Counting to Twelve: The Packard Twelve and Twin Six

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 …

1936 Packard Twelve convertible coupe badge

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.)

1910 Packard Model 30 engine
The engine that preceded Packard’s first sixes was this massive T-head four, seen here in a 1910 Model 30 Gentleman’s Runabout. With a 5-inch (127 mm) bore and 5.5-inch (139.7 mm) stroke, the engine displaced 432 cu. in. (7,079 cc) and developed about 30 hp (22 kW). The engine of the cheaper Model 18, introduced in 1908, displaced 266 cu. in. (4,359 cc) and claimed 18 hp (13 kW).

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.

1916 Packard Twin Six engine in a seven-passenger touring car (1-25) © 2007 Bill Burris (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)
The 424 cu. in. (6,950 cc) Twin Six engine of a 1916 Packard Twin Six seven-passenger touring car. These models were considered the First Series in later Packard nomenclature; the Second Series, introduced in August 1916, added removable cylinder heads and a revised cooling system for the engine along with various chassis refinements. (Photo: “1916 Packard” © 2007 Bill Burris; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

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.

1919 Packard 3-35 7p Touring front 3q © 2008 Cliff/cliff1066 (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
A 1919 Packard Twin Six seven-passenger touring car. Even for luxury cars, open bodies were far more common than closed models during this period, largely because of price: this car originally cost $3,850, compared to $5,400 for the closed 3-35 Limousine. The 1917-1923 models, known as the Third Series (a designation Packard subsequently reused a few years later), were the final iteration of the Twin Six, which now had 90 hp (67 kW). (Photo: “1919 Packard Model ‘3-35’ 7 Passenger Touring” © 2008 Cliff; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

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.

1928 Packard Custom Eight Model 443 phaeton front 3q
A Packard Custom Eight dual-windshield phaeton of the Fourth Series, 1927-1928. It’s powered by the 385 cu. in. (6,306 cc) straight eight with 106 hp (79 kW). This car was originally priced at just under $4,000, decreased by about $100 in early 1928. Dual side mounts were standard equipment, although in March 1928, Packard introduced a cheaper “Standard” series with rear-mounted spares. The Fourth Series was the last year for the Six, a 289 cu. in. (4,730 cc) engine with 81 hp (60 kW); Packard would not offer another Six until 1937.

FRONT-WHEEL-DRIVE RACING

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.

1925 Miller 122 front 3q © 2008 Writegeist (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)
Harry Miller built three front-wheel drive Miller 122 cars, powered by a supercharged 121 cu. in. (1,980 cc) straight eight, designed by Miller, Fred Offenhauser, and Leo Goosen. This is the #2 car, which Bennett Hill drove at the 1925 Indianapolis 500. Packard bought it for evaluation purposes in June 1925, then sold it to Stanley Reed in 1927. It was sold at auction in 2007 for $450,000. The 122 was followed by a modest number of front-drive Miller 91 models, powered by a supercharged 91 cu. in. (1,495 cc) straight eight. (Photo: “1925 Miller 122” © 2008 Writegeist; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

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.

1929 Ruxton front 3q © 2008 dave_7 (used with permission)
A prototype of the front-wheel-drive Ruxton. The Ruxton’s FWD chassis was developed by William Muller of Budd with styling by Budd chief engineer Joseph Ledwinka. Wall Street mogul Archie Andrews, a member of the boards of Budd and Hupp, formed New Era Motors to produce the car, which was named Ruxton in a failed attempt to secure funding from broker William Ruxton. The Ruxton was actually produced by two companies, St. Louis, Missouri-based Moon Motor Car Co. and the Kissel Motor Co. of Hartford, Wisconsin. Launched in 1930, only about 500 were built before financial problems torpedoed the entire venture. (Photo: “1929 Ruxton” 2008 © dave_7; used with permission)

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.

