In January 1930, Cadillac introduced its mighty Sixteen, a bold and extravagant bid for supremacy in the luxury car field. Naturally, the Packard Motor Car Company, the reigning champion of the American luxury market, was not about to take that lying down, and launched its own 12-cylinder Twin Six in 1932. It would be easy to assume the Packard Twin Six was a hastily contrived response to the multicylinder Cadillacs, but that’s only half true. The latter-day Packard Twelve was conceived for quite a different purpose, and therein hangs a tale. This week, we look at the curious history of the legendary Packard V-12 cars with sideways glances at Cord and — the Indianapolis 500? Read on …
THE FIRST PACKARD TWIN SIX
In today’s automotive market, when eight cylinders is considered the ante for most serious luxury cars, it may be disconcerting to think that a hundred years ago, four cylinders was considered a luxury. Packard’s earliest cars had one-cylinder engines, as did early Cadillacs. The development of Packard’s first four, the 1903 Model K, was a matter of some internal controversy; some Packard executives felt the company should concentrate on cheaper one-cylinder runabouts. By 1906, however, Packard had dropped its one- and two-cylinder engines in favor of a T-head inline four of mammoth displacement, initially 350 cu. in. (5,734 cc), soon increased to 432 cu. in. (7,079 cc). This was supplemented in 1909 by the cheaper Model 18, powered by a 266 cu. in. (4,359 cc) four.
Packard apparently contemplated an inline six as early as 1905, although it didn’t go on sale until April 1911. Dubbed “Six” (later “48,” from its taxable horsepower rating), it was again a T-head engine of gargantuan dimensions, some 525 cu. in. (8,601 cc), developing 74 hp (55 kW). A smaller and somewhat cheaper 415 cu. in. (6,796 cc) six, the “38,” followed a year and a half later. This was an L-head (flathead) engine, making 60 hp (45 kW); it sold for about $600 less than its larger brother. (It’s notable as the first Packard engine with an electric starter, which Cadillac had pioneered a year earlier.)
Both sixes were adequately powerful, but Jesse Vincent, who became Packard’s chief engineer in 1912 and VP of engineering in 1915, was not satisfied. Both of Packard’s sixes were huge and to make them bigger — the surest way to produce more power — would make them prohibitively heavy. As it was, their wide bore (4.0 inches/101.2 mm for the 38, 4.5 inches/114.3 mm for the 48) required a long, heavy crankshaft and a massive flywheel. Vincent wanted an engine with a shorter, lighter crankshaft that would allow a large displacement while keeping the swept volume of each cylinder relatively modest for greater smoothness.
Smoothness was a particular concern. In those days, automobile engines were generally bolted directly to the frame; vibration-damping engine mounts were years in the future. One of the attractions of the straight six is its inherent balance — the forces exerted by the pistons and connecting rods cancel each other out, so there’s none of the shake that afflicts inline two-, three-, four-, and five-cylinder engines. Vincent was loath to sacrifice that balance, which led him to eschew the V-8 layout that Cadillac adopted in 1914. A straight eight, meanwhile, would present the same problems of weight and crankshaft size as a bigger six.
The solution, which Vincent pitched to the Packard board in early 1913, was a V-12. Since the V-12 was, as Vincent explained, essentially two straight sixes with a common crankcase, it preserved the six’s inherent balance and smoothness. It also provided comparable displacement while minimizing the swept volume of each cylinder.
That first Packard V-12 engine, dubbed “Twin Six,” displaced 424 cu. in. (6,950 cc). Its cylinder banks were set at a 60-degree angle, providing even firing intervals and making the V-12 narrower than a 90-degree V-8. Like the smaller six of the “38,” the Twin Six was an L-head engine, but it had two camshafts, obviating the need for rocker arms. In the mode of European high-performance engines of its day, it had a narrow bore, only 3.0 inches (76.2 mm), and a long stroke — 5.0 inches (127 mm) — allowing the crankshaft to be shorter, more rigid, and considerably lighter than the six; Packard claimed the Twin Six weighed 400 lb (181 kg) less than the six-cylinder “48.” Despite its smaller displacement, the V-12 was slightly more powerful than the six — 85 hp (63 kW) at 3,000 rpm, compared to 82 hp (61 kW) at 1,720 rpm for the “48” — and had vastly more torque.
