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Packard Caribbean

1955-56 Packard Caribbean

Last Gasp

Packard, once one of the world's premiere automakers struggled in the postwar world, seeing it's pre-eminence among American automakers rapidly fade. It was sad, really, as Packard had contributed so much to the automotive world before WWII, played an important part in war production, and seemed ready to battle the GM juggernaut that was Cadillac in the postwar world. Alas, it was not to be. When the great Packard factory closed (article: End of the World), it was big news, but America quickly moved on. The last gasp for REAL Packards (not the later fancy Studebakers) was the 1955-56 models. At the top of the line was the Caribbean.

Plus Minus

Last real Packard

Dedicated marque following

Full on Fifties Flash

The price of a Bel Air

High restoration costs

Uncertain future

Transmission woes

Styling certainly had recovered from the rather dowdy previous design and it weighed in with all the fifties requirements: lots of colors and chrome, technical advancements, and powerful engines. Caribbeans even had reversible upholstery: fabric on one side, leather the other.

A convertible-only model in 1955, for '56 it was joined by a 2-door hardtop. Caribbeans had Packard's biggest, most powerful engine: the all-new 352ci V8 with twin 4bbl carbs rated at 275hp in '55 and enlarged to 374ci with 310hp in '56. Both were backed by an unreliable Twin Ultramatic automatic transmission. Many have been replaced by owners with Chrysler's excellent Torquefilte. Using a new and novel torsion bar ("Torsion Level") suspension, handling wasn't too bad for such a behemoth, and it managed a soft and smooth ride, too.

What to Look For

Due to limited production (about 500 in '55, 276 convertibles and 263 hardtops in '56), these are very expensive to restore as parts are difficult to find. Unless you're a true Packard enthusiast, a glutton for frustration, or like a challenge, only consider restored examples--or at least ones that are all there, right down to all the trim.

56 Packard grille The big, bold front tried to recapture former glory.
Caribbean dash The impressive gold-toned dash evoked prewar themes.
Packard Caribbean hardtop A 2-door hardtop joined the convertible for '56. Rear styling was quintessential fifties Detroit.

The Market

Update 2019: Values risen about 30% since this article was first published in 2005. Recent activity is sparse, but indicates a leveling off of prices. A #1 example in the right venue can hit $100,000, but that's the exception, not the rule. A nice #2 is currently around Current Packard Caribbean Values

1955 Packard Caribbean

(C) Copyright 2005- VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the August 2005 issue of Collector Car Market Review.

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