1930 Cord L29 Phaeton © 2011 Rex Gray (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
Styled by Al Leamy, the front-wheel-drive Cord L-29 was a dazzlingly styled automobile with a suitably lofty price — a 1930 2/4-passenger cabriolet like this cost $3,295. Unfortunately, it was underpowered and unreliable with poor weight distribution, limited traction, and a penchant for excessive tire wear. Released less than two months before the stock market crash in 1929, it was not a great success; 4,429 were built before production ended in 1932. (Photo: “1930 Cord L29 Phaeton – fvr” © 2011 Rex Gray; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

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.

1937 Packard V12 engine © 2004 Robert Nichols (used with permission)
The engine from a late-model Packard Twelve. The second-generation Packard V-12 engine changed only in detail during its seven-year life, with most of the changes involving the cooling system and carburetor. In 1935, the V-12’s stroke was increased from 4.0 inches (101.2 mm) to 4.25 inches (108 mm) and all Twelves got aluminum heads. Note the small cylinder bores — production engines had a bore of 3.44 inches (87.3 mm), which, as you can see, was about all the bore spacing would allow. (Photo © 2004 Robert Nichols; used with permission)

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.

1932 Packard Light Eight sedan front 3q © 2006 Stephen Foskett (CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic)
Introduced at the same time as the Twin Six, the Light Eight was the cheaper Packard the FWD V-12 car was originally intended to be. The Light Eight married a new chassis with a 127.8-inch (3,245mm) wheelbase with the 319 cu. in. (5.231 cc) straight eight from the Standard Eight and a rakish “snowplow” grille. A sedan like this had a base price of $1,750, about the same as a Buick Series 90 and some $200 cheaper than a Chrysler Imperial CH. Despite the attractive price, the Light Eight was a commercial flop, although the same concept continued the following year, now called simply Eight and sporting a conventional Packard nose. (Photo: “1932 Packard 900 sedan” © 2006 Stephen Foskett; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic license)

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.

1933 Packard Twelve 1005 engine © 2006 Dan Weisshaar (used with permission)
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.

1931 Cadillac Sixteen Special Phaeton side
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.

1933 Packard Twelve Convertible Victoria front 3q
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.

1934 Packard Twelve 5-passenger coupe front 3q
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.

1929 Packard Custom Eight Model 640 Runabout front 3q
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.

1929 Packard Custom Eight Model 640 Runabout rear 3q
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.

1934 Packard Standard Eight phaeton front 3q
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.

1929 Packard DeLuxe Eight Model 645 front 3q
1929 Packard DeLuxe Eight Model 645 Murphy build plate
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.

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.

1934 Packard Twelve 5-passenger coupe rear 3q
Packard was among the first American automakers to embrace in-car radio. The first private installations were done in 1929 and a Philco radio became a dealer-installed option on DeLuxe Eights and Twelves in April 1932, priced at a hefty $89.50 with installation. The Eleventh Series (1934) models were equipped from the factory for radio, including appropriate electrical shielding and a mounting plate to install the radio in the dash rather than under it. This equipment could be retrofitted to Ninth and Tenth Series cars and many owners did so.

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.

1936 Packard One Twenty business coupe front 3q
Although the Packard One Twenty (named for its 120-inch/3,048mm wheelbase) is considerably smaller than were Packard’s contemporary senior cars, it looks every inch a Packard. The initial 1935 models had a 257 cu. in. (4,214 cc) straight eight with 110 hp (82 kW), increased in 1936 to 282 cu. in. (4,622 cc) and 120 hp (90 kW). Note the lack of harmonic stabilizers on the bumpers — with “Safe-T-fleX” independent front suspension, the One Twenty didn’t need them. A 1936 One Twenty business coupe like this one cost just under $1,000, making it Packard’s cheapest model; by comparison, the cheapest Fourteenth Series Twelve cost more than $3,800.

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.

1936 Packard Twelve convertible coupe side
Packard’s 1936 cars were the Fourteenth Series; the Thirteenth was discreetly skipped. This car is 217.6 inches (5,526 mm) long on a 139-inch (3,531mm) wheelbase with a curb weight of around 5,800 lb (2,635 kg) — actually one of the lightest Twelves. The list price of a factory Model 1407 coupe-roadster was $3,850, but with this car’s custom bodywork, it undoubtedly cost a good deal more.

