In October 1952, Packard decided to offer a limited run of "sports cars" that, in due course, emerged as the 1953 Packard Caribbean, which was the first production Caribbean. (The Pan American sports car, which led directly to the Caribbean, inspired a series of monikers with a Latin American flavor: "Balboa" in 1953, for a one-off showcar; "Pacific" and "Panama" in 1954, for Packard and Clipper hardtops.) To keep a lid on price, the firm shunned sectioning and lowering; with an eye to sales, management insisted on six-passenger capacity.
The Caribbean (accent on the third syllable, please) thus arrived as a full-size convertible sharing most sheet-metal with the stock ragtop. Trouble was, Packard's standard convertible was an afterthought, riding the firm's shorter, 122-inch wheelbase and competing more with Buick than Cadillac. To get around this image problem, Packard simply priced the Caribbean at $5,210, more than $1,000 above Cadillac's Series 62 convertible.
Responsibility for Caribbean design fell to Dick Teague, a young stylist of exceptional talent, Packard's "wizard of facelifts." His modifications to what was essentially the Series 250 convertible shell were mild but effective: radiused rear wheel openings, molded-in "bugeye" taillamps from the senior Packards, bright metal on beltline and wheel openings, a "continental" (outboard) spare, wire-spoke wheels, and a Pan-Am-style air-scoop hood.
The interior was luxuriously trimmed in leather. Power was supplied by Packard's 327-cubic-inch, five-main-bearing straight eight with 180 horsepower as used in the 250s (now known as the Packard convertible and Mayfair hardtop) and available with optional Ultramatic self-shift transmission.
The result was dramatically clean for 1953, lacking even a "Caribbean" nameplate. And it sold quite well for what was basically a cobbled-up job. Packard built 750 Caribbeans for the model year to best both Eldorado (532) and the Olds Fiesta (458), though Buick built more Skylarks (1,690).
That Packard Motor Car Company would offer such a car at all was decided by its flashy new president, James J. Nance, recruited by outgoing president Hugh Ferry to light a fire under an old-line automaker that seemed to have dozed through the early postwar years. (Road tester Tom McCahill said the 1948-50 line of "pregnant elephant" Packards looked as if they'd been designed "for an old dowager in a Queen Mary hat.")
The basic body stayed the same for 1954. Find out what changed on the next page.