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Panama Project: 1955 Packard Clipper Super Panama

052016 Barn Finds - 1955 Packard Clipper Super - 1

I need a bigger garage, like one size bigger than Jay Leno’s garage. Not to mention, a full-time restoration staff; is that too much to ask?! This beautiful 1955 Packard Clipper Super Panama is in Eastlake, Ohio and it can be found on Hemmings with a price of $3,500 or reasonable offer. Packard only made 2,776 of these Super Panamas so they’re fairly rare today.

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I usually like earlier Packards, but for some reason this one gets to me. The Super was in-between the Deluxe and the Custom in the Packard Clipper line. The Super had a little more chrome and some different options for interior fabrics. Customers who chose the Super also had the option of adding Packard’s “Torsion-Level Suspension“, but there is no mention on whether this car has that system or not. According to the Packard Club, the TL consisted of “Full length bars connecting front and rear wheels. A motor driven compensator and short bars to level the car and keep it level with weight changes.” Panama was the name for the two-door hardtop in the Super series.

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This is as close as it gets to engine photos, unfortunately. And, that’s the reason that this car isn’t in perfect condition, the engine is taken apart. The seller is the son of the gentleman who bought this car in 1986 with the intention of totally restoring it. He ran into trouble finding engine parts in the pre-internet era and the car went into storage and has been there for 30 years. The owner, and dad, recently passed away and now the son has the unenviable task of liquidating some of his dad’s things so his mother can get along. These classic cars sometimes have such a tear-jerking story behind them, things that we don’t think about when we’re looking at old cars. A man loved Packards and wanted to restore one but ran into trouble with parts, now he’s gone and the car will also soon be gone. Sad stuff. At least the memories will remain.

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Onto more happy thoughts! the interior looks good from what photos there are. Some of the photos are just thumbnails, but the seller says that they had the car checked out and it “looks like the floor boards, rockers and frame is all solid. Back seat would need replaced, front seat and dash looks solid.” They think that all of the engine parts are there, but they aren’t positive. I would bet that some things are missing, but in 2016 you should be able to track down what you need to get this beauty back on the road where it belongs. This could be a great car again with the right person taking it on. It sounds like rust won’t be the big issue here, but more of just getting the mechanical systems back to normal again, which hopefully would be a little easier for a home mechanic to tackle. Would you save this Packard Panama project or is the taken-apart engine too daunting?


  1. Julles

    Can you hook up the boat wheel in the grill to turn with the steering.
    Packards lost their luster after WWII. The cars look to main stream.
    how about a resto mod? I know we all like original best but in order to save some cars we need to update them for driveability.
    Resto mod tries to maintain the look of the car while adding modern upgrades.
    Air bags, and sway bars for the ride. Cost effective 12 or 13 inch disc brakes on front. maybe add fuel injection to a Packard 8. hidden modern auto sound. Kelsey Hayes wire wheels. Small LEDs in the hood ornament and the B pillar badge.
    I just want to see this, a car you want to drive. you wouldn’t think twice about driving it to work once a week or more.

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  2. Peregrine Lance

    In 1956, I was a car-admiring 14-year-old attendee at a church camp in Cleburne, TX. On a break from religious meetings, I sat at an outdoor table along the camp’s waterway, when a man drove up in his Super–exactly the same paint pattern as the one here, except shining with the most obvious “patina”–his proud attentiveness. He parked the car perpendicular to the water’s edge, and went wherever he was headed, leaving his beautiful Packard steed by itself……Gradually, my eyes perceived that the car was–moving! First with disbelief, then with sheer horror at the vision I was taking in, the car slipped its handbrake, and slowly slid into the water and disappeared…..I had no one to tell of this terrible event, and I left before the car was discovered missing. Ever since, I’ve had a fearful respect for the standard, or manual, gearbox–which stands a better chance than automatics of surviving nearby waterways and careless stewardship.

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    • Steve

      So… You sat and watched a guys new car rll into the water. Didnt lift a finger to try and stop it. Then didnt bother to tell ayone what happened. And i thought that phenomena was unique to teenagers today.

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  3. Fred

    Unable to find engine parts in the 80’s for a Packard 8? I can see specific trim items being hard to find, but for an engine where thousands were made (and the same design used for many years), I can’t imagine why anyone with a Hemmings Motor News could not find the parts. If the guy had joined a Packard club, I’ll bet they could have found the parts easily, internet or not.

