Curbside Classic: 1955 Packard Four Hundred – Bravely Facing Forward

“Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” A tagline used by an Amish cabinetmaker, it rings true, for both good and bad, for many companies and corporations.

Packard, like many of the independent automakers of the 20th Century, had great beginnings and a multitude of successes. It began as a product of the Ohio Automobile Company of Warren, Ohio, in 1900. Founded by the Packard Brothers, it was a response to their dissatisfaction of a Winton auto one of the brothers purchased.

In addition to luxury cars, Packard also built trucks for a while. As a luxury car manufacturer, Packard was in the top tier in quality and image, being part of the “Three P’s” throughout the 1920’s. The “P’s” were Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow.

Upon the United States falling into the Great Depression, Packard was in a much better position than many other independent automakers. Having one assembly line and abundant cash reserves, they initially focused on higher end luxury cars.  This market segment had once been 10% of the overall market; the depression saw it quickly fall to around 2%.  The fierce competition for the luxury segment is what prompted such cars as the Cadillac V16 in 1930 and the Packard Twin Six in 1932.

However, Packard soon realized the need to be pragmatic if they wanted to survive. In 1935, Packard introduced their first car with a sticker price of less than $1000. Sold as the Packard 120, this new model tripled sales of the Packard name for 1935 and doubled them again for 1936. Being built on a separate production line, the “Junior” Packard outsold the “Senior” by about 10 to 1.

The 1935 Packard 120 was joined by the even less expensive Packard Six in 1937 (1938 model above). These cars sold very well, but they began to tarnish the prestigious image of Packard. The sometimes more advanced features of the 120, such as hydraulic brakes coming to the Junior series two years before the Senior series, compounded the image problem.

The Senior cars, of course, remained available, but the lion’s share of production were now 120s and Sixes, which were rechristened the Packard 110 for 1940.

By the late 1940s and early 1950s, Packard’s image had further eroded. After World War II, there was no real Senior Series Packard reintroduced. All 1946-47 Packards were based off of the 1942 Clipper.

Packard management made the conscious decision to enter the taxi and fleet vehicle market, which further eroded their reputation as a luxury car manufacturer. Additionally, the 1948 models had been poorly received due to what was dubbed “bathtub” styling.

However, 1951 brought the introduction of a whole new body to Packard. By 1953, Packard was re-entering the luxury car market with the Patrician Series and exclusive Caribbean convertible.

1955 was a high-water mark for the American automobile industry. Sales were at an all-time high and many makers were introducing new models, bodies, and engines.

The featured 1955 Packard 400 was found across the street from the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. A sort of Americana mingling with Americana.

You may notice the magnets on the doors saying “Blue Bunny”. For those outside the Midwest, Blue Bunny is a brand of ice cream. The owner is the man who owns the Becky Thatcher Gift Shop and Ice Cream Emporium.

When Packard was planning the 1955 models, they could not afford to alter the basic body of their upscale sedan. Richard Teague, later of American Motors fame, restyled the existing 1951 body to appear more contemporary.

For years, Packard had used a straight-eight engine. This 1955 Patrician was the recipient of Packard’s new 352 cubic inch (5.8 liter) V8.

Also new for 1955 Packard’s was a revised suspension, power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, and power windows. These creature comforts were quite upscale for 1955.

One of four body styles for the luxury Packard’s, the Patrician 400 name was reserved for the two-door. Packard sold 7206 of their 400’s in 1955.

All of this goodness was not enough to overcome the terminal challenges faced by Packard and Studebaker-Packard by this time. Sadly, the Packard name faded away after 1958.