Having stuck to its ancient cast-iron side-valve flathead straight-eight engines for too long, by the mid-1950s, Packard had lost its ground both to GM’s Cadillac and Ford’s Lincoln divisions, only to get further hit by the launch of Chrysler’s separate Imperial brand in 1955. For the same year, however, Packard made its last hurrah by introducing Torsion-Level Ride, the world’s smoothest suspension system using torsion bars instead of coil springs.
Available only as a cabrio with either dual or tricolor paint jobs, the 1955 Packard Caribbean also featured a new, 352-cubic-inch V8 with a pair of four-barrel carburetors for 275 horsepower, and the upgraded Twin-Ultramatic automatic transmission making the most of that torque. In the battle of land yachts, the Caribbean was easily an eight-seater contender, yet Packard dared to advertise it as a sports car. An era of wild dreams.
While the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud was introduced still featuring leaf springs in the back, Packards came with nine-feet steel torsion bars connecting the front and rear wheels in a V-shape, aided by a secondary bar that would level the rear using an electric motor as a “compensator,” and anti-roll bars front and rear. Packard’s revolutionary system allowed for an ultra-softly sprung setup that not only kept the car relatively level at all times but also “beat riding on air,” at least according to the company.
Luckily, while Jay Leno does his best to demonstrate the Torsion-Level Ride, Packard once commissioned the A.J. Henderson Associates Inc. to produce an informative promotional movie that’s here to convince you with more than its “Ride-a-meter”:
As innovative and comfortable as Packard’s suspension was, despite designer Richard Teague’s best efforts to update the Packard Senior’s body into a cutting-edge luxury design, no fake hood scoops, “cathedral” taillights or twin-antennas could save Packard from slow sales. As a result, the brand left Detroit following its merger with Studebaker, only to cease production completely by 1958.
Leno’s 1955 Packard Caribbean is an unrestored, all-original car he bought in the ’80s, and one of the just 500 built for 1955. As such, it’s one of the last proper Packards, the perfect cabriolet for California and the first car showing the comedian what complete brake failure feels like. Land yachts tend to boil their drums, so be careful with that sports car narrative.
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