1955 Packard Models - V.P. Report
1955 Packard Models - V.P. ReportSource: V.P.
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Posted: 17 Jan 2011
The Last Shot: 1955 Packard Patrician
In the first half of the 1950s, the prestigious Packard brand was desperately struggling for survival. For the 1955 model year Packard finally developed an overhead valve V-8 engine, thereby joining the general trend in American automotive industry. Though morally obsolete, straight 8 (with side valves) still held good enough shape. Thus, the top-of-the-line 359 engine produced in 1954 a good 212 bhp SAE gross.
However, the rules of the game dictated non-stop progress – in both car design and engineering. The management of Studebaker-Packard clearly realized the serious threat hanging over the corporation, and was in a hectic search of life-saving solutions.
James Nance, the new president (since 1952) of Studebaker-Packard Corp., forced changes, and the somewhat conservative brand started radical modernization of its model line. For 1955, Packard cars were distinct, not only with new power plants, but also with expressive styling. The corporation’s design department, where then young Richard Teague played a leading role, worked a miracle. Keeping the main press-rigs of 1951 sample, the team managed to sculpt models of fresh and attractive appearance. The imposing cars featured a wraparound windshield and were decorated with tapered visors over headlights, pronounced side moldings and delicate “fins” at the rear. Just becoming mainstream in the mid-50s…
There were 4-door sedans, 2-door hardtops and 2-door convertible in the 1955 Packard model line – under the names of Four Hundred, the luxurious Patrician and the exclusive Caribbean (which was priced as high as $6,000). Plus comparatively democratic Clipper cars, which since 1956 model year were promoted separately of the main make. The brand new short-stroke overhead valve V-8 engines were executed, naturally, in cast iron and existed in two displacements: the smaller 319.65 cu in / 5238 cc - and the bigger 351.85 cu in / 5766 cc. The smaller unit produced up to 225 bhp SAE gross – at 4600 rpm, while the bigger – with 8.5 compression ratio - developed up to 260 bhp at the same revs. Also, in 1955 Packard models at last were equipped 12V electrics. A bit late to the game…
Well, for the 1956 model year the grand V-8 was bored out to 374.2 cid / 6132 cc – arguably the largest car engine of the time. And also the most powerful: equipped with a pair of 4-barrel carburetors, the 374 V-8, distinguished with unprecedented 10 compression ratio, was tuned – for the high performance Caribbean - to a then unbelievable 310 bhp at 4600 rpm!
The powerful engines were mated to the advanced Twin Ultramatic Drive. At the first glance, it was a mere 2-speed planetary automatic: the first gear - plus the "direct". Yet Twin Ultramatic was notable for its locking torque converter – arguably the first in automotive industry. And the automatic operated in two modes – to the driver’s choice. In the High mode the car started at once in "direct" gear: no shifts – no unpleasant jerks in transmission. And in case high performance was needed, the driver selected Low mode, and the Packard got off in first – with automatic shift to "direct" gear and subsequently locking the torque converter. Nowadays this looks – in view of modern 6 to 8-speed automatics – somewhat naive, but in the mid-50s...
The Twin Ultramatic modes were preselected with push buttons on the front fascia (Caribbean) at that; looked irresistible. And on top of it, 1955 Packard models distinguished themselves with revolutionary Torsion-Level suspension. At the first glance, their running gear looked quite ordinary: independent at the front (unequal length transverse arms) and “live” axle located with trailing arms - at the rear. Yet the unorthodox suspension featured all-round torsion bars – instead of coil or leaf springs. In effect, it wasn’t the very utilization of torsions (nothing especially new) that mattered, but their ingenious application – in the so-called “interconnected” arrangement. In a sense, the 1955 Packard running gear resembled this of the legendary “ugly duckling” – Citroen 2CV, which has got the “interconnected” suspension (though with coil springs) as early as 1948.
Yet Packard engineers tried harder: the auxiliary rear torsion bars were “tightened” (or “loosened”) by a control electromotor – so that the chassis height over the road was automatically kept constant. Practically regardless of the load. In fact, 1955 Packard models appeared as the first serial production cars in the world equipped with all-wheel (statically) compensated suspension. No more, no less. A year before the fabulous Citroen DS19 – and 2-3 years earlier than the Big Three semi-successful trials with pneumatic suspension…
The 1955 Four Hundred, Patrician and Caribbean models rode on 8.00-15 diagonal cord tires. Steering was of worm and sector type assisted with hydraulic servo, and the cars were equipped with ordinary drum brakes. The body and all the units were mounted over the heavy-duty ladder frame, engineered as long ago as in 1951. While unibody was considered then, with regard to automobiles of that high class, somewhat inappropriate.
Too good to be true
In addition, 1955 Packard models were lavishly outfitted: standard radio (with power antenna!), power front seat and windows, etc. There was even air condition on the list of options – top luxury in those years. The 4-door Patrician measured 218.5 in / 5550 mm in length, 78 in / 1981 mm in wigth and 62.3 in / 1582 mm in height (constant). The grand car was built on 127 in / 3226 mm wheelbase and weighed 4275 lb / 1940 kg at the curb - a genuine “road cruiser”.
The 1955 Packards equipped with advanced running gear were promoted under the slogan: "Let the Ride Decide". And if only it could really decide… Automotive observers enthusiastically praised both the Torsion-Level suspension and Twin Ultramatic transmission – in superlatives. And they were quite sincere: new Packard cars demonstrated outstanding ride quality, decent handling and impressive dynamics. That is, the ponderous 1956 Patrician equipped with 290 bhp 374 engine accelerated from 0-60 mph (96.5 kph) in 10.5-11.5 seconds and attained speed as high as 115 mph / 185 kph. Breathtaking performance! While the brilliant Torsion-Level effectively suppressed body roll – so that automobile went virtually flat in fast turns.
The new Packard model line looked highly competitive, and sales of expensive cars almost doubled in 1955 – compared to the disastrous last year. Regretfully, the ingenious hi-tech soon revealed numerous "teething problems": the Twin Ultramatic malfunctioned - while the Torsion-Level control electromotor turned out unreliable… The 1955 Packard cars were literally overloaded with innovations, and the assembly lines couldn’t keep pace with the advanced engineering. Unheard-of a collision: the praised Packard brand was not able to provide the proper quality of its products…
All in all, sales of Packard cars plunged again in 1956 – in spite of gradually improving build quality. The desperate last shot missed the target by the skin of J.Nance’s teeth… The sight was aimed a bit too high, and in 1957 Packard stopped car assembly. While talented R.Teague performed later a number of splendid design works - to the benefit of American Motors Corp.
New 1955 Packard models looked fresh and attractive.
The roomy interior featured traditionally styled front fascia and wide bench seats.
All the aggregated and units were mounted over the heavy-duty ladder frame.
The hi-tech Torsion-Level suspension proved to be a real wonder.
New overhead valve V-8 and Twin Ultramatic transmision comprised the advanced power unit.
For 1956 model year the Packard models experienced only minor styling face-lift.
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From WikipediaHewlett-Packard Company or HP is an American multinational information technology corporation headquartered in Palo Alto, California, United States that provides products, technologies, software, solutions and services to consumers, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and large enterprises, including customers in the government, health and education sectors. The company was founded in a one-car garage in Palo Alto by William (Bill) Redington Hewlett and Dave Packard.
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