Home » More Things You Don’t See Every Day: 1955 Packard Patrician vs 1982 Avanti II

More Things You Don’t See Every Day: 1955 Packard Patrician vs 1982 Avanti II

Sbsd 12 21 2023
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Good morning! For our fourth day of last-minute gift ideas for the hopeless project-car junkie on your list, I’ve got two cars with a historical connection through Studebaker, once the pride of South Bend, Indiana. That’s right; we’re going to dive into a little bit of Midwestern history today, and look at two amazing cars that you almost never see, or even think of.

But first we should finish up with yesterday’s Euro sedans. I honestly didn’t know how this one was going to unfold; I knew my preference, but I didn’t know which one you were all going to want. As it turns out, we were in agreement, and the Peugeot took a comfortable win, almost as comfortable as that blue leather interior is sure to be.

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And excellent job with all the Purple Rain references in the comments! That ain’t Lake Minnetonka, indeed. (If you grew up under a rock, or are too young, or, like David, both, there’s a scene from the movie you have to see. I won’t link to it; just Google the phrase “purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.” But don’t do it on your work computer.)

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Now, for the short version: Studebaker started in 1852 as a maker of horse-drawn wagons, and began manufacturing automobiles in 1902. James and William Packard began building automobiles in 1899. After decades of triumphs and troubles, the two companies merged in 1954 to form the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. Unfortunately, all this did was transfer Studebaker’s money woes to the solvent but high-end Packard, and drag both companies down. The party ended not with a bang, but a whimper, in 1958 for the Packard marque, and in 1966 for Studebaker.

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Studebaker’s halo car, the brilliant Avanti coupe, was the company’s last gasp, and never got the chance to become the Corvette rival it was meant to be. After Studebaker closed its factory in South Bend, Indiana, two enterprising Studebaker dealers, Leo Newman and Nate Altman, bought the factory, tooling, and Avanti trademark and continued Avanti production, using Chevrolet engines. Avantis of some description continued to trickle out of various factories, under various owners, off and on for another four decades.

So, that’s the origin story of our two heroes. Now let’s take a closer look at them.

1955 Packard Patrician – $4,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 374 cubic inch overhead valve V8, two-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Redmond, OR

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Odometer reading: ad says 100,000, which probably means unknown

Operational status: Runs fine, but needs brakes to be drivable

1955 was a big year for Packard, even if it was to be its last gasp. The flathead straight-8 engine, in production since the 1920s, was finally retired for a new, modern overhead valve V8. Packard’s own Ultramatic two-speed automatic transmission was upgraded and revised for better performance (sadly at the expense of some reliability). And a fresh new exterior design by famed designer Dick Teague brought Packard out of the postwar era and into the Jet Age.

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Packards were never inexpensive cars, but this top-of-the-line Patrician was something special indeed. Intended to take on Cadillac and Lincoln, the Patrician was every inch their equal in every aspect except sales – fewer than 10,000 Patricians were built in 1955, making this a rare car. Its 374 cubic inch V8 runs well, according to the seller, but the car needs brake work before it can be driven. Luckily, old Packards have enough of a following that parts shouldn’t be impossible to find.

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Cosmetically, it looks like a reasonably clean survivor. The upholstery is in good condition, as is a lot of the interior trim, but the carpet and headliner are missing, and some other bits look partially disassembled. You won’t find a carpet kit for this car in the typical mail-order houses – this isn’t some common ’55 Chevy, after all – but a good specialty shop should be able to provide the correct carpet in the correct shade of green, and stitch up a headliner as well.

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The three-tone paint is in good shape, but not great. But if it’s original, as I suspect, then a little patina is greatly preferable to stripping it all down and repainting it. All the trim looks intact, except for one hubcap. With a little elbow grease and some brake work, I think this could be a really nice weekend cruiser. And it would certainly stand out among “lesser” 1950s classics at shows.

1982 Avanti II – $5,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 305 cubic inch overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Crestline, CA

Odometer reading: 64,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great, current registration

When production of the Avanti resumed in 1965, it was christened the “Avanti II,” with no trace of the Studebaker name attached. Leftover Studebaker chassis were used originally, along with Chevy Corvette 327 cubic inch small-block V8 engines. Power levels went up and down along with the rest of the automotive industry over the next decade or two. By the time this 1982 model was built, power came from a rather weak-sauce 305 V8, backed by a TH700R4 overdrive automatic.

