1955 Lincoln Capri Coupe (top image by Richard Lentinello); 1955 Packard Clipper Custom Sedan (bottom image by the author).
Editor’s note: This or That is not a comparison report between two vehicles, but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a regular basis, but with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this pairing, and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment.
Featured in this edition of This or That are two icons of automotive luxury, though not from the era one would expect: a 1955 Lincoln Capri Coupe and a 1955 Packard Clipper Custom Sedan. Although Packard had clearly reached its zenith long before 1955, the automaker was still considered a venerable sales contender in the luxury car market; albeit a struggling one. Lincoln, meanwhile, had been a little more nimble, adjusting to changing styles and market demands with more ease before the dawn of the Fifties, no doubt thanks to the support from Dearborn’s front office. Beyond 1955, it quickly became apparent that the destiny of both companies would be on different paths, making this pick-n-choose pairing a little more compelling. Here are a few details about each car (if you want to read more than we’ve provided, both vehicles were former subject material in our Hemmings Classic Car magazine–just click on the links provided above).
We’ll start this round off with the Lincoln. Founded in 1919, the company’s first car emerged on September 14, 1920. It’s been reported that another 834 were built by December 31, and the debate continues as to whether or not the “first year” Lincolns are 1920 models, or early ’21 editions. No matter which side of the debate you argue, there’s no denying the company’s attention to fine engineering and passenger appointments/comfort that had been mandated since day one. It was enough to draw the attention of the Ford family and, by the end of 1921, Ford Motor Company had acquired Lincoln, giving Henry a car that could handily compete against Cadillac, Packard, and a long list of others in the market segment.
Just a few domestic divisions were left standing on the luxury car battlefield by the time the time Lincoln released the 1955 version of the upscale Capri line, which consisted of three body styles with the “Special Custom” suffix: a four-door sedan, two-door convertible, and two-door hardtop coupe (pictured above). Each of the three body styles was assembled atop an X-braced frame that featured an independent front suspension (unequal length A-arms; coil springs; direct-acting telescoping shocks), complemented by semi-elliptic rear leaf springs and another pair of direct-acting telescoping shocks. The distance between the center points of the front and rear wheel axles measured 123 inches, which served as the foundation for substantial 12-inch hydraulic brake drums and 15-inch wheels shod with 8.00-15 tires.
As to power, Lincolns received an a new V-8 for 1955. The somewhat aged 317.5, which had been introduced for 1952, was retired in favor of a 341-cu.in. engine rated for a slightly healthier 225 hp and 332-lb.ft. of torque, thanks in part to a four barrel carburetor, 8.5:1 compression ratio, and dual exhaust system. The smooth-running powerplant was backed by a new-to-Lincoln, Ford-built, “Turbo-Drive” three-speed automatic, which was linked via open driveshaft to semi-floating rear differential containing a standard-issue 3.07:1 gear set.
The chassis was hidden under an all-steel body that, regardless of style, measured 215.6 inches that permitted ample cabin space for a maximum of six passengers. Standard and optional comfort and convenience equipment was on par with other makes, meaning – in part – choice of supple upholstery over pillow-soft seat cushions, which was one of Lincoln’s many selling points. Another was its performance capabilities within the market segment. Motor Trend, in its May ’55 issue, published the results of its road test of a Capri four-door sedan, which achieved a 0-60 mph time of 12.4 seconds; the same car ran the quarter-mile in 18.5 seconds @ 77 mph.
Despite model-year trim changes aimed at making the 1955 Lincoln look new, it wasn’t all that new visually. While other makes had ushered in completely revamped bodies for the new season, FoMoCo’s luxury division was saddled with a basic body structure that had last been updated in 1952. Customers could see the outdated nature of both the entry-level Custom and Capri lines, the latter of which witnessed a combined 19.89 percent reduction in output. Capri hardtop coupes, which cost $3,910 in base trim, witnessed a production run of 11,462 units, making it the division’s most popular model; yet this was an 18.15 percent drop from the previous year.
Though Packard was dealing with its own series of problems, the storied luxury automaker – founded in 1899 – actually witnessed a 90 percent increase in total production for 1955, which propelled the company into 14th position in the domestic sales race as a whole, two spots ahead of Lincoln. One factor for the sharp increase could easily be attributed to the new look of both the entry-level Clipper series, and the senior models (400, Caribbean, and Patrician), the prominent feature of which was a completely restyled front fascia that was bolstered by tasteful side trim and smoother rear flanks. The combined effort easily masked the fact that the company was still utilizing – at its very core – the same basic body shell that had been introduced in 1951; though a new “wrap-around” windshield meant a new A-pillar design as well. Simultaneously, Packard eliminated seven slow-selling models from its collective lineup, and ditched its stodgy straight-eights for powerful new V-8 engines. (Editor’s note: Though the 1955 models were not technically redesigned in the traditional sense, they could be considered as such; however, the retooling required was costly, and the spike in sales did not fully offset the expenses as hoped.)
As in years past, Packard offered the Clipper line – which this feature focuses on – in several models within two sub-series. Series 5540 was comprised of the DeLuxe four-door sedan, Super four-door sedan, and two-door Panama Super (hardtop) Sport Coupe, while Series 5560 featured the two-door Constellation (hardtop) Sport Coupe and the four-door Custom Sedan (pictured above). Of the five, the Custom Sedan cost $2,926 in base trim and, with model-year production culminating with 8,708 units, was the most popular Clipper for ’55.
The Custom Sedan rode on a 122-inch wheelbase chassis consisting of an X-braced frame featuring Packard’s new “Torsion-Level” suspension system. Front torsion bars were the primary component up front, effectively replacing front coil springs so prevalent in other makes. The newness boasted by Packard continued with a Twin Ultramatic automatic transmission, which was secured to the back of the aforementioned new V-8 engines. For the upscale Clipper Custom sub-series, it displaced 352 cubic inches and, while employing a four-barrel carburetor, touted a rating of 245 hp and 355 lb.ft. of torque.
In its June 1955 issue, Motor Trend published the results of its road test of a Clipper Custom, the key figures of which were a 0-60 mph time of 11.9 seconds, having traversed the quarter-mile in 18.7 seconds @ 74 mph.
With all this in mind, which of the two would you add to your stable and why?