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Stately Classic: 1955 Packard Clipper Constellation

In the 1950s, the Clipper was the mainstay of the Packard lineup as a more affordable alternative to the Patrician. The car received its last styling refresh in 1955-56 after Packard merged resources with Studebaker. The combined companies fared no better financially and 1957-58 Packards were simply rebadged Studebakers – and the storied marque was gone after that. This stunning ’55 Packard Clipper Custom Constellation was the top Clipper and was only offered as a 2-door hardtop. Wearing what we believe is an older restoration, it looks and runs great although not perfect. Located in North Tonawanda, New York, the stoic machine is available here on craigslist for $14,900. How does Barn Finder T.J. come up with all these cool tips?

Packard management and its dealer network were sometimes at odds over the 1953-56 Clippers. The company’s chief thought the Clipper was a deterrent to the brand’s luxury image, while its dealers insisted there be a wider range of products to attract potential buyers (the dealers won the battle but not the war). The 1955 model year was the first for Packard as part of Studebaker-Packard Corp. New for ’55 and only on the Clipper was torsion-bar suspension for an improved ride. ’55 Clippers employed a 320 cubic inch V8 that was boosted to 352 in ’56. Studebaker engines were used after that.

At the top of the Clipper line in 1955 was the Custom Constellation, positioned as an exclusive car with only one body style. It continued in 1956, but at that point, Packard sold Clippers as a separate make (i.e. no Packard badging). As the story goes, this ’55 beauty spent most of its life in Southern California and is rust-free as a result. The two-tone paint looks great but does have a few minor flaws (perhaps not enough to warrant it being redone). The interior looks hardly used.

We’re told the 352 V8 runs great, so if online sources are correct, that would make it a ’56 motor. The car is equipped with an automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and the seller says the self-leveling suspension does its job. The Packard has quite a few new parts, including the gas tank, fuel pump, carburetor, water pump, battery, brakes, and newer tires. That list suggests the car was dormant for a while but is in good company at the moment with other vintage cars (’57 Buick in the photos?).

Comments

  1. KC

    Nice car!

    Like 19
  2. Jim

    The underside looks as clean as can be. Very nice car!

    Like 12
  3. Driveinstile Driveinstile Member

    Wow!!! This is one of the nicest 55 Packards I think I’ve ever seen. Gorgeous color combination, Id just lovingly out a fresh coat of wax on it and enjoy it.

    Like 17
  4. Yblocker

    Beautiful Packard, sometimes I wonder what the company was more in need of, money, or names. “Constellation”? What the hell is that? Lol. Nice car though, and I like the Cad/Olds air cleaner, Packard borrowed those for a time. I’m not seeing torsion bars under there, guess I need to be enlightened. And that’s a 58 Buick in the background, not a 57

    Like 8
    • Kim in Lanark

      Not sure, but here’s a guess. Flying was glamorous, just google the airline ads of the period. The Lockheed Constellation was the fastest, most streamlined most glamorous airliner of the era. Again, google for pictures. IIRC the Clipper was marketed as something of an aspirational car, for young executives on the way up. Hopefully some of the Lockheed mystique would rub off on Clipper.

      Like 13
    • John

      Was just about to post that.

      Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      The 1955 Clipper line consisted of 3 price levels, the cheapest was the Deluxe, the middle was the Super, and the top Clipper line was the Custom. The 2-door hardtops were available in the upper 2 price levels, with the Super called the Panama, and the Custom was the Constellation.

      The Torsion-Level system was standard on the Custom Clippers, so this car has it. Most of the Super Clippers had Torsion-Level, with the bulk of the standard suspension Clippers being Deluxe sedans. Very few V8 Clippers with standard suspension are known today.

      The air cleaners look like other GM versions because they were all built by the same supplier; AC. Many do interchange between makes, depending on the carb used. While the outside of the air cleaner is the same, the opening for the carburetor will be different between a Carter and a Rochester carb, as the diameter is different. For example, the very sought-after “Batwing” air cleaner for the dual 4-barrel carb setup on the Corvette, Cadillac, and Packard, has the same main triangular housing, the round bases where it contacts the carbs are different.

      About 30 years ago I had a Packard Caribbean Batwing air cleaner for sale at the big Fall Carlisle flea market, It was marked “1955-56 Packard Caribbean air cleaner”. On Friday a guy walks up and quickly pays my asking price. As I sold mostly Packard parts, I asked him if he needed any other parts, and he said no, then left. It should be noted that the Corvette version of the air cleaner was worth about 3 times what the Packard air cleaner was worth.