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.

1936 Packard Twelve convertible coupe Bohman & Schwartz badge
The red convertible coupe was built by Bohman & Schwartz, a Pasadena-based coachbuilder formed by Chris Bohman and Maurice Schwartz, two veterans of the Walter M. Murphy Company, which went out of business in 1932. Their clients included a host of Hollywood stars and other celebrities, which kept the company alive through the early sixties.

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.

1936 Packard Twelve convertible coupe front 3q
1936 Packard Super Eight 7p touring front 3q
Two Fourteenth Series (1936) Packards. Despite its custom bodywork, the red Twelve convertible coupe (top) looks only slightly different from the Super Eight seven-passenger touring car (bottom). The Super Eight is the bigger of the two; its wheelbase is 144 inches (3,658 mm), compared to 139 inches (3,531 mm) for the Twelve. This was the last year the longer wheelbase was available on the Super Eight. With the Fifteenth Series (1937), the longer chassis was available only for Twelves.

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.

1941 Packard Custom Super Eight One Eighty LeBaron sedan front 3q
With the demise of the Twelve, the Packard Custom Super Eight One Eighty became the top of the Packard line. Starting in 1940, it was powered by a new 356 cu. in. (5,833 cc) version of Packard’s straight eight with nine main bearings and 160 horsepower (119 kW). Although this LeBaron seven-passenger sedan cost as much as some of the departed Twelves, it was no longer a particularly distinctive car — other than its 148-inch (3,759 mm) wheelbase and interior appointments, it looked much like the cheaper One Ten and One Twenty.

EPILOGUE

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).

1936 Packard Twelve convertible coupe grille badge

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.

We’ve already talked at length about Packard’s postwar decline and its sad demise in the fifties, so we’ll just say “q.v.” and leave it at that.

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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  1. Thankyou for including pictures of the motor you have chosen to highlight this week. Now if you could only publish those pictures of all those automatic transmissions you wrote about a few weeks ago.

  2. It is fascinating how determined some folks are to “sell the story” that the Packard Twelve and Super Eight “shared the same chassis”.

    What possible advantage is there to trying to re-structure history, meaning “fake it”?

    First of all, while Packard CALLED the 1937-1939 Packard “senior” eight cylinder cars “Super Eights”, of course they were not; the “REAL” 384 cu. in. motor was discarded in place of the smaller, cheaper, and much less powerful “Standard Eight”.

    To suggest that there wasn’t much performance difference between the standard 320. cu. in “L” head eight, and the 473 “wedge-shaped combustion chamber” Twelve, with its vastly more modern, more sophisticated, and larger “breathing” capability, tells us more about the writer’s objectives, than it does about the two cars.

    In fact, the much more powerful Twelves required heavier brakes, suspension components, and wheels. True, the “seniors” all used the same exterior sheet metal, but underneath were quite different automobiles, with significant performance differences.

    Oh well – i guess if you have to sell used cars, any silly story will do if it gets the iron off the lot….!

    1. The use of the term “chassis” on p. 4 of the story was perhaps misleading; “wheelbase” is more correct, and the text has been amended accordingly. Yes, the Twelve had heavier components to deal with its greater weight and performance — only a small portion of the weight difference between it and the Super Eight was attributable to the engine itself.

      I don’t dispute that the Twelve was significantly more powerful and more sophisticated than the contemporary eights. However, against that greater power was balanced the much greater weights of the Twelve, which according to Packard’s own figures exceeded the Super Eight by 700 lb or more, body for body. If there were figures available for comparable acceleration times and top speeds, I would happily include them here, but the sort of track testing that became ubiquitous later was not yet common at the time, so there are not vast sets of road test figures to consult. However, the power-to-weight ratios are not as different as the power outputs.

