Packard of the mid 1950s was a rather different company than it was back in the heady pre-war classic era. Sales were slowing in the face of competition by the might of GM and Ford, and a merger with Studebaker was in the works by 1954 in attempt to boost Packard’s market share and balance the books of both firms. Despite the looming trouble, Packard’s new boss swept in from GE and immediately began to emulate what Cadillac was doing across town. For 1953, Packard tossed their hat into the ring with an ultra-luxurious “personal car”; the new Caribbean was a direct answer to the Cadillac Eldorado as well as a halo model intended to restore shine to the tarnished Packard brand.
The Caribbean sat above the 300, and was loaded with leather trim and luxury equipment. The first cars wore standard bodies that were modified by Mitchell-Bentley Corporation of Michigan to feature a low, wide hood scoop and fully rounded rear wheel arches. Each year, the Caribbean evolved with freshened styling and updated power to keep it in lock-step with Cadillac, though sales never topped the initial year’s 750 units. By 1956, Caribbean was its own separate line with both a coupe and convertible offered to clients and tweaked styling based on the 400. 1956 models were powered by the 375 cubic inch Packard V8, topped with dual four-barrel Rochester carburetors and producing 310 horsepower, putting it at the top of its class. Packard’s merger with Studebaker was failing, however, and by the end of 1956 the famous Detroit plant would be shut down and production moved to South Bend. The 1956 Caribbean was the last true luxury Packard, the final chapter of over a half-century of the brand.
This 1956 Caribbean coupe is a fine example from the final year of true Packard production. It is one of just 263 coupes built in 1956, slightly fewer than the convertible. In classic mid-century style, it is finished in a tri-tone combination with plenty of chrome and stainless jewelry. The main body is finished in Dover White over a Scottish Heather stripe and Maltese Gray rockers. The paint quality is good on this older restoration, with a few minor flaws to be found on close inspection, yet remaining quite attractive and shiny overall. A signature of the Caribbean coupe is the white vinyl-covered roof, this car wearing very good correct grained material. Being a classic 50s luxury car, there is lots of bright trim. The chrome plating is generally quite good, showing a bit of pitting and age in a few places, but remaining quite attractive overall. Polished stainless belt moldings separate the tri-tone paint scheme and present in good condition. A set of beautiful chrome wire wheels with Packard-logo centers look just fantastic wrapped in wide whitewall tires, de rigueur for 50s flagship motoring.
Inside, this Packard has a rather unique party trick – the front and rear seat cushions are reversible between leather and fabric surfaces. The cushions simply unsnap from the base, are flipped over and snapped back in place. It’s a delightful feature that harkens back to a day when designers were truly pushing the boundaries of creativity. Those reversible seats feature tri-tone leather on one side, and two-tone “metallic” fabric on the other. Upholstery quality is excellent, showing in very good order on both sides. The leather door panels are very good, as is the extensive interior brightwork, while carpets are fair. The dash is a magnificent display of mid-century modern design; its gold textured pattern interspersed with an array of chrome instruments and emblems. The padded dash top is covered in gray vinyl and in excellent condition with no signs of shrinking or cracking. The original radio remains in the dash, and the switchgear is in good order, with equipment including power windows, brakes and steering. A lovely Packard crest ignition key adds a sense of occasion to every drive.
Beneath the hood is Packard’s robust and powerful 375 cubic inch V8 which is topped with dual Rochester 4bbl carburetors and a distinctive “batwing” air cleaner. In this unique Caribbean spec, the Packard V8 makes 310 horsepower, delivering that power through a push-button Ultramatic transmission. The engine bay is very well detailed with excellent quality paint finishes, and largely correct fittings such as the original glass washer bottle and accessories.
This fine Caribbean coupe is a very usable and attractive example that has benefitted from regular maintenance and use. It ticks all the right boxes for fans of big American luxury cars of the 1950s; it is hugely stylish, very rare and it represents the last of the legendary line of proper Detroit-built Packards.