      Saturday afternoon he comes back with the air cleaner and said it won’t fit his car. I had bought a complete [except for the air cleaner] Caribbean dual carb setup that Saturday morning, so I set it on the carbs and of course it was a perfect fit. The guy says then asks why it won’t fit on his Corvette, to which I replied, “Like the sign said, It’s for a Packard”.

      I was very happy to refund his money, because now I had the full dual air cleaner setup, manifold to air cleaner.

      Like 1
  5. KPaul

    Packard….more than a car….a true work of art

    Like 0
  6. Bullethead

    What a bargain for a wonderful, drivable piece of automotive history. The new owner will bring a unique feature to every drive in and cars ‘n coffee. Enjoy!

    Like 12
    • Bill bowman

      The color scheme, inside and out reminds me of my dads’ 55 Plymouth v8 w 3 on the tree that I learned to drive on (1959).
      Wound it up to 65 in 2nd and it vacuumed locked(?) until I let slow down. Scared the hill out of me.
      I think it was 60-61 he bought a new blue rambler v8 w push button tranny.
      Both cars had good memories.
      Yes I would like this vehicle.

      Like 2
  7. HoA Howard A Member

    A while back on one of my foreign cars bashing rants, that I’m trying to curtail, btw, I mentioned they need to be replaced. Can’t have them last forever, like how a Packard was built. Someone came back at me saying, something to the effect, “Packard didn’t change with the times, that’s why they failed”. Packard did indeed change with the times, and here’s the car to prove it. It was the epitome of modern for the mid-50s. You know, I complain that the wide whites and full wheel covers are dated, but on some cars, it seems to go with the general design of the car. Think how this car might look with clown wheels and thin tires. Anyone that still wants this magnificent car for what it is, probably wouldn’t like that look anyway. To see one of these at all, especially in this condition, tells me someone waited a long time to get it. I heard, with strikes and parts shortage, it took over a year, and many orders were cancelled.
    Back to the foreign car thing, as beautiful as this is, do we really need these types of cars today? Of course not, but if you have even a shred of curiosity of how our transportation deal evolved, one has to respect, this, I’m proud to say, was as good as it got in 1955. While I poke fun at how someone driving a new F150 will feel in a ’55 Ford pickup, I all but guarantee, whatever they came in to see this car, will surely be a disappointment on the way home.

    Like 17
    • KPaul

      Excellent point Howard….Packard is more than a car ….Packard is a true work of art and craftsmanship

      Like 1
    • Fred

      True, I see this as a time machine taking me back to when as a kid riding in these types of cars to grandma’s for Sunday dinner. Those memories are priceless

      Like 6
    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UK Member

      I still prefer a ’55 Buick. This Packard is just too far over the top for me.

      Like 2
    • geezerglide 85

      I agree Howard by 1955 it seems Packard had what everybody wanted V-8 engine, auto. transmission, hardtop styling, and lots of chrome trim. This was not your father’s Packard. Too bad it couldn’t go on.

      Like 2
  8. Neil

    Yes, the Clipper was a separate make in 56. In 57 the bodies of a Packard and a Clipper we’re to be totally different. Tragic the Insurance Companies would not advance SPC the tooling funds. So Packard died. I like the chrome edge on these 55 rear wheel openings. You could still use fender skirts, made for a dressy unique look

    Like 7
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      Neil,

      If my memory is correct, the ’55 Constellation wasn’t available with fender skirts because in fitting the chrome trim pieces, the brackets used to mount the fender skirts to the body were omitted.

      Like 1
      • Neil

        Could be Bill. But, I have photos of one with both the chrome strips, and fender skirts. Looks great.

        Like 0
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Neil,

        I have no doubt that once the bracket to bolt the front end of the fender skirt to the body is welded into place, the fender skirt would fit. I’m sure that if someone was looking at buying a ’55 constellation hardtop brand new & wanted fender skirts, the dealer could have added them, and it’s even plausible that if the dealer sent in the order for a Constellation with skirts, the factory would have made it so!

        Packard was always just small enough that they could often satisfy a customer’s request for special equipment or colors. I had a 1956 Patrician with all the Caribbean side trim and hood scoops, along with the dual carbs, even the 3-tone paint. Car even had 3-tone full leather interior. The sticker price was approaching $7k, he paid for it — they did it!

        Like 2
  9. Shuttle Guy Shuttle Guy Member

    Ship it to Cuba and sell it. They’ll go hog wild for it! You’ll get much more than you asking price.

