Clip Art: 1956 Packard Clipper

Packard has to be considered one of the great car companies in American automotive history. The company was founded in 1899 by the two Packard brothers and a partner in Warren, Ohio. In 1902 the company moved to Detroit, and soon became established as a leader in the industry, building and selling luxury cars through the 1930s. The company’s slogan “Ask the man who owns one” was used as early as 1901 and became one of the most recognized lines in American culture.

Despite their market strength and brand loyalty, even Packard could not withstand the economic pressures of the Great Depression, and in 1935, the company introduced a medium priced line called the 120. This move doubtless saved the company, even though it diminished the sense of exclusivity that Packard had worked so hard to develop over its first years in business.

The move toward greater sales continued after World War II, further diluting the brand, and it did not help that it took Packard until 1951 to introduce its first post war models. The “pregnant elephant” design of the 1948-50 cars was not altogether popular and made Packard seem dated to many potential customers. All of these factors, together with the massive economies of scale enjoyed by the “Big Three” put Packard and the other independents under huge pressure in the early to mid-fifties. Studebaker and Packard merged in 1954, in what turned out to be a terrible move, as Studebaker’s poor financial condition and many questionable post-merger management decisions dragged down the Studebaker-Packard company much faster than anticipated.

The Clipper was Packard’s junior line in the fifties, and for 1956, the last year of “real” Packards, the Clipper was actually a marque all its own (even though it is referred to as the Packard Clipper). The Clipper for sale on Craigslist is located in Tucson, Arizona and looks fairly complete and not terribly rusty. I don’t know enough about these cars to be able to tell whether this one is a Custom, Deluxe or Super. Perhaps one of our knowledgeable readers can tell from the side trim?

The seller claims this car is rust-free and it runs. Its paint looks to be original, and you could fix up the mechanicals and drive the car without a full body restoration. The interior does not look terrible (just dirty) and that after-market AC is an attraction, though it is probably not functional. The seller says this car has been sitting for many years and will need some work to be roadworthy again. His $1,500 asking price seems quite reasonable for this fairly rare and complete vehicle. I admit I am partial to cars of this era – I really hope someone will spend the time and money to put this beauty back on the road again.


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  1. Howard A Member

    Just a shame this car didn’t save Packard. It had everything. I owned a 1950 Packard Standard 8, 4 door for many years. I used to hate that term “pregnant elephant”, but it did accurately describe what model we’re talking about. I think this is a Clipper Deluxe, with the one color side and push button automatic. This probably has Packard’s new V-8, the 352 and the new “Twin Ultramatic”, designed in part by a young engineer named John D. DeLorean. This car clearly has the electric torsion bar suspension, as the major sag in the back reveals. Electric starter motors turned torsion bars to compensate for extra weight. It was a good setup, great ride, but I believe many replaced them with standard springs. I hope someone saves this great car, the last “real Packard”.

    Sidenote: to all you thumbs downers, you win.( I mean, 1 or 2, I suppose but 6,7,8, I get it) Clearly many people don’t like my comments, and the red thumbs down is like a big middle finger, so I’m going to be “10-7”, on the side. Take care all, have a safe holidays. You too, thumbs.

    • Howard A Member

      Oops, John Z., probably be all over that too.

    • RayT Member

      Don’t do it, Howard! That just means more downvotes for the rest of us!

      We’re countin’ on you to take the point!

    • Ed P

      The ’56 Packard and Clipper were beautiful cars. The best looking Packard had produced in many years. The 56’s were much improved over the 55’s but they added the troublesome push button shifter and the self leveling torsion bar system. And, the rest is history.

    • JCW Jr.

      You stop they win.

    • St. Ramone de V8

      Howard! Don’t do it! It’s guys like you who have relevant, informed, and interesting input, and contribute almost every time that make this site what it is. I get it. It’s kind of like a middle finger when these jerks do this, but …so what? I always look forward to your input, and surely would miss it.