      Much of the information on the body and chassis changes to the Twelve came from A. Leslie, Jr., “Cloaking the Ultimate in Conveyances: Twin Six and Twelve Coachwork, The Ninth through the Seventeenth Series 1932-1939,” in Kimes. If you can provide reputable alternate sources, I would be happy to consult them and revise the text as needed.

      The author has no “objective” other than to recount the history of these cars in a reasonably accurate fashion, and is puzzled by the allegation that he would somehow benefit from misrepresenting the facts.

  3. Both the 120 and the Twelve are impressive cars. The problem with preferring one over the other is that, in the end, Packard needed both types of vehicle to survive.

    The 120 was an impressive car in its own right, but it was the “Senior” Packards – especially the custom-body Twelves – that gave it prestige.

    When the 120 debuted, it was a huge success, but a big part of the reason was that upper-middle income people were excited about being able to buy a car with a very prestigious name. That image had been forged by the luxurious, very well built, and superbly engineered, Twelves and Eights.

    Imagine today if Rolls-Royce came out with a very well-made and well-engineered car that cost $50-55,000 and featured the traditional grille and hood ornament. People would be lining up around the block to buy one, even in this rotten economy.

    The problem was that once the Twelves were gone, and the 120 became the company’s bread-and-butter, Packard’s survival depended on selling cars to a different type of customer. Traditional Packard customers were ultra-conservative when it came to new styling and engineering features. The 120 competed against the Buick, and those buyers expected flashy performance and up-to-the-minute styling (not to mention relatively frequent facelifts and body changes).

    Packard wanted to sell lots of medium-price cars, but wanted to do it the old-fashioned way, using approaches to styling and engineering that had worked for the “Senior” cars. That wasn’t going to work anymore, especially during the postwar years, when GM wowed the public with new engines, body styles and styling features.

    An ultra-luxurious, “utlimate” Packard in the vein of the prewar Twelve would have at least reminded people about what the Packard name once meant.

  4. Even if the bar for refinement was lower in 1906, I’d think this would be unacceptably rough. Perhaps it was offset by low rotational speed?

    1. I heard it running, and while it was obviously no Lexus, it didn’t strike me as any rougher than, say, a diesel bus engine. I don’t think its peak speed was more than about 2,000 rpm, so that probably helped, and it was obviously meticulously built.

  5. Just came upon the article. Nicely written and appreciated.

    Curious about a comment made that the actual weight difference between the Twelve and the Super Eight engines were small. My impression (for lack of hard numbers other than gross vehicle weight) is that they were significant and that the Twelve’s upsized chassis components comprised the lesser weight increase. Does anyone know the actual engine weights?

    Really liked the comment about the Rolls-Royce analogy and need for a strong Senior line-up. Points well taken.

    Regarding the argument that Packard customers were conservative when it came to new styling, I think the evidence is murkier. The advertisements of the 20s and 30s extolled the sleek, long and proportionally low bodies. They wouldn’t have done that if Packard’s customers weren’t persuaded. Packard’s Seniors went through a styling evolution from 1924 to 1936 that reflected a strong desire on Macauley’s part to master the automotive form, even if it necessitated an occasional revolution. The 1932 grill was a prime example – very gutsy for its day and understandably requiring Board approval. Where Macauley & Co. seemed to run low on creative gas was in the late 30s when styling had expanded beyond grills, fenders, hoods and ornamentation to include the entire body, particularly the greenhouse. In this respect it was the GM that got out in front with the Cadillac 60 Special and from that point forward Packard seemed to increasingly struggle with design. The evidence is pretty clear that they never elevated it to the same level of corporate importance that GM had until the mid-50s, when it was too late.

    1. I found no figures for the weight of the latter-day V-12, but estimates I’ve heard for the big straight eight generally fall in the 900-1,000 lb range. I could see the V-12 being around 1,200-1,300 lb, but it’s hard to envision it being much heavier than that. The usual estimate for the earlier Cadillac V-16 was around 1,300 lb, and I’d be surprised if Packard’s Twelve weighed vastly more than Cadillac’s Sixteen. (I refer here specifically to the 1930s V-12; I’ve no idea how much the old Twin Six engine weighed.)

