65, a former investment banker living in Southampton, N.Y., on his 1953 Packard Caribbean, as told to A.J. Baime.
Unlike today, in the 1980s, there were lots of restored vintage cars that didn’t cost too much money. I was living in Manhattan, and looking for something that I could use on weekends to get to the beach. I pulled out the Standard Catalog of American Cars. That’s when I discovered the Caribbean.
It was built during an exciting time in American car design. In 1953, Packard debuted the Caribbean, Buick debuted the Skylark, and Cadillac brought out the Eldorado. All were limited-edition cars; the latter two were longtime models for the brands, but the Caribbean not so much, as the Packard brand soon disappeared.
To me the Caribbean was the most interesting. It was designed by a guy named
who later became famous for designing the AMC Pacer. To create the Caribbean, Teague and his team took a standard Packard convertible and heavily customized it. They broke tradition: There is no hood ornament, and the word Caribbean is nowhere to be found on the 1953 model. It had power everything, which was a big deal in 1953: power steering, brakes, convertible top, adjustable seats, retractable antenna, windows.
Finding one wasn’t going to be easy. Packard only built 750 in 1953. There were only four stock colors—Matador Maroon, Sahara Sand, Polaris Blue and Gulf Green. I only liked the Maroon. So I went on a mission to find one in this color.
After a two-year hunt, I found my car in Mound, Minn., in 1986. I flew out, bought it for $17,500, and drove it home. Along the way, the generator light came on telling me the battery was not recharging. So I had range anxiety long before that was a thing. I ended up having to jump-start the car and got home OK.
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I was living in Manhattan, and I rented a detached garage in Astoria, Queens. When I got there after my 25-hour trip, I quickly found out that the Caribbean was 2 inches longer than the garage. So that required some rethinking.
I have been driving the car regularly for 35 years. In 1989, a friend of the family asked if I would use the Caribbean to chauffeur him and his fiancée from the church to the reception on their wedding day. I said sure, not realizing that this would turn into a family tradition. The car has now participated in about 15 weddings, just for family friends, all in the Hamptons. During each one, I have had the newlyweds sign a log.
At one wedding two years ago, I showed a young couple the place in the log where the bride’s parents had signed 30 years earlier. I had used the Caribbean in their wedding—so two generations of the same family. I even used the car in my own wedding back in 1991.
Purchasing the Caribbean triggered a lifelong fascination with old cars. I have bought, restored and sold many. But the Caribbean is still in my garage.
Write to A.J. Baime at email@example.com
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