1956 Packard Caribbean
Chassis No. 5699-1254
Series 5699. 310 bhp, 374 cu. in. overhead valve V-8 engine with Ultramatic transmission, front and rear Torsion Level suspension, live rear axle and four-wheel power-assisted hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 127”
Once the best-selling American prestige manufacturer, Packard lost its primacy to Cadillac in the early 1950s. Until the 1920s, Packard, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow comprised the “Three Ps” of luxury automobiles. Of the three, only Packard survived the Depression, largely on the strength of a line of medium-priced cars introduced in 1935. Dramatic new “Clipper” styling in 1941 was so popular that the more traditional “Senior” series were dropped after World War II.
New president James Nance arrived from appliance manufacturer Hotpoint in 1952. His new strategy was to distinguish the entry-level series from larger Packards, both visually and in prestige. 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 colors. 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 V-8 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 V-8 was fed by dual Rochester four-barrel carburetors, and the new electrically-operated Torsion Level suspension was standard.
For 1956, the Caribbean became a model range unto itself, Series 5688, and a hardtop coupe was added to the line. Dual carburetion was continued, and increased displacement of 374 cubic inches resulted in a horsepower boost to 310.
Acquired by the current owner in 1996, this handsome 1956 Caribbean convertible was previously owned by avid Packard collector Maximilian B. Roessel of Newton, New Jersey, whose name appears on a brass plaque on the dashboard. Its build sheet shows delivery to the Philadelphia branch in June of that year, consistent with its serial number 254 of 276 built. It was repainted in the original tri-tone colors of Dover White, Danube Blue and Roman Copper, one of four exclusive combinations. Performed by renowned restorer Steve Babinsky, whose work is recognized with many Pebble Beach awards, the task involved considerable disassembly and new weatherstripping. The interior was also redone in correct matching fashion by Everlast Auto Interiors of Linden, New Jersey. The top likewise has been replaced in grained white vinyl, albeit without the correct contrasting color liner. The trim was professionally refurbished as necessary, replating some items and polishing others. The front bumper and taillights, for example, are original. The luggage compartment is clean and correctly detailed. An added bonus is inclusion of extra paint in all three colors, a few oil filters and various vital fluids.
Mechanically the car has been consistently maintained throughout its 95,000-mile history. The only deviations from standard are an electronic ignition and installation of front seat belts and Goodyear Custom Cushion radial tires. The power braking system and transmission have been rebuilt, the latter by Ultramatic specialist Ross Miller, the push button controller by John Lauter. A new ring and pinion have also been fitted. The Torsion Level suspension works properly, as do all other conveniences like the power windows, power driver’s seat and the radio, interior lights. The engine, while in its original state, is peppy, does not smoke and has performed admirably with good oil pressure for nearly 20,000 miles of touring in its current ownership.
The 1956 Caribbean convertible is exceeded in rarity only by its sibling hardtop coupe, of which just 263 were built. The 1956 Packard was one of the most technically advanced American automobiles of its day. This is a chance to acquire an extremely nice example with no excuses.