The Twin Six was introduced in May 1915 as a 1916 model and immediately became a sensation. Although Packards were too big and too heavy to be considered true performance cars, in July 1915, race car driver Ralph De Palma lapped the Chicago Speedway in a Twin Six touring car at an average speed of 72.7 mph (117.1 km/h), a formidable showing. The V-12 was also adept at that favorite test of prewar motoring, pulling from 3 mph (5 km/h) to top speed in high gear.
The Twin Six sold quite well, doing wonders for Packard’s bottom line; between 1917 and 1919, the company’s annual net profits were around $5.5 million. The Twin Six completely overshadowed the six-cylinder cars, which were discontinued in September 1915, and remained in production through June 1923 with various minor refinements. Packard sold 35,102 Twin Sixes in all, a remarkable total for such an expensive car. (List prices for the 1916 Twin Six had ranged from $2,750 to $4,800 with factory bodywork, roughly $55,000 to $100,000 in 2010 dollars.) The Twin Six also inspired, at least in part, the 12-cylinder “Liberty Engine” used in many Allied aircraft and tanks; Jesse Vincent helped to design the Liberty along with Elbert John Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company.
The end of World War I left the European economies in ruins and led to a severe recession in the U.S. Even before the Armistice, Packard president Alvan Macauley decided it would be prudent to offer a smaller, cheaper model. This emerged in September 1920 as the Single Six, powered by a new 242 cu. in. (3,958 cc) L-head six with 52 hp (39 kW). Although the Single Six was a sales disappointment — in part because it still cost a lot more than a V-8 Cadillac — it outsold the costlier Twin Six, whose sales fell from over 5,000 in 1920 to around 1,300 in 1921. By 1922, it was clear the V-12 engine had run its course.
Packard considered developing a new Twin Six, but opted instead for a straight eight, essentially the Single Six engine with two more cylinders and a heavier, nine-bearing crankshaft. The eight initially displaced 358 cu. in. (5,864 cc), but it made 85 hp (63 kW), nearly matching the 90 hp (67 kW) of the final Twin Six. Dubbed “Single Eight,” the new engine replaced the V-12 in the summer of 1923. The Single Eight, renamed simply Eight in 1925, would become Packard’s mainstay for the next decade.
Packard would return to the Twin Six concept seven years later, but the new V-12 engine was planned for a very different market and a very different configuration. If all had gone as planned, it would have become Packard’s first front-wheel-drive car.
Today, it’s almost impossible to visit an automotive forum without reading endless complaints about now-ubiquitous front-wheel drive, but before about 1970, FWD was considered exotic hardware with a decidedly racy image.
As early as 1904, Walter Christie had created a series of four-cylinder, front-drive race cars, one of which set a speed record of 113 mph (188 km/h), a staggering figure for that time. Despite such performance, FWD failed to make much impression on automakers or race builders and the concept lay fallow for more than a decade. In 1923, racing driver Jimmy Murphy commissioned famed race builder Harry Miller to build him a front-drive version of the successful Miller 122 racer. Murphy died in a crash in 1924, before the new car was finished, but Miller completed it anyway. The results were promising enough that he decided to build several more front-drive 122s as well.
The principal appeal of front-wheel drive for race cars was packaging. Because FWD required no propeller shaft, it allowed the driver to sit lower in the body, which in turn allowed the body to be lower, reducing frontal area (and thus aerodynamic drag) and lowering the center of gravity. As a result, the front-drive Millers were faster and cornered better than most rear-drive competitors of comparable power. Some drivers considered the front-wheel-drive cars more predictable and forgiving to boot, although that was not a universally held opinion.
In 1925, the American Automobile Association (AAA) issued a new formula that limited engine displacement to 91.5 cu. in. (1,500 cc). In response, Harry Miller developed the 91 cu. in. (1,495 cc) Miller 91, which was available in both front- and rear-drive versions. A front-drive Miller came in second in the 1925 Indianapolis 500 and similar cars won it outright in 1928 and 1929. Despite an another AAA formula change, Harry Hartz and Billy Arnold won again in 1930 with a modified front-drive Miller 91 powered by a 150 cu. in. (2,463 cc) engine.
The performance of the front-wheel-drive Millers naturally drew great interest from the auto industry. In 1925, Packard bought the second front-drive Miller 122 for evaluation purposes and in 1927, Auburn president Errett Lobban Cord hired Harry Miller and engineer Cornelius Van Ranst to develop a FWD production car, which became the Cord L-29. By 1930, there were also front-wheel-drive cars from Ruxton and Gardner.
In the late twenties, racing driver Tommy Milton became a consultant for Packard. Milton was well acquainted with both the Miller cars and the work of C.W. Van Ranst, who had also built the front-wheel-drive Detroit Special that Milton drove in the 1927 Indy 500. In June 1930, Milton persuaded Alvan Macauley and Jesse Vincent to hire Van Ranst to develop a FWD car for Packard, powered by a brand-new V-12 engine.
THE VAN RANST V-12
Since Cadillac had just announced its Sixteen and Twelve a few months before Packard hired Van Ranst, one might assume the project was intended as a sophisticated new Packard flagship. Macauley, however, had other ideas. While Packard was undoubtedly concerned with the Cadillac V-16, Macauley was also looking hungrily at the LaSalle, Cadillac’s companion make. Introduced in 1927, the LaSalle had sold very well in its first few seasons, providing a welcome boost to Cadillac’s volume. Macauley wanted a new Packard that would sell in the $1,700-$2,000 range, which would undercut the LaSalle and make the new model competitive with the senior Buicks. Since Packard had dropped its last six-cylinder model in 1928, this would mean an all-new car.
Van Ranst somehow convinced Macauley and the Packard board that a front-wheel-drive, V-12 car could actually be built for less money than a conventional rear-drive chassis with a small six or eight. It must have a remarkable selling job; Macauley, who was by no means a credulous man, was well aware that Harry Miller charged 50% more for his front-drive racers than for their rear-drive counterparts. Van Ranst argued that using FWD would allow the new model to offer as much interior space as Packard’s standard cars on a shorter, simpler chassis that would — at least in theory — offset the extra cost of the FWD transaxle.
As for the V-12, Van Ranst rationalized it as the best way to provide the displacement and power the car would require in a package compact enough to fit the FWD layout while still offering the smoothness expected of a Packard. The fact that a 12-cylinder engine would also provide an obvious competitive advantage in a field dominated by eight-cylinder rivals probably didn’t hurt either. (Interestingly, Buick was thinking along similar lines. Buick engineers experimented with their own V-12 in 1931, although the division’s financial problems during the early thirties meant that nothing came of the project.)
The prototype, developed by Packard engineers Edward and Frank Storey under Van Ranst’s direction, was exceptionally sophisticated, featuring not only front-wheel drive, but also a De Dion front axle (a beam axle with a fixed differential) and hydraulic brakes, which wouldn’t be offered on standard Packards until 1937. The V-12 itself was a relatively compact, high-revving engine with an unusual 67-degree bank angle — wider than the optimal 60 degrees to allow space for zero-lash valve adjusters. Contrary to the normal practice of the period, the V-12 was nearly ‘square,’ with a bore of 3.38 inches (85.7 mm) and a stroke of 3.5 inches (88.9 mm), giving a displacement of 376 cu. in. (6,157 cc). That was smaller than the straight eight in Packard’s contemporary DeLuxe Eight, but bigger than any contemporary Buick or LaSalle engine.
The new V-12 was impressively smooth and quite powerful, producing 150 hp (112 kW) at 3,600 rpm. By comparison, Packard’s 385 cu. in. (6,306 cc) eight mustered only 106 hp (79 kW), the LaSalle’s 353 cu. in. (5,791 cc) V-8 had 115 hp (86 kW), and the 345 cu. in. (5,649 cc) Buick Series 90 engine boasted a mere 104 hp (78 kW). Proving grounds testing found the V-12 prototype capable of more than 110 mph (176 km/h), very hot stuff for any production car of the early thirties.
The Van Ranst car’s Achilles heel was its four-speed transaxle. This had no relationship to the four-speed gearbox standard Packards had used since the 1929 Sixth Series, which had an extra low gear for steep hills; the FWD transaxle was basically a two-speed gearbox and a two-speed differential in a single case, controlled by a common linkage. Although the transaxle benefited from Van Ranst’s experience at Cord — having designed the L-29, Van Ranst was acutely aware of its shortcomings — the unit proved to be unacceptably fragile in ways not simple or cheap to rectify.
The transaxle problems served to cement Macauley’s growing realization that the FWD car’s original price target had been hopelessly unrealistic. By the spring of 1931, it was clear that to break even, the new model would have to sell in the same price range as the Custom Eight — hardly the cheaper, higher-volume car Packard needed.
The Packard board decided enough was enough and authorized the development of a simpler alternative, the Light Eight, with a smaller but still basically conventional rear-drive chassis. Van Ranst’s prototype was eventually shelved and was nearly scrapped in 1935, but it narrowly escaped the crusher and is now in private hands. (It still survives today.)
