Rare Hardtop: 1956 Packard Caribbean

If you’ve never seen a Packard Caribbean in person, it’s hard to understand just how incredible these cars really are. The styling is similar to that of most American cars built in 1956, with lots of chrome, multi-color paint jobs, and fins, but as you inspect one closer, you begin to notice all of the detail work and sophisticated features of the Caribbean that you won’t find on a ’56 Chevrolet or Ford. This rare find is being offered by a Barn Finds Reader based in Vienna, Austria and you can contact Ivko via their BF Classified or you can bid on it here on eBay.

There aren’t too many American-built cars from this era that have been invited to be displayed and compete at the Concours d’Elegance, but more than one Packard Caribbean has graced the 18th hole of Pebble Beach. The vast majority of Caribbeans were convertibles, as a matter of fact, the hardtop was only offered in 1956. Just 263 hardtops were constructed and it’s hard to say how many are remaining. Ivko believes there might be 20 left, as many were parted out to restore convertibles.

This one is in need of restoration work, but it looks to be solid. Some of the brightwork isn’t currently installed and Ivko admits that some of the pieces are missing, so you will want to inspect it to see whether the Caribbean-specific pieces are present or not. There are parts in the trunk, so hopefully, the hard-to-find trim pieces are present. He got this car as part of a trade for another car as it currently sits and had plans on restoring it, but other projects require his attention, so he’s decided to move it along.

Under the hood, you will find the 374 cui Packard V8, which appears to have been overhauled at some point. The dual carburetors and batwing air-cleaner are missing. Ivko admits that the car came to him without these parts, so it’s hard to say where they might be now. There are several Packard parts suppliers still in operation that can help you track down mechanical parts to get it back on the road. After just a few minutes of searching, I was able to figure out that the carbs are Rochester 4GCs and found an air-cleaner for it, so it might not be as difficult to find parts as you would expect. Once running, this V8 should be good for 310 horsepower and have plenty of grunt to keep up with modern traffic.

As impressive as the engine and exterior are, in my opinion, it’s the suspension design and interior are what make these cars a notch above the average American car. The interior features reversible seat cushions, with leather on one side and cloth on the other. It’s a unique feature that gives you the option to easily switch depending on the weather, what you were wearing, or your style. You will also find every power feature you could ever want in a car. The original upholstery is present and while it isn’t in perfect shape, it looks usable or could be used as patterns by your upholstery shop. The dash looks to be in good shape and all of the gauges, switches, and knobs are present. Ivko already purchased new carpet for it, which is included.

If the interior isn’t comfortable enough for you, the Torsion-Level suspension should make up the difference. Besides being incredibly smooth, it eliminated many of the issues associated with a softly sprung suspension. While the name might lead you to believe it’s height-adjustable, it’s more of a leveling system that adjusted for the number of passengers and amount of luggage in the car to keep it level with the road. The real improvement came from the pair of chassis-length torsion bars that connected the front and rear suspensions. This helped to manage body roll and pitch without producing a rough ride.

While hardtop Caribbeans are rare, they aren’t as sought after as convertibles, but that doesn’t mean that this car isn’t desirable. Ivko states that it needs new paint, but from what can be seen, the paint doesn’t look too bad. If it’s the car’s original paint, we would put it back together as is. There can’t be many unrestored examples out there, which increases the desirability of this one in our book. If you’ve been on the hunt for a truly special classic car, you might want to consider this one! Be sure to take a look at Ivko’s auction and don’t hesitate to send him any questions you might have.

Comments

  1. William Cockayne

    Worth the price, IF it was in the USA. Figure another 5 grand to ship, customs, etc. and the remainder of the parts stolen in route. No thanks.

    Like 1
    • SG

      I’ve been told it’s closer to 9000 now to ship from Europe. Ouch!

    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      It’s a US made car, no customs duty for a returning car.

  2. On and On On and On Member

    Please keep the Packards coming. Always interesting. Nice writeup too, honest and factual. Can’t wait to hear Bill’s comments, truly the Packard guru in my auto world.

    Like 11
  3. Vance

    Sigh……..its such a beautiful and well designed machine, one understands how and why Packard failed, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I never fully understood how the torsion bar suspension worked until I watched a Jay Leno episode on the car. I think it’s a lot like German Panther tanks in WWII. They could drive 40 mph on uneven ground and still acquire targets. But both vehicles weren’t quite ready and they suffered teething pains because production was pushed and quality suffered which led to their names being tainted, one was a fortunate thing, the other was the loss of a big part of Americana.

    Like 3
  4. SG

    Compared to the prices that the Abelove Caribbean coupes brought at auction, this is a steal.

    Like 1
  5. Christopher Gush

    Beautiful cars that are under appreciated. Torsion bar suspension and self leveling provide for a wonderful ride. The only caveat in restoration of these is the unobtainium pistons for the 374 engine, a one year only production, and trim items can often be difficult to find.

