THE NEW PACKARD TWIN SIX
If the V-12 would have been an unlikely Buick-fighter, it had more obvious potential as Packard’s belated answer to the multicylinder Cadillacs and the new Marmon Sixteen, which had gone into production in April 1931. At the New York Auto Show in January 1932, Packard showed off a preproduction prototype of a new Twin Six — essentially a DeLuxe Eight with the new V-12 under the hood.
The decision to sell the V-12 as a flagship came rather late in the game, after Packard’s Ninth Series (1932) cars had already gone into production. As a result, there was no time to develop a new chassis or body. Since the DeLuxe Eight was a good deal larger and heavier than the smaller FWD car for which the V-12 had been designed, the engine’s cylinder bore was expanded from 3.38 to 3.44 inches (85.7 to 87.3 mm), the maximum the bore spacing would permit, and the stroke was increased from 3.5 to 4.0 inches (101.6 to 108 mm), bringing displacement to 446 cu. in. (7,300 cc). The greater displacement provided considerably more torque, now 322 lb-ft (437 N-m), but only 10 hp (7.5 kW) more, bringing rated output to 160 hp (119 kW).
One troublesome aspect of the last-minute chassis switch was cooling capacity. Ideally, the Twin Six should have had a bigger radiator than the DeLuxe Eight, but there was no room in the chassis and no time to modify the chassis to make room. As a stopgap, Packard engineers gave the existing radiator a thicker core and added a coolant expansion tank — a novelty for that era.
The Packard V-12 engine, seen here in a Tenth Series (1933) Packard Twelve Coupe Roadster. Unlike the original prototype, which had zero-lash valve adjusters and dual distributors, the production engine had a single Auto-Lite distributor and Cadillac-style hydraulic lifters, used under license from GM. For 1933, the V-12 got various cooling system improvements, a new Bendix-Stromberg EE-3 carburetor with an automatic choke, and a new cam and lifters that provided a slightly improvement in power. (Photo: “CIM0118” © 2006 Dan Weisshaar; used with permission)
While some Ninth Series cars still used the four-speed transmission, the Twin Six had the new three-speed unit Packard was gradually phasing in on all models. The three-speed was actually more useful than the four-speed, whose gearing was far from ideal (it had two low gears, one too short, the other too tall) and which had lacked the new transmission’s second- and third-gear Synchro-Mesh, licensed from General Motors.
Also standard on Twin Sixes was Packard’s “Finger Control Free-Wheeling,” a vacuum-operated clutch that automatically disengaged whenever the accelerator pedal was released, reengaging when the throttle was depressed. Intended to ease the pains of manual shifting, the automatic clutch (which could be disabled via a dashboard button) was more quirky than useful and lent an ominous runaway-train sensation to the descent of steep hills. Since Packard owners in those days tended to be chauffeured anyway, the device’s appeal was limited, particularly since the vacuum mechanism wasn’t always reliable. It reverted to optional status with the Tenth Series in 1933 and disappeared after that.
The production Twin Sixes were not the performers the prototype was, although they were speedy enough. With the optional high-speed axle (4.07:1), the lighter open cars could just barely crack the 100 mph (161 km/h) mark, although heavier closed bodies with the standard 4.41 and 4.69 axles were naturally slower. Fuel economy averaged around 9 mpg (26 L/100 km), about what you’d expect with curb weights approaching three tons.
Considered as a car, the Twin Six was superb: quick, refined, solid, and relatively easy to drive despite its ample bulk. Considered as a Packard, it exemplified the breed — classy, superbly built, and impeccably detailed. As a piece of sheer showmanship, however, it fell a little short. Although the Twin Six was about as fast as Cadillac’s Sixteen, which had both similar power (165 hp/123 kW) and comparable displacement (452 cu. in./7,413 cc), the Packard V-12 couldn’t quite match the V-16’s sense of awe. The short-lived Marmon Sixteen, meanwhile, trumped both Cadillac and Packard in power and sophistication. Marmon’s 491 cu. in. (8,044 cc) V-16 had overhead valves, an aluminum block and heads, and an impressive 200 gross horsepower (149 kW). That the Twin Six was a very fine automobile was undeniable, but it could only be considered the ne plus ultra in a narrow, conservative sense.