    Like 0
  10. Wes Holliday

    My first car was a very nice 1955 Packard 400 coupe.
    Color Brown center section/hood, with a cream roof and lower body panel.
    Found out the hard way the gearing on my Model 400 was much lower than a Patrician,after I broke the rear gears in a stop light drag race,then had to piece togather another gear set.
    That was a beutiful car inside and out.

    Like 4
    • scottymac

      I envy you, Wes. The one car I let my ex-wife talk me out of was a ’55 400, solid black. Not tu-tone, not tri-tone, SOLID BLACK. I still imagine that old girl with the Caribbean 374 and dual quads, and chrome wire wheels. Sorry, Howard, I’ve only ever owned one car with whitewalls, not even wide whites. MY 400 would have blackwalls, out of period I know, but maybe even redlines, along with a red pinstripe. Anybody good with Photoshop?

      Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        pwtiger.

        You are correct, the 352 with 2-barrel carb and single exhaust was standard on the Clipper Custom, the 4-barrel and dual exhaust motor was optional.

        Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        scottymac,

        In 1976 I bought a 1955 Packard 400 hardtop, turquoise with white top and lower panels, and the rare “Orchid cloth & leather interior. It was ordered by a home builder in Hagerstown, MD, who wanted stick shift because of the muddy areas around construction sites. He also ordered overdrive and factory A/C. The second owner [a long time friend of mine] installed a 1956 Twin-Traction rear end with the low 3.07 diff ratio. I could run it in 2nd overdrive at 75mph! I added the Caribbean dual 4-barrel setup. There was a local man who raced V8 Packards and I was able to buy a set of tube exhaust headers from him.

        Like 1
  11. Boyce Miller

    Rather than merging with Studebaker, I believe Packard bought Studebaker. An unwise move in hindsight.
    Nevertheless, this car seems to be solid and is attractive.

    Like 3
    • Jimmy Novak

      … right after rejecting the chance to join the new American Motors Corporation and without examining Studebaker’s finances.

      Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Jimmy Novak,

        The only time there was a discussion about Nash and Packard joining together was in 1950 when Mason of Nash made an initial presentation to Packard’s corporate board, who after looking it over, decided not to go further, as Packard at that time was in great financial shape and not looking for a partner.

        There was never a later [1953-56] proposal for Studebaker-Packard to join Nash-Hudson to create AMC. This info was detailed in Stuart Blond’s book “Spellbinder”, as Blond was given full access to James J Nance’s records.

        YES, Studebaker corporation was later found to have
        “cooked the books” and was actually running in the red, not turning a profit as Packard was led to believe.

        Like 1
  12. Rixx56 Member

    I’d like to personally view the Plymouth sitting
    next to this beauty… Both fine automobiles. I
    believe, however; I’d prefer the Plymouth.

    Like 0
  13. pwtiger

    The Standard Catalog of American Cars claims that the Clipper Custom series did offer a 352 engine with 245 HP. This car is a beauty and would look great in my garage…

    Like 4
  14. fordor

    WOW–what a dash!! Why can’t they make them that gorgeous now?

    Like 14
    • Chris In Australia

      Agree, but that dash is just waiting to injure or kill compared to today’s dashes.
      The manufacturers could at least put some colour back into interiors.

      Like 1
      • Yblocker

        Slam your head into a plastic dash at 75mph, and see how that works out for ya

        Like 6
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      fordor,

      If you think the Clipper dash is beautiful [I do too], look at the 1956 senior Packard dash with the gold mesh background!

      Like 1
  15. Bob “THE ICEMAN”

    Without question I would take this car over a 1955-1957 Chevrolet any day of the week. It is priced right, looks better than the Chevrolets and Packard didn’t produce tens of thousands of them. This baby has class😀😀😀

    Like 20
    • HoA Howard A Member

      Class didn’t come cheap, Bob. I read, a fully loaded 1955 Packard Clipper retailed for almost $3200 bucks, when a Chevy or Ford was just over $2grand. That difference was a lot of money to most then.

      Like 8
      • Fred

        How much was a loaded 55 caddy? I’d take the Packard because when was the last time you saw one at a local car show?

        Like 3
      • HoA Howard A Member

        I read, a ’55 Coupe deVille cost around $4300, but options pushed it way higher. You’d think the Packard would have been a veritable bargain, considering what you got, if you could wait that long for it, that is.

        Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Howard & Fred,

        The Clipper Custom Constellation was priced to compete not with the Cadillac series 62 hardtop, but the Buick Roadmaster Riviera hardtop and the Oldsmobile 98 Holiday hardtop.

