During the 1930s, Packard was a major style leader, producing some of the most beautiful automobiles ever made. But by the late 1930s, their designs had begun to look dated next to some of the new offerings from GM. Although the '40-'42 Packards were beautiful automobiles, they were built in the "classic" old school design. A new car was clearly needed to lead Packard into and through the '40s.
In 1939, a campaign began to design and build an all new lower, wider and sleeker car to be called the Packard "Clipper". The car was to be new in all ways, with new mechanical innovations, suspensions, interiors, and, of course, an all new body! Packard's Edward McCauley head of styling, and Werner Gubitz, chief stylist, had been responsible for the '30s classic era designs, and, although they were liked and respected by the Packard management, a decision was made to go "out of house" to seek the new design. Unwilling to rely on just one designer's concept, Packard consulted Briggs Manufacturing (their body builder), Walker and Associates (who would ultimately design the Clipper's dashboard), and Howard "Dutch" Darrin, a designer with his business in Hollywood, California, designing cars for the Hollywood royalty of the day. Darrin had worked for Packard designing a line of semi-custom cars, so he was already familiar with the company and how they built cars. Other designers were consulted, but ultimately, Darrin would get the commission. He was given an unbelievable deadline of only 10 days! He met the deadline, submitting a quarter-size clay model for management's approval. The model had the trademark Darrin look, with sweeping belt line, blind rear quarter panels, long, low hood, and a roof that notched below the rear window and flowed back, creating a shortened trunk (giving the car a look of forward movement) plus flow-through fenders and no running boards! Packard loved it, and felt it was perfect for the new car to be called "Clipper".
As is always the case, management did make a few changes before production, including raising the belt line, shortening the front fender sweep to end into the front doors instead of Darrin's which flowed to the rear fenders. They also rolled the lower door edges to suggest a hidden running board, feeling that this would help their more conservative clientele make the running board deletion a little less stressful. The rolled edge doors also blended the doors into the rear fenders, creating a smooth transition, eliminating the add-on fender look, making the body seem more like a one-piece stamping. With these changes, Packard felt that this was it! This would be the car to become the Packard Clipper.
The new Clipper debuted in April of 1941 as a separate line from the 110, 120, 160 and 180 classic series already being sold. The Clipper would be the only pre-war series, continuing after World War II, through 1947 with only minor changes. The new Clipper was built with 6, 8 and Super 8 engines, and was available in 2 door coupes (Club Sedans) and 4 door Sedans. The Super 8s were also available in 7-passenger sedans and limousines.
Our subject car is a 1946 Packard Custom Super 8 Clipper, Black 4-door Sedan. We bought it two years ago in Atlanta, GA, sight unseen, as a 50,000 original mile, museum-quality original car. There were no disappointments! While driving the car home, we were amazed at how "tight" and smooth the car performed. It has a working electromatic clutch (vacuum shift clutch) and overdrive (called "Econo-drive"). This reduces engine RPMs by over 27%, letting the engine loaf at interstate speeds.
IMPRESSIONS: Sitting behind the wheel reminds me of being inside of a 1940s Pullman coach. One is surrounded by a wood grained dash and window frames: The upper section is in straight grain and the bottom in a burled effect with a mother-of-pearl simulation on the door pulls. When the driver looks out over the long hood, the cormorant hood ornament appears to lead the way. The car is very quiet, with doors that close with one push, sounding much like a bank vault in their precision "click".
The upholstery is 32 oz. heavy wool broadcloth in a reddish-brown, with cream piping, which somehow still smells new! Seating is very comfortable, with great back support from the individually-wrapped Marshall coil springs. The seats were designed by an orthopedic surgeon, a fact promoted in Packard's advertising campaign! The carpet is heavy moss-tred, dyed to match the seats, and it continues into the trunk. The headliner seams run front to back (fore and aft), making the already long car seem even longer.
The engine is a 356 CID, 9 main bearing, hydraulic lifter straight 8. It's coupled to a 3-speed synchromesh transmission with overdrive. To start the engine, turn the key, depress the accelerator, and the car starts. The starter switch is on the carburetor, activated by the depressed accelerator linkage (Buick had a similar setup). The car starts instantly and warms up quickly. The engine is so quiet that I sometimes race it at a stop light, to see if it is still running! Shifting gears is almost "fluid".
The gear shifter has a ball that turns upward and fits right into your hand, requiring just a touch to go through the gears. This is partly because of the special tower linkage designed for the car: With the car in first gear, approaching 22 mph, to engage the overdrive, momentarily lift your foot from the accelerator, then press down again, causing the overdrive to kick in. The knob under the dash is pushed in for "on" and pulled out for "off", and once selected, can remain in that position.
The torque on these cars is amazing! I have actually left the car in 3rd gear, let the clutch out and pulled away from a stop sign, without any shudder from the car. It really is at home on the interstate, or a 2-lane road where you can drive at speeds over 50 mph. You can count on good oil pressure (40+), and for the car to run 180-185 degrees on a hot summer day. The brakes are made by Lockheed, and require very little pedal pressure to stop with assurance, despite no power assist. Steering, compared to our smaller series Standard 8 '46 is harder until the car is in motion. As the car gets underway, it is light, with a positive feel.
At any speed, there is little wind noise. The angle of the front windshield is such that at night there is a reflection in it from the dash gauges--a minor problem that was remedied on the '48 models.
Servicing the engine is easy. The hood is hinged on the left and right, instead of the common "alligator" front opening. It also has releases so that the hood can not only be opened left or right, but also lifted completely off the car for total engine access. It has a conventional drive shaft, rather than a torque tube, effecting easy transmission removal and U-joint servicing.
This is one car that doesn't need changing; Packard built it right from the start! It is in my opinion one of their finest! See you at the fall shows! Keep 'em driving!