The Packard Twin Six’s intended prey: the extravagant Cadillac Sixteen. This is a 1931 Sixteen, a Fleetwood 4260 Special Phaeton with a second cowl and crank-up windshield for the rear seats; only 84 were built out of 3,250 Sixteens built in 1930-1931. The Cadillac V-16 was 453 cu. in. (7,413 cc) with 165 hp (123 kW); Cadillac’s V-12, offered concurrently, was 368 cu. in. (6,033 cc) with 135 hp (101 kW).
PROSPERITY AROUND THE CORNER
Although the new Packard Twin Six was announced in January 1932, the first cars weren’t delivered to customers until April. The Twin Six was available in 12 standard body styles and nine “Individual Custom” models, four of which were built in-house, the other five assembled by the coachbuilder Dietrich, Inc. Prices ranged from $3,650 for a Model 905 coupe to just under $8,000 for the most expensive All-Weather Town Car Landaulet. The standard-bodied cars were priced competitively with the Cadillac Twelve; the Individual Customs were more expensive than any catalogued Cadillac Sixteen.
If the new V-12 had appeared before the Crash, it would probably have been a great success, but by 1932, the Depression had dealt a crippling blow to the luxury market. Packard lost $2.9 million in 1931 and $6.8 million in 1932. Total sales for the Ninth Series were down to 11,058, less than a quarter of Packard’s 1929 volume. The Twin Six accounted for only 557 of those sales, not helped by a mid-year price increase of $500. Sales of the Individual Customs were particularly disappointing.
A Tenth Series (1933) Packard Twelve Convertible Victoria, originally priced at around $4,500. This is a Model 1005, riding the shorter, 142.5-inch (3,620 mm) wheelbase; the 1006’s wheelbase was 147 inches (3,744 mm). The Twelve’s chassis is basically the same as the DeLuxe Eight’s, with solid axles front and rear and vacuum-assisted mechanical brakes. Note the ends of the front bumper — they’re hydraulic stabilizers, oil-filled damping weights designed to reduce wheel shimmy and improve ride quality. The adoption of independent front suspension in 1937 rendered them superfluous, but they were used on senior cars from 1930 to 1936.
Fearing that the Twin Six name might confuse customers as to the car’s actual cylinder count, Packard decided to rename it “Twelve” with the Tenth Series, which was introduced in January 1933. There were various revisions to the new models, including a new frame, a new Gemmer worm-and-roller steering box, and a one-piece driveshaft. Closed-body Twelves now had a new, taller radiator, although the open cars, most of which were built using leftover Ninth-Series bodies, had the smaller radiator; the taller radiator became standard on the Eleventh Series. In a bid to improve sales of the 12-cylinder cars, the Individual Custom bodies — which now included six Dietrich models and two by LeBaron — were now available only on the Twelve, meaning that buyers who wanted a semi-custom car had to spring for the bigger engine.
None of this helped Twelve sales, which were only 520 for the Tenth Series. Cadillac’s multicylinders weren’t doing much better; the Cadillac Twelve accounted for 952 sales in 1933, the Sixteen only 125. Marmon managed only 56 Sixteens for 1933 before closing its doors in May. Despite outgoing President Herbert Hoover’s claims that a return to prosperity was just around the corner, few buyers were able — or willing — to spend so much money on an ostentatious super-luxury car.
An Eleventh Series (1934) Packard Twelve five-passenger coupe with wooden artillery wheels and standard equipment (no side mounts). Fisher Body “No-Draft VentiPlanes,” a feature used under license from GM, were now standard on all closed bodies.
SIDEBAR: A Styling Evolution
We should say a few words here about Packard styling during this period. While Packard had established many of its basic stylistic trademarks well before World War I, until the thirties, the company was largely dependent on outside coachbuilders and designers for styling work. Packard’s in-house design efforts, such as they were, were largely the work of body engineers, although in the twenties, the company set up a small Body Art Department, run by L. Clayton Hill, draftsman Archer Knapp, and later Vincent Kaptur. (Kaptur, who went to GM in 1928, is best known today as the originator of GM’s A-B-C shared body system.)
In 1925, Alvan Macauley contracted with Dietrich Inc., a Detroit-based design firm recently founded by Ray Dietrich (a Brewster veteran who had previously co-founded LeBaron), to design and build a series of semi-custom bodies for sale through Packard dealers. Dietrich also became a Packard consultant, helping to set the direction for Packard’s factory body designs.
