Independent Luxury! 1955 Packard 400 Hardtop

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By 1955, Packard’s tagline of, “Ask the man who owns one” was getting harder to do. Packard’s days were numbered at this point and by 1955, they were in 14th place in the domestic auto sales wars. But in spite of the cloudy outlook, Packard still shone with remarkable and noteworthy cars. Case in point in this 1955 Packard 400 – you know one of these when you see it. This beautiful example is located in Stanton, California and is available here on Barn Finds Classifieds or here on eBay for $29,500.

By 1955, Packard, in an attempt to reverse their fortunes, acquired the struggling Studebaker company with the goal of propping up both independent companies and putting off what seemed like the inevitable. It’s an age-old business approach that frequently doesn’t work and ultimately didn’t in this case, but it was not for trying. Packard offered three “senior” models in ’55, the Caribean convertible, the Patrician four-door sedan, and the 400, two-door hardtop. Packard also offered the entry-level Clipper in ’55, a model name that was brought back in 1953 to cover the lower-priced market. Packard’s total sales in ’55 were 55K units, a big improvement over 1954’s meager 31K output. Unfortunately, by 1958, Packard was over and out for good.

The seller lists this 400 as having been in long-term storage for about ten years with a recent return to daylight. The two-tone lacquer finish was reapplied at some point in the past in what is believed to be the original colors. Regarding the exterior, the seller claims, “no evidence of any accidents or body repairs ever being done. Chrome is weathered in some places and perfect in others. Everywhere, it is complete and undamaged“.  Ditto the floors, the seller states that they are “solid and unblemished“. The one universal trait of ’50s luxury cars is chrome and this Packard is not the least bit shy about showing off its extensive jewelry – and though there is some noted pitting and wear, it still looks great. The fantastic-looking wire wheels are believed to be Kelsey Hayes pieces though it is not known with certainty. This Packard even has dagmars! You can read our recent dagmar discussion here.

Under the hood, you’ll find a 260 HP, 352 CI Packard V8 engine. The seller believes that it has been rebuilt at some point in the past and he adds, “V8 engine runs perfectly. Freshly serviced“. Backing up the powerplant is a two-speed “Ultramatic” automatic transmission, rebuild receipt included.  The seller also notes that the treadle-vac braking system has been rebuilt and works as intended.

One of my favorite aspects of cars from this era is the interior – and this Packard does not disappoint. There is no mention regarding originality but it doesn’t matter as it presents so well. The seller does state that the headliner is perfect and the two-tone upholstery is still supple and not inclined to crack. The instrument panel is a typical ’50s/early ’60s expanse of stainless steel which is truly artful in its appearance. The interior is almost distracting as there is so much there to review. The seller does mention that the original AM radio and the “hydraulically raised” antenna are both on the fritz.

If you’d like to see a video of this Packard in action, here you go! It is listed as a 55K mile example but both the speedometer and odometer are inoperative so the true mileage is unknown. It’s one thing to find a pristine car from this era and then another to discover a splendid example from one of America’s finest fallen flag marques. This Packard is an icon of mid-century American motoring, and if you ever considered owning one, here’s one of your best opportunities. You to can be the man (or woman) who gets asked about owing a Packard, right?

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  1. 71Boss351

    I have always had a soft spot for Packard Automobiles having lived in the Detroit area as a child. The good news on this 55 Packard 400 is it appears that no significant work is necessary. Not sure about the asking price but seems in line with the condition of this Packard.

    Like 8
  2. Courtney

    Packard built 12 cyl engines for the Mustangs. Post war they really struggled to keep pace with other car companies. Always good to see one out and about.

    Like 2
  3. nlpnt

    I’ve never seen the definite article used in on-car automotive badging anywhere else but ’55-56 Packards. I wonder how much each gold-tone “The” cost them, and whether there were jokes about how they were pleasantly surprised to sell more than one of each model.

    Like 0
    • Don Eladio

      I love the “The”, lol…it’s such a little thing but, so cool!