      Still, even smaller differences in engine weight can require substantial beefing of mounts, transmission, driveline, cooling system, etc. As a point of comparison, in the late sixties, adding Ford’s big FE engine (390/427) to a Mustang or Fairlane would add something like 300 lb to the curb weight, compared to the small block V8. The Ford 289/302 weighed around 485 lb dry, and I’ve never seen an estimate for the FE that was more than about 650 lb, so only about half the weight penalty was the extra mass of the engine itself.

      As the article sidebar mentions, obviously the younger Macauley had no direct involvement with Packard styling in the late twenties, which was before he joined the company. The real responsibility for that evolution, particularly before about the Ninth Series, lay, by most accounts, with Werner Gubitz, who was able to synthesize both the disparate ideas (Macauley’s and those of Packard’s outside consultants and contractors) and the general trend in unification of form that was taking place in that era.

      There is no doubt that the Sixty Special caught Packard off guard in 1938. In fact, Maurice Hendry’s Cadillac marque history excerpts a letter from someone in the Packard engineering department to George Christopher in 1944 that explicitly acknowledges the Clipper as continuing a trend GM had started. It’s worth noting, however, that the Sixty Special was less a triumph of GM’s corporate foresight and more of the determination of Harley Earl. Both Nick Dreystadt, Cadillac’s general manager, and Don Ahrens, the general sales manager, were exceedingly nervous about the Sixty Special, which they thought would be a little too much for their customer base. Had they put their foot down (as happened with Earl’s initial efforts to push for headlights integrated into the fenders), it might very well not have happened at all. Earl did not become a corporate vice president until 1940, so before that, he didn’t have a lot of real authority within the corporation, other than his personal charisma and his relationship with Alfred Sloan. I would call the Sixty Special a very near thing, and without it (or if it had been the abject flop Don Ahrens feared) the story might have been quite different.

      I suspect the failure of the Light Eight had less to do with aesthetics than with brand image. The point of an entry-level car (even one in the $1,900 range, which was hardly inexpensive) is to reach aspirational buyers who can’t afford the senior models; the point is defeated if the entry-level model doesn’t look very much like the senior cars. Conversely, the One Twenty and Six succeeded in large part because they DID look like the senior models. The stylistic virtues of those cars was less significant than the fact that Packard still connoted respectability, and the junior cars were still very recognizably Packards.

      If the Light Eight had been a hit, thought, it would have put Packard in a different awkward spot. Trying to have styling ‘trickle up’ from junior to senior cars is a perilous endeavor (witness Virgil Exner’s efforts to apply the themes of the Valiant to the bigger and more expensive Chryslers). In that sense, they would probably have had more luck if they’d positioned the Light Eight as a more expensive style leader, like the Sixty Special or the early Clipper, rather than as an entry-level car.

    2. I’ve lifted both with my engine hoist and it’s a noticable difference to the hydraulics! The 320 and 384 eights (standard and super/deluxe) had aluminum crank cases with bolt on cast iron cylinder blocks while the twin six/twelve of 32-39 was a monoblock casting, all cast iron. It really is a big chunk of metal! Believe it or not the chassis differences weren’t huge from 32-36 at least. 37 abandonded the big eight and moved the 320 to the Super Eight level.

  6. Thanks for the weight info. For an apples-apples vehicle comparison between the 320, 384 and 473, I think it might be most accurate to use something like the 1936 Dietrich Phaeton because the bodies were probably trimmed similarly between the three. Weights are 4990, 5080 and 5480 lbs, respectively, or a 490 lb increase from the 320 to the 473, and a 400 lb increase from the 384 to the 473. If your figures are a good ball-park for actual engine weights (roughly 300 lb increase from the 384 to the 473?) then it seems that the engine weight difference was perhaps more than a small portion of the total weight increase.