At first, the Dietrich Packards were quite a bit different from the standard bodies, but starting with the Sixth Series, introduced in August 1928, most of the factory bodies adopted Dietrich styling cues even if the cars were not badged as such. Some were actually designed by Dietrich while others were the work of former Dietrich designer Werner Gubitz, whom Kaptur had hired in 1927.
For logistical reasons, Packard opted to handle most of the manufacture of the semi-custom cars in-house, leaving only the final assembly and trim to Dietrich. Since the standard cars now looked very Dietrich-like, the semi-customs differed from the regular line only in minor styling and trim details. This undoubtedly simplified things for Dietrich Inc. as well as Packard and the arrangement was extremely lucrative for both parties because Packard charged a very healthy premium — usually more than $1,000 — for the Dietrich-badged version. In that sense, the semi-customs were less like custom bodies and more akin to the pricey “designer editions” later offered by AMC, Lincoln, and others.
This Sixth Series (1929) Packard Custom Eight Runabout is a factory body, but it shows the strong influence of Ray Dietrich. “Cat’s eye” headlights were not standard fit, but they were a common accessory in this period — the Ruxton prototype depicted earlier in this article has them as well.
This car has what Packard called Custom Equipment, which meant side mounts, a trunk rack, and a full rear bumper. Note the fold-down windshield for rumble seat passengers and the golf bag door just aft of the front door — almost obligatory for luxury cars of this vintage.
Ray Dietrich’s involvement in this arrangement ended in 1930. Since 1925, Dietrich Inc. had been partly owned by the Murray Corporation of America, an independent coachbuilder that supplied bodies to various automakers. Murray had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1926 and reorganized in 1927 under new management, including new president Clarence Avery, a former Ford executive with whom Dietrich never saw eye to eye. The same was true of Dietrich and Clayton Hill (now a Murray sales executive), whom Avery installed in 1929 as Dietrich’s new vice president. With the design firm’s business slumping, Dietrich’s clashes with Hill and Avery became more frequent and in September 1930, Avery forced Dietrich to resign from the presidency of the company that bore his name. Ray Dietrich’s last direct contributions to Packard were the 1931 Eighth Series and (probably) the design that became the “Car of the Dome,” a special Dietrich Sport Sedan used as part of Packard’s exhibit at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.
These machinations did not immediately affect Packard, which still had a contract with Dietrich Inc., but Murray’s subsequent cutbacks meant that Packard would need to look elsewhere for creative direction. While Packard still had Werner Gubitz, Gubitz was really too soft-spoken and introverted to be an effective manager. Therefore, in January 1932, Packard hired its first in-house styling director: Alvan Macauley’s son Edward.
Since Ed Macauley had no design experience, his role was primarily managerial, which meant Packard still needed a chief stylist. Ray Dietrich wasn’t interested, annoyed at Macauley’s appointment, but in February 1932, Packard signed a consulting agreement with the well-known freelance designer Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky. Sakhnoffsky’s time at Packard was limited, but he helped to set the initial stylistic direction for the post-Dietrich era.
This Eleventh Series (1934) Standard Eight phaeton shows off its disparate influences: the beltline accent is a Dietrich touch, the “false hood” over the cowl (intended to make the hood look longer) is Alexis de Sakhnoffsky’s work and the pontoon fenders were inspired by Ed Macauley’s personal car, a modified 1932 Speedster.
By the Eleventh Series, introduced in the late summer of 1933, Packard design was a careful and very tasteful amalgam of Dietrich’s influence, de Sakhnoffsky’s design concepts, and the creative ideas of Ed Macauley. The challenging task of balancing those themes in a manner palatable to conservative Packard buyers fell to Gubitz, who became Packard’s unsung hero during this period; he deserves a fair amount of the credit for Packard styling in the thirties and early forties and was at least partly responsible for the Packard Clipper, described in our article on the Packard of the forties. In 1947, Gubitz took early retirement from Packard — although he was only 48 — and left the auto industry for good. He died in 1971.
Despite its array of “Individual Customs” and catalogued semi-custom bodies, some buyers preferred to take their cars to outside coachbuilders. This Sixth Series Packard DeLuxe Eight Model 645 Convertible Sedan was built, or at least customized, by the Walter M. Murphy Co. of Pasadena, California.