Packard Model 1-38 Runabout

James Ward Packard purchased a car from pioneer manufacturer Alexander Winton in 1898. However, he found several shortcomings in his new car and let Mr. Winton know about them. Winton, however, felt that his car was the epitome of perfection and told Mr. Packard that if he wanted his ideas incorporated in an automobile he should build it himself.

By November 1899, with the help of his brother and two former Winton employees, Packard had done just that. Four further cars were built that year, along with 47 of a “Model B” in 1900, under the auspices of the New York and Ohio Company, a subsidiary of the brothers’ Packard Electric Company which manufactured transformers and electric lighting equipment. The cars, fairly conventional for the time, were runabouts with a single-cylinder engine under the seat, two-speed planetary transmission and chain drive. Novel for the period, though, was an automatic spark advance.

On September 10th, 1900, the brothers formed the Ohio Automobile Company in their hometown of Warren, Ohio. Finding their customers satisfied, they adopted the slogan “Ask the Man Who Owns One.” Men owning one included William Rockefeller and wealthy Detroit businessman Henry B. Joy, the latter buying large quantities of stock in the company. Joy subscribed the entire issue of 2,500 shares in 1902, at which time the firm became the Packard Motor Car Company. A year later, it moved to Detroit where a huge modern concrete factory, designed by industrial architect Albert Kahn, was being built.

Two and four-cylinder cars were built from 1902, but it was a single-cylinder car that bettered Winton’s coast-to-coast record in 1903 with driver Tom Fetch carving two days off the record in “Old Pacific.” Other Packard competition included the Vanderbilt Cup races and sand racing at Ormond Beach in Florida, where chief engineer Charles Schmidt set a world record in January 1904. With the launch of the Model Thirty in 1907, Packard became a well-established builder of luxury cars, comprising, with Peerless and Pierce-Arrow, the “Three Ps” of prestige American automobile manufacturing. Packard was the only member of the Three Ps to survive the Depression but only because it diversified into medium-priced cars. Still, Packard continued to lead the American luxury segment after World War II and was outsold by Cadillac only once before 1950.

Packard’s first six, a massive 525 cubic inch T-head designated Model 1-48, debuted in April 1911. In December 1912, a smaller six, the Model 1-38, was introduced. An L-head design with cylinders cast in pairs, it displaced 415 cubic inches, had seven main bearings and developed 60 bhp. The 1-38 was the first Packard car to have left-hand drive and electric starting, the latter from a Delco starter-generator of the type developed by Charles Kettering.

A notable feature of the electrical system was a control unit attached to the steering column. The brainchild of chief engineer Jesse Vincent, who would later design the Twin Six engine and Liberty aircraft engine, the unit had switches for the ignition, lights and horn, an ignition lock and mixture control for the carburetor. This placed most controls within easy reach of the driver, leaving the instrument panel free for instruments alone, save for a carburetor primer needed for starting.

Selling for $4,050 to $5,400, it was about $1,000 cheaper than the larger car, and a few hundred less expensive than the comparable models of Peerless and Pierce-Arrow. Most 1-38s were on a 134-inch wheelbase, with phaeton and brougham styles on a 138-inch chassis. The runabout, however, was built on a jaunty 115.5-inch frame shared with the coupe and measured nearly two feet shorter than the big cars. The result was a nimble automobile with spirited performance. More than 1,600 were built in 1913 and nearly 700 the following year. So successful was the 1-38 that four-cylinder cars were dropped entirely.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.

60 bhp, 415 cu. in. L-head six-cylinder engine, rear-mounted three-speed transmission, solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and two-wheel mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 115"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Simon Clay

Gallery: Packard Model 1-38 Runabout