2012 Orphan Car Show: 1956 Packard Four Hundred, 1956 Packard Clipper

 

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In the mid 1950s Packard was still constrained by a body shell originally designed at the end of the previous decade. For the 1955 model year, though, Packard styling chief Bill Schmidt oversaw a masterful job making the old body look modern. Legendary AMC stylist Dick Teague, then at Packard, was responsible for much of the work. Though under the new sheet metal, the body shell was getting obsolete and though Packard was struggling financially, soon to be merged into Studebaker, the ’55 and ’56 Packards were technically innovative.  The big Packards introduced a modern V8, whose power was only exceeded by the Hemi in the Chrysler 300s. To handle that power they also brought to market the Twin Ultramatic transmission, which gave drivers the choice of gear start or using the torque converter. Finally, the 1955 Packard introduced their Torsion Level suspension that used longitudinally mounted torsion bars (coil springs were standard) to provide self-leveling and a remarkable, for the time, combination of ride and handling. Packard collectors like to point out that  “most of them are still leveling away more than 50 years later,” but the judges at the Orphan Car Show noted that the Four Hundred in this video was experiencing some issues with its rear suspension.

Following the luxury Packard was a ’56 Clipper. Packard wanted to distinguish the less expensive Clipper line from “real” Packards, so nowhere on the 1955 and 1956 Clipper did the word Packard appear. Clipper customers felt slighted so in the middle of the ’56 model year, they added some interior trim to the driver’s seat that spelled out Packard.

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