Curbside Cinema: 1956 Packard “The Safe Road Ahead”

I’ve seen a lot of these vintage dealer promotional films over the years for GM, Ford, and Chrysler: Indeed, YouTube serves up a steady supply to me in their “Recommended Videos.” This is the first one I’ve seen from Packard, which makes is a real gem.

This film is actually a companion to the 1956 Packard Preventive Safety brochure (see link at bottom). It spends a little time covering the push-button automatic transmission and limited-slip differential, but the star of the show, commanding most of the screen time, is the Torsion-Level suspension, and rightly so. Strictly speaking, none of these are actually safety features in the modern sense, but at the time seat belts and padded dashboards were just starting to appear, and modern safety features like airbags and ABS were still far in the future.


The setup of this film, like most of these period dealer movies, is pretty thin. A couple is visiting an older man who may or may not be a Packard dealer (it is never made clear), but in any case, is certainly a Packard enthusiast. As the conversation inevitably turns to torsion beam suspension, the older gentleman just so happens to have a functioning scale model to demonstrate it. Even better yet, his friend who stops by just happens to be an engineer who works for Packard to further explain it.  What are the odds?


In all seriousness, though, I found this movie to be quite informative. Packard released its four-wheel torsion bar suspension in 1955, and while I was aware of its existence, I must confess to otherwise being somewhat ignorant of its underlying principles. I had read that it was superior to that of most other cars on the road (at least at the time), but I never really knew how it actually worked, so the video was actually somewhat informative in this regard. Plus it is nice to see all these vintage Packards being put through their paces in a manner that no modern owner would dream of doing.


I must confess, the visual comparison of a conventionally sprung 1954 Packard being chased by a 1956 model with Torsion-Level suspension over a rough road course makes a pretty compelling case for the torsion beam suspension. I certainly regret not having the opportunity to have ever driven or ridden in a Packard so equipped.

One last nifty feature of the Torsion-Level suspension was the electric auto-leveling motor, demonstrated by the goofy kid loading golf clubs into the trunk at the end of the film. Let’s just say that the owner in the movie was a much better sport about kids climbing over his car than I would be.

Both the push-button gear selector and the torsion beam suspension would be soon copied by Chrysler (albeit with torsion beams only on the front wheels, and not all four wheels as on the Packard), showing that Packard still had a little innovation left in it, even as its clock was rapidly winding down.

Related Reading

1956 Packard Preventive Safety Brochure

Curbside Classic: 1956 Packard Patrician – Please Proceed to The Lifeboats