Cruising in the Caribbean, Kansas-style

05/24/2014 12:00 AM

05/24/2014 6:42 AM

Daryl Crotts’ love of Packard automobiles began when he first laid eyes on an elegant 1930 model.

“That car is what got me into collecting cars,” he says. And there have been some impressive cars in his ongoing collection, including 1947 and 1948 Lincolns, a 1952 MG TD and a 1958 Jaguar XK 150.

But the allure of owning a special Packard was strong enough to sustain him through a 14-year restoration of one such car, a 1953 Packard Caribbean Convertible Coupe.

“It’s a rare, rare car. They only made 750 of them,” Crotts said, explaining that Packard was trying to make a styling statement when it introduced the Caribbean convertible in 1953.

“Fifty-three was a landmark year. The pent-up demand for cars during the war years was ending,” he said. “Packard had made the Pan American show car in ’52 … they sent it off to a customizer who opened up the rear wheel wells and put Kelsey Hayes wire wheels and a hood scoop on it. It was so well received, they decided to build it.”

The Caribbean, designed by Richard Teague, was Packard’s top-of-the-line offering that year, going head-to-head with its chief GM rival, Cadillac. It features chrome fins on the rear fenders flowing down into twin tail lights, and a massive chrome front end.

The added hood scoop was non-functional, but looked sporty, covering a massive 327-cubic-inch inline 8-cylinder flathead engine that generated 180 horsepower. A 2-speed automatic transmission was bolted to that, providing almost imperceptible shifting.

The Caribbean weighed in at a hefty 4,265 pounds and carried a $5,210 price sticker, which was a lot of money back then.

“I bought this car from Bill Humphreys, a Packard collector in Oklahoma. He never sold, he always bought, but I talked him into selling this one to me because he was getting up in age and the prospects of him getting it done were slim,” Crotts recalled. “The car was sitting in a gymnasium in Waukomis, Okla., where it had been stored for years. I gave him $3,500 for it, and that included some parts.”

The Packard was in rough shape, though, only partially assembled, with serious rust issues when it was loaded on a trailer for the trip to Kansas.

One of Crotts’ friends told him he had to be crazy to pay good money for a car like that.

“I told him, ‘You gotta use your imagination,’ ” said Crotts, who could envision what the car could be again.

But it wouldn’t be easy, or cheap, to bring it back. Crotts turned the Caribbean over to his friend, Allen Rich of Maize, a second-generation Packard restorer, who handled the mechanical work.

“I do very little of the work myself,” said Crotts, who concentrated on rounding up missing parts or, when that failed, finding craftsmen who could reproduce them.

“Finding parts was the hardest part. The rear view mirror is unique to this specific model … it mounts above the windshield. All the other Packards, the mirror mounted on top of the dash,” he said. The belt line brightwork, consisting of a two-part metal flourish with a Packard emblem inset in it, also was used exclusively on the ’53 Caribbean.

The next year, the side trim was changed to accommodate a switch from the single color paint scheme to a two-tone design. Crotts felt the original Packard Polaris Blue was too muted to do the convertible justice, so he had Terry Becker of Halstead spray multiple coats of 2000 Lincoln Navigator Laser Red Metallic with some added gold metalflake on the Caribbean.

The suspension was disassembled and refreshed, as was the frame, which received a good blasting, followed by powder coating by Lorac.

Small details, such as the white-ribbed window crank bezels and the polished bezels around the interior door locks, had to be remade to original specifications.

“It was the only model with the continental kit,” said Crotts, who had to find the correct center cap and attaching bolt that went in the middle of the external spare tire carrier.

Downey’s Auto Upholstery recovered the front and rear seats, as well as the door panels, in thick red and white leather. Downey also stitched up a new white top and tonneau cover to tidy up the Caribbean’s rear deck when the top is stowed away.

The car was completed about two months ago. Crotts has no immediate plans for it.

“I don’t show my cars. I don’t feel that particular need,” he said. “The fact is, you’re not going to see any of these around here. Only 88 of these have survived, according to the Packard registry.”

But on a nice, sunny Kansas afternoon, you just may spot a bright red Packard cruising with the top down.

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