Jay Leno is playing Packard’s Swan Song

Packard was one of the biggest automotive names in the pre-war era, but the company collapsed in the late 1950s. This episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage” features the 1956 Packard Caribbean Convertible, representing Packard’s last great car.

Launched in 1955 and available as a coupe or convertible, this ultra-generation Caribbean feature is a carryover body shell dominated by the then-current styling tail fin and chrome that began in 1953. Leno’s huge collection also includes 1955 models.

This version of the Caribbean also includes a new V-8 engine, which replaces the Strait-8 Packard. Packard retained its Straight 8 after other American luxury brands switched to the V-8s, causing it to lose market appeal.

1956 Packard Caribbean at Jay Leno's garage

1956 Packard Caribbean at Jay Leno’s garage

The Packard V-8 began with a 352-cubic-inch displacement for 1955, but rose to 375 ci for 1956. The next version has two four-barrel carburetors and produces 310 hp – up from 275 hp previously. That power is sent to the rear wheels via a pushbutton-adjusted 2-speed automatic transmission.

In addition to the more powerful engine, the 1956 model comes with some styling tweaks and retro furnishings. Seat cushions can be moved and flipped, allowing owners to switch between fabric and leather surfaces. Leno’s car is unusual, with sporty leather on both sides and a rare black-and-white combination. Only 15 cars have been made in this color, he said in the video.

Caribbean self-leveling torsion-bar suspension is also featured. Electrically activated bars automatically twist in response to loading to maintain the level of the vehicle running on both sides of the vehicle length, not unlike modern self-leveling air suspension systems. Leno claims that the quality of the ride is excellent even by modern standards.

1956 Packard Caribbean at Jay Leno's garage

1956 Packard Caribbean at Jay Leno’s garage

Leno bought this 1956 model after considering his 1955 Caribbean recovery. He did just that, realizing that he could buy a complete car in good condition for the price of that restoration. He said the 1956 Caribbean is a bit more original than the 1955 model.

By the time these Caribbeans closed the assembly line, Packard was no longer independent. It merged with Studebaker in 1954 and 1956 will be the final model year for the Caribbean. Less than 300 convertibles were sold that year, down from about 500 in 1955.

As early as 1957, all Packards were rebranded as studbackers, sometimes referred to as “Packardbackers”. The name Packard was retired in 1958 for good. Its Detroit plant has been abandoned for decades, marking the collapse of the American auto industry.

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