Saying goodbye to the Patrician
by Sam Barer
In a matter of days, all I’ll have are memories
of my great 1955 Packard Patrician.
After seventeen years of family ownership, the current
ownership democracy (two votes for my wife, one for me) voted to sell
Between 1901 and 1957 Packard’s name was
synonymous with luxury and class.
Slotted slightly above Cadillac and Lincoln on the prestige
scale, Packard was the choice of the elite, and even American
Presidents. Their slogan oozed exclusivity: “Ask the Man Who Owns
By 1955 Packard and its then parent company
Studebaker were in serious financial trouble.
Hoping to preserve the marque by wooing younger affluent
buyers, it released a new top-of-the-line Patrician sedan featuring
fresh looks, technical innovations and Packard’s first V8 engine
with significantly more power than previous straight-8s.
The big news, however, was the Patrician’s use of the
world’s first four-wheel torsion-bar suspension system, which even
integrated an automatic load leveling system to maintain a flat ride.
1955 Patricians offered air conditioning, power
windows, power bench seats, power antenna and signal seeking AM
radios, as well. All this
for a price of $4,000, roughly twice the price of a Chevy Bel Air.
To help market the car, Packard organized
high-speed endurance track testing of a stock 1955 Packard Patrician.
The car averaged 25,000 miles at 104.73 MPH, a new world
Today’s featured Packard Patrician is
originally from Walla Walla, WA.
My uncle only paid $500 for it, because the owner was desperate
to move the non-running car out of the garage after selling her house.
A year later, after some mechanical work and new paint, the
Packard was gifted to my father for his 50th birthday.
Serving as an unofficial partner, I washed, waxed and organized
the ongoing restoration, and my father paid the bills…not a bad
Since the day it arrived, it has been the
ultimate cool gangster-looking car, with black paint, wide whitewalls,
miles of chrome and its authentic 1954 Washington State license plate
(with “O” designation for Walla Walla and a '55 year sticker.)
After nearly ten years of short weekend jaunts, a
number of breakdowns and payments to mechanics, my father lost
interest, so the car was put in storage.
A year ago, I took over full-time ownership, moved it down to
Olympia, got a carburetor rebuild, tune-up, and fitted new radial
tires in place of the dry-rotted bias plies.
Now the engine springs to life nicely for a
nearly 50-year-old car. The
sound is smooth for a V8. In
the cabin there’s no doubt that you’re in 1955.
The gold colored dash, large steering wheel, wool carpet, and
seats resembling couches provide a time-warp feeling.
Even the transmission is hopelessly dated, with reverse placed
beyond low gear at the end of the selector.
Driving the Packard is an exercise in planning.
It needs time to warm up, time to slow the 4300-pound car with its
Easeamatic brakes, and despite the light steering, turning requires a
slow corner entry speed. Failure
to drive the car with respect can prove dangerous, because there are
no seatbelts or padding on the dash.
Brakes require strong pedal effort and fade rapidly, which
increased my pulse on many a long steep hill.
265 horsepower and huge low-end torque allow the
Patrician to accelerate well. Overall
the Ultramatic automatic tranny is decent, but is too brittle to
handle the ongoing punishment of the V8’s increased torque.
The transmission linkage is also prone to torque-lock with the
selector in park, making a working parking brake a necessity.
The torsion-bar suspension really makes road
irregularities almost imperceptible.
With the load-leveling system activated, rear passengers feel
like they are almost floating.
All this technology, however, leads to higher costs to fix
items that inevitably break or wear out.
Recently the great, luxurious Packard has seen
more use than in previous years, albeit no more than once per week for
quick errands around West Olympia.
With a lack of seatbelts, my two year old daughter can’t ride
in it. It also competes
with other cars for my attention, which my wife says isn’t enough to
justify it taking up a space in the garage, forcing her Oldsmobile
Intrigue into the cold.
So all good things must come to an end:
the marque itself, and now my time with the Patrician.
Sam Barer writes for Apex, an Olympia, WA based freelance
writing company. To submit a car for a future “Sound Classics”
story, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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