After World War II, all of the automotive manufacturers were pushing to get their 1946 models out. All new models would have to wait a few years as they re-tooled for cars, after being set up for planes, tanks and war equipment and supplies. At Packard, their postwar car would be a return to the "Clipper," a very sleek-bodied car that had been introduced in late 1941, but still had a fresh, in-with-the-times look. Designer Dutch Darrin was credited with the design and you can see his flow-through front fender design into the doors. Gone were the big Custom 180's, the gothic-styled cars with sidemounts, as well as the 110's, 120's and 160's. It was another day. The Clipper was the only line Packard offered, but it could be bought in a Six, Eight, Super 8 and Custom Super 8. The Super and Custom were the big 356 CID 9 main bearing engines that had intro'ed in 1940, considered by some as Packard's best straight 8's.
The '46's had only a few changes from the '42's: A new grill with fewer and wider-spaced horizontal bars, a few dash changes and aluminum pistons. The '42's had used steel pistons because of the wartime aluminum shortage. The first Packard out of the gate in late '45 was the Packard Eight 4-doora 282 CID straight 8. The car came in a wide array of colors: Black, Lowell Gray, Coral Blue, Vanderbilt Gray, Vermont Green, Cavalier Maroon, and Packard Blue on 7-passenger/limos only. Doreen Yellow and Ruxton Brown Metallic were added later in '46.
Two-toning, which included a new-for-'46 upper body stripe down the hood, the top, and area around the green house and the trunk ('46 only), was available in Vanderbilt Gray (upper, for all) and Lowell Gray, Coral Blue, Vermont Green or Black available for lower body. Interiors were tan or blue-gray with pinstriped seats.
For me, these cars work best with wide white walls and fender skirts, which were teardrop design to complete the Darrin flow of the back fenders.
My first Packard, this article's subject car, was a '46 Clipper 8. I found it in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1970 at Shumaker's Livery Service. They rented and sold limousines at that time. I played lead guitar in the '60's and early '70's and had an 8-piece band called the "Luv Machine." We had a 3-piece horn section and played soul and jazz rock, similar to Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. I can still hear that sweet soul music. We had two vans for the equipment and we drove our muscle cars to the gigs. That was a lot of vehicles, and risk of someone breaking down, and we couldn't be late to the jobs, so I thought it would be cool and practical to ride to the jobs together in a Cadillac limo.
When we arrived at Shumaker's, I remember it as being a large warehouse, dark in spots and full of "commercial" cars. We looked at a '62 Cadillac black limo with jump seats, but then I saw across the building in a dark corner, a '40's sedan covered in a velvety gray dust, with a cormorant (bird) on the hood. It had kind of a ghostly look, sitting there. I couldn't wait to get over to see that car, and I guess running sort of blew my cover for negotiations. The paint was nice, the car sat up nice. When I opened the door, even the interior was nice! I remember it showing very little wear in tan broadcloth with pinstripped seats and nice wood graining on the dash and window garnishments. It smelled like my grandfather's wardrobe.
I had to have the car. Then it occurred to me that I hadn't even asked if it ran. The shop's owner told me that the car had been used in the livery service until 1954 and his father had bought it, then parked it in 1964. As far as he knew, it would run, but it wasn't for sale.
As he was saying this, I was opening the hood. These hoods release on the left or right side by way of hand-operated levers on the left and right sides under the dash. If both handles were pushed down, the hood could be lifted off of the car, similar to Buicks of the day. When I opened the driver's side of the hood, I could see the straight 8. It looked complete and clean. It just needed a battery. I asked the owner, how much?
I just don't want to sell it.
I checked the oil and water and made notes on what it would take to drive it home to Lexington, Kentucky. On the way home I forgot about the limos and couldn't wait to call the guy about the Packard. Soon, I was home and had him on the phone. Okay, okay! I'll take $225 for it! I told him I was on the way back, and he told me he was going home and to come tomorrow to pick it up.
The next day, I was there with a new battery, oil (non-detergent 30-weight), and $225. When I finished servicing the '46, it started with no misses. I was young then, and it never occurred to me to drain the old gas out of the tank. This was long before ethanol, and the leaded gas lasted longer before separating. I got in and drove it the ninety miles back to Lexington down I-75. It ran beautifully!
