Packard was one of the premiere luxury automakers of the prewar era, but by the 1950s it was on borrowed time. The 1955 Packard Caribbean featured on the latest episode of "Jay Leno's Garage" looks as flashy as other chrome-swathed 1950s classics, but it was arguably the brand's swan song.
The decline was partially due to Packard's inability to keep pace with rivals, Leno said. The automaker debuted its first V-8 in 1955, having stuck with an aging inline-8 for years as other luxury brands brought out more advanced engines. Equipped with two 4-barrel carburetors, the 352-cubic-inch Packard V-8 produced about 275 horsepower.
The 1955 Caribbean showed Packard was attempting to catch up. It boasted 5 hp more than a contemporary Cadillac, according to Leno, along with self-leveling torsion-bar suspension. Packard also jazzed up the existing Caribbean body shell (the model debuted in 1953) with bigger tail fins, dual hood scoops, a wider grille, and new headlight surrounds.
1955 Packard Caribbean on Jay Leno's Garage
Just 500 Caribbeans were made in 1955. The model survived one more year, and Packard itself didn't survive much longer. All 1957 and 1958 Packards were rebadged Studebakers (the two companies were joined in 1954), sometimes referred to as "Packardbakers." The Packard name was retired for good after that. Its Detroit factory has sat abandoned for decades, becoming a symbol of both Packard's demise and the decline of the American auto industry.
Leno said he's owned this car for about 35 years. It's even made cameo appearances in the opening credits of "The Tonight Show," with Leno pulling up to the studio in it. Today, the Caribbean is largely original, down to the two-tone paint, Leno said.
Watch the full video for more details on this 1950s time capsule from a long-gone American luxury brand.