Cohort Capsule: 1955 Packard Clipper Hardtop Coupe – Hot Rod Packard

Packard 1955 Clipper rq

Finding a genuine curbside Packard is undoubtedly one of the highlights of any CC’er. I’ve managed to snag two, a ’51 200 and a ’46 Clipper Super, both in my neighborhood. But that’s been it, so I’m always ready to share the thrill of someone else finding one, especially when it’s a bit out of the ordinary, as this mild custom that appears to get driven and lives on the street. nifty43 posted these at the Cohort; shot in British Columbia. When’s the last time you saw a Packard with lake pipes and mildly lowered? It’s got attitude along with its lowered altitude.

Packard 1955 Clipper fq

Well, from that rear-quarter shot, anyway. From this angle, it looks a bit more sedate, or should we say patrician? No, not an actual “Patrician”, as that name was reserved for the genuine Packards. The lower-tier Clippers were in the process of being “divorced” from the senior Packard line; by 1956, “Clipper” had been registered as a distinct make, and all Packard dealers had to have both “Clipper” and “Packard” signs. Talk about re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Enough of that ugly history; it certainly wasn’t supposed to turn out that way with these new 1955 models. They were Packard’s Hail Mary pass, and it was fumbled. Literally; as in a bad decision to use a crowded body plant on Connor Avenue instead of its spacious main plant on East Grand Boulevard to build its bodies in-house after body-supplier Briggs was bought by Chrysler.

Body production experienced serious bottlenecks as well as quality shortcomings. In a boom year for the industry, Packard managed to deliver some 55,000 cars, not nearly the great and desperately-needed come-back hoped for. And sales took a terminal dive in 1956. By 1957, it was just “Packardbakers“.

Packard 1955 Clipper int

But these ’55s had a lot going for them: a major do-over stylistically, although still using the basic ’51 body; a powerful new OHV V8 engine (with a problematic oil pump) to replace the antediluvian straight eights,  and “Torsion-Level” suspension, a rather remarkable affair that involved torsion bars front and rear, as well as an electric motor to adjust ride height and effectively linking all four wheels. The brochures are a bit sketchy, but it appears that “Torsion Aire” was standard on the senior Packards, and available on the upper-tier Clipper Custom.

I’m not exactly sure if this is a base Clipper or Clipper Custom. The base Clipper came with a 320 CID version of the new V8, with 225 hp. The Custom got the bigger 352 inch version, with 245 hp. Given that this Clipper’s owner seems quite interested in its performance, what with the tach and lake pipes, I’d like to think it has the 352, perhaps with the dual four-barrel carb induction system that generated 275 hp in the Packard Caribbean. Since there’s no clutch pedal, we know it has Packard’s Ultramatic drive, which was further refined for the additional power of the V8s.

Packard 1955 Clipper ffq

As per the badge out front, we shouldn’t really be using the word “Packard” in this post, except for perhaps “Built by Packard Craftsmen”, the line used in Clipper ads. That didn’t work in 1955, and it’s not going to work now; no,we’re not going to start a new listing in the CC Portals for “Clipper”. It’s a Packard. And a genuine curbside classic one, at that. Welcome to the club.


Related reading:

CC 1951 Packard 200 and a brief Packard History

CC 1955 Packard 400: Bravely Facing Forward

CC 1956 Packard Patrician: Please Proceed to the Lifeboats

CC 1957 Packard: I Used To Be Somebody

CC 1958 Packard: Last Gasp