Now, here I am years later, and I still have the car. I drove it for years and shut it down about 25 years ago, doing a body-on-frame restoration. The body was stripped to the metal, rust repaired, drive train done, brakes, exhaust and chrome, then we partially assembled it and put it in storage, starting it with fresh gas every six months to keep everything working. A few months ago, I decided to clean it up and get it running, and start putting it back together. Before cleaning up the body, I wanted to start it. I had previously removed the battery, so I got a new one and put in a new fuel filter. We use the AC glass bowl, paper element ones used in the '50's and '60's located at the carburetor. I cranked the car with the coil wire off just to do a quick check to see if the valves were stuck. Stuck valves is a common problem on straight 8's and usually not too big a deal. I just remove the plugs, pour Marvel mystery Oil in, filling the cylinders and let them set for a week. I have never had to pull a head and side cover to free up stuck valves. I put my palm over the throat of the carburetor as I cranked the car and could feel the suction on my palm. For a more conclusive test, use a vacuum gauge. (See our Archives on Engine Testing with a Vacuum Gauge). Knowing that the points oxidize in Georgia's wet climate, I filed them, along with the rotor's brass pointer, then noticed the bottom of the distributor cap's center brass button was missing! It was not down inside the distributor housing. I had this car running just a few months ago! How do these things happen? I have learned to expect everything, even if it's illogical. I replaced the cap. Now, when I cranked the car, it had spark, had gas and it started. After warming up, I throttled it and had a loss of power, like it was running out of gas, and it was backfiring! I put a fuel pressure gauge in line between the fuel pump and carburetor in the filter's place. Fuel pressure for 1940-50 Packards is 4-5 psi. My car idled at 4 psi, but when throttled, the gauge needle jumped erratically but didn't drop below 4 psi. A quick test for a failing carb accelerator pump is to look down the throat of the carburetor while the engine is running and throttle it. You should be able to see gas spraying in. Of course, that doesn't tell you how well the accelerator pump is working; only that it is. Before replacing the carburetor, we started at the gas tank, removing the gas cap, blowing out the vent and removing the line out to the fuel pump, then blowing into the tank. It was clear. We removed the line from the tank to the in line at the fuel pump and blew through it. Something came out. We then blew through the line from the out side of the fuel pump to the carburetor. With both sides disconnected. It was clear. Now we had a good vented tank and no obstructions or breaks in the line from the tank to the carburetor. We replaced the carburetor, but still had the problem. The fuel pump was the only thing left in the fuel system, so I ordered one.
With the new fuel pump, we have completed the fuel system. It was time to look to other causes, consulting our chart for loss of power and backfiring.
Bad vacuum advance units can cause this problem, and if not repaired can cause an engine meltdown, as we learned the hard way on our '78 Silverado 350. We lost power on a trip, and by the time we got home, found a bad vacuum advance and several burnt valves. They're easy to check. Just remove the line from the vacuum advance to the carburetor at the carb end, put a vacuum/brake bleeder tool on the carb end of the line and pull vacuum on the vacuum advance. If it holds vacuum on the gauge, the unit is good; if it doesn't, it's bad. After testing ours, it was bad.
While waiting for a fuel pump and vacuum unit, it was a good time to clean up the body. Southern Wheels Restoration team member Woody Johnson took on this project. The body had already been stripped to the metal with several coats of gray lacquer primer on it. This primer is not waterproof and had gotten wet and was showing surface rust on it. Woody, using an 8" D/A with 80 grit disks and a grinder with a wire wheel, took the car back to bare metal. The metal was wiped down with PPG's Metal Etch, then primed again with gray lacquer primer. It's old-school and most any paint can go on over it, including OEM finishes, nitrocellulose lacquer, acrylic lacquer and acrylic enamel. They also used a sealer primer over the lacquer primer. It is important to make sure that all finishes are compatible to whatever top coat paint you will be using.
With the car in primer and ready for the parts on order to come in, I will close this article and continue next month with our quest to get this old Packard running at its best. Keep 'em driving!