    • DrinkinGasoline

      Howard….You are not going 10-7 “Out of Service”,
      I won’t have it ! I could care less about any thumbs down and nor should you ! There are no wins or losses here, only experience.
      Should you dare to ride the sidelines, I will hunt you down at the Old Motor as well as Hemmings and dog you until you relent ! There is no substitute for experience and I believe that anyone who chooses to ignore that, chooses to be ignorant.

    • Bill McCoskey

      Howard A —
      Your comment is quite accurate, and I agree that it’s probably a Deluxe, the base level Clipper, as it has a 100% vinyl seating surface. It’s too bad they didn’t take a photo of the right side of the dash, it would have said Clipper Deluxe, Supper or Custom. Same with the front fenders, I think based on the look of the emblem on the front fender, that it says “Deluxe”.

      As for converting these cars to standard springs instead of the Torsion-Level ride, It’s almost impossible, and quite unnecessary as they were very reliable and when they did fail, it was electrical, almost always due to the height sensor box electrical contacts, an easy repair [take it out, open it, clean contacts, re-install]. You might be thinking of the Chrysler & GM Air-ride systems, they were very trouble prone, and the air bags were not available after about 1966. Most of those cars were converted to springs, an easier job.

      Note the small “Packard” emblem on the right side of the trunk lid. Many dealers were upset at the Clippers not having a Packard emblem, and the factory, late in the model year, encouraged the dealers to add the emblem on the trunk. [Anything to help sliding sales towards the end of the Detroit Packard era.] This is often the same Packard emblem as used on the dashboards of earlier 50’s Packards.

      As to the 1948-50 “Bathtub” Packards, When new, they won all 8 of the major automotive styling awards, and a Super-8 convertible was on display at the MOMA in New York for a while. Problem was, the 1950’s were an era of rapid styling advances, and the look was quite dated within only a couple of years.

      Has anyone noticed the Packard company motto of “Ask the man who owns one”, has been bastardized by Toyota: They now advertise; “ask a friend who owns one”. Not surprising, the Japanese have always been very good at copying things!

      • Ed P

        @Bill: Chrysler never used an air suspension system. Their torsion bar suspension was called “Torsionaire” but was all torsion bar at the front.

    • Woodie Man

      Hey Howard, I can’t remember… did you see the pix I posted of my first car the 1950 Packard Ultramatic? All of seventeen years old and driving a low mileage doctor’s car….til the tranny went south.

      The dash on the ’56’s is just magnificient! Fabulous.

      On another continuing issue….Jeeze I’m tired of this thumb business. Why dont we dump ’em? If you dont agree with what someone says then say so in a polite and accurate fashion. The thumbs are juvenile and not worthy of the great enthusiast site BF has become.

      Off my soapbox now.

      • Howard A Member

        Hi WM, I do. My other grandfather bought a brand new ’48 Custom 8.( which is why I’m into post-war Packard’s) It was his 1st new car. Paid $2,806 for it, or $28,101 today, so it was no cheap car.

  2. Tommy

    If anyone needs one I have a glove box owner’s manual for this car!

  3. brakeservo

    When this first came up on my screen, I quickly glanced and thought – Wow, a Soviet Russian GAZ 13 Chaika! (I owned one once, turns out the same car also belonged to another frequent commentator on this site before me).

    I’d always heard that the front fenders, hood, windshield and even the hubcaps (apart from the center medallion) were a direct interchange with the Packard pieces but others dispute that. Anyone really know the truth??

    • RayT Member

      I would doubt the “interchange” story, but it’s clear what influenced the Soviet designers!

      Given the choice, I’d almost rather have the GAZ instead of the Packard. No good reason for that, except I’d be certain not to see three others at a Cars & Coffee show!

    • David W Member

      USSR manufacturers copied looks of mid-fifties American cars, but no parts interchange. Apparently Stalin was a big fan of Packards, and the USSR being a dictatorship, well you can guess the rest. Packard club member board has lots of discussion about this issue.