      Like 0
      • scottymac

        Probably couldn’t get away with that today. I think Ohio State copyrighted “The”. About as silly as Chrysler copyrighting “Hemi”.

        Like 0
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

        Don Eladio and Scottymac,

        The “The” comes from how the top citizens of ancient Rome were referred to, when translated from Latin to English.

        The lower class citizens were known as “The Plebians”, and the upper class of Roman citizens were known as “The Patricians”, and the number of Patricians was limited to 400. Hence they were known as “The Patrician 400” in most English language history books.

        Wikipedia says: The patricians (from Latin: patricius) were originally a group of ruling class families in ancient Rome. The distinction was highly significant in the Roman Kingdom, and the early Republic.

        Starting with the 1951 & 52 models, the top Packard sedan was called “The 400”, with the numbers spelled out in gold on the rear roof pillars, between the rear doors and the rear window. [Lesser Packard series were the 200, 250, and 300.]

        For 1953 & 54, Packard began referring to the top level sedan as “The Patrician 400”. The 300 became the Cavalier, and the 200 & 250 lines were called the Clipper and Clipper Deluxe.

        As we can see with this featured example, the 2-door senior Packard hardtop was now called “The 400” instead of the 1951-54 “Mayfair” hardtop. And of course the top line sedan was still called “The Patrician”.

        And of course it was assumed that those who had the finances to buy a Senior Packard already knew the subtle references to Roman high society!

        Like 1
  4. Patrick

    Correct engine color is Packard Ivory. Could be this not original engine?

    Like 0
    • Rick

      I’ve seen a few Packard V8s with red intakes, heads and blocks and black valve covers, and this particular car has the Packard V8. The script is visible when the photo is enlarged.

      Like 2
  5. Jay T Morgan

    The big 3 must have really out marketed all others because this car is beautiful.
    Anyone know why better looking cars like this and Studebaker didn’t sell in substantial numbers ?

    Like 2
    • Bob Roller

      Packard’s automatic transmission was troublesome in the 1955’s and they sullied the reputation of the following 1956’s to the point where there was no real way to recue the company.
      Their legendary engineering failed them when it was needed the most..I think the 1956’s with the cleaned up styling were the best looking cars of that era.Studebaker was a toxic addition that proved to be just that,toxic.

      Like 3
  6. charlieMember

    Conformity, people wanted to be the same, and the masses had Ford, GM, and Mopar products. Studebakers, Hudsons, and Nashes (and Nashes were very underpowered compared to the V8’s of the big 3) were weird and Packards were expensive. The build quality of the independents was higher, in general, but for transportation, not “looks”, you got more for your money with the big 3 “entry level” Fords, Chevys and Plymouths.

    Like 7
    • Bob Roller

      Charlie may be right.I think it was the late Ken Purdy that made the comment that “Only the most knowledgeable of small boys can tell Smith’s car from Jones” at fifty yards and TODAY it is next to impossible to figure out any of them.I say the styling studios are
      shut down and will stay that way.

      Like 0
  7. oldsoldie

    I remember my dad and his buddies talking about Packard and the consensus seemed to be that you don’t dare buy one of those cause there’s a good chance they’re going out of business and the car will be worthless in a few years time. They thought you wouldn’t be able to get a fuel pump or starter if you needed one…

    Like 6
  8. Maestro1

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Packards, I’ve owned two and enjoyed them both, sold one at auction for charity and sold the other to a neighbor; so I see
    it majestically going down the road frequently. If I had the room I’d get serious about this one and I know where the parts are.

    Like 2
  9. scottymac

    What’s the going rate for souls?

    Like 1
  10. Naptown Mark

    And on the eighth day, God loaded up the Packard and took the family to the Salton Sea.

    These were too late to save the last of the regal three Ps, but they lacked nothing in prestige and class.

