1953-1956 Packard Caribbean

1954 Packard Caribbean
The 1954 Packard Caribbean picked up the body from the 1953, including the short 122-inch wheelbase.
The 1954 Packard Caribbean picked up the body from the 1953, including the short 122-inch wheelbase.

One of Packard President James J. Nance's objectives in the early 1950s was to resurrect Packard's prewar image of total luxury. The way to do this, he said, was to establish the cheaper Clipper as a separate make and load Packard with loaded Packards, such as the 1954 Packard Caribbean.

He did, and the evidence is that it worked. As a former Packard dealer said: "I don't remember anything that was a better showroom traffic-builder after the war than the Caribbean. That car was a classic."

Things began to go bad for Nance in 1954 as Packard, wounded in the crossfire of the Ford/GM sales battle, failed to meet his deadline for a new V-8 engine and a heavy facelift. Both were postponed to 1955 and the 1953s warmed over to fill the gap, but sales ran at just a third the previous year's pace. All this naturally affected the Caribbean, and 1954 production dipped to only 400 units, the lowest of the model's four years.

One drawback of being stuck with the same bodies for 1954 was that Packard's line leader was stuck with the same short wheelbase. In that dimension, the Caribbean was an exact match for this year's much-less-special Buick Skylark. Olds forgot the Fiesta, but Cadillac's Eldorado blossomed to 129 inches. It, too, was now much less unique, but it also cost $2,000 less than the 1953.

Two-tone paint and lowered rear-wheel cutouts spruced up the 1954 model.

Nance and company did what they could by giving the 1954 Caribbean everything they had: a new 359-cubic-inch engine (at 212 horsepower, the industry's most powerful postwar straight eight), two-tone paint, lowered rear-wheel cutouts (to emphasize what length there was), and a flashy new dash (shared with the rest of the line). To top it off, radio, heater, and power windows and seats were all standard. "There is no more glamorous car than the new Packard Caribbean," trumpeted the 1954 brochure. "The swank continental look will turn all eyes." Well, it caught 400 pairs of eyes, anyway.

Learn about the big performance boost and other changes for the 1955 Caribbean on the next page.

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