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This Avanti runs and drives well, and is currently registered and smogged. Underpowered or not, the Chevy drivetrain is reliable, and you can get parts for it anywhere. The rest of the chassis is based on the old Studebaker design, which means a live axle on leaf springs in the rear, and upper and lower A-arms in the front, hung on a conventional steel frame. This one has new brakes and exhaust, and is ready to roll.

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The Avanti II’s body, like the original Avanti, is fiberglass; this was originally done for cost reasons, since Studebaker could not afford new tooling for a steel body, especially for Raymond Loewy’s complicated design. This one looks like it may have had some collision repair done on the rear, and it needs to be repainted yet. I guess that means you get to pick your own color. The seller says new replacements are included for the front and rear bumpers, and the small chrome grille that fits below the front bumper.

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The interior is quite nice, with red leather Recaro seats, a nice Nardi (or knockoff) wood-rimmed steering wheel, and a full complement of power features. It’s not in perfect shape, but it’s nice enough for a driver. And this is probably the cheapest running and driving Avanti you’re likely to find.

And there you have it: two orphans from the remnants of an ill-conceived marriage between two once-great marques. Either one could be a cool and unique toy with a little work, and both are a good solid starting point. So what’ll it be: the last-gasp luxury cruiser from the ’50s, or the continuation model of a stillborn ’60s sports car?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Matt Huber
Matt Huber
3 months ago

The Packard is gorgeous, but the Avanti is as close as the world ever got to a production Batmobile, and I’ve always wanted one, so it gets my vote.

That Avanti is a crate 383 or a junkyard LS-swap away from being able to back up it’s looks, and the Chevy powertrain is simple to get parts for.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
3 months ago

I’ll definitely take the Patrician…the Avanti is one of the ugliest cars ever made in my opinion

Brau Beaton
Brau Beaton
3 months ago
Reply to  Freelivin1327

Amen!

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

The Patrician has a one year only engine that looks a bit crusty. The Avanti is not terribly rare, so no harm in swapping in something modern with a manual. Preferably something with a supercharger whine

W124
W124
3 months ago

Patrician is green and has sweeeeet green interior, and also the outside of the car is sweet.

As much as I have respect for Avantis, this is a bit too modern, has uninspiring engine and I guess the painting, if done correctly, would cost arm and leg and/or be pain in the ass.

Myk El
Myk El
3 months ago

I will take the Packard Patrician and name it Havelock.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
3 months ago

Oof… I have immense respect for the Packard, but an Avanti restomod is something I lust for. And this one seems to be in that halfway, not fully restored state that makes going in that direction possible. (And not disrespectful of the car and any prior preservation/restoration.) Not to mention that a malaise-era 305 really just doesn’t do justice to the car; a modern engine swap would be doing it a favor.

Now, that eye-searingly RED interior is a bit of an issue. There’s going to have to be some re-upholstery and/or dye work involved…

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
3 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

Besides me being a fan of whorehouse-red interiors, I am in complete agreement with you. I too have always wanted to do an Avanti II restomod.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
3 months ago
Reply to  SirRaoulDuke

I’m not strictly against red interiors. It’s just the shades like what Ford used to advertise as “Lipstick Red” in 70s and 80s brochures is just a bit too intense. A more subdued shade of wine-red or burgandy can be classy and not require sunglasses to look inside the car as much as outside on a bright day.

That and I think the Avanti’s lines would look really good in either the intense blue metallic paint used on some of Chevy’s cars in the early 90s (With dark blue or charcoal gray interior…) or a really good deep black with charcoal-gray interior. Deep red interiors can work with black as well, but I’ve found they usually need some corresponding red accent stripes on the exterior to tie it together, and Avantis tend to be best on their own without striping of any kind. But that’s just me.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
3 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

I would paint an Avanti in black cherry, because I once saw one in that and I really liked it. With this red interior though, I am with you and would go black,

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

The packard as is, is the more attractive choice, but he avanti design is equally obscure and the OD and SBC mean it can be daily’d easily and might even have parts to fix it when the inevitable need came. I would want the avanti, and would be quickly searching for a low buck paint shop and maybe a wreck C6 manual. Not sure if the transaxle would fit, but I would sure look into that with LS reliability.

