It's interesting to consider various ways in which the Packard Motor Car Company might have survived, such as with the Studebaker/Packard body-sharing program planned for 1957 with an all-new exterior or perhaps buying sheetmetal shells from Lincoln. I think that under the right circumstances the Packard Executive might have helped save Packard. There's a good reason why it didn't.
Packard was in decent shape when it introduced its first all-new postwar cars for 1951. The company was profitable and had socked away a good amount of cash. Although its reputation as the ultimate luxury car was rapidly deteriorating— Cadillac's posh barges were capturing the fancy of younger buyers—for many, the Packard name still had a certain magic.
Packard's problems began when the company moved into the medium-price bracket in 1935. Its new One Twenty Series four-door sedan was priced at $1,060— previously, the cheapest Packard sedan was $2,585. The new cars sold like hotcakes, but, because the company didn't create a separate marque name for its lower-priced cars, the Packard brand was devalued. The company compounded the problem with the introduction of the One Ten series, priced down in Pontiac territory. With thousands of ordinary schmoes owning Packards, the brand's cachet was being watered down. A Packard was not necessarily special anymore.
Cadillac had similarly entered the medium-price range for the same reason—to grow its sales volume. But rather than call its cheaper products Cadillacs, the wise men at General Motors used the La Salle name instead. Cadillac remained "The Standard of the World," while La Salle served its role as the volume brand slotted as an "entry-luxury" make.
James Nance realized all this when he took over as head of Packard in 1952 and he quickly laid out plans to fix the problem. In 1953, he provided a bit of separation by splitting the lineup into two groups: Packard and Packard Clipper. The company even used different font sizes in brochures and corporate communications to drive home the point that the two weren't exactly equal. The plan was to eventually drop the "Packard" part of the Packard Clipper moniker for the lowest-priced cars, thus having two distinct brands: the medium-priced Clipper, and the luxury-class Packard. It was a good plan, and exactly what was needed.
A 1955 Packard Clipper Custom with an emphasis on the Clipper badging.
But as they say, execution is vital. Although initially Nance moved quickly as to reintroduce the Clipper name (it had been used in the recent past), his follow-up to that was just a bit too leisurely. He should have made a complete break between the two brands when he had the cars restyled for 1955 by dropping the Packard part of the Clipper name, making Clipper a separate brand. He could have provided more brand separation by retaining the veteran straight-eight engine for the Clippers, while reserving the new V-8 for Packards only. He might have even reserved the new styling just for Packard, leaving Clipper with the older design for another year.
But Nance worried he might alienate Clipper buyers, who were critical to Packard sales volume, and that was a valid concern. The company needed to offer a lower-priced Packard.
In 1955, Packard Clipper prices began at $2,586 for the lowest-priced four-door sedan, climbing to $3,076 for a Constellation hardtop. Packard prices ranged from $4,040 to $5,932. This left a $1,000 gap between the two series.
Image via <a href="https://wildaboutcarsonline.com/cgi-bin/pub9990448202528.cgi?categoryid=9990448202528">The Automotive History Preservation Society</a>.
For 1956, the lowest-priced cars were finally dubbed Clippers, completely separate from the Packard line that now was focused on its very attractive high-priced cars. To bridge the gap between Clipper and Packard, Nance created a new upper-medium car, the Packard Executive, by grafting a Packard front clip onto a Clipper body and chassis. The Executive's $3,465 price (for a four-door sedan) was high enough to justify the Packard brand name, yet low enough to encourage people to make the jump from Clipper to Packard. It was the best move the company could make, all things considered.
However, Nance had waited too long. By the time he got around to separating the two brands and introducing the Executive, time had run out for Packard. If he'd done it in 1955 or, better yet, 1954, it might have made all the difference in the world.
Article courtesy of Hemmings, written by Pat Foster.