identified the 1955 Clipper and said: “Packard had a history of producing fine luxury cars that were well-engineered. In 1955, Packard replaced their old straight-eight engines with powerful V-8s. Packard’s Torsion-Level suspensions, which also had electrically controlled load correction, were well-designed.

“Packard had acquired Studebaker in 1954, which was not a good corporate match and Studebaker brought financial problems with it. In 1957, the Studebaker-Packard Corp. was acquired by the Curtiss-Wright Corp. After 1958, the Packard name ceased to appear on cars. The C-W Corp. produced Studebakers until March 1966.”

THIS WEEK’S QUIZ

Do you know the make, model and year of this week’s car? If you need a clue to narrow down the possibilities, consider that this car was raised from the ashes by converting it from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive midway through its life.

Enter the quiz through our online form at chronicle.augusta.com/whatisit. Or, you can email glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com or call (706) 823-3419.

Tell us your name, city and stories you have about a car like this. If you call, please spell your name.

You have through Tuesday. Entries will be printed Friday. Thank you.

– Glynn Moore,

staff writer

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