Masterbuilder
Masterbuilder
3 months ago

I love Packards, and this one looks exceptional for its years.

That said, I had to go Avanti on this one. It’s always been one of my favorite cars, and this one is all there.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
3 months ago

Both of these are great choices and great prices. I wish I could pick ’em both, but I voted for the Avanti, only because it looks like it needs less work.

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
3 months ago

That Packard is simply a gorgeous machine. The taillights (Hi, Jason!) on these are known as “cathedral” taillights and that seems like an appropriate word for the air it exudes.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
3 months ago

It’s worth keeping in mind that this year of Packard has a twelve-volt positive-ground electrical system. From the photos in the ad it looks like either this one has been converted to negative-ground (which, admittedly, some owners have done) or someone who didn’t know better hooked up the battery backwards and possibly fried something. From the fact that the ground strap is disconnected, I fear the latter.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

I saw the photos with the lights on but I didn’t see evidence of idling. The pessimist in me is obliged to point out that the lights don’t care which way the battery is connected.

The pessimist in me is also obliged to point out that I don’t know sequence of events depicted in the ad. Even if a shot did show it running, was that taken before or after the battery was hooked up as shown? It’s definitely backwards in the underhood shots.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
3 months ago

I love those old Packards. Solid. No question at all.

Goblin
Goblin
3 months ago

Ok, now I see where the soviet Chaika’s face comes from.

I have that little match list in my mind on which soviet vehicle was copied from which western counterpart, the Chaika was feeling lonely there till now.

Cerberus
Cerberus
3 months ago

A lot of these have been easy for me lately. I never liked the Avanti. Yeah, I get that some of the elements were a bit forward thinking, like the grille-less nose, but the overall thing is awkward and ugly, plus with all the weird remakes, they’re not entirely uncommon.

My grandfather also had a Packard, though it was a ’28 limo he likely bought with bathtub beer money and, though he didn’t hold the postwar stuff in high regard, I’d still think of him every time I drove it. As for the car itself, I’d prefer a Cadillac, but they’re far more expensive, plus these aren’t nearly as common and it looks like a comfortable ride. A little bit of work and it’s a driving restoration job.

AlterId
AlterId
3 months ago

As others have said, these are both fine choices and their prices and conditions make “both” a definite possibility. But the model badging behind the front wheel arches of the Packard don’t read “Patrician”, but ”The Patrician”, and the definite article makes it the definite choice.

Redfoxiii
Redfoxiii
3 months ago

That Packard is real lovely. It feels like a nice project to sink your teeth into.

Kevin B
Kevin B
3 months ago

Packard because it looks like the missing wheel cover is in the trunk with a bunch of other spare parts.

Not The Ford 289
Not The Ford 289
3 months ago

I have to get the Avanti, everyone in my family is a Studebaker/Ford freak. Saying that, I would do a engine swap to get rid of Chevy’s gloriously awful underpowered 305. Either a Studebaker 289 engine, or a HiPo Ford 390 would be put in. I know the car isn’t an actual Studebaker, but the originals are getting pretty expensive.

Last edited 3 months ago by Not The Ford 289
Cyko9
Cyko9
3 months ago

The Avanti is a little more to my liking, but it’s still not a car I would ultimately keep. The Patrician seems like a helluva deal, so it got my vote.

Jeff Wheeler
Jeff Wheeler
3 months ago

This has me thinking of yet another car-related “if I won the lottery” scenario: has anyone ever built a truly over-the-top Avanti restomod? I’m thinking of something like I’ve seen done in the last few years with the Lancia Delta Integrale, or the David Brown Mini, or a Jensen Healy I think I recall seeing on Top Gear way back when…

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
3 months ago

Packard, all the way. Especially if it has the torsion-level active suspension option.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
FloridaNative
FloridaNative
3 months ago

Luv ‘em both! Great finds, today!

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