Packard Super Eight Convertible Victoria

The Packard Motor Car Company was well-established as a manufacturer of prestige cars by 1915, its record of owner satisfaction demonstrated by adoption of the slogan “Ask the Man Who Owns One.” But its record as builder of four- and six-cylinder cars was about to change, as a new engine was introduced in May.

Called the “Twin Six,” it was a 60-degree V12, with two blocks of six cylinders set on an aluminum crankcase. Designed by chief engineer Jesse Vincent, it displaced 424 cubic inches and developed 88 horsepower. Offered as the sole engine for 1916, it came in two wheelbases, 125 and 135 inches, and a myriad of body styles priced from $3,050 to $5,150. It outsold the nearest luxury competitor, Pierce-Arrow, by four to one in its introductory year, and nearly eight to one the next.

Variations on the Twin Six were Packard’s only offerings through 1920, when a lighter and less expensive car, variously referred to as Single Six, Light Six or Series 116, joined the line in September. Only slightly less costly than the Twin Six, it was more economical to run and less ostentatious. Its objective was lower cost of manufacture, in a time when aircraft engine contracts had ended and Packard had to seek its fortunes with automobiles alone. As it turned out, production economies proved elusive.

Lessons learned from the Single Six were applied to the 1924 product line. Gone was the Twin Six, replaced by a straight eight. The Single Eight, as it was called, was a sturdy nine-main-bearing unit, a basic form that would serve Packard for the next thirty years. Jesse Vincent conceived the new eight not as two fours mated end-to-end, but as one four in the middle of another, all cast en bloc. This resulted in a then-unusual firing order, but much reduced vibration. Crankshaft throws at the ends were at 90 degrees to those in the middle. Lighter by 350 pounds than the Twin Six, it developed ten percent greater horsepower and 20 percent better economy. Four-wheel brakes, the first on a Packard, were standard. Sales in the first year topped 8,000, better than any Twin Six since 1917.

The Great Depression was particularly hard on America’s luxury car manufacturers. Packard, which had led the segment with sales of more than 50,000 cars in 1928, found itself selling barely half that number two years later. And then things got worse. The tally for 1932 was a mere 8,018 cars. A slight increase in 1933 found the company with a welcome profit of half a million dollars, the first since 1930, but no match for the millions lost in the previous two years. But optimism returned, and this was reflected in the cars for the next season.

Packard introduced its new Eleventh Series cars on August 21, 1933. Although the company did not admit to model years, they were in fact considered 1934 cars and remained in production through the following August when for the Twelfth Series, 1935 cars were launched. Each of the three models, Eight, Super Eight and Twelve, was available in three wheelbases, an ambitious total of 41 different combinations of engines, wheelbases and body styles, plus 17 “catalog customs” bodied by coachbuilders LeBaron and Dietrich. The return of a long-wheelbase Super Eight chassis resulted in eight custom body styles, from Dietrich and LeBaron, in the series catalog.

New fender contours graced the Eleventh Series, the fronts curving downward nearly to the front bumper. Other changes were more subtle: hood door handles, radiator caps, and other trim featured a sleek “windsplit” design. Other updates included better upholstery and a fuel filler integrated into the left tail lamp. In the engine compartment, there was a new oil cooler and an oil filter was installed.

Packard had been on the forefront of auto radio development. Beginning in 1929, the company had been working with several radio manufacturers toward outfitting cars with receivers. The wire mesh used in the fabric top insert on closed bodies was found to make an ideal antenna, if it were insulated from the body. For 1934, provision was made for wiring and shielded where necessary, to make radio installation easy. A dashboard “knock out” was even provided, in the distinctive shape of a Packard radiator, and dealers offered a special Philco radio designed for Packards.

The company was now placing much emphasis on ride control and silencing. Advertising boasted that Packard Twelve owners could “drive a thousand miles a day without fatigue,” a claim that seems excessive even on today’s roads, let along those of the thirties – but it did serve to call out Packard’s focus on comfort and luxury. Packard’s share of the fine car market climbed to more than 40 percent in 1934, but this was not so much due to Packard’s sales, which had fallen 17 percent to 8,000 cars, as to everyone else’s, which were even worse.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2009 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.

145bhp, 384.8 cu. in. L-head inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, suspension via front and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs, solid front axle, live rear axle and four-wheel mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 142"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Simon Clay and Steve Pitkin

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