Although the FWD project was dead, that October, Macauley paid Milton and Van Ranst $10,000 for all rights to the V-12 engine. This was not simply a termination or severance fee; the V-12 had been in most respects the most successful and least troublesome aspect of the FWD project and Macauley saw no reason to discard it when other uses could be found for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE PACKARD TWELVE
Despite the sluggish sales of the Twelve, Packard made a nominal profit for 1933. There were further losses in 1934, but they mostly reflected Packard’s massive investment in the launch of the new One Twenty, which went on sale in January 1935.
The One Twenty represented a paradigm shift for Packard. Unlike the Light Eight, the One Twenty was aimed squarely at the mid-priced field, competing with Buick and Chrysler. Although it was a well-designed, quality product, the One Twenty was also the first Packard built to a price. Packard’s previous models hadn’t exactly been cost-no-object, but expense was not the first consideration; even the hasty combination of the V-12 engine and DeLuxe Eight chassis was done more for reasons of time rather than cost. That had hampered the company’s previous attempts at an “entry-level” car, which had been too expensive to build and consistently lost money. By contrast, the One Twenty, developed under the supervision of GM veteran George T. Christopher, was designed from the start as a less-expensive mass-production car.
Perhaps inevitably, Christopher and new sales VP Max Gilman, who became Packard’s general manager in the summer of 1934, saw the Twelve and the senior Super Eight as dinosaurs. Although the Twelve’s sales were always modest — only 781 units in 1935, 682 in 1936 — it was expensive and labor-intensive to produce. To Gilman and Christopher, that simply made no sense. Gilman recognized that Packard needed the senior cars to maintain its prestigious image, but from an accounting standpoint, they were hard to rationalize. As a result, the Twelve slowly faded from view as the thirties went on.
Most of the changes to the Twelve were minor. The Eleventh Series added a short-wheelbase (if one can call 134.9 inches/3,426 mm short) Runabout Speedster and phased in aluminum cylinder heads for the V-12. The Twelfth Series, launched in August 1934, had a wider track and a vacuum booster for the clutch. The V-12 was stroked to 473 cu. in. (7,756 cc), providing 175 hp (131 kW) and 366 lb-ft (494 N-m) of torque, 180 hp (134 kW) with the optional high-compression heads.
With the 1937 Fifteenth Series, the Twelve belatedly received hydraulic brakes and Packard’s “Safe-T-fleX” independent front suspension, both of which had been used on the One Twenty from the beginning. At the same time, Packard demoted the Super Eight to the shorter chassis of the Eight, so the Twelve now had the long-wheelbase platform to itself. Those changes, along with a slowly recovering economy, brought the Twelve its best sales ever, about 1,300 units.
Although giving the Twelve its own exclusive chassis probably helped its marketability, it also rubbed George Christopher the wrong way — Christopher saw little reason that a car with such limited production should have its own expensive platform. For the Sixteenth Series, the Twelve and the Super Eight once again shared the same wheelbase. It was a sign of things to come: Christopher and Gilman had already decided that the Super Eight would eventually move to a stretched-and-strengthened version of the platform used by the junior cars.
The consolidation meant there was now little reason to buy a Twelve over a Super Eight except for the snob value of the extra cylinders. While the Twelve was more powerful, it also outweighed the Super Eight by more than 700 lb (320 kg), so its performance advantage was not vast and its price premium over the eight-cylinder car was enough to buy a One Twenty sedan. Combined with a new economic downturn in 1938, sales of the Twelve plummeted to 566 units.
By the arrival of the Seventeenth Series in September 1938, the Twelve’s days were numbered. That summer, Christopher transferred production of the Super Eight to the Junior Plant, which had been established in 1934 to manufacture the One Twenty. The slow-selling Twelve was now the sole product of the older “Senior Plant.” Given Christopher’s disdain for inefficiency, it required no great prescience to see what was coming next; production of the Twelve ended on September 19, 1938. Total production for its final season amounted to only 280 cars.
By then, most of Packard’s one-time rivals were gone. Peerless, which had contemplated a V-16 of its own, had left the auto industry by 1933. Pierce-Arrow, which introduced a V-12 engine in 1932, struggled through the Depression under the control of Studebaker and finally went bankrupt in late 1937. Cadillac’s own V-12 disappeared in 1937; a second-generation V-16, launched in 1938, survived for a year after the demise of Packard’s Twelve. Lincoln’s 12-cylinder Model K also died in 1940, leaving the Lincoln Zephyr’s undistinguished flathead V-12 as America’s only remaining multicylinder. It departed in 1948.
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. 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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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