Sedans & Coupes

Jay Leno Shows off the 1955 Packard Caribbean’s Advanced Suspension

Today, there are plenty of incredible features to be found on high-end luxury cars. Naturally, classic cars like the Citroen DS don’t exactly offer massaging seats. But then, someone has to be the first. The Jaguar Mk1 and Mk2, for example, helped popularize unibody design. And Lancia’s cars introduced a whole host of innovations. And, as Jay Leno explained in a recent video, American luxury marque Packard did something similar with the 1955 Caribbean.

What is the Packard Caribbean?

Founded in 1902, the Packard Motor Company was one of America’s first luxury brands, Petrolicious reports.

A dark-blue 1938 Packard Super Eight Touring Sedan
1938 Packard Super Eight Touring Sedan | Bring a Trailer

Cadillacs tagline at the time was ‘Standard of the World.’ But Packard’s cars were priced and built on an even higher level. If Duesenberg was America’s Rolls-Royce, Packard was more like the US Bentley. Interestingly, during WWII, Packard also assembled the same airplane engines as Rolls-Royce, Autoweek reports. Plus, in the 1940s, it was the first automaker to offer power windows.

Unfortunately, by the 1950s Packard was in serious financial trouble, Hagerty reports. Its military contracts had dried up, as had its contract with Briggs Manufacturing for body production. And after WWII, competitors like Cadillac and Oldsmobile had improved their styling and started offering V8 engines.

However, right before Packard merged with Studebaker, it unveiled a new model: the 1953 Caribbean. Only available as a convertible, it had a 180-hp 5.4-liter eight-cylinder engine, and cost the modern equivalent of $50.7k, Hagerty reports. The 1954 model had power windows, power steering, power-adjustable seats, and power-assisted brakes.

But Jay Leno’s 1955 Packard Caribbean offers something even more advanced.

What does Jay Leno like about his 1955 Packard Caribbean?

The side view of a white-red-and-black 1955 Packard Caribbean convertible
1955 Packard Caribbean side | Barrett-Jackson

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The 1955 Packard Caribbean took the previous models’ features and built on them. The convertible has every power-operated and power-assisted feature as standard, including a power-operated soft top, Barret-Jackson reports. The only option was air conditioning.

The red-and-white leather interior of a white-red-and-black 1955 Packard Caribbean seen through the open door
1955 Packard Caribbean interior | Barrett-Jackson

The previous Packard Caribbeans had eight-cylinder engines. But the 1955 model has the company’s first V8, a 5.8-liter one producing 275 hp and 355 lb-ft. That’s more power and torque than the heavier Cadillac Eldorado offered. And the 1955 Caribbean’s automatic transmission was push-button operated.

But, as the video above demonstrates, the 1955 Packard Caribbean’s biggest draw is its suspension. It’s an electrically-powered self-leveling torsion-bar suspension, Hagerty explains. Today, that’s not exactly a rare luxury car feature. Even a few motorcycles offer it. But in 1955, it was incredibly advanced.

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As Jay Leno describes in the video above, it has some drawbacks. Being an older design, it takes a few seconds to kick in. Plus, it drains the battery quickly. But it helps the convertible ride incredibly smoothly.

Jay Leno’s 1955 Packard Caribbean has a few updated engine electrical components. But otherwise, it’s stock; and he still drives it regularly. It isn’t light, and even with power-assist, the brakes aren’t particularly good. But thanks to dual antennas, the radio reception is good. The seats, along with the suspension, makes for a comfortable ride. Plus, in 1956, the Packard Caribbean offered reversible seat cushions. They have durable leather for the summer, comfier cloth for cooler times, the Murphy Auto Museum reports. And if it’s cold outside, the convertible offers under-seat heaters.

Getting one today

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Unfortunately, the Packard Caribbean wasn’t enough to save the automaker. The purchase of a new, smaller factory didn’t help matters, either. Packard ceased production in 1958, Hemmings reports. And by 1962, the Studebaker-Packard company became simply the Studebaker Corporation.

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Financial difficulties aside, Packard never built many Caribbeans. The company only made 500 of the 1955 models. And even though the 1956 Caribbean added a coupe model, sales didn’t take off, Hagerty reports. The factory only built 276 1956 Packard Caribbean convertible and 263 coupes.

However, for all their rarity and status, the later-model Packard Caribbeans aren’t that expensive. Admittedly, that’s likely due to the torsion-bar suspension’s complexities. But for those willing to deal with the potential headache, they’re something of a classic luxury car bargain. In 2018, an unrestored 1955 example sold on Bring a Trailer for $30,750. A restored 1956 model sold in 2019 at an RM Sotheby’s auction for $60,500. And even pristine examples don’t sell for over $90k, Hagerty reports.

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