Packard Caribbean Convertible
Once the most prolific of America’s prestige manufacturers, Packard had lost its primacy to Cadillac by the early 1950s. Until the 1920s, Packard, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow comprised the “Three Ps” of upper crust automobiles. Of the three, only Packard emerged from the Depression, largely on the strength of a line of medium-priced cars introduced in 1935. Dramatic new “Clipper” styling in 1941 bolstered Packard sales, such that the more traditional “Senior” series were dropped after World War II.
This was somewhat of a mixed blessing. With the all-new 22nd Series cars in 1948, Packard again reached into the true luxury market, but aside from wheelbase and some exterior trim there was little to distinguish the top-of-the-line Custom Eight models from the standard Packard Eight that competed with Mercury and Buick.
New president James Nance arrived from appliance manufacturer Hotpoint in 1952. His strategy for success was to distinguish the entry-level series from the larger Packards, both visually and image-wise. Re-introducing the Clipper name for 1953, he applied it to the least expensive Packards, although his desire for a separate marque name was never fully implemented. Clippers had simple trim, smaller engines and fewer amenities, while the top-line Patrician series featured longer wheelbases, more elegant trim and a line of Executive sedans by Henney Motor Company, the professional car builders. At the top of the upper-mid-level series called simply “Packard” was a new Caribbean convertible. Modified by Mitchell-Bentley Corporation, the Caribbean had a full leather interior, chrome wire wheels, enlarged wheel openings, hood scoops and custom paint in one of four hues. Continued for 1954, the Caribbean was differentiated less from other Packard models but had its own distinct trim and was fully optioned.
The 1955 model year brought great changes to Packard. A new skin gave the bodies a distinctly different appearance, and Packard’s first V8 engine made its debut, in two sizes. The Caribbean returned as part of the Series 5580 Packard line, its hood scoops carried over and a distinctive rear fender treatment applied above the taillights. All available options, with the exception of air conditioning, were again included. The larger 352 cubic inch V8 was fed by dual Rochester four-barrel carburetors, and the new electrically-operated Torsion Level suspension was standard.
The smallest production of any body style, just 500 Caribbean convertibles were built for 1955; far fewer survive today The 1955 Packard was one of the most technically advanced American automobiles of its day. Collectors today view these cars (and the almost identical ‘56s) as the swan song of one of the greatest names in American car building. Beautiful, sophisticated, and rare, they are highly sought after today.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2009 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona and in July of 2012 at The Inn at St. John's, Plymouth, Michigan. Also part of the event for Charlie Thomas in October, 2012.
275bhp, 352 cu. in. overhead valve V8 engine, Ultramatic transmission, front and rear Torsion Level suspension, live rear axle, four-wheel power-assisted hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 127"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel and Neil Fraser