Gear Head Tuesday – Bruce’s 1956 Packard Four Hundred

Gear Head

Readers' car series

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Bruce lives in Virginia. He once owned and restored this beautiful Jamaican Yellow/Dover White 1956 Packard Four Hundred. Among Packard aficionados, the 1956 models are often considered to be (as Packard touted in its ads for 1956) “The Greatest Packard Of Them All”

1956-Packard-Ad-01

At first glance, the ’56 Packards seem to be little changed from the ’55s. Appearances can be deceiving – some 1,000 improvements over the ’55 models were incorporated across the ’56 Packard and Clipper lines. (As part of Packard president James Nance’s program to restore Packard as America’s premier luxury make, the lower price Clipper line became a separate make for 1956, a direction Nance had been moving the company toward since he arrived in 1952.)

The 1955 Packards looked all-new. Chief stylist Richard Teague and his team had done a superb job of making the 1951 body shell appear to be all new for 1955. For 1956, the styling changes were modest but handsome upgrades from the ’55s. Most of the improvements were of the mechanical and engineering sort. For only one example, the heavy steel housing for the Twin Ultramatic Drive transmission was replaced by a lighter (and better cooling) aluminum housing.

As we’ve discussed previously, the 1955 Packards were “late out the gate” primarily because Packard was forced into an ugly decision about building once again its own bodies when Chrysler bought Briggs, who had been building Packard bodies. The decision had to be made whether to lease the Briggs plant on Conner Avenue in Detroit and truck the “bodies in white” to the East Grand assembly plant or lease the Conner plant and convert it into a full production operation – something it was never designed to do. Packard chose the latter. This meant that the paint shop, the trim shop and the final assembly line had to be crammed into a plant that was designed only to build bodies in white.

Not only that, but Packard made major technological changes in the ’55s – the fabulous Torsion-Level ride and the new V-8 were introduced. The V-8 had some teething problems – most critically with the oil pump. There were assembly problems, too. The hasty conversion of the Conner plant to a full assembly operation and the cramped working conditions led to the early ’55s not being assembled to Packard’s normal very high standards. The company got a black eye it didn’t need at this critical time in its efforts to remake itself. 1955 was an up year for manufacturers and Packard enjoyed a nice uptick in volume with its all-new looking line of cars, even with the ’55s being late out the gate. The traditional new car introductions are made in the fall – but the ’55 Packards didn’t begin shipping in any volume to the dealers until January.

The company had the ’56s sorted out, but events once again conspired against Packard. The quality issues of the ’55s and the fact that the boom market of ’55 didn’t carry over to 1956 dealt a fatal blow to Packard. The factory was closed for the entire month of February, 1956 to bring the inventory of cars in line with slumping sales. The upshot of this was that Packard built only 28,835 cars for the 1956 model year – most of those being Clippers. The 1956 Four Hundred formerly owned by Bruce was one of only 3,224 built.

He writes this about his car:

“… my former Four Hundred spent its life in Beverly Hills, CA. I bought it in 1995 from its 2nd owner who lived in northern CA. It had just over 57,000 original miles when I got.

I drove the crap out of it putting more than 35,000 miles on it until paint started falling off in 2005.

It was a fairly rare MP code Jamaican Yellow-Dover White with black matelassé & yellow leather interior.

The restoration disassembly began in 2005 and was completed in the spring of 2007.

I sold it in 2010 to a dealer in Ohio to help renovation of my farm property.
Lots of folks commented that it was the finest riding automobile they had ever ridden in. I truly miss that fantastic Packard.”

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Restoration begins:

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9-25-06 engine done-1

12-15-06 restored engine compartment-1

4-15-07 factory correct trunk-1

Aside from being a relatively rare car to begin with (only 3,224 built), Bruce’s former Packard is rare in that it doesn’t have most of the equipment common to many of the Four Hundreds: it lacks power windows, power seat and it has the shift lever control for the Twin-Ultramatic rather than the trendy push button gear selector many Packards were fitted with for 1956.

3-15-07 restored interior back in

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The old gas station photos series as posted at Curbside Classic continues:

Dowd's gas station

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One Comment

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  1. Good story, beautiful car. Ahhh to drive that dude around and enjoy yesteryear!

    Like

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