When the once-mighty Packard released its 1953 Packard Caribbean, sporty cars weren't attracting many sales in the '50s. However, they sure attracted buyer attention that helped move less interesting stuff. The brainchild of new company president James Nance, the flashy, top-line 1953 Packard Caribbean convertible was part of his effort to restore Packard's pure-luxury image and thus boost sales after years of decline from an over-reliance on medium-price cars.
The 1954 Packard Caribbean was designed for an elite audience, which crippled its sales.
The Caribbean borrowed visual cues from the earlier two-seat Pan American show car, but was a full six-passenger model derived from Packard's standard convertible. That meant the same 122-inch wheelbase as Clippers and lesser Packards, so the Caribbean wasn't as impressive as it could have been, though its 327-cubic-inch straight-eight engine was shared with the longer "senior" models. Designers ladled on fully radiused wheel cutouts, air-scoop hood, jaunty "continental" spare tire, wire wheels, even tiny bright tailfins.
Still, the basic design was two years old, while the price was a towering $5210 -- $1000 more than a ragtop Cadillac 62. That was supposed to give the Caribbean an air of exclusivity, and it did. Only 750 buyers stepped up.
The 1954 Packard Caribbean had plenty of luxury features, with a luxury price tag.
For 1954 the Caribbean added flat-top rear wheel arches (for a longer look) and standard two-tone paint, radio, heater, power seats, and power windows. What's more, its engine was pushed to 359 cid and 212 horsepower -- America's most potent postwar straight eight -- while price was optimistically pushed to $6100. "There is no more glamorous car than the new Packard Caribbean," brochures exclaimed. "The swank continental look will turn all eyes." But the '54 found only 400 buyers as total Packard sales dropped some two-thirds. And even worse was yet to come.