      • Dave Wright

        They were also big fans of Studebaker after receiving so many from the Rosevelt lend lease programs of WW2. They built trucks that looked like clones of them into the 50’s

      • Loco Mikado

        Well they reverse engineered the B-29 that we were unfortunate enough to have a few have to make an emergency landing in Russia. They confiscated them and built their own copies. If that had not have happened it would have taken them 8-10 years to come up with one on their own. They could have done the same thing with a Packard.

      • Bill McCoskey

        Dave W and others —
        I’ve spent the last 25 years or more researching the Packard/Zis situation. Here are the facts, boiled down to just a few lines as we only have so much room here!

        1. The ZIS is NOT a Packard. It was based on 2 1942 Packard 180 Limousines given to Stalin by the US Government. The ZIS engineers & stylists chose the best of the Packard look, while updating them slightly. The easy to spot differences are the windshield being slanted at 15% more than the Packard, and the back quarters, trunk and rear window areas are more like the 1941-1949 Cadillac limo.

        Now there are a few Packard parts in use on the ZIS. For example; The exhaust and intake manifolds are Packard, with the cast part numbers removed by grinding them off.

        The Intake manifolds on all the ZIS 110 and 115 [armored version] cars I’ve seen have a plug in the area directly above the fuel pump. The plug is US tapered pipe thread, not metric.The 1941-42 Packards did not use a vacuum windshield wiper system, but the 1946 to 1950 Packards did. They had a line that ran from the vacuum pump on the fuel pump, to the intake manifold. Not needed on the ZIS, it had a plug installed.

        I ventured up under the dashboard of a ZIS, and with permission, i removed the radio. Opening it I found the inside was all US components, the exact same items as used in the Philco Radio in the Packard. The dial face plate was repainted to match the Soviet Cyrillic gauges.

        Packard dash gauges were marked with a rubber stamp on the back plate that held the gauge in place. They said “King-Seeley”. [The original manufacturer]. Guess what the ZIS gauges were stamped? Yep, “King-Seeley”.

        I unscrewed the white ceramic shift knob off the chrome shift lever. I confirmed both parts had SAE threads.

        I’ve spoken with someone in Russia who owns a ZIS, I’ve sent him numerous Packard 356 9-main bearing engine parts, and can confirm that ALL the Packard bearings, gaskets [including the head gasket], seals and valve train parts I sent him were a direct fit. However the entire drive train hardware pieces [nuts, bolts, etc] are metric.

        ZIS built less than 25 type 110 and 115 limousines a year from 1947 to 1956. It made sense for them to make arrangements to purchase Packard parts in small quantities, using shell buyers here in the USA, rather than spend time & money making the tooling required for things like gauges and smaller parts.

        Packard routinely sent large quantities of obsolete spare parts to various scrap companies in the Detroit area. These companies often would sell small quantities to individuals. As a Packard parts supplier for 40 years, along with other Packard parts suppliers, we used to buy from these companies. One scrap recycler still has 55 gallon drums of small Packard parts available, like the 1955 Clipper key cover for the trunk lid emblem.

        The same company ended up with thousands of Packard power window switches, both the driver’s with 4 switches, and the single switches. Until about 20 years ago you could still buy these parts NOS, never used. Same with the 1956 Packard & Clipper dashboard parts including the gauges.

        I mention this because BrakeServo and I used to have that Chaika limo [I suspect we owned the same car], and if you remove the power window switch assembly, you WILL find the supplier’s part number cast into it. The same number as seen on the ’55 & ’56 Packard cars. The dash gauges on the Chaika sure do look the same as in the V8 Packard cars too!

        Now compare the Chaika heater core housing and fan motor, to the 1957 to early 1960’s full size Chrysler products. When I had the Chaika, it was in England. I have a friend in England who has many US cars, and parts. I borrowed a MOPAR heater cover & motor from him, and it was identical to the one on the Chaika.

        Look closely at the power steering pump on the Chaika. It’s driven off the back of the generator, just like on Chrysler cars of the 1950s. Comparing them, they are identical. Same with the generator.

