The Packard Caribbean was a limited-production automobile produced from 1953 through 1956. It was inspired by the Pan American concept car that Packard had displayed at the 1952 New York Auto Show. It was available in convertible and hardtop form. Originally, only the convertible was offered but in 1956 the hardtop was introduced. The vehicle was outfitted with as many amenities available at the time and overseen by Packards stylist, Dick Teague. The interior was adorned in leather trim and was equipped with dual heaters and defrosters, three-way radio with electric antenna, power brakes, windows, and seats. Even power-assisted steering was standard, a rarity at the time.
Under the hood lurked an outdated Packard 327 cubic-inch inline eight-cylinder side-valve engine capable of producing 180 horsepower. In 1954, the horsepower rating was increased to 212. A new V8 engine was introduced in 1955 and the horsepower rating skyrocketed to over 300. The 'Twin-Ultramatic' transmission was controlled through push-buttons in the middle of the dash and the Suspension was torsion bars inter-connected from the front to the rear.
The 1953 and 1954 versions had a continental spare wheel fixed atop the rear bumper pan. A hood scoop gave the vehicle a sporty persona while the wire-spoke wheels gave it a hint of European styling. Two-tone paint schemes and chrome accent strips gave the vehicle a distinct appearance.
In 1954 Packard merged with Studebaker to try to compete, (stay in business), against the large mass-production automobile giants. By 1956, their body supplier, Brigg, sold out to the Chrysler Corporation. Packard moved the body manufacturing to a Detroit factory where it struggled with supply and quality issues. Chrysler had their C-300 and Cadillac their Eldorado, both were moving in on Packard's territory.
The Caribbean exclusivity was guaranteed by their steep sticker prices. 400 examples were sold in 1954, and between 1955 through 1956, 500 examples were sold. This exquisite vehicle made it into production just before the Packard name became part of the past. By Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2013One of the signature cars of the 1950s, the Caribbean was built on the Packard 400 chassis. It featured Packard's own overhead valve V8 engine with a displacement of 375 cubic inches producing 310 horsepower. An exclusive limited-production automobile, the regal Packard Caribbean was manufactured from 1953 until 1956. Offered in either convertible or hardtop form, the sleek Caribbean came with many lux options and features. The Caribbean was marketed by the Packard Motor Car Company as a 'halo' vehicle to promote sales for the entire brand. The styling of the Caribbean was inspired by the Pan American Packard show car of the previous year. From 1953 until 1955 the model was available only as a convertible with a hardtop model being added in 1956, the final year.
With its full cutout rear wheel housing and glam side trim, the 1953 Caribbean was a truly eye-catching sight. As part of the Packard Cavalier model range, the model featured a chrome band outline that stretched along the whole length of the vehicle that also helped to define the car's wheel openings. The wheelbase measured at 127 inches, with an overall length of 218.5 inches and a width of 78 inches. Standard on the Caribbean was a sporty steel continental spare tire. A distinctive, low leaded-in hood scoop was featured on the hood.
On the inside of the Caribbean was standard power-assisted steering, which was incredibly rare at this time. The interior of this model featured rich leather upholstery, dual heaters and defrosters, power brakes, power windows and seats, and a three-way radio with an electric antenna. Mitchell-Bentley Corporation of Ionia, Michigan was responsible for the elegant styling of the Caribbean body. Owners could choose from limited colors Maroon Metallic, Sahara Sand, Polaris Blue, and Gulf Green Metallic. A small variety of special-ordered automobiles were built in Black or Ivory.
Optional on the first-year model was the Ultramatic transmission and power windows. For the first year on the market, a total of 750 models were produced. Today these are highly collectible and restored models can go as high as six-figure amounts.
In 1954 the Caribbean rose to senior Packard level. It continued to feature plenty of its own distinctive styling features though the full rear-wheel cutouts were removed. Chrome and stainless trim became a lot more generous and now allowed for two-tone paint combinations. New this year was a four-way power seat. The Caribbean received heavier 'finned' headlight housings, much like the Patrician. This was one of the styling cues that set these senior Packard's from their lower-priced siblings. This year the Caribbean featured the 359 cubic-inch straight-eight senior engine used in the last manifestation of Packard's straight-eight engine. Four hundred of these 1954 models were produced, making this the rarest year for the Caribbean.
For 1955 the Caribbean line received the V8 engine and implemented the Senior Packard line styling completely. The Caribbean was offered in either two or three-tone paint patterns. The old Packard Senior body was transformed into a suave, contemporary design by designer Richard Teague. Packard's torsions level suspension went to the Caribbean and the single hood scoop was split into two units. For this year a total of 500 units were produced.
The final full-sized Packard built, the 1956 Packard Caribbean was built as well as the lushest and modern car in the 1956 lineup. The final year for the Caribbean, 1956 brought about the model being broken into its very own luxury series. A hardtop model was added to the lineup. Only slight updates were made between the two model years to differentiate the models and they included trim updates and grille texture changes. The grille now matched the one found on the concurrent Patricians while the rear treatment that featured Packard's cathedral style taillights resumed.
New this year, the headlights adopted much more exaggerated hoods. For 1956 a total of 263 hardtops and 276 convertibles were produced. Only 10 exclusive convertible models were equipped with air conditioning from the factory. The 1956 model sold new for $5,995, which was the most expensive model Packard produced this year. It was available in the original colors of Dover White, Maltese Gray, and Scottish Heather. New features this year included twin traction differential with limited slip designed for all weather conditions. Additional new safety features included wrap-around parking and taillights, side marker lights, and automatic torsion leveling system for optimal nighttime visibility.
The 1956 model featured a huge 374-cubic inch V8 engine with an impressive 310 horsepower rating. Extravagant standard features included gold-tone 'Caribbean' scripts, power windows, Ultra-Matic automatic transmission with push-button controls, and a Wonderbar radio. Additional features included novel reversible seat cushions with brocade on one side and leather on the other.
Unfortunately, Packard was facing deep financial troubles with drowning sales. Packard's Detroit assembly and engineering operations production ended and the Caribbean model was discontinued. Despite all of the financial troubles surrounding the Packard line, the exquisite Caribbean Convertible has remained the unblemished queen of the marques line.