    Agree with your comments about the Light Eight and must apologize for being a bit sloppy with my styling comments in that I meant to say Alvin Macauley rather than his son Ed, and the 1932 “Senior” grill rather than the 1932 Light Eight grill. I think it was Alvin who ultimately drove styling in the Twenties, perhaps even into the Thirties. I say this because it was he who actively solicited input from the design community, actively engaged and encouraged Ray Dietrich and took a special interest in his activities, and often had special customs made for his personal use that pushed the design envelop further than the standard production Packard. Plus, it was he who undoubtedly approved each new design. I always point to the 1936 Seniors as a high point in Packard design and suspect that these were Alvin’s vision of near perfection. “Near” in that he still had had to offer Touring Sedans with max legroom and still had to keep the body engineers happy, both of which resulted in somewhat mundane greenhouses.

    Alfred Sloan was just as involved in GM styling as Alvin was at Packard. It was he who hired Earl, set him up with Art & Color and provided high level support for his major product undertakings like the 60 Special. Regarding the 60 Special itself, it is hard to say what would have happened to GM had it NOT happened, particularly the fate of the 1940 Torpedo Sedans, but it is clear that GM was pushing hard on design (longer, lower, wider), hard on proportions (close coupled 3–box sedans) and beginning to put distance between itself and the competition by the late Thirties. Though Sloan and Earl were more cautious than Cord and Buehrig, they were also more careful and realistic. They didn’t push for things like front wheel drive get the height down but rather did it by widening the bodies to allow for a pronounced trans/driveshaft tunnel, and in the process provided 3 abreast front seating similar to the Airflow.

    1. Keep in mind, I have no idea what the V-12 actually weighed (and I’m not terribly confident about the straight eight figure, either, in part because it’s unclear which straight eight it might refer to). However, my guess would be that the actual difference in engine weight accounts for half or less than half of the difference, the rest being in engine mounts, etc.

      It was actually spelled [i]Alvan[/i] Macauley, not [i]Alvin[/i]. (I kept making that mistake — I had to go back to correct it in the One Twenty article.)

      The GM conservatism was less a reflection of Earl and more the fact that until Sloan made him a vice president in 1940, his power was somewhat limited. In some circumstances, Sloan backed him up, but in others, Earl didn’t get his way. Fender-integral headlights are a prime example: Earl pushed for them early on, but Bill Knudsen put his foot down, saying it wasn’t practical, so Lincoln beat them to the punch. Earl had a better relationship with some divisional managers than others — Buick’s Harlow Curtice went out of his way to befriend him — and since he was not yet an officer of the corporation, he was dependent on those managers to play ball. Sloan had a voice, certainly, but I don’t think he was as involved as Macauley was at Packard; at Packard, the board and senior officers could be more directly involved in styling and product decisions, which wasn’t really the way GM worked at that point.

  7. Thanks for the clarification on the name. I constantly struggle with the last name let alone the first.

    My guess is the engine is the dominant weight. Suspension and mount weights are not of the same magnitude as an engine. Even a beefier frame forward of the A-pillar would not be of the same magnitude. Alas, I could be totally wrong. Often times am. But on this I would need to see data to believe differently.

    I don’t doubt that GM’s brass put the brakes on Earl many times and his “official” status within the company was not as high as his persuasive status. The thing Earl did was get the big one pushed through, the low 3-box close-coupled torpedo sedan. That was THE big style development of the Thirties and its legacy is with us today. What a difference between GM and Packard in those years. One company very much conscious of style and headed by a guy who went so far as to give a studio demo to the execs on the importance of low height by having his team remove a body from a chassis, cut it up to lower it, then place it back on the chassis. Meanwhile over at East Grand it took someone like Darrin to literally crash a dealer party to wake them up to the importance of style and where the trends were headed.

  8. Correction, the now familiar sedan proportion was one of two big styling developments of the Thirties, the other of course being streamlining.

  9. I was trolling for info and photos of the original “Twin Six” on the internert and linked to this article. Being a habitual visitor to this site, I re-read this article. I may have stated this previously but, the accuracy of your articles is astonishing. I am no expert but when I read many other historys of cars i am maddended by the inacuracys that are so evident. Thank you for your accuracy.