        We all know the small oval brass plaques used on US vehicle generators to identify them. Not only is the Russian plaque identical [but in Russian], it’s location is in the same place as on US generators! Buy the parts in small quantities in the US, change the ID plates & suddenly you have a Russian Generator & power steering pump assembly!

        In 1952, an automotive writer, John Wherry, visited the Packard dealer Earl C. Anthony in Los Angeles, where they had a ZIS 110 limo that had been taken from a North Korean General. They compared the ZIS and a Packard 180 limo. While much of the article suggested inferior manufacturing on the part of the Soviets, they concluded it was not made from Packard factory stamping dies, and was not a Packard with ZIS emblems.

        In conclusion, the ZIS 110 & 115 limousines are a different car than the Packard 180 limo. It is probably a 90% Soviet built vehicle, but contains [from new] genuine Packard parts. Same with the later ZIL, ZIM & GAZ vehicles [The Chaika is a GAZ13.]

        Also of note: Towards the end of the war, The Russians disassembled the entire GM Adam Opel plant and took it back to Russia. They set up the Opel plant to build a post-war car, known as the Pobeda. While it does not look anything like the Opel, mechanically it was much the same [frame, suspension/steering], but the car was basically a Soviet design, using the Opel factory equipment.

    • Ed P

      Russians were fond of Packards and it makes sense that they would have copied them as this GAZ appears. Interchangability, I doubt that.

  4. RicK

    The Andy Griffith character in the movie Angel in my Pocket drives a very similar Packard

  5. Larry K

    Beautiful car. Good deal.

  6. Andy R.

    We have a ’55 Clipper…
    Its a little crusty around the edges, but makes for a great field car…

  7. Dave Wright

    I had a girlfriend that inherited a immaculate mid 50’s Packard 2 door hardtop from her uncle that was a huge car collector. It was a much fancier version than this and looked showroom new. I tried to love that car but it was so complicated it became frustrating. Every time I fixed something…….electrical switch, points, timing, that sort of stuff……it needed done a second or third time. The vacuum system was so complicated it didn’t age well in the central California valley climate. The rubber hoses (and there were many) went bad just sitting in the garage. Spent 4 days looking for a leak one time just to make a rough idle go away. Access to the hoses was really bad, and running new ones was a nightmare. I think her car was a Panama, the hardtop version of the Caribbean. I love my Packards but simple is better.

  8. Gear Head Engineer

    I love this thing. And the price is right. I’m glad I’m 3,000 miles away, otherwise I would be sleeping in it tonight.

    – John

  9. Pete Grave

    The car appears to be a Clipper Custom by the trim on the drivers side door panel the side moldings are used on both the Super and Custom but not on the Deluxe. Its unusual in that it has the Pushbutton Shift but the cheap radio and no rear speaker. Usually the section on the side between the moldings was the same color as the roof but the car could be ordered as it is painted. There are not many Clipper Customs around as they were only produced to March of 56 when production was stopped and the model was replaced by the Executive. And no the torsion bar suspension was not that troublesome and you COULD NOT replace it with springs as the frames were not the same.The pushbuttons were troublesome and few knew how to repair them. The same set up from Autolite appeared in 58 on the Edsel. Production from memory not the book was around 1500 sedans and 1200 coupes

    • Ed P

      The Edsel shifter was similar but not interchangable

  10. DrinkinGasoline

    I walk through the old Packard dealership in Cleveland almost daily as a Paramedic. It was purchased by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and the outside was left intact. A Skyway bridge was erected across Carnegie Ave. connecting it with the main campus to the Euclid Ave. building. Beautiful architecture as well as beautiful vehicles.

  11. DrinkinGasoline

    The Cleveland Packard dealership on Carnegie Ave.

    • DrinkinGasoline

      The Squad at the rear ground (far right) is the Cleveland Clinic’s Stroke Response Unit. Credited as one of the first in the U.S. with a 98.9 success rating. Yep, I’m a little partial :)

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