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    • Keith

      Actually, 55 was the first year for Packards new V-8, only used in 55 and 56. They had lots of problems with them also, which ended up resulting in a government ordered recall by Packard to fix them. (Clattering lifters on cold start was the main problem) Along with Ultramatic transmission troubles (Getting stuck in park) Torsion Level problems (cranking themselves all the way up, lowering them selves all the way down, or not working at all) and electrical problems galore. The 55/56 Packards were not the best quality automobiles.
      Keith: 49 Super 8, 51 Patrician, 54 convertible, 55 Patrician, 56 Patrician.)

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  4. Wayne

    There is no B pillar. It’s a pillarless hardtop.

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    • Van

      Just looking at the badge behind the rear windows, that’s not the B pillar?

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      • Ed P

        The badge is on the C pillar.

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      • Wayne

        Sorry Van, no matter how you try to ice it, it’s still the C pillar. You see, pillarless hard tops simply don’t have a B pillar.

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  5. geomechs geomechs Member

    Cars like this need to be restored and driven. I wouldn’t question driving one of these around at all; they were well built and very reliable. A guy in our club had one and it took him everywhere he wanted to go–in style. Too many people get convinced that older stuff isn’t reliable so they talk themselves into so-called upgrades. I have to use a line from Ralph Stein, who wrote ‘The Treasury of the Automobile.’ “By 1914 cars were generally as reliable as they are today.” Of course there were more things to adjust and tune as you drove but I tend to side with Mr. Stein. My old Chevy or my wife’s Poncho will take you anywhere you want to go and bring you back–reliably. Back to this car, if it were mine, I’d gather up all the parts and see what I needed, the pull the motor and do it up. While the motor is out, have a look at the transmission. Take it from there…

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    • Ed P

      Packard’s v8 proved to be problematic. The 55-56 Ultramatic was a problem also. That is as built. Today, these items can be fixed and made more reliable than when new. The Packard club has info on a oil pump replacement that makes the engine reliable and the tranny problems can be fixed as well.

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  6. Blindmarc

    Love the color scheme!

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  7. Cody

    This is a very cool car.The super came standard with the torsion bar suspension. My wife has an uncle that is selling a 1955 400. The 400 was the top of the range. I was very interested. I drove 2 hours with my father in law to check it out. Unfortunately the car was in primer. That was not the end of the world, as some body work had been done. The real problem came when we had to drive another hour to look at the trim and bumpers in another barn. The trim was good but the bumpers were rough. Then I found out the emblems were stored at another location 30 minutes from everything else. It was just a big beautiful puzzle scattered across the state of Nebraska, but once the puzzle was together you’d have to restore everything.

    The real nail in the coffin for me was the transmission and engine. According to the seller the car did run and drive, but the fuel tank was not hooked up because it was rusty or something and they had carb work done or something. I don’t know, all I understood was I couldn’t start it. Great. It was on a trailer too, so even if I did start it I could not drive it. That was a big problem because the Packard v8 and the ultramatic did have a short run in the history of the company. They are not necessarily bad, but they do have known issues that you would want to check for. The engine is rebuildable with other car company OEM parts and there are “mods” to remedy known weaknesses. There are charts on the net for what you can use.That is not the case for the transmission. With the transmission, the best thing you can do is swap it, and there are kits for that. I have read it’s even considered legitimate in concourse events to have a swapped transmission. The transmission was very innovative in that it was the first to use a locking torque converter and was the first to automatically shift from first to second. Unfortunately, these early innovations proved to be problematic for reliability.I believe 56 models have the last generation of the ultramatics with all the bugs worked out, and work much better.

    With the risk of cost in the drive line, and the rest of the needed restoration, it was to rich for my blood. I really wished it wasn’t. The guy was practically trying to give it to me by the time we left. Maybe if I hold out he will.

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    • geomechs geomechs Member

      I understand that there was a kit available to convert from the Ultramatic to a Hydramatic or THM 400, which could be done with very good results. The guy I knew was able to work with the Ultramatic and he was happy with it.

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      • Ed P

        Hi Geo: There is a guy in the Packard Club that sells a kit to fit an Olds oil pump into the Packard V8 to solve their oiling problems. The oil pump and tranny would solve to big problems Packard had.

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  8. Keith Matheny

    Any non GM/Ford ’55 is cool by me! But I’m a little different like that, as has been pointed out by my buddies many times, LOL.
    My question would be “where did it come from”?
    Cause anything born and raised in Eastlake, Ohio (snow belt) won’t be “solid”!
    And sitting in a garage for 30 yrs. didn’t help!
    Just sayin.
    Bring an ice pick.

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  9. Big Rob Member

    Rebuild the mechanicals, lower it like it should be, nose and deck it, and cruise in a mild kustom.

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