How Packard Cars Work

Packard Builds Bodies Again

As the all-new '55s neared production, another smoldering problem burst into flame. Back in 1940, Packard had stopped building its own bodies, contracting the work to Briggs Manufacturing Company. But Packard lost this supplier when Chrysler bought Briggs in 1954, and thus had to build its own bodies again. Inexplicably, it settled for a cramped body plant on Conner Avenue in Detroit.

Never large enough, this facility caused big production tie-ups and quality-control problems that hampered sales of the '55 Packards and forced immediate cancellation of long models. Though Packard built some 55,000 cars for prosperous '55, it would have done better to assign body production to its old, but adequate, main plant on Detroit's East Grand Boulevard.

Despite these woes, the 1955 Packard was a technological marvel. Prime among its wonders was "Torsion-Level" suspension: long torsion bars connecting front and rear wheels on each side. A complex electrical system enabled the suspension to correct for load weight, and effectively interlinked all four wheels for truly extraordinary ride and handling despite two-ton bulk.

And there was more: power­ful new short-stroke ohv V-8s, ousting the old-fashioned flathead straight-eights at last. Clipper DeLuxes and Supers (now shorn of two-door sedans) used a 320-cid version with 225 bhp. A bored-out 352 delivered 245 bhp in new Clipper Customs (a sedan and Constellation hardtop), 275 bhp in Caribbeans (via twin four-barrel carbs) and 260 bhp in Patrician sedans and new "Four Hundred" hardtop coupes. Ultramatic was suitably modified to handle the higher V-8 torque.

The engines, improved Ultramatic, and Torsion-Level gave the '55 Packards a fine chassis. Despite their heft, these were impressively fast and roadable cars -- real Packards in every sense. Styling was equally impressive. Dick Teague's clever facelift of the old '51 body produced "cathedral" taillights; peaked front fenders; an ornate grille; and that '55 must-have, a wrapped windshield. Clippers gained their own special grille and retained 1954-style taillights.

Production problems at the Conner plant were finally licked, but not in time for '56, when customers were scared away by Studebaker's desperate struggle as well as the '55 Packards' notorious quality and service problems. Ironically, the '56s were better built.

Nance's "divorce action" reached fruition that year in an entirely separate Clipper line. Besides registering the name as a distinct make, he decreed separate Clipper and Packard dealer signs, and changed Packard Division to the Packard-Clipper Division of Stude­baker-Packard Corporation. As a final touch, "Packard" appeared nowhere on '56 Clippers except for tiny decklid script -- and some didn't even have that.

Nevertheless, the line again offered five models: DeLuxe, Super, and Custom four-door sedans and Super and Custom Constellation hardtops. Wheelbase was unchanged, but horsepower was lifted to 275 for Customs and 240 for other models. Torsion-Level was again featured too, although a conventional suspension was available on the DeLuxe. Options included overdrive manual transmission ($110), Ultramatic ($199), power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning.

These Clippers were luxuriously trimmed and nicely styled, but sales weren't sufficient to help floundering S-P. The DeLuxe sedan was the most popular, attracting 5715 buyers. Least popular was the handsome Custom Constellation hardtop, garnering under 1500 sales. Though still obvious Packard relatives, the '56 Clippers retained their own grille and taillamp designs, made even more different in line with Nance's aims.

The Packard line still listed Clipper-type models in the 1956 Executive, a sedan and hardtop coupe announced at midyear to bridge the price gap with Clipper. Executives even shared the Clipper's chassis, 275-bhp 352 V-8, and pointy taillights, but wore "senior" '56 front-end styling, plus higher prices in the $3500-$3600 range.

The longer 127-inch chassis returned for Patrician, Four Hundred, and two Caribbeans: the familiar convertible and a new hardtop, both with unique seat covers that could be reversed from fabric to leather. All these models were upgraded to a bored-out 374 V-8 packing a mighty 310 bhp in Caribbeans and 290 bhp elsewhere. But none of this helped, and only 10,353 Packards were built for '56, including just 263 Caribbean hardtops and 276 convertibles.

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