1955 Packard Clipper Custom

Contrary to popular belief, not every collector car requires a complete top-to-bottom, nut-and-bolt, ground-up restoration. Many cars have been used and appreciated but have never been subjected to the kind of physical torment that later necessitates hundreds of man-hours just to repair rust or collision damage on difficult-to-find body panels, or the need to track down replacement seat frames and impossible-to-find side moldings. Often, all that is required to restore these treasures to their former glory is a little polish, a tune-up, and possibly some new upholstery and paint. Our featured vehicle is a 1955 Packard Clipper Custom four-door sedan. Although he enjoys cars from the 1950s in general, John Summers of Glenmont, New York, the owner of this particular Clipper, admits that Pickard’s have always held a special place in his heart, even as a child. While many people cite overall design when asked what draws them to a car, John told us that the company’s commitment to quality and mechanical innovations, particularly in the early days of the fledgling industry, were also important factors that drew him to the marque. As a result, John, his wife Kitty, and their daughter Christina began attending national Packard Club meets across the country. “In 1999, Christina was three years old, and we all went to the Packard National in Warren, Ohio.”

1955 Packard Clipper Custom

After walking around and talking to various owners, we quickly decided that we should buy our own. The meets are a big family affair, and since we were making it a part of our own family, it only made sense,” John explained. As is often the case, affordability was a critical factor in the search for a suitable Packard for a family of three. During the summer of 2000, a search turned up a candidate in New Braunfels, Texas. Listed as a ready-to-drive, unrestored, original car, its history was revealed over the phone. “The original owner was a Packard dealer in Washington state who had amassed a collection of Packard’s, this being one of them,” John says. He had retired and moved to Texas, and when he was no longer able to drive them, he began to sell them one by one.” John hired a local appraiser to inspect the car, and he submitted a report outlining both the pros and cons of the Clipper. The body, which was finished in two-tone green, was described as “very straight,” with all of its chrome present and in good condition. Although there was only one noticeable dent, the paint was labeled as “commercial grade.” Interior wear was limited to a broken but repairable horn ring and a few tears in the seat upholstery, while mechanical issues were limited to a miss within the 245hp, 352-cu.in. V-8 engine and a couple of non-critical fluid leaks.

These points, along with a few minor quibbles, prompted the appraiser to classify the Clipper as a “driver.” Hearing this, John negotiated a deal that resulted in him becoming the Packard’s second owner. Before loading the Clipper onto a trailer and heading north, John and his family made the hasty decision to have the upholstery redone. “From SMS Auto Fabrics, we ordered reproduction material and had it shipped to Texas.” The dealer, who was representing the owner, made the arrangements for the work to be done on our behalf. “The car was delivered before winter, and we were already putting together a shortlist of what needed to be done, as well as taking it on family outings,” John explained. After the new upholstery was installed, the aging door panels, which were also sourced from SMS Auto Fabrics, were scheduled to be replaced as soon as the budget allowed. Soon after, the engine was sent out to be rebuilt; however, the bores were only cleaned, while new gaskets eliminated leaks and new electrical components-including a wiring harness-resolved the annoying misfire. “The Packard quickly became a member of the family, and in 2005, we decided to finally have the paint redone,” John explained. “The original paint had deteriorated to the point where it no longer suited the car.”

“We’re a small shop that deals with full restorations, so it was a little unusual in that we were only asked to do the paint,” in Glenmont, New York,. But when I finally saw the Packard, I was astounded at how straight and clean it was; I had to wonder where it had come from. As a result, other than fixing a couple of small dents and fabricating a couple of very small patches that were MIG-welded into place to eliminate some minor rust, very little time was spent prepping the body. If I recall correctly, we completed the Clipper in a matter of weeks rather than months.” “For a person working on a budget, this type of minimal bodywork is a blessing in terms of man-hours; in turn, it also has a direct effect on paint and primer and, just as important to the car owner, time off the road.” Inadvertently, John’s Clipper became a poster child for how to control a project’s bottom line and ultimate presentation by carefully managing time and taking small steps along the way; it also demonstrates how a quality repaint can make a car shine.

“It was never a body-off candidate because it was so solid,” John explained, “but we worked within our budget and as a family.” “It’s still a work in progress for us; we go to car shows and national meets as a family, always sifting through swap meets looking for the small replacement parts needed to help spruce it up.” Kitty and Christina’s areas involved in the Packard Club as I am, but the Packard is our family car when we are not attending meets; it always has been. We’ve used it in parades, ice cream runs, pumpkins in the fall, and even the Christmas tree; believe it or not, it fits in the trunk.