Packard never built a front-wheel-drive production car and it never built another automotive V-12, although the latter prospect came a good deal closer than the former. When Packard developed its first OHV V-8 in the fifties, then-president James Nance seriously considered building a V-12 derivative for the senior Packards. The new engine would have shared the V-8’s tooling, making it a 90-degree V-12. To address the resultant uneven firing intervals, it would have had a split-throw crankshaft, not unlike the one later used for GM’s 3800 V6. The nouveau V-12 would have had the same bore and stroke as the 1955 Clipper V-8, giving a displacement of 480 cu. in. (7,857 cc) and somewhere between 350 and 400 gross horsepower (261 and 279 kW).
Nance was enthusiastic about the V-12, but Packard’s financial problems led the project to be repeatedly postponed and finally canceled. Because of its commonality with the V-8, the V-12 would have been relatively inexpensive to build at a time when Packard was already struggling with the tooling and development costs of the V-8. A new Twelve was a luxury the company could no longer afford.
As for the the Twelve, it leaves us with mixed feelings. If you were to call it the finest of all Packards, we wouldn’t argue — it’s an impressive car, built to a very high standard with materials of a quality level wholly alien to most modern cars. However, our personal tastes run more to the early One Twenty, which offered many of the same virtues in a more manageable and in some respects more modern package at a far more attainable price. While there are always some people who insist on the best of everything (and have the bank accounts to back up that philosophy), the sales figures suggest that that their numbers were few by the late thirties, which is what ultimately doomed the Twelve and its multicylinder rivals.
We do wonder what might have happened if Packard had actually produced the FWD four-speed V-12 car that C.W. Van Ranst originally designed. We suspect it would have been an interesting failure, much as the Cord L-29 had been. Aside from the technical challenges involved, Packard buyers of the time were, generally speaking, a reactionary bunch. Even the 1932 Light Eight’s upturned grille was too racy for some customers, so we can only imagine how they would have reacted to Van Ranst’s low-slung and radical FWD car. All things considered, it was brave of Alvan Macauley to let the project go as far as it did.
Of the other upscale FWD production cars of the era, the only one to find any success was Citroën’s immortal Traction Avant, launched in 1934. Even that bankrupted its manufacturer, and it was somewhat remarkable that the company’s new owners continued it. The Ruxton and Gardner died early in the decade; Cord launched its spectacular “coffin nose” 810/812 in 1936, but expired for good soon after. Front-wheel drive started popping up on small European cars like the Saab 92 and Citroën 2CV after the war, but American manufacturers didn’t offer another FWD production car until the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. Even in Europe and Japan, rear-wheel-drive layouts could still be described as “conventional” until the mid-eighties.
V-12 engines eventually made a comeback for high-end luxury cars, starting with Jaguar in the early seventies. They’re now virtually de rigueur for the big German executive cars, although with modern technology, their tangible advantages over V-8s — or even the latest forced-induction sixes — are modest. Furthermore, growing concerns about CO2 emissions mean that the trend now is back toward fours and even twos; Fiat recently introduced its turbocharged TWIN-AIR two-cylinder engine, which is likely to replace its smaller four-cylinder engines in the near future. A century of technological evolution has now brought us full circle.
Still, as long as there are cars, there will be a market, however modest, for mechanical excellence and snob appeal (which are not always easily distinguishable). In that sense, cars like the Packard Twin Six will live on, in spirit if not in specifics.
NOTES ON SOURCES
Our sources for the history of Packard and the origins of the Twin Six and Twelve included Dennis Adler, Speed and Luxury: The Great Cars (Oceola, WI: MBI Publishing Company, 1997); the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Cars that Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International Ltd., 1981); Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); John Barach’s Cadillac History site (1999-2010, Motor Era, www.motorera. com/ cadillac/index.htm, accessed 10 June 2010); Arch Brown, “Last of the Classic Sixes,” Special Interest Autos #86 (March-April 1985), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor New, 2001), pp. 4–11; “1937 Packard Six: A Packard for $795,” Special Interest Autos #67 (January-February 1982), reprinted in ibid, pp. 34–41; “SIA comparisonReport: Last Battle for a Diminishing Market: 1939 Cadillac V-16 vs. Packard Twelve,” Special Interest Autos #138 (November-December 1993), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Cadillacs: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000), pp. 22-29; Arch Brown, Richard Langworth, and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Great Cars of the 20th Century (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 1998); Terry B. Dunham and Lawrence R. Gustin, The Buick: A Complete History (An Automobile Quarterly Magnificent Marque Book), Second Edition (Kurtztown, PA: Automobile Quarterly, 1987); Jim Dunne and Jan P. Norbye, Buick 1946-1978: The Classic Postwar Years, Second Edition (Osceola, WI: MBI, Inc./Motorbooks International, 1993); Stan Grayson, “In the Cause of Liberty: Packard in World War I,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company (Automobile Quarterly Magnificent Marque Books), Third Edition, ed. Beverly Rae Kimes (Princeton, NJ: Automobile Quarterly Publications (CBS Inc.), 1978), pp. 172-191; Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); Bob Johnstone, “The History of Packard,” Bob’s Studebaker Resource and Information Portal, n.d., www.studebaker-info. org/ Packard/ pack-hist-1920.html, accessed 10 June 2010; John F. Katz, “1930 Packard 734 Speedster: America’s First Muscle Car?” Special Interest Autos #126 (November-December 1991), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 12-18; Beverly Rae Kimes, “A Packard Hexad,” Automobile Quarterly’s Great Cars & Grand Marques, ed. Beverly Rae Kimes (Princeton, NJ: Automobile Quarterly/Bonanza Books, 1979), pp. 228–335, and Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, Inc., 1989); Michael Lamm, “1932 Packard Light 8,” Special Interest Autos #22 (May-June 1974), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 20-25; Richard M. Langworth, “Pride of Jesse Vincent: The Twin Six, May 1915-June 1923,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company, pp. 152-171; Richard M. Langworth and Don E. Weber, “Alvan Macauley and the Dominant Six,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company, pp. 128-151; Jay Leno, “1932 Packard Twin Six” (video), n.d., Jay Leno’s Garage, www.jaylenosgarage. com, accessed 12 June 2010; C.A. Leslie, Jr., “Cloaking the Ultimate in Conveyances: Twin Six and Twelve Coachwork, The Ninth through the Seventeenth Series 1932-1939,” and “Multi Cylinders and a New, Inadvertent Luxury Car: Engineering the Twin Six and the Twelve, the Ninth through Seventeenth Series 1932-1939,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company, pp. 398–447; “Library Gallery: 1931 Twin 6, FWD Prototype,” Packard Information, 12 October 2008, www.packardinfo. com, accessed 10 June 2010; Mike Mueller, American Horsepower: 100 Years of Great Car Engines (St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company, 2006), pp. 55-61; “Packard Engines, 1899–1958,” The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 117–119; Michael G.H. Scott, “Style and Substance: 1935 Packard Eight,” Special Interest Autos #166 (July-August 1998), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Packards, pp. 26-33; Yann Saunders’ Cadillac Database (2001, www.car-nection. com/ yann/Dbas_txt/indx2001.htm [now www.cadillacdatabase. com], accessed 4 December 2008); Mark Theobald, “Dietrich Inc.” and “J.W. Murray Mfg. Co.” (2004, Coachbuilt.com, accessed 2 June 2010); Daniel Vaughan, “Packard Twin Six FWD V12 Prototoype,” Conceptcarz, October 2008, www.conceptcarz. com/ vehicle/z15378/ Packard-TwinSix-FWD-V12-Prototype.aspx, accessed 3 June 2010; Rob Wagner, Classic Cars (New York: MetroBooks, 1996); James Arthur Ward, The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995); Burt Weaver, “driveReport: 1941 Packard 6,” Special Interest Autos #11 (June-July 1972), pp. 44-49; Nicky Wright, “1940 Cadillac Bohman & Schwartz: Should this have been Cadillac’s Continental?” Special Interest Autos #162 (November-December 1997), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Cadillacs, pp. 30-35; L. Morgan Yost, “Always There Is That Great Reserve of Power: The Tenth Series, January 1933-August 1933, The Eleventh Series, August 1933-August 1934,” “Fulsome Harmony with the Streamline Motif: The Twelfth Series — August 1934-August 1935, The Fourteenth Series–August 1935-September 1936, The Fifteenth Series–September 1936-August 1937, The Sixteenth Series–September 1937–August 1938,” “Packard Re-Discovers America: The Single Six Model 116, September 1920-March 1922; The Single Six Model 126-133, April 1922-December 1923,” and “The End of an Era: The Seventeenth Series–September 1938-August 1939, The Eighteenth Series–August 1939-September 1940, The Nineteenth Series–September 1940-August 1941, The Twentieth Series–August 1941-February 1942,” Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company, pp. 324–337, 338–355, 218–233, and 356–371 respectively.
Information on Harry Miller and other early FWD cars of this era came from “Christie’s new 100-horsepower racer,” The Automobile August 5, 1909, pp. 232-235; Robert Gardner, “1930 1931 Gardner,” Gardner Motor Cars website, n.d., www.gardnermotorcars. com, accessed 11 June 2010); Michael Ferner, “Hartz,” Oldracingcars.info, 24 May 2010, www.oldracingcars.info, accessed 15 June 2010; Timothy Gerber, “Built for Speed: The Checkered Career of Race Car Designer Harry A. Miller,” Wisconsin Magazine of History Spring 2002, pp. 32-41; “Miller DOHC 151 CID Marine,” Museum of American Speed (Smith Collection), 2010, www.museumofamericanspeed. com, accessed 11 September 2013; “Miller 122 Front Drive Race Car,” RM Auctions brochure, 18 August 2007, www.carpictures. com, accessed 15 June 2010; Richard Owen, “1926 Miller 91 FWD,” Supercars.net, n.d., www.supercars. net, accessed 15 June 2010; Harold Peters, “Miller History,” The Miller/Offenhauser Racing History Page, 2007, www.milleroffy. com, accessed 15 June 2010; Bill Vance, “Motoring Memories: Miller front-wheel drive racers, 1924-1930,” CanadianDriver.com, 9 October 2009, www.canadiandriver. com, accessed 15 June 2010, and “Motoring Memories: Ruxton,” CanadianDriver.com, 28 September 2003, www.canadiandriver. com, accessed 12 June 2010); and Burt Weaver, “DriveReport: 1941 Packard 6,” Special Interest Autos #11 (June-July 1972), pp. 44-49.
Additional details on the Marmon Sixteen came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1931-1933 Marmon Sixteen,” HowStuffWorks.com, 6 December 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1931-1933-marmon-sixteen.htm, accessed 15 June 2010.
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