1954 Packard Cavalier
8-cyl. 327cid/185hp 4bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
During the mid-1950s, Packard needed to reinforce its identity as a premium luxury car manufacturer in the face of challenges from the Big Three. With the ever newer car designs of the decade, the visual distinctions that had defined Packard were disappearing, interior luxury and performance were harder to express, and Packard management was regretting its decision to produce the entry-level Clipper series.
For 1953, Packard replaced the mid-line 300 series with the new Cavalier line, including a four-door Cavalier sedan, a two-door Mayfair hardtop, a two-door Cavalier convertible, and an ultra-low-volume, upscale Caribbean convertible, which soon broke out to become its own line.
The Cavalier offered a richer interior and more powerful engine than the Clipper, but was outwardly very similar. A unique chrome side spear identified the Cavalier immediately – starting above the front wheel arch, a short spear bridged the distance to the front door gap, while a diagonal dropped along the wheel arch from the center of the short spear, and then created a horizontal spear all the way to the back of the car at the beltline. The car was otherwise free of chrome along the sides, but carried the large Packard grille and bumper assembly in the front.
The engine in the Cavalier line was a flathead inline eight-cylinder displacing 327 cubic inches and yielding 180 hp, 20 more than the Clipper engine of the same size due to the Cavalier’s four-barrel carburetor. The Cavalier engine had five main bearings, as compared to the nine main bearings in the top line Patrician models, but was otherwise identical. The standard transmission was a column-shifted three-speed manual, though most Cavaliers were produced with the optional Ultramatic automatic transmission.
For 1953, the Cavalier line produced 10,799 sedans, 5,150 Mayfair hardtops, 1,518 Cavalier Convertibles, and 750 Caribbean Convertibles. Purchase prices were about $3,200 for any model except the Caribbean, which was $5,200.
For the 1954 model year, Packard moved the Caribbean up to its top line, and the entry-level Clipper dropped the Packard nameplate, making the Cavalier line the entry-level car with a Packard badge. The Mayfair hardtop and Cavalier convertible were dropped entirely, leaving only the four-door sedan carrying the Cavalier name. The same engine was used, but power was raised to 185 hp. Transmission options also remained the same. Just 2,580 Cavalier sedans were made in 1954 at a purchase price of $3,300, and the line was discontinued for 1955 after Packard merged with Studebaker.
Collectors will want to gravitate towards well-optioned Mayfair hardtops and Cavalier convertibles. With no engine options and minimal other extras to choose from, basic quality and conservation are paramount considerations. One item to note for these cars is that for the first time since 1942, Packard reintroduced optional air conditioning late in the 1953 model year. The option cost $625 on top of the base purchase price for Cavalier-line cars. Any car equipped with air conditioning would be very rare.