        Like 2
  16. Steve

    WOW! You gotta wonder how many of these ’55 Packard convertibles there are left!

    Like 2
    • Fred

      I see the reflection in the roof? So I would surmise that’s not a convertible but a hard top or am I mistaken?

      Like 3
      • Kim in Lanark

        The second picture clearly shows it’s a hardtop. As far as I know Clipper did not make convertibles. I swear I saw a magazine ad for Clipper that showed a convertible, but I have never found it again.

        Like 2
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Kim,

        There were factory drawing for a 1956 Clipper Custom convertible but none were ever made. There is a Packard Club member in Virginia who has a ’56 Clipper Custom convertible, but it started out life as a hardtop.

        Like 2
  17. Old Man

    Unbelievably, it’s still for sale on Craig’s List for $14,900 as of 12/12/2023.

    Like 1
    • Randy Tracy

      The collector car market has softened considerably. I am thinking of making an offer.

      Like 2
  18. Carbob Member

    This is a whole lot of car for the asking price in my estimation. Take this to your local car show and I think you’ll get more attention than another ubiquitous tri five Chevy. I love the color combination and the interior is awesome. But I’m realistically confined to window shopping these days. GLWTS.

    Like 4
  19. Paintrdude

    Tentatively sold as of 12/12/23. Will remain listed till final sale goes through.

    Like 2
  20. Mike Hawke

    A working torsion-level suspension by itself is worth a lot!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sz0RZUySk0&t=19s

    Like 0
    • Wes Holliday

      My very nice condition 55 Packard 400 coupe cost me $300 in 1966.
      Bought from the mechanic at ACE AUTO in Beckley,WV,located right beside my dads office . Car was mechanically and body in great condition.At the time I was working for $1 per hour,so that was big money for me.

      Like 1
  21. Fred

    Hey Howard I did some additional research and found a 1955 loaded caddy was.around$6250 over 140,000 produced. There were only about 6200 1955 Packard Clipper
    Constellations produced. That’s only about 130 per state in the continental US.

    Like 1
    • kim inr Lanark

      I don’t know if you could compare the Clipper with a Cadillac. I’d say the nearest GM equivalent would be the Buick Century.

      Like 1
  22. Teddy

    The Clipper had the far better engine…

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      Teddy,

      I have to agree, and I’ve owned & worked on both the Cadillac and Packard V8 engines. Both engines were robust and reliable. The Packard engine was fast-tracked by Jim Nance and put into production in less than 2 years. The only problem was discovered early in production;

      Packard straight 8 engines had always used an external vacuum pump located at the top of the fuel pump. When the block’s sidewalls were vertical, there was plenty of room. But as the block’s sidewall on the V8 was angled, the combination fuel/vacuum pump was too tall. So the engineers designed a new vane-type vacuum pump that was now mounted at the bottom end of the oil pump, driven off the same shaft. As far as I know, this was the first time a combination oil & vacuum pump assembly had been used on an engine.

      The oil/vac pump supplier used a shaft seal that wasn’t able to handle the vacuum pump to oil pump pressure differential, and soon complaints of noisy valve lifters came rolling in. The seal was allowing air from the pressure side of the vacuum pump to enter the suction side of the oil pump, starving the hydraulic valve lifters of oil.

      Prior to the introduction of the 1956 model year, changes were made to the pump assembly that eliminated the issue. As far as I know, there were no other problems or issues with the Packard V8, and the designers had engineered the overall engine design to handle increases of as much as 500 cubic inches in the future. I suspect this forward thinking resulted in a very strong & almost over-engineered original design.

      The Cadillac V8 engines, both prewar and the new 1949 OHV V8, suffered from serious overheating problems, especially in warmer climates. This caused major block crack issues between the cylinder wall and exhaust valve opening on the flathead V8, with the cracks often entering the cooling system passages. While this was improved in the new V8, it was still a problem that was never fully solved by GM.

      As someone who ran a shop that did work on both Packard & Cadillac cars, when I wandered through junkyards I would check early Cadillac OHV engines [especially ’55 & ’56 cars] to see if they still had cylinder heads in place. When I found heads, I usually bought them to keep in stock for my own ’55 & ’56 Cadillacs as well as for my customers cars. I used to supply used Cadillac parts to a shop in England that specialized in Cadillac cars, and they frequently bought sets of heads due to the lower fuel grades in Europe that resulted in cars running hotter.