  10. which car overshadowed the packard

    1. Cadillac, mainly.

  11. [i]and it never built another V-12[/i]

    Of course, certainly Packard did build another V-12, though it wasn’t intended for cars, and was produced under license from Rolls Royce.

    1. An excellent point. Packard’s marine engines, used in wartime PT boats, were V-12s, also.

  12. “The challenging task of balancing those themes in a manner palatable to conservative Packard buyers fell to Werner Gubitz, a shy German immigrant who had been Packard’s chief in-house designer since 1937.”

    Is this supposed to be 1927?

    1. Oops, you’re quite right. Also, “principal in-house designer” would be more accurate; initially, Packard had only a couple of designers and I don’t know that any of them had much in the way of formal titles.

  13. I enjoyed reading your site on the 1917 Packard. I was interested in it because my grandfather not only built the “twin 6” engines in Elizabeth, N.J, he also flew them in WWI, in his DH-4. He worked for liberty aircraft in 1917.

  14. Packard never had a ‘V-12’.
    Packard had a Twin-Six and a Twelve.
    I would be very interested to see any Packard literature refer to its engines as ‘V-12’. I know there was none in 1937.
    Also, the noted authors, Beverly Rae Kimes and Robert Turnquist never used the term ‘V-12’ in their books.
    It should also be noted that Packard built the Merlin engine under license from Rolls Royce for the P-51 and Lancaster bombers. Packard Merlins had refinements that created more horsepower.

    1. The text draws what I think is a reasonably clear distinction between model designations or trade names — in which case you’re correct — and technical description. Cadillac, too, described its 12-cylinder model as “Twelves,” but that engine was nonetheless a V-12, as was Packard’s.

      There are cases in which it’s reasonable to observe certain fine points of technical distinction (not all horizontally opposed engines are “boxers,” for example), but how exactly would you generically describe a 12-cylinder engine with two banks of six cylinders each arranged in a vee angle of less than 180 degrees on a common crankcase if *not* as a V-12?

      The Merlin was of course a very significant aircraft engine, although its history and development is beyond the scope of Ate Up With Motor.

      1. Without the Merlin, Germany would have won the war in Europe.
        Fortunes were expended prior to Rolls-Royce involvement. RR have the right to “own” the V12 over any others. Full throttle, full load until destruction, revise, repeat. etc.
        I suggest that you open a chapter on Military direction & funding that was “ate up”, by motor Coys.
        Example- Cadillac’s 135 degree V inherently would have provided massive torque from idle.
        Easier to marinise too. Low CG. Am sure there is a dual purpose story there.

        Thank you for a wonderful site.

        1. The Merlin of course was a fine engine, but the challenges involved in production car engines and aircraft engines are quite a bit different and the lessons that apply to one application have very little to do with the other. For instance, passenger car engine doesn’t have to worry much about disturbed airflow in high-alpha maneuvers or inverted flight, but aircraft engines don’t have to contend with wildly varying throttle settings and loads from off-idle speeds, which presents an enormous challenge for passenger car engines. Cooling requirements are also wildly different. So, it’s really very much apples and oranges.

  15. After reading some of these comments, I just have to give my own little two cents: in the Summer of 1960 I found a Packard 12 for sale for only $500.00
    It turned out to be one very fast machine!
    I found it to easily outrun the state police in Michigan with one of their big Fords when one tried to stop me for having my younger brothers (kidnapped) to go camping on Labor Day week end 1961 in the U.P.. The freeway hadn’t been built yet, so that trip should have taken 8 hours… I took 4 hours averaging 89 mph! This involved stopping for a refill of 30 gallons of gasoline (not self serve). and a burger for a snack for each of us. I couldn’t tell what speeds we went as the meter only read to 100 and broke right away when I asked dad if we had time for the police when I saw the ‘bubblegum machine light up’.
    Unfortunately I had to give the automobile up to be able to afford to raise a family.
    PS Should have kept the car, would have been better for me.

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