1955 Constellation: Top of the Packard Clippers

Farm Forum

From the turn of the 20th century the Packard brothers, James Ward and William Doud, insisted that parts put on all Packard automobiles be of high quality, durability and reliability. For more than 50 years those high standards served Packard well.

By 1955, the Packard automobile was a modern marvel. For the first time in 32 years there was no inline eight-cylinder engine offered. Instead, an all-new 352-cubic-inch V-8 was offered that delivered 245 horsepower.

The fresh, new styling of Packard’s Clipper line even did away with the traditional Packard crest in the grille and replaced it with a new emblem shaped like a ship’s steering wheel following the “Clipper Ship” theme.

Craig Coulombe has long been impressed with all Packards. “Packard built some really fine automobiles,” he observes.

Last year when he saw a 1955 Packard Clipper Custom Constellation wearing a distinctive two-tone combination of Citroen Yellow and Onyx Black, Coulombe thought he found the world’s largest bumble bee.

As the top of the Clipper line the Constellation model had a base price of $3,075. It was the most expensive and rarest model in the Clipper line with 6,672 produced in the 1955 model year.

Coulombe learned that this particular car was rescued from an Albuquerque, N.M., junkyard in 1982 and transported to Minnesota, where it underwent a thorough restoration. It was brought back to like-new condition by 1987 and was maintained very well by an owner in Virginia, eventually being advertised for sale.

An interested Coulombe, and his wife Mary, went to see the 17-foot-11-inch-long Packard and they liked what the saw. They purchased the car on June 3, 2012, and decided to drive it to their home in Oakton, Va., only a couple hundred miles away.

They hadn’t driven far, Coulombe recalls, when a fire started in the Twin Ultramatic automatic transmission. Fortunately, it was quickly extinguished. Undaunted, the trip home continued without incident. The shift pattern is from the left: Park-Neutral-Drive 1-Drive 2-Low-Reverse.

Both the steering and the “Eas-A-Matic” brakes are power assisted. The front bench seat, upholstered in colors matching the exterior, is adjustable via a four-way power unit. Even the radio antenna is power operated.

The 6.5-foot-wide car offers an interior that is spacious and comfortable. The 122-inch wheelbase alone would offer a luxurious ride, but Packard took comfort to a new level. New for 1955 was Packard’s revolutionary Torsion Level suspension that permitted the car to self-level and ride without front and rear springs as smoothly as modern cars today. “It corners and handles very well,” Coulombe concurs.

While seated behind the two-spoke steering wheel the driver, through the one-piece wraparound windshield, has a clear view down the expansive engine hood. In case of rain the vacuum-powered wipers clear the windshield.

There are two separate heater fans to control the comfort zones in the front and rear seats. Air conditioning was an optional extra but, for reasons unknown, the original owner of the Packard declined that feature as well as power windows.

Over the heads of the occupants in the car are shiny ribs from side to side on the headliner that mimic the ribs usually found on convertibles.

Coulombe’s Packard prefers premium grade fuel in the 20-gallon gasoline tank. He reports mileage of about 14 miles per gallon. “It’s a real torquey car,” he says. Like most automobiles, Coulombe says, “It runs better the longer it runs.”

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