In 1956, Studebaker-Packard tried to stave off the brand’s declining following by spinning off the Packard Clipper product line into a separate brand, simply called Clipper. Studebaker-Packard President James Nance felt that the mid-market Clipper line was a drag on Packard’s reputation as a luxury automaker, even though the Clipper was Studebaker-Packard’s best-selling model. In 1955, the Packard badge was dropped from the Clipper line, drawing protests from dealers who were selling the cars to aspirational buyers.
The attempt to spin Clipper into its own brand fell victim to the general decline in Studebaker-Packard’s fortunes, and the Detroit factory in which the Clipper was made was shuttered by mid-1956. The Clipper name was folded back into Packard’s brand for 1957, and then dropped entirely during Packard’s last year of production in 1958.
The Clipper was designed to compete with mid-market offerings from Chrysler, Oldsmobile, and Mercury – a step up from Dodge, Chevrolet and Ford. The 1956 Clipper, however, started at $2,700, several hundred more than any competitor except the Chrysler Windsor.
Clippers were available as four-door sedans or two-door hardtop coupes in three trim levels. The basic sedan was a Deluxe, the mid-line Super sedan or Panama Hardtop, and the top level Custom sedan or Constellation hardtop. In mid-year, the Custom line was replaced by the Executive line, with no substantial changes except for the use of an upscale Packard grille and side trim.
Power for all 1956 Clippers came courtesy of a Packard 352 cubic inch V-8 engine. Deluxe and Super models came with a two-barrel carburetor as standard equipment, producing 240 hp. Custom and Executive models came with a four-barrel carburetor and offered 275 hp.
The standard transmission on the Clipper line was a three-speed column-shifted manual, with optional overdrive. Clippers could also have the Packard Twin Drive Ultramatic two-speed automatic as an option. All Executive trim level cars were fitted with the Ultramatic. Also optional was the pushbutton electronically shifted version of the Ultramatic. A limited-slip differential was also optional on all cars.
Some 1956 Clipper Deluxe and Super models came with a standard suspension, and others with the optional torsion bar suspension. All Custom/Executive cars were fitted with torsion bars, and by the end of the model year all Clippers were being fitted with torsion bars. Other options of note include a WonderBar radio, heated front seat, and air conditioning, which alone added $647 to the price of the car.
By 1956, the design of the Clipper was showing its age, still looking more akin to the 1953-1954 models from which it was derived. Hardtops in this style make a much more attractive presentation than the sedans, and with a production total of just over 20,000 Clippers in 1956, just under 6,500 were hardtops. As with all cars of this vintage, condition is far more important than the specific trim level or option list, but all else being equal, hardtops should be favored over sedans.