In 1956 the automotive press was abuzz with excitement about the new Packard. Positive reviews focused primarily on innovations, with good reason: Packard automobiles now offered an electrical pushbutton transmission, a limited-slip differential, torsion-bar suspension (introduced in 1955), and more horsepower than any other production car. Track tests prompted comments from test-drivers such as, “She’s doing 105 and only loafing!”
Collector Dave McCready takes a particular interest in 1956 Packards because his father owned one when Dave was in college.
“Well, Dad bought this new Buick he was so proud of. But the transmission developed repeted oil leaks,” said Dave. “ It was back to the dealer three times in the first 30 days. It kept going back and back and back and finally GM said, ‘We’re going to take the car and find out what’s wrong with it.’ They dismantled it and found a warped bell housing. They installed a new bell housing in it and that fixed the car. But in the meantime, the Buick he depended on wouldn’t run.”
“Ward Matheson had sold our company a number of Chev pickups, and realizing how Dad needed a car to depend on, he suggested a used Packard 400 two-door hardtop they had just taken in trade. A couple had driven it 40,000 miles in 18 months pulling a travel trailer all over the United States. Ward said, ‘It’s a lovely car, come down and look at it.’ Dad discovered what torsion bar suspension was all about and how much better it rode and he never did take the Buick back for his use, when it finally got fixed.”
Dave’s father really liked the Packard; but he didn’t like two door cars.
“I remember Ward was in the office one day and Dad said ‘Ward, find me a four door.’ So Ward turned up a ’55 Packard Patrician with a plush interior that didn’t have many miles on it, and that’s what he drove for the rest of his life.”
Shown on this page is what Dave calls car “Number Three,” also a 1956 Packard 400 the same color as his father’s.
“I bought car ‘Number Two’ from a man named Tom Malloy and when I did, I found out where ‘Number One’ (Dad’s 1956 400) had gone. Tom had acquired it as a parts car, having found it under blackberries, for ‘Number Two.’ I bought car ‘Number Two’ from Tom along with ‘Number One,’ when Tom move to Arizona. I later parted out Dad’s Car. ‘Number Two’ now belongs to Ron and Sandy Norman in Vancouver, BC.
A number of years went by when Dave got restless again and purchased “Number Three” when he saw it for sale on eBay: a two-family car from Farmington, New Mexico.
“I looked forward to a rust free car and it is. The car has dual spotlights, and it’s been reupholstered in vinyl. But it’s a very nice job; really a pretty lovely car.”
The 1956 Packard Caribbean’s 374 cubic-inch, dual four-barrel carbureted engine produced 310 horsepower. The 400 model, with a single four-barrel, produced 285 horsepower.
“Dad’s car always got 14 to 15 miles per gallon. This one came from high altitude and required rejetting of the carburetor to obtain the correct enrichment. And with a ten to one compression ratio and 355 gears, it’s not that bad. It has a lot of engine, a lot of power, and a direct drive transmission. You don’t step on the gas very hard to make it go.”
Ultimatic transmissions lock into direct drive so energy is not lost to the slippage of the torque converter. Packard’s Ultramatic provided direct drive as early as 1949, which is how they differ from other automatics of the time. The Ultramatic relies on it’s torque multiplication of 2.9 to one, providing the gear ratio for take off. Once at speed, the direct drive clutch locks the torque converter. For steep hills, the Ultramatic has a low-geared ratio that can manually be selected; later Ultramatics had a Drive and a High Drive selector position. In Drive, the transmission would automatically shift from low to high.
“In Drive, this car automatically shifts from low to high at 18 miles an hour or so. It’s kind of severe, I don’t like it. As much power as these have, I like to drive to this car in High Drive. By 5 miles per hour, you don’t want for anything else. You just step on the gas and it’s responsive.”
And that would be the end of the story--but there’s one more car to discuss. Dave was browsing eBay and he discovered what has become “Number Four!”
“This car has had a full body-off restoration in what turns out to be catalyzed enamel. It’s a full repaint and all the chrome and stainless has been redone. Every piece of it is just like new. They got the interior fabric from S&M and the seats and interior have all been done using the correct fabric and leather. They’re still in their plastic sheaths and have never been installed in the car. It’s down at my son’s shop getting the mechanicals done now. We’re doing the brakes over for safety reasons, and it turns out the power steering isn’t working right. I’m looking forward to that car, and it has Factory air conditioning. I think this will be the ‘NEW’ one I always wanted!”