The Packard Executive is a handsome and well-appointed car, but the purpose behind its existence was less than entirely clear.
The Packard Executive was not a bad car by any means, and in fact it wasn’t such a bad idea overall. But it’s a car that still manages to prompt the question: Why? By early 1956, the Packard Motor Car Company was wobbling around on its last legs, running short of both time and money. Meanwhile, an ill-considered decision to move the final assembly line from the old East Grand Boulevard complex to the former Briggs body plant on Conner Avenue, a few miles away, had generated only chaos, confusion, and a rash of production problems. The last thing the automaker needed at that moment was a new model.
On the other hand, the Executive was not such a heavy lift for the company. Introduced on April 9, 1956 as a mid-year model, the Executive was essentially a junior series Clipper with a senior Packard front end and badges bolted on. Furthermore, it wasn’t an addition to the Packard line, but rather a replacement for the Clipper Custom series. Yet it still brings to mind the familiar trope about rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ocean liiner.
Badged and branded as a Packard, not a Clipper, the Executive was still mostly a Clipper, sharing the junior car’s 352 CID V8 with 320 horsepower rather than the 374 CID V8 of the big Packards. The chassis was Clipper as well with a 122-inch wheelbase, and there were just two body styles, four-door sedan and two-door hardtop. The Executive also shared the Clipper’s interior colors and materials—as nice as anything in the mid-luxury class–with a unique pattern for the hardtop.
Priced at $3465, around $400 more than the Clipper Custom it replaced, the Executive cost almost $700 less than the next-cheapest Packard. This underlines another curious aspect of the Executive: It worked at cross purposes with the strategy of Packard president James Nance to market Packard and Clipper as distinctly separate makes. As a Packard/Clipper hybrid, the Executive only blurred the distinction.
It’s a head-scratcher, but it’s all fairly moot anyway as the Packard lines in Detroit stopped altogether only a few months later on August 15, 1956. Packard managed to build a total of 28,835 cars that year, including 1,784 Executive sedans and another 1,031 hardtops. For 1957 and 1958, the final years, Packards were essentially rebadged Studebakers. (Read our feature about the Packardbakers here.) If you happen to see an Executive at a local car show, be sure to check it out. They’re handsome and nicely appointed cars, even if the purpose behind their existence was never entirely clear.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.