    Like 2
  11. Rustytech RustytechMember

    In the 1950’s GM and Ford got into a price war and were coming out with new car lines every couple years, the independents just couldn’t complete.

    Like 3
  12. Bill

    Packards had interesting automatic transmissions: From Wikipedia

    The Gear-Start’s ability to start in low range and switch to high automatically was retained, but the selector quadrant indicator was altered and PN•DLR became PN’D’LR to better reflect the dual drive range capability of this transmission, all the better to compete with the Dual-Range Hydra-Matic. Functionality was the same; the first Drive position, to left of the ‘D equated to High on the Gear-Start Ultramatic, while the second, situated to the right of D’, was equivalent to the Drive position on the Gear-Start, giving the driver the option of starting in either High or Low with automatic upshifts, ending with Direct Drive engagement of the torque converter, thus the Twin- designation referred to this dual Drive capability.

    Like 2
    • porsche pierre

      porsche doppelkupplunggestriebe before its time!

      Like 0
  13. Bernie Chaziquasidence

    When I see a Packard of this era, I remember the fun we had with one of our neighbor’s Patrician. Occasionally, 3 or 4 of us would sit on the rear bumper, actuating the automatic leveling system and raising the rear of the car to compensate for the weight increase. Then we’d jump off the bumper, which automatically lowered the car. (Hey, we were kids and this was before ADD was recognized as an issue) Anyway, after a year or two, the neighbor sold the Packard and purchased a Jaguar XK-120 coupe that spent more parked, hood open, being repaired, than it did on the road.

    Like 4
  14. MikeinLA

    It’s fun to think about what Packards would have evolved into. Would they have out-finned the ‘59 Cadillac? Would they have upped the ante in the late 60’s horsepower wars with a 550ci V-12? And what would a Packard SUV be like?

    Like 2
  15. WhynotMember

    What a classy car. Enjoyed reading all the positive comments and what if’s .

    Like 1
  16. Bryan

    I had always heard that the 1955 Packards had build-quality and reliability issues. Maybe that’s why these great looking and innovative cars failed to save the company. I believe that Briggs built post-war Packards up to 1954 (Chrysler bought Briggs outright and refused to build bodies for Hudson and Packard); Packard tooled-up and manufactured their own bodies at their old Grand Avenue plant starting with the 55 models. I understand that quality improved significantly for 1956 but it was too late to stop their slide into oblivion.

    Like 1
    • Ed P

      For 55-56, Packard leased the former Briggs stamping plant on Conner Av. from Chrysler. Connor was the plant that had been stamping Packard bodies since 1940. Packard expanded the plant to do final assembly there for 55. They were late getting Conner up and running. Cars were not available at dealers until January. They missed the fall season. The plant was cramped and caused many problems. Setting up Conner plus the new Utica engine and transmission plant drained Packard’s cash reserves. The red ink at Studebaker compounded the problems.

      Like 0
  17. John Fisher

    When I was a youngster, my Dad had a 55 Packard Patrician. To this very day it is the most comfortable and quietest car I have ever ridden in. The ride was unbelievably smooth with more than ample room for long legs or tall people. (Us kids drained the battery a few times riding the bumper up and down.)

    Like 1
  18. Bob Roller

    I saw the Predictor here at the Packard dealer here in Huntington WV
    Wasn’t there another odd one with the grill from a 1937 grafted to a 1955
    400?Weird looking thing to say the least.That style of grill looked good on my
    1935 convertible coupe that I had in 1952 but looked like a dog’s breakfast on a later car.
    Thank you Bill McCoskey for the info on the V12 that never was and I wish it would have happened.

    Like 1
  19. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

    Bob, the car you are referring to is the Packard Request, and It’s now restored and part of a large Packard collection. Google Packard Request to see photos.

    Like 1
  20. Bob Roller

    You are right again.It was the Request and I referred to it as the Reject (:>);

    Like 1
  21. roger STEPHEN mays

    I now own this very Packard and it as great a car as it looks!!

    Like 1

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