  6. scottymac

    Thanks for the reminder, SG! I think I registered for that auction, there was a 427 or 429 Ford engine that interested me, and I forgot about it. Here’s the results –
    https://www.collarcityauctionsonline.com/servlet/List.do?filter=caribbean&Send=Search
    Vance: History says management made some bad decisions, but did Packard fail, or did Studebaker drag them under?
    Anyone know where I can find a dual quad intake for a Packard V-8 (other than this one!)?

    • SG

      Scottymac – Silly me thought I was going to be able to get a cheap parts car with a dual quad setup from that auction. I have a ’55 clipper with factory 3 speed that would be a real sleeper with 2x4s.

      One went pretty reasonable – a really rusty 55 convertible with carbs but no air cleaner for $750. Another coupe brought $750 but had only a dual four intake and mot much else. One of the best deals was a ’56 400 coupe that had a stalled restoration. It appeared to have a rebuilt motor with complete dual four setup, sold for $1750.

      I bought one of the Henney hearses, and when I picked it up the buyer of the rusty Caribbean had already pulled his hood and intake and left the rest of the car for scrap I guess. The 400 coupe was much nicer than the photos suggested.

      It’s surprising how many dual four setups are still out there compared to Cadillac 2×4 or Olds Tripower. I wonder if Packard also sold a lot of over the counter kits ?

      side note – One of the auction folks said that they had 7 cars going overseas – 2 to NZ and the others to Germany.

      Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        SG,
        Almost 50 years ago I owned a 1955 Packard 400 hardtop, Turquoise and white. It was bought new by a residential developer who was worried about getting stuck in the mud, and didn’t like automatics. So he ordered the car with stickshift and overdrive. And the car was ordered new with Factory A/C!

        I added a Caribbean dual quad setup, and a set of headers I bought from JC Whitney! The first owner had also arranged to have a 1956 Packard “Twin-Traction” differential gearset and axle shafts [with 3.09 gears], installed about 1957, again because he was always getting stuck in mudholes!

        I had hooked up the suspension leveling motor up for manual use, by way of the power antenna switch. Pulling it out raised the back end up high. Pushing the knob in lowered it back down. Siting at a traffic light on a 4 lane highway, I used to enjoy raising the back end up to match a Chevy or Ford with a similar rake, sitting in the other lane, and on the light turning green, running it from first, into first overdrive, then second, I would finally shift it out of second overdrive at around 60mph!

        Ahhh, the things we kids did to our cars back then. But at the time it was a rusty old $500 Packard. Sold it in 1980 to another Packard collector in Baltimore, never saw it again.

  7. Dale

    I purchased a 53 Caribbean conv at the abelove auction at a great price!! I still can’t believe I own a Packard!!

    Like 2
    • SG

      Dale, which one did you get? There were some really fair prices on those 53-54 Caribbeans.

      Was it in better condition than you expected?

  8. Dale

    I purchased lot #190, the light pale green one !! It’s in storage at the moment, until I pick it up!! !!

    Like 1
  9. Mark from Atlanta

    Some decent photos — you know, a full shot on each side, ditto for front and rear — might help sell this big old thing.

    Like 1
  10. MitchRoss Member

    How do you come up with $5000-$9000 to ship a car from Europe? I would say $2000 is more like it, maybe a bit more as it is an inop. No customs fees because it is a US made car. Get a whole container and put a few interesting cars and bikes in it to lower the cost.

    • SG

      2-3k was the norm until covid. I have a client that just quoted car shipping from Germany and it was around 9k. Container shortages, etc are driving up the prices

      Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      $2,000 was a decent price 5 years ago. Since the Covid19 era, shipping costs have gone up 5 to 10 times, depending on where it’s at and going to.

      Last fall I sold a car to Europe, until the buyer saw the shipping rate and backed out of the sale.

      Like 1
  11. Winesmith

    Were the carbs not Carter WCFBs like Packard used on the flathead eight?

    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      Winesmith,

      The V8 Clipper series used the Carter, the Senior cars used the Rochester.

      Like 1
  12. Vance

    scottymac, losing Packard makes me more more wistful than losing Studebaker.. That being said, Packard got long in the tooth, and not having the funds for a strong R/D to help the transition from the war economy. Lack of fresh styling and no V8 until it was lirally too late, put a few more nails in the coffin. It was too much too late, and then the money ran out. Studebaker pulled Packard down like drowning passenger on the Titanic. Studebaker clientele was the complete opposite of Packard, and except for a few models, were never known to be stylistic. Studebaker lived on through AMC, Packard’s death was quick and sad. If young blood had been infused into Packard in the mid-late forties, they may have made it.

    Like 1
  13. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    This would be a good buy, as long as secure storage can be arranged until the insane shipping costs return to normal, that is currently estimated to happen within a year or so.

    Note that while it may seem easy to find a dual quad ‘Batwing” air cleaner, there are several variants, and the GM versions as on the Corvette, the dual carbs have a different spread between centerlines of the carb openings, and the round openings are wrong. Yes, a good sheet metal man can make it work, but it’s almost as expensive as it is to buy the wrong one for the Packard. The few Packard Parts sellers I know who sometimes have a full set to sell, will generally only sell to someone who is restoring a V8 Caribbean.

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