      Here’s a trivia question for Barn Finds Readers:

      For the 1955 model year, Packard switched to a 12 volt electrical system, but sold about 5,000 Packard V8 engines destined for automobiles equipped with 6 volt electrics including ignition, starter and generator. Can you name the models that used these 6 volt Packard V8 engines?

      Like 2
      • Lou Rugani

        Those went into 1955 Hudson Hornets and Nash Ambassadors, which converted to 12-volts by 1956.

        Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Lou,

        Ding-Ding! You win the prize!

        Most Packard guys don’t know that the 320 V8 for 1955 was specifically equipped with a 6-volt electrical system for the Nash & Hudson vehicles. As a former Packard parts supplier who has the parts books, as the ’55 6-volt engines were never installed in a Packard, they were never listed in the books, either as a complete engine, or the individual 6 volt parts, even though the company supplied them.

        Like 2
      • Lou Rugani

        Incidentally, Packard purposely detuned Nash and Hudson engines by perhaps 40 HP by installing fat head gaskets to cut their compression. I’m not certain American Motors even knew about that, but to quickly hop up a Packard-engined Hudson or Nash, install Packard head gaskets.

        Like 0
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Lou,

        A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to look closely at an original low-mileage 1955 Hudson Hornet Super sedan. The carb didn’t look like the ones on the Clipper Deluxe 320 engines, so I’m thinking that the V8 engine purchase agreement may not have been for 100% “complete & ready to bolt in place” motors, as was thought to be the case.

        Packard did list the thicker head gaskets in the parts books, they were used on export cars, where fuel octane levels were often lower. In the 1970s while living in Europe, I drove a 1956 Chrysler Imperial that was sold new in Paris, France, it had 3 of the normal stamped steel head gaskets per side of the 354 Hemi V8, to lower compression.

        While I’ve not been able to do further research yet, I noted the Hornet’s generator didn’t have the normal Packard generator ID plate. I’m beginning to suspect that the engines sold to AMC were actually export engines, and that AMC added the carb, 6v generator, starter and ignition systems before installing the motors in the cars. I was also surprised to see the valve covers had the 1955 Packard Clipper decals on them, not Hudson decals!

        Like 1
  23. Wes Holliday

    This is the longest subject that I have ever followed on Barn Finds.
    I did find and buy my Eshelman on this site.
    Wes in West Virginia.

    Like 2
  24. Fred

    In 1955 I remember the Chevrolet Belair was called a baby Cadillac. The Oldsmobile was a test platform for new options a model year before production of Cadillac to prevent problems that would affect the the image of Cadillac

    Like 0
    • Wes Holliday

      Our Military chose Packard because it was the most dependable truck engine.
      We won the war! So Packard should be a national shrine.

      Like 0
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Wes,

        Packard’s basic contribution to WW2 was in building aircraft and marine engines, including P-51 Mustang and US Navy PT boat engines. I’m not aware of any WW2 military truck engines being produced by Packard. As I recall, the manufacture of truck engines was handled by various GM divisions, and on a lesser basis, other truck companies like White and REO.

        Like 1
      • Neil

        If anyone doubts the validity of av 4 way SPC AMC merger isn’t paying attention. Not only was there the initial Packard V8 purchase for the large AMC cars, but there was a V6 swap in the works from AMC to Studebaker. James Nance, Packard President and AMC President Romney were in limited talks after James Mason suddenly died. Had that death not occured, and Nance AND Romney could have curtailed their egos, the merger would have happened. There was several interviews of Romney discussing what transpired, even filmed interviews. Read James Ward’s lengthy and thoroughly researched history of Packard. Why people try and rewrite history now is on for Ripley.

        Like 1
      • Jimmy Novak

        American Motors’ president was George Mason, not James.

        Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Neil,

        Until recently the general consensus was that there were serious merger talks. I believed it too. Then the 2 vol set of “Spellbinder, the life of James J. Nance” by Stuart Blond came out. Stuart was able to comb thru all of Nance’s copious notes, as he saved everything for posterity. He was also able to interview Nance in detail, for several years. From what Stuart found, there was literally nothing to suggest the 4-way merger was being considered by either side.

        James Ward’s book was based on what was known at the time, and until the latest info was released, it was the definitive explanation of what happened to PMCC and S-P. Not to demean Mr. Wards excellent writing, but with history, things can change based on newly discovered information.

        Like 1
  25. Lou Rugani

    Incidentally, Packard purposely detuned Nash and Hudson engines by perhaps 40 HP by installing fat head gaskets to cut their compression. I’m not certain American Motors even knew about that, but to quickly hop up a Packard-engined Hudson or Nash, install Packard head gaskets.

    Like 1

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