Packard introduced the Caribbean in 1953. Based on Packard’s non-production 1952 show car, the Pan American convertible, the Caribbean utilized a Cavalier body that was heavily modified by the Mitchell-Bentley Corporation of Ionia, Michigan. The hood featured a full-width scoop, the taillights were horizontal in “fishtail” rear fenders, and the cars were fitted with chrome wire wheels, including a continental spare tire. All side trim was removed, and full rear wheel cutouts further differentiated the car from the rest of the Packard line, and the end result was a truly elegant and striking automobile.
The Caribbean was only available as a convertible, and could be ordered in four colors: Polaris Blue, Gulf Green metallic, Matador Red metallic and Sahara Sand. It was powered by the 180-hp, 327-cid straight-eight motor and at $5,210 was almost $2,000 more than the Cavalier convertible and $1,400 more than a Cadillac convertible. A total of 750 1953 Packard Caribbean convertibles were built.
The 1954 Caribbean was markedly different, as it received a two-tone paint job with a dividing side-molding, chrome across the hood scoop, and chrome trim adorning the lower rear wheel cutouts, which were now half size. It retained chrome wire wheels and the continental kit, and all Caribbeans now had power windows, power seats, power steering and power brakes, as well as dual heaters. Only 400 were built this year, as Packard redesigned its Detroit plant to begin building the all-new 1955 models.
The 1955 Packard Caribbean was a stunning tri-colored convertible, powered by a brand new 352-cid, 275-hp OHV V-8 with dual four-barrel carburetors. Every power option was standard, except for air conditioning, and the car rode on electronically operated, self-leveling torsion bar suspension. The Caribbeans were white over black with the third color – blue, green, red or pink, placed between the other two on a wide band that ran the length of the car at waist height, sweeping up over the rear fins to the twin antennas. “Cathedral window” rear taillights topped bumpers, through which the exhaust exited. Production was limited to 500 Caribbeans, which cost almost $6,000 – again nearly $2,000 more than a 1955 Cadillac convertible.
The new Packard V-8 encountered problems with oil pumps that were not powerful enough, and valve trains were starved to disastrous ends as a result. The electronic self-leveling suspension system also tended to fail on occasion due to bad ground connections. These troubles, coupled with the car’s high price, irreparably harmed its reputation, and ultimately spelled the end of the model.
For 1956, a Packard Caribbean coupe joined the convertible and the car’s engine size was bumped up to 374 cid, with 310 hp. The car had deeper headlight hoods and the front bumper was modified with an air scoop. There were new color combinations and reversible seat cushions, offering leather or brocade surfaces. The problematic oil pump from 1955 was replaced with a higher-flow unit and the suspension connections improved, but it was all too late. Packard sold only 28,835 cars in 1956 and Studebaker-Packard basically sold out to Curtiss-Wright. On August 15, Packard production came to a halt. Only 276 Caribbean convertibles and 263 coupes left the factory and the 1957 and 1958 Packards would become face-lifted Studebakers.
Even though the 1955 and 1956 Packard Caribbeans were rushed into production too fast, production-based mechanical faults have almost always been corrected by now. All of the Caribbeans are handsome and very fast for their considerable size as well, and their low production numbers help keep collectibility high. Today the Packard Caribbean is widely considered to be the most collectible postwar Packard.
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