1953-1956 Packard Caribbean

Pan American concept

The initial Caribbean, built off the Pan American concept, featured heavily chromed wheel openings.
The initial Caribbean, built off the Pan American concept, featured heavily chromed wheel openings.

Packard had already been thinking "sports car" for some time when the Pan American concept appeared in 1952 as a precursor to the 1953-1956 Packard Caribbean. Packard's body shop, Henney Company, was commissioned to conjure up a hardtop on the firm's 1949 chassis and again on the 1952, both called Monte Carlo.

Packard also studied an Italian-made Abarth as a possible entry in the sporty segment, and conceived an odd rig named Panther, later to become the prototypical Panther Daytona. But the Pan American was the most successful of these efforts because it actually led to a production model, the Caribbean.

The original Pan American began as a stock 1951 Series 250 convertible. Packard president Hugh Ferry gave Henney president Russell Feldmann only six weeks to deliver it, in time for the opening of the New York International Motor Sports Show on March 29, 1952. With designer Richard Arbib working evenings and weekends, Feldmann met the deadline.

Arbib's concepts were akin to those of contemporary customizers in that the Pan Am was dramatically lower than stock. It also resembled the 1953 Cadillac Eldorado in having channeled bodysides -- again for a lower look -- plus chrome wire wheels, and a metal tonneau covering the soft top and its yet-to-be-developed folding mechanism. But unlike the Eldo, the Pan Am had only a single bench seat (Henney had closed up most of the space behind) as well as "continental" exterior-mount spare tire and a functional hood scoop.

Henney general manager Preston Boyd told Feldmann that their firm had spent close to $10,000 on the first Pan Am and would have to charge over $18,000 apiece for copies, including overhead and Arbib's salary. But his estimate apparently pertained to that one car, not a production version.

Though Feldmann kept trying to sell Packard on the idea of at least a small run ("Don't you think it remarkable that interest in this car is still so keen?" he asked in July), no more than six Pan Americans were built. Evidently, cost dissuaded Packard from thoughts of even limited production.

To learn about the first production vehicle built off of the Pan American, continue reading on the next page.

For more information about cars, see: