Packard Twin Six Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton

In 1931, the Great Depression’s grip tightened on America and its burgeoning automobile industry. While Packard remained at the top of the luxury car market, its future, like that of its competitors, was tenuous at best. Packard was still in excellent financial health, but concern grew among senior-level management over the devastating effects of the Depression on fine car sales.

In response, Packard embarked on a two-pronged strategy, rushing ahead with the development of the lower-priced Light Eight, while the Standard and Deluxe Eight models continued largely unchanged with a slightly longer wheelbase. At the top of the spectrum, Packard redoubled its efforts, meeting the growing competitive threat from both Cadillac and Lincoln head-on with the V12 Twin Six – along a wide range of spectacular bodies. However, if the Light Eight was considered the right car at the wrong time, its polar opposite, the Twin Six, was a real enigma. Similar only in name to the previous Twin Six, which was phased out in 1923, the new model was available in Models 905 and 906, with wheelbases measuring 142.5 and 147.5 inches respectively.

The new Twin Six models were powered by a 445.5 cubic inch V12 engine, which produced 160 brake horsepower at just 3,200 rpm. Designed by Cornelius Van Ranst, whose credits included the innovative Cord L-29, the new V12 was originally intended for a stillborn front-wheel drive Packard design project. The engine, however, survived, and was transplanted into the chassis of the Deluxe Eight. With a narrow, 67-degree vee angle, it featured an unusual configuration with the valves nearly horizontal, and actuated by hydraulic tappets. The combustion chamber was located partially within the cylinder block, resulting in the description “modified L-head.” Meanwhile, a Stromberg dual downdraft carburetor, the first downdraft carburetor used on a Packard, provided the fuel and air mixture to the engine.

The manual transmission now had only three speeds, but by mid-1932, all Packards would be so equipped, as the earlier four-speed gearboxes were not required in high-torque cars that seldom required frequent gear changes anyway. Packard conservatively claimed a top speed “in excess of 85 mph,” but the Twin Six was reportedly capable of topping 100 miles per hour in all body styles, ranging from plebeian sedans and coupes to “Individual Custom” bodies, six of which were supplied by Dietrich. On delivery, each car came with a Certificate of Approval signed by a Packard engineer, attesting to a 250-mile break-in run, after which all necessary adjustments were made.

In retrospect, the introduction of such a marquee automobile during the darkest depths of the Depression may seem like sheer lunacy, yet there was a certain logic to it. Development of the Twin Six engine was already substantially complete before the stock market crash, and the rest of the car was based on the existing Deluxe Eight, so there was little additional cash outlay required. Moreover, multi-cylinder cars were relatively plentiful in the marketplace, as Cadillac had introduced V16 cars in 1930, V12s in 1931, and archrival Pierce-Arrow had a twelve-cylinder model under development for 1932, as did Lincoln. Struggling Marmon, moreover, had staked its fortunes on a V16 in 1931, which ultimately proved its undoing.

Actually, any decision to not field the Twin Six would have left Packard at a severe disadvantage with those who could still afford a luxury car and did not mind flaunting it. Ostensibly, the profit margin on such a car could well justify its manufacture, but prices, body for body, were only $100 to $150 above those of the Deluxe Eight. In that respect, the Twin Six was a real bargain. Too much of a bargain, as it turned out, for when sales proved to be mediocre – only 311 of the 905s and 238 906s were built in the 1932 model year – prices were raised by $500 across the board.

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

160bhp, 445.5 cu. in. modified L-head V12 engine, single dual downdraft carburetor, three-speed manual transmission, semi-elliptic front and rear leaf spring suspension with live axles, and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"

Source: RM Auctions

Gallery: Packard Twin Six Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton